|Episode no. 105|
Written by Mike Scully
Production code 1F17
|Directed by Mark Kirkland|
Showrunner(s) David Mirkin
Original air date September 11, 1994
"Lisa's Rival" is the second episode of The Simpsons' sixth season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on 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. 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 arrives at Springfield Elementary. Lisa tries to befriend her since the two share many traits, but Lisa feels that Alison is better than her at the things she takes pride in and begins to doubt herself. 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. 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 students. 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 figurines 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 without any 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 their own homes. 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 derived from the names of 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.
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".