“Little Girl in the Big Ten” is the twentieth episode of The Simpsons’ thirteenth season.
Lisa finds herself unable to do any sports in PE class, taught by Brunella Pommelhorst
, and finds herself failing gym. She then signs up to do gymnastics with Coach Lugash (from "Children of a Lesser Clod
"). There, she receives encouragement from the ghost of John F. Kennedy
in a dream. That and her large head gives her perfect balance, Lisa passes with flying colors. Lisa also meets two girls and becomes friends with them, but with their fractals and parking permits, she realizes they are college students “with small gymnast bodies!” They give Lisa a ride home, and she acts like a college student to keep their friendship. The two girls invite her to a poetry reading by Robert Pinsky
soon after. Lisa finds herself looking more like a college student with a beret, which helps her fit in even more.
Meanwhile, Bart gets bitten by a Chinese mosquito that was in his Krusty-saurus toy manufactured in a sweatshop with a communist Krusty logo, and becomes infected with “Panda virus”. To prevent getting others sick, Dr. Hibbert puts Bart in a plastic bubble. Bart has trouble adapting to life in the bubble even though Hibbert emphasized just how “normal” it would feel; he has trouble eating and Homer gives him a bath by filling up the bubble with the hose and rolling Bart around outside of the house.
Lisa is able to keep up her double life, attending a poetry reading by former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky (voiced by Pinsky himself) at night and attending her second grade class during the day. While going to Springfield University, she is tracked by Milhouse, Martin, and Database. At a lecture about Itchy & Scratchy cartoons, they blow Lisa’s cover and she's no longer welcome by her college friends.
Lisa also loses all of her friends her age, thinking they are not “college enough for her”. Bart, in the meantime, gets used to his bubble, gets more popular, and also a thing of amusement for Homer. Bart tells Lisa what she should do to get her friends back: she has to pull a prank on Principal Skinner. The next day, Chalmers is dedicating the Seymour Skinner parking annex. While Martin takes pictures of Skinner posing next to a giant chocolate cake in his dress polyester, Bart rolls Lisa (inside his bubble) to the edge of the school’s roof. He then pushes her over the edge, splattering the cake all over Skinner. Lisa gets her friends back, while Bart goes paranoid after being outside for the first time in days. He stays in an air vent and gets sucked in.
- The poem that Robert Pinsky reads is Impossible to Tell, which refers to the Japanese haiku poet Bashō, whose pen name means "banana tree".
- Coach Brunella swears by Xena, from Xena: Warrior Princess.
- The phrase “April is the cruelest month” used for testing the microphone at Cafe Kafka is the opening line from modernist poet T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land.
- The cockroach paintings at Cafe Kafka are a reference to The Metamorphosis, a novella by Franz Kafka.
- One of the college girls carries with her a copy of Thomas Pynchon's novel, Gravity's Rainbow.
- The title Little Girl in the Big Ten, is a reference to the Big Ten Conference, a collegiate athletic conference comprised entirely of large state universities (except for Northwestern University) in the Great Lakes region of the United States. Coincidentally, the Big Ten recently started a joint venture with FOX, the Big Ten Network.
- In one scene Homer sings an altered version of the song "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba.
- When the two gymnasts give Lisa a ride home the song "All Star" by Smash Mouth is playing.
- In the episode of Itchy and Scratchy that the college class is watching, Itchy and Scratchy are Amish. Itchy feeds Scratchy to a cow who digests him then is milked by Itchy who churns him into butter. The name of the butter is "I Can't Believe It's Not Scratchy", a reference to the margarine brand I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.
- The Itchy and Scratchy cartoon is said to have the production code "DABF06" which was the production code of The Bart Wants What It Wants, which aired earlier on in the 13th season.
- The gymnastics coach Lugash is a parody of Olympic gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi (who was first seen in the season 12 episode Children of a Lesser Clod).
- When Bart is informed that his infection is contagious, he says "Contagious? Outrageous!" which is a reference to the intro to Jem.
- When Lisa is changing from an Elementary School student to a college student "The Pink Panther Theme" is playing.
- During Lisa's fall on the chocolate cake the opening sequence from Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Richard Strauss plays in the background.
- Bart becomes a superhero named Bubble Boy whitch is a parody of a 31st century superhero Bouncing Boy.