Why The Simpsons Super Bowl Episode 'Lisa The Greek' Was Ahead of its Time

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Why The Simpsons Super Bowl Episode 'Lisa The Greek' Was Ahead of its Time
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Would you trust an indecisive sports betting tipster named Smooth Jimmy Apollo who is openly correct only 52% of the time?

Few would, but that didn’t stop Homer Simpson following the NFL betting advice of the fictional sports broadcaster in the classic Simpsons episode ‘Lisa The Greek’, which first aired 30 years ago ahead of Super Bowl XXVI.

Having originally aired in the US in 1992, it took over five years for the first gambling-themed Simpsons episode to cross the Atlantic, but it was worth the wait for BBC viewers.

Episode 14 from the third season of the long-running animated TV series unites the show’s most opposing characters – Homer and Lisa – as the pair finally find some common ground, turning Sunday’s NFL fixture list into ‘Daddy-Daughter Day’.

Homer’s hapless run of luck betting on NFL comes to an end as Lisa’s prognostic skills prove incredibly fruitful in the run-up to the Super Bowl, with local underground bookmaker Moe Szyslak repeatedly forced to pay up.

The title of the episode is a play on fallen TV personality Jimmy Snyder, AKA Jimmy The Greek, a wise guy character from the betting underworld who featured regularly on CBS show NFL Today in the 1980s.

Of course, the name Smooth Jimmy Apollo derives from Synder too, but Homer is no longer swayed by dodgy tipsters in the public domain when he realises his daughter has a serious knack for picking winners.

Given the well-founded concerns around underage gambling in today’s society, it’s doubtful such an episode would be commissioned in 2022, but three decades on from its creation, ‘Lisa The Greek’ has aged surprisingly well.

Moral issues are addressed throughout, with Marge quarrelling: “But gambling is illegal,” to which Homer amusingly replies: “Only in 48 States!” As ever, Lisa wrestles with her own conscience and even has a nightmare about becoming a gambling addict later in life.

Although convincingly passed off as comedy, writers Jay Kogan and Wallace Wildarski – who took inspiration from their own love of betting on American football – appeared intent on addressing both the thrill of gambling and the perils, which they were under no obligation to do back in 1992.

In that sense, you could say this Simpsons episode was way ahead of its time, and it wouldn’t be the first time that has been said about America’s favourite dysfunctional family.

Visit Our Responsible Gambling Section For Guidance

In Homer’s words, betting is ‘a little thing Daddies do to make football more exciting’ and that still rings true, except calling up the local barman to place an unregulated bet is becoming a thing of the past in the US with 21 States now permitting mobile betting in some form or other.

Winning Streak

Having been guilty of taking everyone’s word as gospel, Lisa shows Homer how to spot bluffers and players with fear in their eyes, leading to the double act going on a run of eight consecutive weeks picking winners.

Moe’s illegal sportsbook operation is run right under the nose of Police Chief Wiggum, who can be seen drinking in his Tavern using the barman’s betting ledger as a beer mat at one point.

Meanwhile, high rollers Krusty The Clown and Sideshow Mel bet $700 and $2000 on the Rams respectively, while Homer risks Lisa’s entire college fund on New York – all $23 of it.

Homer becomes flush and treats the family to a fancy dinner and gifts – Marge gets an expensive perfume while the kids are overloaded with the best toys imaginable.

But Marge becomes suspicious and Homer’s greed soon lands him in hot water with both his wife and Lisa, leaving his relationship with his daughter hanging by a thread come Super Bowl Sunday.

It’s just as well Moe has stopped taking Homer’s bets by the time the biggest game of the season rolls around, because he already has his daughter’s love on the line with Lisa having worked out that her father is more interested in winning money than spending time with her.

‘So that’s it, you only wanted me to help you gamble, you never wanted to be with me at all?’ says a heartbroken Lisa, as Homer obnoxiously suggests ‘Daddy-Daughter-Day’ is over until next season once the Super Bowl is settled.

Homer ends up with no bet on the Super Bowl but still has a lot riding on the game. With Lisa having refused to give him her prediction on who would win between Washington and the Bills, she tells him a Washington win would mean she still loves him; a Bills win means she does not.

‘What you got riding on this game?’ asks a fellow bar-fly as Homer anxiously watches Super Bowl XXVI in Moe’s. ‘My daughter,’ he replies.

The episode had been carefully choreographed to include the two Super Bowl finalists that year and aired in the States just three days before Washington beat the Bills 37-24 in the 1992 showdown.

In The Simpsons, Washington – who were favourites in the Super Bowl betting that year – staged a late comeback to win the game, much to Homer’s delight.

Simpsons Predicts The Future

It’s one of many instances in which the Simpsons accurately predicted the future. Indeed, FOX edited the episode for a re-run each year for the following three Super Bowls to reflect the teams competing from 1993 to 1995, and Lisa correctly called the outcome every time.

For Homer, it was mostly about winning money on sports, but he did come through in the end. The episode concludes with Homer and Lisa hiking up Mount Springfield to watch the flames burning from the tyre-yard the Sunday after the Super Bowl, so ‘Daddy-Daughter-Day’ continued even after the NFL season had ended.

In these early episodes, Homer does tend to showcase signs of being a somewhat decent father. In newer episodes – if you can stomach them – his exaggerated character would likely have continued to gamble and gone bowling with Barney instead of hiking with Lisa that Sunday.

There is a lot about this award-winning episode (Yeardley Smith won an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance as Lisa) that can be considered contemporary, from Malibu Stacy’s feminist newsletter to the pitfalls of irresponsible gambling.

The sports betting context was also of a progressive nature, considering the gambling subculture in the US was nowhere near as prominent as it is now, or as prevalent as we expect it to be in the years to come.

The writers’ knowledge of sports betting shines through with the gambling lingo used throughout. If only Homer’s betting nous was as astute – he failed to realise Smooth Jimmy’s Lock of the Week is wrong 48% of the time.

‘Lisa The Greek’ is truly Homer and Lisa at their very best and a re-watch would get any Simpsons fan in the right mood for Super Bowl LVI. Sadly, they don’t make them like this anymore.

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