AVClub: This one got so close.
At this point in Simpsons history, there’s nothing inherently wrong with recycling plots, especially when the family’s weekly adventure keeps them close to home—trip to Jambowski Island (formerly Haiti) excepted. So when Lisa’s new friend Harper (guest star Kristen Bell) turns out to be a spoiled rich kid whose me-first behavior sours the relationship—forcing Homer to choose between his daughter’s happiness and the VIP bracelet, swim-up movie theater playing Back To The Future lifestyle of his dreams—the stage is set for a classic Homer-Lisa bonding story. That “Friend With Benefit” never quite gets there isn’t a function of familiarity—it’s just that the conflict isn’t adequately established before the end. You know what they say about The Simpsons—it never loses, it just runs out of time. Okay, no one said that, ever. Not even in the good old days. But, with a little more room to work with, this episode (credited to Rob LaZebnik) could have taken its place alongside such “Lisa’s got a new pal” episodes as the one with Lisa’s prematurely grown-up friend, Lisa’s friend who’s better at everything, or even Lisa’s summer friend. (It is significantly better than the one about Lisa’s Republican friend—man, Springfield could have a club of just one-appearance Lisa friends, come to think of it.)