585. Teenage Mutant Milk-Caused Hurdles

Original airdate: January 10, 2016

The premise:
Bart falls for his new military vet teacher, but must combat with Skinner for her affections. Meanwhile, he and Lisa must deal with accelerated puberty thanks to hormone-blasted “Buzz Milk.”

The reaction: “Tell, not show” is not just commonplace in episodes these days, it’s the fundamental piece of bedrock the show sits on. It’s to the point where I’ve tried to stop complaining about it so much, but it seems like it just keeps getting more and more egregious. This show is a pretty awful example, featuring piles of exposition performed as characters’ inner monologues. Bart’s new teacher is a beautiful badass war vet who clearly wins over the room by how cool she seems to be. In case you can’t figure out why Bart would be smitten by this by, you know, his behavior on screen, his mind tells you for us, like we’re listening to descriptive captions (“What am I doing? I’m sitting up straight, my hands are folded like a nerd! Now one’s up in the air!”) The next morning, Bart is well groomed to impress Sofia Vergara (who voices the new teacher, whose name I won’t bother to look up), and Marge exposits some more (“Hair combed? Face washed?”) There’s not even a funny third observation, it’s literally just saying aloud what’s on screen. It’s all over this episode, moreso than usual. So what happens is that by way of hormone-tainted milk, Lisa gets a bunch of zits and Bart starts growing a mustache (which looks incredibly disturbing, as seen above). To disguise her facial blemishes, Lisa takes to wearing make-up, which makes her a hit on the playground. The progression of her “plot” is 90% internal monologue (“Oh my God, I’m popular! Hope this doesn’t go to my head. …it went right to my head!”) Later on, she’s all tarted up at a cool kids party, then notices it’s about to rain, and we get twenty seconds of her thinking what’s going to happen when she’s exposed, and deciding to just come clean. When she gives her rambling, nothing speech to the other guests, someone off-screen yells, “Is there a point to this?” Is that the audience surrogate? The main story involves Bart and Skinner fighting for Vergara’s affections. It reminded me slightly of that show a few seasons back of the Kristen Wiig art teacher inexplicably being interested in Skinner. There’s one brief scene of Skinner and Vergara bonding over having both served in the military, so at least there’s somewhat of a connection there, but it doesn’t really matter. But this plot of a boy and his principal fighting over a woman, their jabs and one-ups at each other… it felt like such a sitcomy premise, the kind this show used to make fun of. Among many of this show’s sins, one of its biggest is embracing the old TV tropes and conventions it used to gleefully satirize. Rather than feel above such common television trappings, the show is now content to wallow in the conventional, non-challenging ooze.

Three items of note:
– This episode I guess is the first to really address what has become of Bart’s class now that Mrs. Krabappel is gone. We start with Willie as an ineffective substitute, then they bring in Vergara. By the end of the show, she breaks up with Skinner after taking one look at his mother, and our final tag features a throwaway line about her re-enlisting to Afghanistan to get away from them all. You figure at some point the writers are gonna have to bite the bullet and come up with some solution to this vacancy in the cast. A new character, maybe? But that would be too hard, considering this show has just been recycling the same jokes from the same batch of characters from the first ten seasons for about fifteen years now. I don’t know for sure, but I’m almost positive that over the next few seasons, there will still be no new fourth grade teacher. Again, writing new things is very hard, so why bother?
– As mentioned, the constant expositing is absolutely rampant here. Homer drives along singing what his BAC level is, passes Wiggum, and he comments on what Homer just said. Then Marge appears in a thought bubble, and tells him to pick up milk (“And not just any milk; healthy milk, without any hormones!”) She holds up the carton and holds, so I guess you can laugh or something. Then as we get another close-up of the same carton as Homer walks it to the counter, we get an ADR line (“Woo-hoo! I’m running a basic errand!”) The amount of time that passes between reiterating what’s happening in the story is getting shorter and shorter.
– Homer teaches Bart to shave, which inevitably reminded me of the same sequence from “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.” Great relatable bits like Homer tending to his many bleeding areas and freaking out after applying aftershave are replaced with him wanting to eat shaving cream because that darn Homer sure loves food! He’s also a big dummy because he shaves with the strip still on, so then he actually shaves his beard and reveals a creepy-looking chin. He runs to show it off to Marge, but his beard reappears off-screen during a cutaway. Wasn’t it funnier, and visually more interesting, seeing Homer’s beard reappear mere seconds after shaving it with an audible ‘pop’ noise in “Some Enchanted Evening”? Honestly, I really try to avoid doing direct comparisons, especially with similar jokes, but when the parallels are this close, I can’t help but think back to how much sharper and smarter the humor was back then.

One good line/moment: Another outsourced couch gag, this time done by British animator Steve Cutts. “La-Z Rider” is a pastiche of 1980s pop culture, mostly Miami Vice, featuring tough cop Homer and his partner, his cybernetic couch, kicking ass and taking names set to “Push It To The Limit.” It’s a truly bizarre, but wonderfully executed sequence, really fun and imaginative. The level of creativity in guest pieces like this or the pixel opening is just so stunning, that you can just see the clear artistic divide between these and the episodes themselves. Even the couch gags over the last few years have been really dull and lazy, sometimes they just end before there’s even a clear punchline. It’s even more apparent in this instance. For whatever reason, they decided, seemingly last minute, they needed an in-universe “joke” to end the piece on, so we get the family on the couch, having just watched this fake opening title. A hastily animated Homer jots his arm forward to turn the TV off (“Damn reruns!”) Then Maggie rolls by in a little couch with a trail of flames, the other family members remaining static save for their pupils keyframing from right to left. Just lazy, lazy shit to immediately follow a beautifully animated sequence.

13 thoughts on “585. Teenage Mutant Milk-Caused Hurdles

  1. I do remember this being terrible. Like the season premier, a terrible idea at conception that just gets worse and less self-aware once it is put on screen.

  2. In the Pokemon Go episode, there is no teacher in Bart’s class. I really don’t know why they didn’t create another character… to recycle the plot of new teacher ever, maybe?

    1. I don’t get the reason either. Maybe the in-universe explanation is that they couldn’t afford a new teacher? Oh wait, that actually requires effort on the part of the writers to explain. Can’t have that now, can we?

    2. Al Jean seems to be terrified of disrupting the status quo, even, apparently, when real life would force him to do so (such as a voice actor dying). Just look at the few changes to the status quo the show has had under Jean’s reign (Ling’s adoption and CBG’s marriage to Kumiko). As Mike as pointed out, they are little more than props outside of their premier episodes.

      It wouldn’t surprise me that they’ll never establish a new fourth grade teacher because it would shake up the status quo too much and it’s an easy position for one-shot guest voices.

      1. “Al Jean seems to be terrified of disrupting the status quo, even, apparently, when real life would force him to do so (such as a voice actor dying). Just look at the few changes to the status quo the show has had under Jean’s reign (Ling’s adoption and CBG’s marriage to Kumiko).”

        Lest we forget, he was fairly quick to undo the two most notable changes to the status quo from before he had taken over: the van Houten split and Edna/Seymour (which I’ll still take over Skinner being competition for Bart in the guest-voiced one-shot love interest department and that “Nedna” horses***t any day).

  3. Who the fuck approved the design for Bart’s mustache? They couldn’t have drawn it as black lines, comic book guy or Apu style?

      1. Nah, making him look like Homer would be too obvious. I like the ZoidBart look. That’s slightly more original because it isn’t so obvious.

  4. honestly, this episode didn’t look so terrible to me… some decently funny moments, which is quite rare these days!

  5. “Among many of this show’s sins, one of its biggest is embracing the old TV tropes and conventions it used to gleefully satirize.” I figured it out. If I want to write a really good The Simpsons episode for a plot that hasn’t been done by The Simpsons yet, I can take three different options.
    1. The most obvious solution: look for an old cliched sitcom plot and find a way to subvert it (assuming the classic seasons didn’t do the one I found yet).
    2. Actually do something effective for an episode with status quo changes that ultimately weigh to little, like: doing something with Maggie and Selma’s adopted child Ling, giving Kumiko Nakamura more interesting plotlines that add something new to Comic Book Guy episodes (and not have it turn out like Much Apu About Something), or giving Mary Spuckler a good storyline, even if it has nothing to do with her relationship with Bart.
    3. I know it’s a long shot, but…Have Pie Man, Sky Police, Bartman, Fruit Bat Man, and Spider-Pig team up to save Springfield from Sideshow Bob, Hank Scorpio, and Jason Simpson.

    If I can find good uses for them as new one-time guest characters, I would also love to have Nancy Cartwright’s niece Sabrina Carpenter or Kim Possible co-star Christy Carlson Romano in The Simpsons. Sorry for the nepotism.

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