67. New Kid on the Block

*sigh*

  • First broadcast: Thursday 12 November 1992, Fox Television
  • First shown on UK terrestrial television: Monday 27 April 1998, BBC2
  • Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss
  • First draft: Conan O’Brien
  • Writing staff: Jay Kogen, Wallace Wolodarsky, George Meyer, Jon Vitti, John Swartzwelder, Jeff Martin, David Stern, Conan O’Brien, Frank Mula, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Dan McGrath
  • Storyboard: Martin Archer, Wes Archer
  • Animation director: Wes Archer

Last week’s episode showed what happens when all the right people on the Simpsons production team do all the right things. This week we see what happens when all the right people do all the wrong things.

Plot
Which version of Homer do you prefer? Is it the one who takes issue with organised religion, can recite from memory the names of former Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, and who gives up a chance to ride on the Duff blimp in order to make his daughter happy? Or is it the one who drinks washing-up liquid, ignores health and safety instructions to play with a Rubik’s Cube, and who rejoices at the idea of his neighbour going bankrupt? If it’s the latter, this episode is for you. If it’s the former, there’s very little for you to enjoy here, as even the scenes that don’t feature Homer and focus instead on Bart’s crush on Laura Powers – the “new kid” of the title – are flat and unengaging. Everything memorable about this episode takes place away from its twin plots and in spite of Homer and Bart. 3

Characters
“‘Tis no man. ‘Tis a remorseless eating machine.” The idea of making Homer a food monster was one of the worst in the entire history of The Simpsons. It is a character trait that has no appealing or humorous aspects whatsoever. And it is here, in this episode, that the rot begins, when we see him drag Marge to a fish restaurant in order to take advantage of its ‘all you can eat’ policy. Homer’s gluttony is then allowed to play out in excruciatingly unfunny detail, as he devours tray after tray of food, ignoring entirely the reaction of his wife, the fellow customers and the restaurant staff. He even consumes two plastic lobsters.

But the episode doesn’t stop there. Later we see him get more drunk than he has ever been, while trying to “teach” Bart about women.

We see him pissed out of his brain in a child’s paddling pool. Finally we see him back at the restaurant, once again shovelling food into his mouth, with a queue of people outside ogling this disgusting spectacle. It is an outcome that has been arrived at only after Homer took the restaurant to court, because – yes – they wouldn’t allow him all he could eat. Set against all of this rubbish, the greatest sin of the other plot in this episode, that of Bart getting a crush on the daughter of the Simpsons’ new neighbours, is one of boredom. It goes nowhere, just like Bart’s infatuation, though not before subjecting us to the grisly sight of Bart trying to be a junior Hugh Hefner. 1

Locations and design
The all-you-can-eat restaurant is done up to look appropriately gaudy and uninviting. It is the sort of place you would only go if you wanted to stuff your face, rather than relax, talk, socialise or do anything else common to most restaurants. As such, its design does pretty much what the story demands. 6

Pardon My Zinger
There’s little to laugh at. Moe tries to convince Ruth Powers, the mother of Laura, that Moe’s Tavern is actually called Bo’s Cavern, purely so he doesn’t have to honour his promise of a free drink. We get a double-helping of prank phone calls (Amanda Hugginkiss and Ivana Tinkle). There’s also a neat visual joke when dozens of bags of “shrimp” are lugged into the courtroom, ostensibly to provide evidence of Homer’s gluttony, only for them to turn out to be “18,000 letters all addressed to Santa Claus”. 3

Special guests
Sara Gilbert (who played Darleane in Roseanne) provides the voice of Laura Powers; her mother Ruth is voiced by Pamela Reed, probably best known in the UK for Kindergarten Cop and, many years later, Parks and Recreation. Both have parts in this episode that don’t really give them a chance to do anything than be plot points: Bart’s crush and Homer’s new neighbour respectively. Reed would return as Ruth for a much more substantial role in next year’s episode Marge on the Lam. Outclassing both Gilbert and Powers in this story is Phil Hartman as Lionel Hutz. He also has the best line: “This is the most blatant case of fraudulent advertising since my suit against the film The Never-Ending Story!” 5

Music
It’s almost as if Alf Clausen, realising what a poor story he’s been given to orchestrate, contributes just enough to remind you this is a cartoon with music but not enough to actually allow you to remember any of the notes. 2

Voices
Dan Castellenata supplies what the script asks him, but it’s not an enjoyable listen. In the courtroom scene, Marge is called to the witness box to recount what she and Homer did after being kicked out of The Frying Dutchman. The weariness with which Julie Kavner relates how they drove around looking for another all-you-can-eat restaurant, before staying out even later to go fishing, mirrors exactly the same weariness on the part of the viewer on being greeted by yet another attempt to fashion humour out of someone’s gluttony. 2

Animation direction
One thing that goes a little way to redeeming this story is its animation. There are some inspired moments that stay with you long after the credits have rolled, such as when a resident in the retirement home dances a jig for Bart:

“Can your grandfather do this?”

When Maggie and the cat waltz around the kitchen:

A cameo from one of Bart’s former babysitters, so scarred by the experience that all she can do is mumble to herself while rocking to and fro:

And the sight of Moe bounding almost gleefully across a moonlit field with carving knife in hand, on the mistaken assumption he is about to unmask his prank caller. 8

Homages, spoofs, fantasies
As with so many episodes from this point in Simpsons history, the story opens with a spoof of another TV programme: in this instance, a non-specific dating show (called simply HUNKS) in which impossibly attractive people swap vacuous sentiments (“He looks so sexy, I hoped we would have sex!”). It’s there purely so that Homer can misunderstand the phrase “making bacon on the beach” and start salivating at the prospect of cooking some meat at the seaside. 2

Emotion and tone
Being generous, it is perhaps possible to love both of the two “versions” of Homer that appear in The Simpsons and to not find any difficulty in reconciling them as the same character. It is even perhaps possible to love Homer precisely because he behaves so inconsistently and can flip unpredictably between someone who is clever and witty and someone who is idiotic and repellant. Possible, but not very plausible – particularly on the evidence of this episode. Sometimes in The Simpsons the writers offer Homer some crumbs of redemption in the guise of a final scene or closing words that help correct some of the wrongs that have gone before. Here we get nothing, and you are left simply with the memory of Homer sitting in the restaurant window shovelling bucket after bucket of food into his mouth, endlessly, unthinkingly, for all eternity. 0

Verdict: 32%
‘Tis a remorseless stomach-churning machine.

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