The Simpsons, Season Four, Episode Eight, “New Kid On The Block”

Way back in the first season, I suggested that part of the Classic era of the show was giving up the riffing in favour of fast-paced plotting, and I’m going to formally concede that I was as wrong as I am handsome. While it’s true that some episodes have taken on a more frantic farcical pace, the seeds planted by “Moaning Lisa” flowered a while ago; quite a few plots successfully riff on a premise as opposed to building a plot out of them, and what’s different to the much older episodes is that they can stick to a theme and an emotion as well as “Moaning Lisa” did.

Like a lot of episodes around this time, the show takes a left-handed way in without it being completely out of the realm of logic. It begins with Mrs Winfield making her final(?) appearance as she tells Homer she’s moving away, and this directly sets up our A-story of Bart developing a precocious crush on the teenage girl next door, Laura Powers. The show pulls off a pretty amazing balancing act of selling us on the idea that this is a cool teenager without betraying either half of that equation – Laura is worldly in the sense that she knows what hurtz donuts and wet willies are and is very good at video games, and her charm comes from her quiet confidence (great acting by guest star Sara Gilbert), her ability to turn a quip (“That chick’s messing with our minds!” is one of my favourite moments in the episode) and her cool military-style jacket (I wonder how much she influenced the costuming of Lindsey Weir on Freaks And Geeks, or if they draw from the same fashion trends). She’s really the exact kind of girl Bart would fall for.

From there, it explores how lovestruck Bart acts, and we get an early iconic part of the show that this episode contributes: Bart in his Hefner outfit, using a bubble pipe. I’m increasingly fascinated by how lowbrow pop culture is fascinated by high class and the general ‘gentleman’ archetype; It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia makes a lot of fodder out of the Gang’s obsession with and inability to live up to class, Groening’s own Futurama has Bender, the lovable asshole, constantly playing at Hefner the way Bart does, and think of all those random internet commentors who say things like ‘good show, sir!’ or write long wannabe-intellectual essays on twenty-eight year old cartoons. It’s funny to think that The Simpsons both mocks that attitude through Bart, and contributes to its presence in pop culture.

Anyway, the emotion driving this episode, the precocious crush, elevates it as much as depression elevates “Moaning Lisa”. As well as trying to replicate pop culture, Bart turns to the men in his life, Grampa and Homer, for advice on women, and we get the second iconic moment of this episode: Homer’s attempt to explain women that hastily drops one metaphor for another before ending with Homer drunk off his ass and having been completely useless. It abruptly (though logically) shifts when Laura reveals to Bart that she has a boyfriend: Bart’s bully, Jimbo Jones, and we switch from puppy love to teenage love, at which point it goes from charmingly nostalgic to hilarious. I was more eloquent at that age than Jimbo, but I can assure you I was equally as stupid as “Oh man, now my pants are chafing me!”.

Delightfully, Bart resolves this using part of the language of the show: he crank calls Moe. Even without my all-time favourite crank call, ‘Amanda Huggenkiss’ (mainly for Barney’s smartass response: “Maybe your standards are too high!”), using it to advance the story works as part of the whole ‘The Simpsons is its own ecosystem’ idea, as Bart sics Moe on Jimbo and reveals him to be less a tough guy and more, you know, an emotionally vulnerable teenager. Bart doesn’t get the girl, obviously, but he wins her respect; he is cool enough that he’ll end up dating someone like her one day.

Next to all of this, we have the B-story, with the third iconic moment: Homer goes to an all-you-can-eat restaurant and gets kicked out. Much like the A-story, it builds off the opening, but its less direct in that the opening shows how Homer is a godawful pig, informing both his gluttony and his decision to pursue legal action. It’s much closer to the kind of comic plotting I was predicting, because every scene of this story just pushes us further and further into absurdity with every choice the characters make; I practically weep with laughter when Marge shamefully admits that when they couldn’t find another all-you-can-eat fish restaurant, they went fishing. The apparent compromise, turning Homer into a roadside attraction, is really, really, really, really… funny.

Chalkboard Gag: I will not bring sheep to class.
Couch Gag: The couch falls through the floor.

This episode was written by Conan O’Brien and directed by Wes Archer. Originally, there was to be a subplot about Homer feuding with Don Rickles, who was upset at the idea of being presented as ‘a mean guy’.

During Homer’s court case, the Blue Haired Lawyer asks for the amount of shrimp Homer ate to be brought in to the courtroom, only to apparently have a mixup with men delivering letters to Santa Claus, a parody of A Miracle On 34th Street. The video game Bart and Laura play is no specific reference to anything aside from Texas’ heavy punishments for crime, but the ‘change of venue’ button strikes me as very similar to the Spy Vs Spy game. 

This is the first episode I watched with my new TV setup, using earphones hooked up to my TV so as to not disturb the neighbours (though this now means I cackle with laughter in an otherwise silent house). I can report that, delightfully, when Moe crosses the screen sniggering and waving his knife, the effect is in stereo.

I choose to have no images aside from the header and the Biggest Laugh to ease the strain on old computers and poor internet, but I’m thinking of changing that up so I can include things like the image of Old Jewish Guy dancing.

We get exactly one scene of Laura’s mother Ruth, but it’s a great example of Marge’s conservatism/squarishness bouncing off someone, and lays some great groundwork for their episode together later.

First Appearances: Ruth Powers, The Sea Captain
Biggest Laugh: