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Recap / The Simpsons S2 E19 "Lisa's Substitute"

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Original air date: 4/25/1991

Production code: 7F19

After Ms. Hoover announces that she's on medical leave for Lyme diseasenote , Lisa finds a kindred spirit in her substitute teacher, Mr. Bergstrom, but when he leaves and Ms. Hoover returns, Lisa is crushed and angry that Homer doesn't care. Meanwhile, Bart runs for class president.

This episode provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: To the famous moment from The Graduate with the guy framed under a woman's leg, which is kind of odd since Dustin Hoffman was credited under the Punny Name "Sam Etic" rather than his actual name.
    Mr. Bergstrom: Mrs. Krabappel, you're trying to seduce me.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Mr. Bergstrom encourages students to make fun of his name and is amused by a picture of him captioned with "the singing dork".
  • Anachronistic Clue: Invoked when Mr. Bergstrom pretends to be a cowboy from 1830 and invites the class to find the three mistakes in his outfit. Lisa notes his revolver (first created in 1835) and State of Texas belt buckle (Texas became a State in 1845), but misses his digital wristwatch.
  • Assumed Win: The fourth graders are so confident that Bart would win the election that none of them bother to vote. By the time Bart gathers Milhouse and Lewis from recess, it's already too late. Martin even poses with a newspaper whose headline reads "Simpson Defeats Prince".
  • Because You Can Cope: Bergstrom has to leave because he's needed in Capital City's projects.
    Lisa: But...I need you too.
    Bergstrom: That's the problem with being middle-class. Anybody who really cares will abandon you for those who need it more.
  • Bumbling Dad: Homer, of course.
    Mr. Bergstrom: Lisa, your homework is always so neat. How can I put this? Does your father help you with it?
    Lisa: No. Homework's not my father's specialty.
    Mr. Bergstrom: Well there's no shame in it, I mean, my dad—
    Lisa: Not mine.
    Mr. Bergstrom: You didn't let me finish—
    Lisa: Unless the next word was "burped", you didn't have to.
  • But Now I Must Go: Mr. Bergstrom accepts a job at another town and leaves Springfield.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Lisa drops a major eye-opener on Homer when it seems like he doesn't care about Mr. Bergstrom leaving or why she's sad, one that shocks even Bart simply because no one expected her to say it:
    Lisa: I didn't think you'd understand...
    Homer: Hey! Just because I don't care doesn't mean I don't understand.
    Lisa: [stands up angrily] I'm glad I'm not crying, because I would hate for you to think what I'm about to say is based on emotion, [points angrily at a startled Homer] but YOU sir... are a BABOON!
    Homer: [gasp] Me?
    Homer: [stricken] I don't think you realize what you're saying...
    Lisa: BABOON!!! [runs off crying]
  • Cheer Them Up with Laughter: Lisa is upset after Mr. Bergstorm, the substitute teacher, leaves. Homer pretends to be a monkey which causes her to laugh and cheers her up.
  • Chick Magnet: Besides Lisa's crush on him, Mr. Bergstrom also attracts the attention of Mrs. Krabappel and the woman in his former apartment building is pretty infatuated with him.
  • Chore Character Exploration: While Marge and Lisa are folding laundry, Lisa talks about how much she likes Mr. Bergstrom. At one point, Snowball II walks onto a sheet and Marge has to move her out of the way.
  • Cool Teacher: Mr. Bergstrom is an intelligent, sophisticated, dedicated, loving, excellent teacher who really does care about the students. He becomes a giant inspiration for Lisa.
  • Couch Gag: The family comes in to find the couch missing.
  • Crack Defeat: Deconstructed. Everyone is so sure that Bart will win the election that only two students (Bart's opponent Martin and a friend of his) voted, and Martin won.
  • Crowd Chant: "More asbestos! More asbestos! More asbestos!"
  • Curse Cut Short: When Mr. Bergstrom tells Homer that Lisa needs a strong male role model, Homer worries that Lisa will think he hasn't been a good enough dad:
    Homer: She looks around and sees everybody else's dad with a good education, youthful looks, and a clean credit record, and thinks, "Why me? What did I do to deserve this fat old piece of..." [breaks down in tears]
  • Decided by One Vote: Two, actually. Bart and his would-be voters were so sure of Bart's impending victory they didn't bother to vote. Martin won 2 - 0.
  • A Dog Ate My Homework: When Sherri and Terri nominate Bart for class president, Bart says that he had a speech prepared, but Santa's Little Helper ate it.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The title refers to Mr. Bergstrom being Lisa's substitute teacher but also her substitute father figure.
  • Dynamic Entry: Mr. Bergstrom shows up in cowboy attire and fires off fake gunshots into the air, scaring the wits out of Vietnam veteran Skinner. These days, doing something like that wouldn't be tolerated, even if the guns were fake.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: While comforting Lisa, Homer tells her that he has been lucky because unlike her, he's never lost anyone special to him. Season 7's "Mother Simpson" would make that untrue to Dark and Troubled Past levels.
  • Friend to All Children: One of the reasons Mr Bergstrom's so beloved.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: Mr. Bergstrom says this when he sees Homer wallowing in self-pity.
    Mr. Bergstrom: Mr. Simpson, you have got to be a bigger man.
    • Marge makes Homer well understand the context of why Lisa snapped at him and called him a baboon rather than let him complain about being called one.
      Marge: Homer, you're not allowed to have hurt feelings right now! There's a little girl upstairs that needs you! Her confidence in her father is shaken, and no little girl can be happy unless she has faith in her daddy!
  • Golden Moment: Gets a little Deconstruction with Homer specifically trying to pull one off for Lisa. Like most real parents, he doesn't automatically know how to make sense of a situation or get something helpful out of it just because he's the adult. Still, he forges forward and does a decent job before realizing the best thing he can do is make Lisa laugh. (After leaving her room, he almost instantly achieves his own Hard Truth Aesop version with Bart. "Holy moly, talk about parenting!")
    Homer: I just wish I knew what to say. (opens a music box) Although maybe this music will help.
  • Historical In-Joke: After winning the election, Martin holds up a copy of the school newspaper announcing Bart's "victory", copying a shot of Harry Truman doing the same with a newspaper announcing his opponent Thomas Dewey's "victory" in the 1948 presidential election.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: Mr. Bergstrom was drawn to resemble Dustin Hoffman. They even threw in a Shout-Out to The Graduate.
  • Insult Backfire: While Bart and Martin are campaigning for class president, the latter hangs a poster attacking the former that reads "A vote for Bart is a vote for anarchy!". Bart is then seen hanging his own poster with the exact same slogan.
  • Kick the Dog: Homer twice: first he (and Bart) laugh at Lisa's story when she tells Marge that Mr. Bergstrom cried while reading Charlotte's Web to the class and again after Lisa was explaining to him that she'll never see Mr. Bergstrom again and when she confuses his indifference with not being able to empathize with her, he boldly clarifies "Hey, just because I don't care doesn't mean I don't understand!"
  • Landslide Election: Martin crushes Bart in the election. He wins with two votes, the amount of people who bothered to vote anyway.
  • Low Count Gag: Bart's class is about to elect a class president. Bart gets nominated and he wins the class over by telling jokes and other gimmicks. Certain of Bart's victory, they forget about voting, including Bart. So it happens that Martin wins with just two votes, his own and Wendell's.
  • Married to the Job: Mr. Bergstrom rejects Mrs. Krabappel's advances to him, saying "It's the children I love."
  • Master of None: Mr Bergstrom tells Lisa that in reality he and other substitute teachers are this knowledge wise, they know just enough about a whole bunch of subjects to teach it for a day or two.
  • Metaphorgotten: Homer tries his best to cheer Lisa up by telling her that there are many special people waiting for her in the future, but loses his train of thought and can only describe them in a place "where the food is real good, and guys like me are serving drinks." He lampshades his inability to speak in metaphor and tries to be silly to cheer Lisa up instead.
  • Nice Guy: Mr. Bergstrom is easily one of the best people to ever have been in Springfield. He's kind, considerate and a talented teacher who understands children and recognizes Lisa's intellect.
  • Parental Substitute: The tension of the episode comes from the fact that Bergstrom is filling the void of Homer's deficiencies as a father.
  • The Perils of Being the Best: Mr. Bergstrom has to leave Springfield Elementary to teach underprivileged kids in the projects. He tries some false modesty, but then admits that he's the best at what he does, which is why he's more needed there.
    Mr. Bergstrom: That’s the problem with being middle class, anybody who really cares will abandon you for someone who needs you more.
  • Precocious Crush: 8-year-old Lisa seems to be crushing on Mr. Bergstrom who is her teacher. The promotions all but confirm it.
  • Reaction Shot: Bart brings a video of a cat giving birth for Show and Tell. We only see the class' squicked-out reaction, and then Bart says "If I hit reverse, I can make them go back in!". Cue Screaming at Squick.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Mr. Bergstrom openly cries at the end of Charlotte's Web.
  • Second Place Is for Winners: Bart is depressed because he lost a class election in which he was the massively more popular candidate because all his constituents forgot to vote, letting Martin Prince win by default. After questioning him about it, Homer rather perceptively points out that the position didn't actually come with anything Bart would want—other than the title, all it entails is extra responsibilities.
    Homer: So let the baby have his bottle, huh? That's my motto.
  • Series Continuity Error: A tiny one: Marge's family Christmas letter in "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" says that the family bought Snowball II to replace the original Snowball, while in this episode it appears that they fostered Snowball II's pregnant mother and kept one of her kittens. ("We were gonna keep the gray one, but the mother ate her.")
  • Special Guest: Dustin Hoffman as Mr. Bergstrom (credited as Sam Etic).
  • Steam Never Dies: An unusual variation, where the train Mr. Bergstrom leaves Springfield on is shown to have a diesel locomotive pulling the coaches, but it sounds like a steam train, complete with chugging and whistle.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: This is how Lisa's tearful goodbye to Mr. Bergstrom plays out. It's lampshaded, of course.
  • Unsportsmanlike Gloating: Mrs. Krabappel, ecstatic that Martin won the election, rubs Bart's loss in his face by demonstrating the two votes that cost him his victory. "One for Martin, two for Martin!"
  • What Does She See in Him?: Lisa thinks so little of Homer, she has a hard time believing that he inspires the same feelings in Marge that Bergstrom does in her.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: Subverted, as Mr. Bergstrom reads some of the actual text of Charlotte's Web. The commentary notes that they used the absolute maximum they could get away with before having to pay for it.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Three separate examples:
    • Mr. Bergstrom gives Lisa a simple piece of paper and tells her that if she ever loses her way or doubts herself, all she needs to do is read it. She unfolds the paper and reads four words that bring tears to her eyes: "You are Lisa Simpson."
    • Homer feels both insulted and out of his depth when Lisa leaves the table in tears, but Marge tells him that he's Lisa's father, and it's his job to be the one she can depend on, even if he doesn't believe it himself.
    • Homer himself tells this to Lisa, saying she's so brilliant and good-hearted that in the future she will find plenty of people as special to her as Mr. Bergstrom:
      Homer: There's probably a place where they all get together and the food is real good and guys like me are serving drinks.
  • You're Insane!: Skinner poses it as a question (understandably) after Bergstrom enters the classroom dressed as a cowboy and firing off cap pistols.
    Mr. Bergstrom: Uh, no sir, no, I'm not, it's my way of getting their attention.