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"Lisa's First Word"
The Simpsons episode
Episode no. 69
Prod. code 9F08
Orig. airdate December 3, 1992[1]
Show runner(s) Al Jean & Mike Reiss
Written by Jeff Martin[2]
Directed by Mark Kirkland[2]
Chalkboard "Teacher is not a leper"[3]
Couch gag The family forms a chorus line, which turns into a large production number.
Guest star(s) Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie[2]
DVD
commentary
Matt Groening
Al Jean
Jeff Martin
Mark Kirkland

"Lisa's First Word" is the tenth episode of The Simpsons' fourth season. It was first broadcast on Fox in the United States on December 3, 1992. In the episode, as the Simpson family gathers around Maggie and tries to encourage her to say her first word, Marge reminisces and tells the story of Lisa's first word. Elizabeth Taylor appeared for the voicing of Maggie's first word.

The episode was directed by Mark Kirkland and written by Jeff Martin. After its initial airing on Fox, the episode was later released as part of a 1999 video collection: The Simpsons: Greatest Hits, and released again on the 2003 DVD edition of the same collection. The episode features cultural references to two chains of fast food restaurants, Wendy's and McDonald's, as well as a reference to the 1981 arcade video game Ms. Pac-Man. "Lisa's First Word" received positive reception from television critics, and acquired a Nielsen rating of 16.6.

Contents

Plot

When Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa try unsuccessfully to get Maggie to speak, Marge decides to tell story of Lisa's first word. In March 1983, Homer, Marge, and a young Bart are living in the Lower East side of Springfield. One day, Marge announces to Homer and Bart that she is pregnant with another baby. When asked what he thinks, Bart imagines a new brother whom he can use as a scapegoat for his own misbehavior. Marge suggests to Homer that with their family expanding, they need a bigger house. Homer and Marge try to look for houses, and find a perfect house on Evergreen Terrace and buy it with a $15,000 down payment from the sale of Grampa Simpson's house.

In 1984, Bart is one year old, and the Simpsons move into their new Evergreen Terrace home, with the Flanders family as neighbors. Bart turns two years old, and for the first time, he watches Krusty the Clown, as well as The Itchy & Scratchy Show. Krusty begins a promotion for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games with his Krusty Burger chain, the promotion is a scratch-and-win game in which people scratch off the name of the event from the game card and if the U.S. wins a gold medal in that chosen event, that person would win a free Krusty Burger. However, the game cards are rigged so they only contain events in which "communists always win". But when the Soviet Union-led boycott occurs, Krusty personally loses 44 million dollars and Homer receives a steady supply of Krusty Burgers.

Bart is now asked to give up his crib so it can become the new baby's. Bart refuses, so Homer builds Bart a new bed shaped like a maniacal clown, which terrifies Bart into a state of insomnia. Marge thinks that the baby is about to be born, and she and Homer go to the hospital, leaving Bart with the Flanders family. Bart returns home and is scared until Homer asks him to see Lisa, to whom Bart takes an immediate dislike. Everyone except Bart, agrees that she is a beautiful baby. Later, Bart does bad things to Lisa — such as cutting all her hair with household scissors, sticking stamps on her and putting her in a mailbox, and putting her through the Flanders' doggy door — and is punished each time by being put in the corner. He blames Lisa for his problems and packs his toys into a hobo's bindle, about to run away for good until Lisa says her first word, "Bart." Bart discovers that Lisa can talk and loves him, and appears to accept her as his little sister. Homer, however, is secretly disappointed that neither Bart nor Lisa call him "daddy", but rather, "Homer".

Back in the present day, the flashback ends with Bart and Lisa fighting. Homer takes Maggie to bed, commenting on how kids learn to talk back as soon as they learn to talk. As he puts Maggie to bed, Homer wishes that Maggie never says a word. As soon as Homer leaves the room, Maggie removes her pacifier, utters the word "daddy", and falls asleep.

Production

"Lisa's First Word" was written by Jeff Martin, and directed by Mark Kirkland.[2] The Simpsons writers Mike Reiss and Al Jean were discussing about having an episode where Maggie would say her first word, and Reiss thought it would be cute to have her say "daddy" when no one could hear her.[4] Jeff Martin was assigned to write the episode because he had done another flashback episode in the past, "I Married Marge".[4] Martin was excited to do another flashback episode because he thought it was fun to check out old newspapers and go back and see what was in the news back in 1983 and 1984.[5] Martin felt it was a good way of finding a new set of things to make jokes about.[5]

In the episode, Homer builds a scary clown shaped bed for Bart. The scene was inspired by Mike Reiss, whose dad had built him a clown shaped bed when he was younger, and just like Bart, Reiss was scared of sleeping in it.[6] As the flashback begins in 1983, a young Homer strolls down the street, singing Cyndi Lauper's song "Girls Just Want To Have Fun", which was released the same year.[7] The idea for this sequence came from animation director Chuck Sheetz, who suggested it because the length of the final version of the episode was too short.[5]

The Fox censors wrote a note concerning Homer's line, "Bart can kiss my hairy, yellow butt!" after Marge tells Homer that Bart might be jealous of baby Lisa, citing that the line is considered "coarse," due to the fact that Bart was two during the flashback.[8]

Elizabeth Taylor (1985) provided the voice of Maggie's first word.

Maggie's first word was provided by the Academy Award-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor, who would also voice herself in the season four finale, "Krusty Gets Kancelled".[5] While promoting the episode, the producers initially did not reveal who the voice of Maggie would be, prompting speculation as the identity of the actress.[9] Although it was only one word, the voice came out too sexy and Taylor had to record the part numerous times before the producers were satisfied and thought it sounded like a baby.[10][11]

Cultural references

The Springfield Shopper headline from the day Lisa was born ("Mondale To Hart: Where's the beef?") uses the currently popular advertising slogan for Wendy's.[4] Mondale, a candidate in the 1984 presidential election, used the "Where's the beef?" phrase at an election rally in 1984 while mocking one of his opponents.[2] Marge begins telling her story of Lisa's first word by saying: "This story begins in the unforgettable spring of 1983. Ms. Pac-man struck a blow for women's rights and a young Joe Piscopo taught us how to laugh", making references to the 1981 arcade video game Ms. Pac-Man and the American actor Joe Piscopo.[6] The episode features an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon called "100-Yard Gash", which uses the music from the 1981 film Chariots of Fire.[3]

The Olympic promotion by Krusty Burger is loosely based on a similar "scratch-and-win" promotion by McDonald's, in which McDonald's visitors could win a Big Mac, french fries, a soft drink, or even a cash prize up to $10,000 if Team USA won a medal in the visitor's listed event. McDonald's lost millions on the promotion, as happened to Krusty.[4][6][7] At one point in the episode, Dr. Hibbert refers to Olympic gymnastic medalist Mary Lou Retton.[2] When Homer is watching television, Keith Jackson, a former American sportscaster, is seen commenting on the 100 m butterfly final at the 1984 Summer Olympics.[5]

Reception

In its original American broadcast, "Lisa's First Word" finished thirteenth in the ratings for the week of November 30 to December 6, 1992, with a Nielsen rating of 16.6 (translating to about 15.5 million households).[12] The episode was the highest-rated show on Fox that week.[12] It acquired the highest national Nielsen rating of the show since the season two episode "Bart Gets An F" aired on October 11, 1990.[13] Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics.

Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, said the episode is a "convincing portrait of young marriage and hardship in the days of Reaganomics - and the biggest name to guest voice gets the littlest, but the most significant, to say".[2] When asked to pick his favorite season out of The Simpsons seasons one through twenty, Paul Lane of the Niagara Gazette picked season four and highlighted "the sweetly funny" "Lisa's First Word".[14] David Johnson at DVD Verdict named it "one of the greatest flashback episodes".[15] Dave Manley at DVDActive said in a review of the The Simpsons: Greatest Hits DVD that it is "one of the better episodes and probably my personal favourite on the disc, although most Simpsons connoisseurs would probably go for the previous episode [on the DVD]", and added that there are "some great parodies in the episode too".[16] The Orlando Sentinel's Gregory Hardy named it the fourteenth best episode of the show with a sports theme (the Olympics in this case).[17]

Elizabeth Taylor's performance as Maggie was praised by critics. She was named the 13th greatest guest spot in the history of the show by IGN.[18] Taylor also appeared on AOL's list of their favorite 25 Simpsons guest stars.[19] Todd Everett at Variety called the last scene in the episode, where Maggie speaks her first word, "quite a heart-melter".[7] He added that "it is probably no surprise that the casting of Elizabeth Taylor as the voice for baby Maggie Simpson's first word was a publicity stunt [...]. No mind, the episode in question delivered well-rounded view of series' multiple attractions."[7] Total Film's Nathan Ditum ranked her performance as the best guest appearance in the show's history.[20]

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"Can't sleep, clown will eat me"

Inspired by an event in Simpsons writer Mike Reiss' childhood,[6] young Bart does not want to give up sleeping in the crib to make way for his newborn sister. Noticing Bart's affection for Krusty the Clown, Homer decides to build a clown-themed bed to please his son. However, because of Homer's poor handicraft skills, the bed takes on a sinister appearance and frightens Bart, especially in the darkened room. In his first night in the new bed, far from "laughing himself to sleep", Bart imagines that the face on the headboard of the bed is coming to life, intoning with sinister glee, "if you should die before you wake...", before collapsing into evil cackling.

The next morning, Bart is curled up into the fetal position on the floor next to the sofa downstairs, repeatedly uttering the phrase "can't sleep, clown will eat me...". The catchphrase inspired the Alice Cooper song "Can't Sleep, Clowns Will Eat Me" from the 2001 album Dragontown.[21] The phrase has since found its way into popular use.[22]

Merchandise

"Lisa's First Word" originally aired on December 3, 1992, on the Fox network.[3] The episode was selected for release in a 1999 video collection of selected episodes titled: The Simpsons: Greatest Hits.[23] Other episodes included in the collection set were "Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire", "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song", "Trash of the Titans", and "Bart Gets An F".[23] It was included in The Simpsons season 4 DVD set, which was released on June 15, 2004 as The Simpsons - The Complete Fourth Season.[24] The episode was again included in the 2003 DVD release of the "Greatest Hits" set, but this time the set did not include "Trash Of The Titans".[25]

References

  1. ^ "Lisa's First Word". The Simpsons.com. http://www.thesimpsons.com/episode_guide/0410.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-27.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Lisa's First Word". BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/simpsons/episodeguide/season4/page11.shtml. Retrieved 2008-01-19.  
  3. ^ a b c Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia (November 12, 1997). The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family. HarperCollins Publishers. p. 102. ISBN 0-00-638898-1.  
  4. ^ a b c d Jean, Al. (2004). The Simpsons The Complete Fourth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Lisa's First Word". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  5. ^ a b c d e Martin, Jeff. (2004). The Simpsons The Complete Fourth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Lisa's First Word". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  6. ^ a b c d Kirkland, Mark. (2004). The Simpsons The Complete Fourth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Lisa's First Word". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  7. ^ a b c d Everett, Todd (December 7, 1992). "The Simpsons Maggie's First Word". Variety. http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117900193.html?categoryid=32&cs=1. Retrieved 2008-09-14.  
  8. ^ Turner, Chris. Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation. p. 20. ISBN 0-679-31318-4.  
  9. ^ Lisa Schwarzbaum (1992-09-11). "Face to Face: Maggie Simpson". Entertainment Weekly. http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,311750,00.html. Retrieved 2008-01-19.  
  10. ^ George Rush and Joanna Rush Molloy (2007-05-04). "In the Fox family, they live in fear of a Bart attack". New York Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/gossip/2007/05/04/2007-05-04_at_film_fest_de_niros_lashed_picture_sho-2.html. Retrieved 2008-07-31.  
  11. ^ Groening, Matt. (2004). The Simpsons The Complete Fourth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Lisa's First Word". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  12. ^ a b "Nielsen Ratings". Associated Press (Long Beach Press-Telegram): pp. C6. December 9, 1992.  
  13. ^ Bark, Ed (December 5, 1992). "Arts Beat". The Dallas Morning News. pp. 39A.  
  14. ^ Dzikiy, Phil; Paul Lane (September 25, 2008). "Television: 20 years - A 'Simpsons' extravaganza". Niagara Gazette.  
  15. ^ David Johnson (July 12, 2004). "DVD Verdict Review - The Simpsons: The Complete Fourth Season". DVD Verdict. http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/simpsonsseason4.php. Retrieved 2008-08-31.  
  16. ^ Manley, Dave. "Simpsons, The: Greatest Hits (UK - DVD R2) in Reviews". DVDActive. http://www.dvdactive.com/reviews/dvd/simpsons-the-greatest-hits.html. Retrieved 2008-10-26.  
  17. ^ Hardy, Gregory (February 16, 2003). "Hitting 300 - For Sporting Comedy, 'The Simpsons' Always Score". Orlando Sentinel: p. C17.  
  18. ^ Goldman, Eric; Iverson, Dan; Zoromski, Brian (September 5, 2006). "Top 25 Simpsons Guest Appearances". IGN. http://uk.tv.ign.com/articles/730/730566p1.html. Retrieved 2008-08-19.  
  19. ^ Potts, Kimberly. "Favorite 'Simpsons' Guest Stars". AOL. http://television.aol.com/feature/the-simpsons/guest-stars. Retrieved 2008-11-24.  
  20. ^ Ditum, Nathan (March 29, 2009). "The 20 Best Simpsons Movie-Star Guest Spots". Total Film. http://www.totalfilm.com/features/the-20-best-simpsons-movie-star-guest-spots. Retrieved 2009-08-02.  
  21. ^ "Some pop culture creations demonize the red-nosed men". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 2007-02-15. http://docs.newsbank.com/g/GooglePM/AT/lib00059,117508302B023D18.html. Retrieved 2008-01-19.  
  22. ^ Finlo Rohrer (2008-01-16). "Why are clowns scary?". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7191721.stm. Retrieved 2008-01-19.  
  23. ^ a b "The Simpsons: Greatest Hits (VHS)". Amazon.com. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Simpsons-Greatest-Hits-Doris-Grau/dp/B00004CZ8S. Retrieved 2008-10-17.  
  24. ^ "The Simpsons - The Complete Fourth Season (1992)", The Simpsons (20th Century Fox), June 15, 2004  
  25. ^ "The Simpsons: Greatest Hits (DVD)". Amazon.com. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Simpsons-Greatest-Hits-Doris-Grau/dp/B0000BZNIZ. Retrieved 2008-10-17.  

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