The Simpsons season 26, episode 11, is a memory better repressed. “Bart’s New Friend” is an annoying 10 year old and there’s nothing more annoying than a ten year old, especially when he’s telling booger pizza jokes from 13 years ago.
Maybe the creative team of The Simpsons should undergo regression therapy. I don’t care if Judd Apatow did write this while he was still in grammar school, somebody’s doing too many retreads. The hypnotist Mesmerino brought Homer back to when he was twelve years old in “The Blunder Years” in season 13. It even had a great and classic bit where Homer just keeps screaming after reliving some hypnotically uncovered trauma about finding Smithers’ dad’s corpse. Yes, it was funny, it just doesn’t read funny.
The Simpsons season 26 is a turning into a kind of clip show. But it’s falling so deep into the subconscious they don’t notice when repressed memories come floating to the surface. When Homer looks down at his reflection in the water, at the old watering hole with Hucklebarty Finn, he sees a bloated corpse, the exact thing that sent the future safety inspector of section 7G into hysterics thirteen years ago.
All the clues are there: the trauma of $10 ice cream cones at the circus; Homer enjoying Lisa’s saxamophone like he just had a crayon shoved up his nose; the Springfield Isotopes taking the pennant, wait, no, that was another hypnosis episode. They even remember that Homer lost his thumb in an episode crowded with short stories. There are still more jokes per minute than most TV comedies, but The Simpsons are becoming more like the rest of episodic sitcoms. This week, the show will celebrate the anniversary of their first real episode, “Bart the Genius,” a crudely drawn masterpiece. The sharper the animation of The Simpsons gets, the less sharp its wit.
It all starts with retirement. Don Bookner is gone. He’s given back the gold watch. It doesn’t seem quite right that tightwad Mr. Burns would shell out the salary for two safety inspectors. Now that Homer doesn’t have someone looking out for him at work, he’s got to hit the books, learn which buttons to press and actually do his job. Responsible Homer is all work and no play and, in this economy, we can’t afford a no-nonsense Springfieldian.
As Bart’s new best friend, Homer is a boon at the playground, quickly replacing Millhouse on the bottom rung of the monkey bars and cowering even Nelson. Bart’s embarrassment is over too quick. Homer was a dweeb as a kid, as all evidence has shown, and the show gets too cuddly too quickly. Even the snuggling is G-Rated. Who wants to see Homer happy to cuddle? Marge should have lived to rue the day she had Sven Golly improve her perfect Homie. Though he can still groove to Lisa’s chipper version of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.”
Homer as a kid is only marginally smarter than Homer the adult and Bart is too understanding a devil in blue shorts for Evergreen Terrace. The first moment that Bart realizes he almost doesn’t want to prank his old man because he wants to be nothing but a ten year old, Bart should have found a way to destroy his much bigger brother who caused his sister such emotional distress, not celebrate the pencils dangling from his forehead. If you think Abe and Homer would be any better friends just by virtue of sharing a wet blanket, you don’t appreciate the Simpsons promise.
There is hope that Marge, even with prodding, doesn’t want an upgrade, but when Bart makes Homer run away for just one last night of pre-pubescent fun it’s not enough mayhem. Homer should have jumped Springfield Gorge of tagged the town el Homo or at least already have had his first beer. Ten’s a good age for that, isn’t it? I know Homer once sang that he didn’t have his very first beer until he was 17, and it was a very good beer, but it’s hard to believe he didn’t nip a little of his old man’s by the time he was Bart’s age. Bart has. He got a funnelful at a St. Patrick’s Day riot. What are these kids coming to?
Wiggum is a prize this episode, the kind that Cracker Jacks don’t carry anymore because the FDA banned them as a choking hazard. Wiggum is so on the job you’d think he went to some Tony Robbins seminar for overworked pork bellies and badges. His Kangaroo hops and personality exchanges are an improvement over Springfield’s finest’s best procedural manuals. You get the feeling that Clancy drops his pants for hypnotists as readily as Homer does for people who say they’re a doctor. After years of therapy, Lisa would probably surmise that they were just looking for an excuse because they’ve put in too many extra notches on their belts.
The inflexible laws of hypnosis are a comic goldmine, when diagnosed by Dr. Hibbert. It is, at its base, dinner theater grade improvisational comedy, the first rule being “always say yes.” But The Simpsons mine comedy from negatives and the further they delve into fixing the dysfunctional family dynamic, the more they veer from their base: disrespectful humor that ridicules family values and offends the bluenoses with cocky strides and musky odors, make them stroke their beards, and talk about “What’s to be done with this Homer Simpson?” The latter-day Simpsons insist on climbing out of the muck, but we keep rooting for them to crack out one last homer, like the Chicago Cubs.
In one sense, The Simpsons go back to older premises, not because they’ve burned through so many of them in their 26 years, but because they slashed across them so quickly the ideas weren’t given the space to breathe. That worked, for me, last week. This week, there really was no urgency, nothing in the balance. There was an improved family dynamic and the only thing to fear were the booger pizzas. Oh, and why bother having Judd Apadow write an episode without having Professor Frink say Katherine Heigl even once?
“Bart’s New Friend” was written by Judd Apatow and directed by Bob Anderson The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer Simpson, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Pattie and Selma Bouvier, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Chief Wiggum. Harry Shearer is Dr. Hibbert, Mr. C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Guest star: Stacy Keach.
But It All Went By So Fast: Snowmen don’t have carrot penises. When in doubt, put it out. Propoganda, profit, war. Freaks and Geeks. Drillbit Taylor. Superfat. The 400-Year-Old Virgin. World’s Longest Fingernails. Men, Ladies, Bearded Ladies. Hence is a maxima. The Great Gulpo. Celtic Charms: Makes a nutritious breakfast when combined with a nutritious breakfast. Springfield Dept. of Roads: Bridge Complete Next April. Penny Arcade, all games 75 cents. Tortureland. Pizza $8 a slice. Loki.