One of TV’s most bittersweet loves is that of Ralph Wiggum for Lisa Simpson in The Simpsons
When you think of famous couples on television, your mind probably goes towards romantic comedic pairings: Ross & Rachel, Ricky & Lucy, Carrie & Big. As the big V-Day approaches, I am most reminded of a couple that didn’t make it in the love department. In the fourth season of The Simpsons, creator Matt Groening introduced us to a couple that would not be: Lisa Simpson and Ralph Wiggum.
Until “I Love Lisa,” Ralph Wiggum hadn’t really been featured front and center, but writer Frank Mula was able to capture the innocence of a realistic first crush hilariously in this episode. I’m not sure how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in elementary schools nowadays, but I distinctly remember making a mailbox to sit on my desk for Valentine’s Day cards to be delivered. In “I Love Lisa,” the middle Simpson child feels bad when Ralph Wiggum receives nothing in his mailbox (what kind of pre-It Gets Better world do these little bastards live in anyway?). Instead of looking the other way, Lisa quickly delivers a Valentine to Ralph, and he’s immediately smitten.
Ralph Wiggum is an easy target for ridicule. Within the first 5 minutes of the episode, he admits that he’s eating a crayon, and he glues his head to his shoulder while constructing his Valentine’s Day mailbox. Some of his more notorious moments on The Simpsons involve other characters laughing at him, and that’s what makes “I Love Lisa” such a special entry in this massive animated canon.
“I Love Lisa” perfectly captures the feeling of a first crush. When Lisa acknowledges Ralph’s loneliness and pain, she reaches out to comfort him in a seemingly innocent way. When Lisa wishes Ralph a Happy Valentine’s Day, he sighs in such an enamored way that it reminds us of our own schoolyard crushes. Later in the episode, Chief Clancy Wiggum tells his son that a way into a girl’s heart is persistence. Ralph manages to get tickets for the Krusty the Klown anniversary special. When he accidentally humiliates her on live television, she lashes out at him in such a cruel way that we can “actually pinpoint the second his heart rips in half.” Who hasn’t felt this way? Who hasn’t felt the complete and sudden evaporation of those feelings?
In his heartbreak, Ralph then delivers a Tony-caliber performance as George Washington in the Presidents’ Day play. It may sound cheesy, but it’s totally an example of how heartbreak can drive you to achieve great things. Ralph may not have wanted to be a great actor, but his rejection led to an acting breakthrough—and he was only 8 years old!
Lisa Simpson and Ralph Wiggum may not have ridden off into the sunset together (Milhouse is still holding out hope), but “I Love Lisa” is a perfect example that you don’t always need a storybook ending. Sometimes you can have fleeting feelings or brief crushes and you come out the other side a more experienced person. Falling in love doesn’t always guarantee an ending, but it can shape who you are.