"Lisa's Rival" is the second episode of The Simpsons' sixth season, and originally aired September 11, 1994. It was the first episode to be written by Mike Scully, and was directed by Mark Kirkland. Winona Ryder guest stars as Allison Taylor, a new student at Springfield Elementary School. Lisa Simpson begins to feel threatened by Allison because she is smarter, younger and a better saxophone player than she is. Their rivalry reaches a climax at the school's diorama contest, as Lisa plans to sabotage Allison's entry. The episode's subplot sees Homer steal a large pile of sugar from a crashed truck, and begin selling it door-to-door.
Although written by Scully, the episode was originally pitched by former writer Conan O'Brien, while the subplot was suggested by George Meyer. It features references to films such as The Fugitive and Scarface, while production of the episode was affected by the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
Lisa feels her status as top student in the class is threatened when a new student named Allison Taylor arrives at Springfield Elementary. While Lisa initially admires having another 8 year old who matches her intellectual prowess, she becomes shocked upon learning that in fact Allison is a year younger than her and had been skipped ahead from the 1st grade in addition to which she is also an aspiring saxophone player.
Lisa tries to befriend her, though she battles her envy and fears that she will lose her purpose. At a band practice, the two girls end up in a saxophone duel that results in Lisa passing out from over-exertion. Their rivalry comes to a head during Springfield Elementary's annual diorama building competition. Allison constructs a scene from "The Tell-Tale Heart", by Edgar Allan Poe. Lisa goes to great efforts to produce a better diorama, a scene from Oliver Twist, but it is immediately destroyed by an electric fan that Lisa utilizes, along with fake snow, to simulate a "bitter snowstorm". Bart decides to intervene and help Lisa sabotage Allison's entry so she can win. On the day of the diorama contest, he distracts the other students with his own demonstrations to give Lisa time to switch Allison's entry with one containing a cow's heart. After Principal Skinner chases Bart away, he discovers the cow's heart in the diorama and proceeds to humiliate Allison in front of the entire school. Soon Lisa's conscience intervenes and she produces the real diorama.
However, Skinner is unimpressed by both Lisa's and Allison's work and declares Ralph Wiggum's collection of Star Wars action figures to be the winner. In the end, Lisa and Allison put aside their differences and become friends as they walk off into the sunset, picking up Ralph along the way after he accidentally trips and breaks his action figures.
The episode's subplot follows Homer after he encounters and then steals hundreds of pounds of sugar he finds at the site of Hans Moleman's truck accident. Homer decides he can get rich by selling the sugar door-to-door. He keeps the sugar in a pile in his back yard, where he obsessively guards it from thieves. Soon, the sugar attracts bees from a local apiary. The beekeepers track the swarm down and offer to buy the bees back from Homer for $2,000. Before the transaction can be completed, however, it begins to rain, dissolving the sugar; the bees fly away, leaving Homer with no money or sugar.
Production of the episode was disrupted by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which also affected the previous episode "Bart of Darkness". The Film Roman building used by the staff was so badly damaged it had to be condemned. They were relocated to a new building for a year, and much of the animation for the episode was done by people at home. The day after the earthquake, the only staff members who turned up for work were Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein. Overall production of The Simpsons was disrupted for six months, with a month of production time being lost.
Although written by Mike Scully, the episode's original concept was pitched by Conan O'Brien before he left the show. O'Brien suggested having an episode about a rival for Lisa, but the rest of the episode's storyline was written by Scully and other staff members. It was the first episode Scully wrote for the show, and he would later become showrunner. Winona Ryder guest starred as Allison Taylor. She was a fan of the show and was popular amongst the staff. David Mirkin recalled that more writers came to her recording session than any other. Her character's name was taken from two of Scully's daughters, Allison and Taylor. The subplot was pitched by George Meyer. Homer's sugar diatribe was pitched by Meyer off the top of his head and animated by David Silverman, who specifically asked to animate the scene after listening to Dan Castellaneta's performance.
The episode contains several references to film, television, literature and music. For example, Milhouse's sub-story is a reference to the 1993 film The Fugitive. The film is principally parodied in the scene where Milhouse is at the end of a dam drainpipe and dives into a waterfall when being held at gunpoint by an FBI agent resembling Tommy Lee Jones, who uses the film's famous line "I don't care". Homer's "In America" speech while guarding his sugar pile is a direct reference to one of Tony Montana's lines in Scarface, and his line "Oh what a world!" when the sugar melts is the same line used by Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, when she melts. Additionally, Ralph's diorama contest entry is just original Star Wars action figures: his collection includes Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Chewbacca. Lisa's hiding of The Tell-Tale Heart diorama under the gym floorboards is a parody of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", while the speech patterns of the beekeeper voiced by Hank Azaria are based on Adam West's portrayal of Batman. Finally, Lisa's imagination features her playing in a band with famous backup artists: Art Garfunkel, John Oates and Jim Messina.
In its original American broadcast, "Lisa's Rival" finished tied for 23rd place (with Dateline NBC) in the weekly ratings for the week of September 5 to September 11, 1994 with a Nielsen rating of 9.9. It was the second highest rated show on the Fox Network that week.
In a 2008 article, Entertainment Weekly named Winona Ryder's role as Allison Taylor as one of the sixteen best The Simpsons guest stars, while IGN placed her sixth on their list of the "Top 25 Simpsons Guest Stars." They also highlighted Ralph's "classic" lines: "I bent my Wookiee", and "My cat's breath smells like cat food." Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, stated: "Despite being a Lisa show, it is poor Ralph Wiggum who steals the show with three great irrelevant replies, especially those concerning his cat's breath." They also highlighted "great scenes between the Simpson siblings, especially Bart's idea to conquer Allison using a hose pipe."
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-06-095252-5. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M..
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Lisa's Rival". BBC. Retrieved 2008-03-27.
- Kirkland, Mark (2005). The Simpsons season 6 DVD commentary for the episode "Lisa's Rival" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Mirkin, David; Reardon, Jim (2004). The Simpsons The Complete Sixth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Bart of Darkness" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Mirkin, David (2005). The Simpsons season 6 DVD commentary for the episode "Lisa's Rival" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Scully, Mike (2005). The Simpsons season 6 DVD commentary for the episode "Lisa's Rival" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Gimple, Scott (1999). The Simpsons Forever!: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family ...Continued. Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-098763-4.
- Chernoff, Scott (2007-07-24). "I Bent My Wookiee! Celebrating the Star Wars/Simpsons Connection". Star Wars.com. Archived from the original on 2011-06-22. Retrieved 2008-04-22.
- Associated Press (1994-09-14). "Nielsen Ratings/Sept. 5-11". Press-Telegram. p. D-6.
- "16 great 'Simpsons' guest stars". Entertainment Weekly. 2008-05-11. Retrieved 2008-05-11.
- Goldman, Eric; Iverson, Dan; Zoromski, Brian. "Top 25 Simpsons Guest Appearances". IGN. Retrieved 2008-07-24.
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