The Simpsons, Season Three, Episode Twenty-Three, “Bart’s Friend Falls In Love”

After “The Otto Show” tried expanding its world with, uh, Otto, this episode is trying the same thing with Milhouse. The attempt is admirable, and in the long run Milhouse will pay dividends and so will his parents, but very little of what we see here will stick, because much like “Principal Charming”, the show tries doing this by giving him a  romantic interest, which only ends up serving to flatten him and make him more generic. It works a little better here than there because as a jumping off point for Bart’s story, his best friend falling in love works much better than his principal, exploring a fairly common emotion among children (I was the Bart a few times, and it got really old).

Really, nothing here lands as well as Milhouse randomly being forgotten last episode (except for Bart listing the times Milhouse has cried). Milhouse will be developed as the kind of kid Bart would make friends with – someone who’d be drawn to Bart’s charisma and weakwilled enough that Bart could manipulate him (“Then why did I have the bowl, Bart? Why did I have the bowl?”); Milhouse gets contact cool off him, and Bart gets a loyal stooge (I was the Milhouse a few times too). It’s not the healthiest dynamic, but it’s a plausible one, and the show could pull some heart out of it because both boys take their connection seriously, and it means something when it’s broken.

But dealing with what this episode gives us, it is a nice spin on having to deal with being a third wheel as a kid. Bart’s actions are over the line, but he’s always had the habit of scheming before thinking over how people around him will feel about it, and he’s sincerely trying to apologise to Milhouse when they fight at the end. It’s not as profound as the show can be, but it is entertaining television.

It does give us a neat thing the show would get better at: giving us pop culture elements that tie into the theme of the episode. The show has done parodies of children’s educational videos, and it’ll do more and better, but what we get here is fantastic – a parody of cutesy sex ed videos, using the story of Fluffy Bunny, and for a straightforward ‘kids sex ed videos but darker’ joke we get a whole range of jokes, from “THROBBING SEXUAL URGES” to the gun range being a wholesome activity to having the anthropomorphic rabbits suddenly act like real rabbits (“Eight of them survived” nearly made my biggest laugh). Even when it’s playing in a particular range, The Simpsons finds nuance.

Meanwhile, there’s a subplot about Homer listening to tapes as he sleeps, which was something of a fad in the 90s apparently (I remember a classic Dexter’s Laboratory cartoon that riffed on the same concept). The story doesn’t really go anywhere, but the jumping off point (Lisa is concerned that her father’s weight is going to kill him) is heartwarming enough and the concept (Homer accidentally gets a vocab improving tape instead) absurd enough that it carries it through the little screentime it gets, and gives us a hilarious capper in the Devil’s Dictionary-esque “Homer Sez: Increase Your Wordiness” (“Boudier: the place a French Guy does it”).

Chalkboard Gag: I will not snap bras.
Couch Gag: The family falls back through the wall.

This episode was written by Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky and directed by Jim Reardon. Kimmy Robertson, best known as Lucy on Twin Peaks, guest stars as Samantha. Samantha’s physical appearance was based on Kogen’s niece. There are references to Casablanca and The Singing Nun, Milhouse mangles a reference to Romeo And Juliet, and a science magazine Lisa reads has an article on the accuracy of “In The Year 2525”, but what people really remember from this episode is the parody of Indiana Jones that opens it up. It’s a spectacular work of animation, almost Looney Tunes in its fluidity, and it gets a lot of great laughs out of having underwear-clad Homer in place of most of Indy’s enemies, up to and including the giant ball (him rolling down the stairs has me weep with laughter).

First Appearances: Mr and Mrs Van Houten
Biggest Laugh: