Sunday, February 12, 2006

Perfect characters: Lisa Simpson from "The Simpsons"

How easy would it have been to screw up Lisa Simpson? To make her just a whiny know-it-all or a parody of liberal well-meaningness? Conversely, how easy would it have been to make her just a foil for Bart or his partner in crime? And how easy would it have been to make her a character in search of an identity like Meg on Family Guy?

It would have been far, far too easy.

And yet, she's all of the things I listed above and more. In a television landscape where there are too few three-dimensional characters, Lisa has dimensions to spare. Somehow, even in the series' weaker episodes, she has been written consistently. Though Bart and Homer are better characters to drive a story, Lisa is by far the most complex Simpson. She hates her family but loves it. She's a part of it but completely alienated from it. And she seems to have traveled here from an earlier era.

Lisa is a nerd. She likes to read. She plays jazz. She understands difficult concepts in politics, history and religion. She's the very antithesis of everything television, a fast-paced, sound-bite-driven medium, stands for.

And that's what makes her so perfect, especially on a show that's the fastest-paced of them all (or was in its day). Lisa is a throwback to an earlier America. Where Homer is brutish and loud and Bart is a troublemaker, Lisa is an idealist, ready to stand for the best in people, from her family to her town.

I would go so far as to say that The Simpsons wouldn't WORK without Lisa. While she's almost never the center of stories, she IS the center of the show. Without her point-of-view, though, the show wouldn't have a heart. It would just be a bunch of jokes fired off into a void (see, again, Family Guy). Many of these jokes would be funny, but they would ultimately prove hollow.

Lisa somehow makes this cartoon seem realistic. I know the trend increasingly is to have no straight men in television comedies, but I'm not sure the trend works. Straight men have been around forever for a reason: Comedy doesn't work without them.

Something to think about. . .

1 comment:

David Sims said...

You're darn tootin'. I would argue that it is both Lisa and Marge that embody what you're talking about, in different ways--aka the Simspsons would be nothing without them, they are respectively the sensitivity and heart of the show. But Lisa is definitely my favorite. Along with Moe.

More of these articles from you plz!