TV Review / Recap: “The Simpsons” Visits the Future Again in Season 34, Episode 9 – “When Nelson Met Lisa”

The Simpsons has flashed forward to the future of its animated world a number of times by this point, and I feel like at least several of those instances have focused on catching up with what feats Lisa Simpson (voiced by Yeardley Smith) has accomplished in her adulthood.

This week’s new episode of the long-running series dipped into that well again, with a sequel of sorts to the eighth-season installment “Lisa’s Date with Density,” entitled “When Nelson Met Lisa” (a riff on the 1989 Rob Reiner-directed romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally… starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, though there are also hints of the Before Sunset series and other romcoms at play here in homage).

“When Nelson Met Lisa” begins with Lisa rehearsing for her valedictorian speech as she prepares to graduate from an unnamed college, when she runs into her old classmate Nelson Muntz (Nancy Cartwright), who works at the school… pushing stuff… and ringing the cathedral bell every hour– he lives in the belfry as well, though that doesn’t bother Lisa. The two reminisce about the time they once briefly dated, and flames are rekindled, but a hasty decision on Lisa’s part means they don’t see each other for another five years, at which point Lisa is married to a tech guru and Nelson has become half of a married bounty-hunter partnership. There are the requisite jokes about Nelson being a recovering bully, and at this moment in their lives they couldn’t possibly seem like more different people, but we flash ahead yet another five years to find the two meet-cuting in a darkly futuristic take on an Apple Store, owned by Lisa’s dorky and controlling now-ex-husband Hubert Wong (Simu Liu of Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fame). Nelson and Lisa almost fall for each other again, but a last-minute demonstration of devotion from Hubert delays their recoupling until four months later when they attend the marriage of their best friends Jimbo Jones (Pamela Hayden) and Krusty the Clown’s daughter Sophie (Orange Is the New Black’s Natasha Lyonne).

I think the creative team behind this episode of The Simpsons really want it to be charmingly sentimental, but the idea of Lisa ending up with Nelson just bothers me so much that I can’t get past it to the point of enjoying this outing for what it is. Maybe that’s because I’m a Milhouse– Bart’s best friend whose boyhood crush on Lisa is referenced a couple times here– but I just can’t wrap my head around it no matter how hard I try. I think I was willing to go with it as a childhood fling that Lisa quickly grew out of in “Date with Density,” but here the idea that the two opposites genuinely are destined to be together seriously rubs me the wrong way. There are a few laughs to be had in “When Nelson Met Lisa” (I liked Harry Shearer talking to himself in the wonderfully bizarre, hilarious, and dystopian bit about the clones of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan falling in love and running for president together, which plays over the end credits) but overall I vastly preferred the fairly similar effort of the classic “Lisa’s Wedding” from season six. In that episode, at least I bought that the person Lisa had fallen in love with fit her personality type. But tonight’s installment left me with an icky feeling and wishing that this fictional character that I’ve known and admired for over three decades would aim a little higher for herself.

New episodes of The Simpsons air Sunday evenings on FOX.

Mike Celestino
Mike serves as Laughing Place's lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly "Who's the Bossk?" Star Wars podcast. He's been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.