"Lisa's Substitute" is a delightful and truly underrated episode that shows the contrasting lives of the two oldest Simpsons children, and has both of them, in the end, learning a valuable life lesson. This episode consists of one major plotline, showing Lisa's experiences with an illuminating substitute teacher named Mr. Bergstrom, and a smaller subplot, showing Bart running for class president. The Bart subplot comprises much of the comic relief of this episode.
In this particular subplot, we see Bart running versus Martin Prince - the class genius - for the coveted title of class president. Because of his ebullient attitude and increasing popularity, Bart feels that he is surely going to win the title of class president, much to the dismay of his teacher, Ms. Krabappel. It turns out however, that during the election, only two people bother to vote: Martin Prince and Wendell. Bart loses the election that was assuredly his. This can be easily compared to the Dewey-Truman election of 1948, in which many people believed Dewey to be a lock for the presidency. The Chicago Tribune even declared on its front page: "Dewey Defeats Truman!", before the official word was ever in. Perhaps Bart learned from this experience that one can never be too sure of a "sure thing". Which just goes to show you, those who do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.
The main plotline of this episode follows Lisa Simpson as her teacher, Ms. Hoover, becomes ill, and requires a substitute teacher, named Mr. Bergstrom. This plot is not merely played out for laughs; instead, it shows just how much heart this comedic show can have. In my opinion, Lisa Simpson is one of the most underrated characters on all of television today; to me, her character represents the undervalued and underappreciated souls in society, a role of which some people - myself included - can truly relate to. In this episode, Mr. Bergstrom is a nurturing and caring teacher, who tries as best as he can to get all of his students - especially Lisa - to reach their full potential. He does not merely teach his students; no, he engages them; he brings books and history to life, incorporates song into the learning process, and makes school and learning better for all of his pupils. Mr. Bergstrom especially touches Lisa's heart; in my opinion, this is because she has never been encouraged to reach her full potential - which, undoubtedly, is very great - by any of the adult figures around her. Mr. Bergstrom make Lisa feel as though she is indeed something special; which, of course, she most certainly is. She not only keenly observes and comments and the world around her, but she also does not fall prey to the many fads and trends around her, rendering her my favorite character on the Simpsons. This episode helps to put Lisa in the spotlight, and show her full potential, rather then putting her in the background, again. One of my favorite scenes in this episode is when Lisa, Homer, and Mr. Bergstrom are at the museum. This scene shows the importance of having a strong male role model in a young girl's life, especially when her father is not up to the task of fulfilling that role. In one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in all of the Simpsons history, Lisa goes to the train station to meet and talk to Mr. Bergstrom before he leaves for his next substitute teaching job. Before he leaves, he hands Lisa a note. When she opens it, it is revealed that the note says: "You are Lisa Simpson".
"Lisa's Substitute" ends with Homer consoling both of his downtrodden children: Bart is sad because he lost the election that he was sure to lose; and Lisa was upset because Mr. Bergstrom had left, possibly for forever. Even though Homer and Lisa had just had a large fight that consisted of Lisa calling her father a baboon, Homer puts that aside to console his daughter and be there for her when she needed him most. This moment truly shows that Homer is not such a bad parent all the time, and has his good moments as well.
This episode is truly great not just for the laughs it provides with Bart's class president subplot, but also with many of the great life lessons it provides. In addition to the ones mentioned in my review above, "Lisa's Substitute" does a great job of spelling out a few more invaluable life lessons. One such lesson is the importance of not caring what other people think. This can be seen in the scene where some of Mr. Bergstrom's lesser students draw a mean-spirited picture of him, and calling him names. Instead of being hurt by this cruel endeavor, Mr. Bergstrom laughs it off. This lesson also relays the message that it is truly not the worst thing in the world if you do not fit in; you just need to remember who you are (I.e., "You are Lisa Simpson), and stay true to yourself. "Lisa's Substitute" also shows how much impact a truly great teacher can make on your life. Mr. Bergstrom, a truly great teacher, showed Lisa just how wonderful a person she is, and helped her to belief in herself, even when nobody else does. This episode truly touched my heart, and I sincerely hope that it touched yours as well.
Some may argue that since this episode is not brimming with humor and jokes, that it is not worth watching. I however, could not disagree more; I find that several of my favorite Simpsons episodes are more serious ones that deal with real problems that face real families in today's society. This wonderful episode simply furthers my opinion that a great show like the Simpsons does not need to be stuffed with laughs in order to make a truly great and unforgettable episode. I recommend "Lisa's Substitute" for anyone looking for not only a few laughs expected of a show like "The Simpsons", but also for a few touching moments that give this show its heart and soul.