"Lisa's Substitute" is the nineteenth episode of The Simpsons' second season. It originally aired on Fox in the United States on April 25, 1991. In the episode, Lisa's teacher Miss Hoover takes medical leave due to what she thinks is Lyme disease, so substitute teacher Mr. Bergstrom takes over the class. Lisa finds Mr. Bergstrom's teaching methods inspiring and discovers an entirely new love for learning. When Miss Hoover returns to class, Lisa is devastated to lose her most positive adult role model. Eventually, she realizes that while Mr. Bergstrom was one of a kind, she can find role models in other people, including her father Homer. Meanwhile, Bart runs for class president against Martin.
This is the first episode to have the opening sequence cut right to the couch gag. Jon Vitti wrote the episode and Rich Moore directed it. Dustin Hoffman–using the pseudonym Sam Etic–guest starred in it as Mr. Bergstrom, who was modeled on the physical appearance of Mike Reiss, a longtime writer and producer on the show. The episode features cultural references to Mike Nichols's film The Graduate, which starred Hoffman, and the novel Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. It acquired a Nielsen Rating of 11.1, and was the highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.
Lisa's teacher, Miss Hoover, thinks she has come down with Lyme disease and is replaced by substitute teacher Mr. Bergstrom. Because of his unorthodox teaching methods and friendly nature, Lisa starts falling in love with him.
Lisa runs into Mr. Bergstrom at a museum and is embarrassed when Homer displays his ignorance. Sensing that Lisa is missing something in her relationship with her father, Mr. Bergstrom takes Homer aside to suggest he be a more positive role model. After venting to her mother about Homer ruining her 'one chance' to get to know Bergstrom outside of the classroom, Lisa is given permission to invite him to family dinner, only to be shattered when she finds Miss Hoover back and Mr. Bergstrom gone. She rushes to his apartment and finds him having left for another job. She rushes to the train station to catch him, and confesses to that she will be lost without him. To comfort her, he writes her a note and tells her that if she ever feels alone and like she cannot rely on anybody, its contents are all she needs to know. He then boards the train and departs. It reads, "You are Lisa Simpson."
In a subplot, Bart's class prepares to elect a class president. Mrs. Krabappel nominates Martin, while Sherri and Terri nominate Bart. During a debate with Martin, Bart tells jokes and wins the class over. Afterwards, certain of Bart's inevitable victory thanks to his popular campaigning, none of the children in his class — including himself — actually voted, giving Martin the victory with just two votes: one from himself, and the other from Wendell Borton.
Devastated by Mr. Bergstrom's departure, Lisa takes her grief out on Homer, calling him a baboon. Marge tells Homer to console Lisa, explaining how her daughter is very hurt emotionally and is in need of her father. Homer enters Lisa's room and finds her crying over her desk. He is uncertain of how to deal with Lisa's sadness, and is uncomfortable seeing his daughter crying. Homer explains to Lisa how he cannot really understand how it feels to lose someone important: everyone he has ever loved and cared about lives with him still. He then alludes to Lisa calling him a baboon, and in a loving manner mimics a monkey, cheering her up. Lisa apologizes to Homer for calling him a baboon, and he accepts the apology. Finding Bart still seething over the election result, Homer cheers him up by reminding him that all the job of class president would have really meant was a lot of extra work with little reward, making Bart feel happy that he lost the election. Finally going by Maggie's room, he places her pacifier in her mouth. Proud that he helped all three of his children, Homer goes to bed with Marge happily that night, stating he is "on the biggest roll" of his life.
The episode was written by Jon Vitti and directed by Rich Moore. According to Vitti, The Simpsons producer James L. Brooks contributed more to this episode than he did to any other in the show's history. Vitti said the episode was "very controversial" when it was being made because it "came at a point when the staff were just beginning to realize the comedy potential of the show, but we were trapped with these love stories, and just as the staff were starting to get frustrated with the love stories, along came 'Lisa's Substitute': the biggest, huggiest, warmest and fuzziest of them all."
Mr. Bergstrom was modeled on the physical appearance of Mike Reiss, a longtime writer and producer on the show. American actor Dustin Hoffman provided the voice of Mr. Bergstrom. Hoffman was not sure if he wanted to be identified with a cartoon show at the time, like many early guest stars on The Simpsons, and therefore used the pseudonym Sam Etic in the closing credits. Sam Etic is a play on the word semitic, alluding to the fact that both Hoffman and Mr. Bergstrom are Jewish. Brooks was the one who suggested the pseudonym, which Hoffman immediately liked. The cast of the show flew to New York to record the episode with Hoffman. Yeardley Smith, who provides the voice of Lisa, said she grew as an actress after working with Hoffman that day. The Simpsons writer Al Jean said he remembered that when the audio track of the episode came back, Hoffman's voice was too low on the singing parts. The staff were "petrified" that the singing scenes would not show up on air, so they had Hoffman re-record them when he was in Los Angeles.
Mrs. Krabappel trying to seduce Mr. Bergstrom is a reference to Hoffman's similar situation in the 1967 film The Graduate. Mr. Bergstrom reads a line from the 1952 novel Charlotte's Web to his class. It is implied that this line is the end of the book, but in reality another chapter follows. Vitti said the line was the maximum amount of the book they could feature in the episode without being sued. The staff contacted a relative of the author E. B. White, but she would not clear the use of the book. When Lisa arrives at Mr. Bergstrom's apartment building, a list of tenants can be seen. One of the names is J. Vitti, for the episode's writer Jon Vitti, and another is J. Kamerman, for then-animator Jen Kamerman. When Bart unexpectedly loses to Martin in the class president race, a picture of Martin holding up a copy of The Daily Fourth Gradian with the headline "Simpson Defeats Prince" is taken, which in turn ends up on the front page of The Daily Fourth Gradian under the headline "Prince Beats Simpson". This is a reference to the famous picture of former President Harry Truman holding up a copy of a prematurely printed edition of the Chicago Tribune that proclaimed "Dewey Defeats Truman", taken the day after his close victory over Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 United States presidential election.
In its original broadcast, "Lisa's Substitute" finished forty-third in the ratings for the week of April 22–28, 1991, with a Nielsen Rating of 11.1, equivalent to approximately ten million viewing households. It was the highest-rated show on the Fox network that week. Hoffman has been praised for his guest appearance as Mr. Bergstrom. Entertainment Weekly named it one of the sixteen greatest guest appearances on The Simpsons. In 2007, Simon Crerar of The Times listed his performance as one of the thirty-three funniest cameos in the history of the show.
Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive review from television critics. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood said, "Despite a scene-stealing performance from Ms Krabappel, this is Lisa's show. Mr Bergstrom's last message for Lisa is a delightful touch and adds the finishing touch to a wonderful episode." Former TV Squad blogger Adam Finley named "Lisa's Substitute" as one of his top fourteen most touching The Simpsons episodes, and The Simpsons Archive webmaster Jouni Paakkinen rated the episode as his third favorite. Colin Jacobson of DVD Movie Guide said that Lisa episodes "tend to be goopy", but "Lisa's Substitute" seemed like "a good show, however". He went on to say, "The show offered many other good moments, and it helped expand the Lisa/Homer relationship neatly. The Bart’s election subplot punctured any sappiness that otherwise might have occurred. [...] 'Lisa's Substitute' offered a fairly solid program." The episode's reference to The Graduate was named the 20th greatest film reference in the history of the show by Total Film's Nathan Ditum. Ditum also ranked Hoffman's performance as the 16th best guest appearance in the show's history. Todd VanDerWerff of Slant Magazine picked the episode as the show's second best, praising its emotion and Hoffman's performance.
"Lisa's Substitute" also received positive reviews from cast and crew members of the show. Bart's voice actress, Nancy Cartwright, said it is one of her top three episodes together with "Bart Sells His Soul" and "Bart the Mother", while writer Al Jean said the episode was his favorite sentimental episode. Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer, named it his favorite episode of the show together with "Simpson and Delilah" and "Homer the Heretic". Executive producer James L. Brooks said he thinks "Lisa's Substitute" stands out because it is The Simpsons' "best show" with a message behind it.
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- VanDerWerff, Todd (2007-08-01). "5 for the Day: The Simpsons". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
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