67. New Kid On The Block

(originally aired November 12, 1992)
Some part of me wishes the writers had done more with Ruth and Laura Powers. Marge could have some modicum of life outside the house, Laura could get into mischief with the bullies or something… I guess in the end it wouldn’t work. Not only are they guest stars (Pamela Reed and Sara Gilbert,) but something about the divorced mother and child seems very sitcom-esque, and unless there was something tweaked about them, it wouldn’t feel very Simpsons-y. The main plot of Bart having a crush on an older girl feels like a sitcom story as well, but it’s given a wonderfully cruel twist, and also balanced by a totally ridiculous B-story involving Homer being the most gluttonous man on the planet. It’s a show with little ambition, but that’s only because it embraces its smallness and does a fine job. It’s also the first show written by Conan O’Brien, so there’s that too.

The Winfields, the Simpsons’ other next door neighbor (remember? The old couple who laughed at Homer’s suicide attempt?) have finally moved out and have been replaced by Ruth Powers, single mother to teenager Laura, a smooth-voiced tomboy with a penchant for childish pranks. Bart is instantly smitten. Meanwhile Homer is desperately awaiting his night out to the Frying Dutchman’s for their All-You-Can-Eat special, and Bart leaps at this opportunity to volunteer Laura as a babysitter. As tenuous as these two plots connect, there’s at least a flowing relation between the two, unlike last episode where the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” story was completely divorced from everything else. Homer proves to be an insatiable pig, resulting in the crew tossing him out of the restaurant. Lionel Hutz in tow, he sues the establishment for false advertising. Every court room scene on the show is bound to have great material, like the shocking revelation that Captain McAllister (his first appearance) is not actually a real captain. Also great is Marge’s increasingly pathetic admissions to Homer’s rampant appetite, such as him eating an entire bag of flour. This actually may be one of the few times, if the only, when Lionel Hutz is actually somewhat competent.

Meanwhile, Bart’s heart is shattered (or rather ripepd out of his chest in a dream sequence) upon hearing Laura is seeing teenage rebel (and one of his constant tormentors) Jimbo Jones. His resolution to this dilemma is pretty sharp: he prank calls Moe for the umpteenth time, then gives him Jimbo’s name and his address. The sociopath Moe is, he arms himself with a rusty knife and dashes off to hunt down his tormentor. Now, here’s what’s odd about this ending. The idea here was to reveal that Jimbo isn’t a real man, and something Laura admits at the end. Meanwhile, the trigger for this was when a strange crazy man with a knife burst through the door and threatened him with it, Jimbo pleaded for his life. Who wouldn’t do the same? It’s funny all the same because of how over-the-top it is, and how petty Laura is for no reason. Also shocking is how despite Moe’s admission that he intended to stab this young boy, we still bear no ill will toward him. I guess in the same way we love Sideshow Bob even when he tries to murder Bart. But never mind that, happy endings for all as Laura tells Bart, “You know, if you were only old enough to grow a bad teen-aged moustache, I’d go out with you in a second.” Sweet ending to a sweet show.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I love Homer’s uncontrollable joy upon finding the absolute junk in front of the Winfield’s house, and his willingness to shove any medicine down his throat as long as it’s free (“C’mon, Marge! Maybe I’m not getting enough… estrogen.”
– Odd that Marge reveals she’s allergic to seafood when she’s had fish twice before, at the Rusty Barnacle (“Homer’s Night Out”) and the Happy Sumo (“One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.”)
– The Simpsons is all about extremes: a potential buyer of the Winfield’s house is pretty sold (“Now, I don’t know much about haggling or bargaining, so why don’t we just agree to pay whatever the Winfields want”) but is immediately put off by the horrifying view out the window of a drunk nude Homer in a wading pool eating hot dogs (soaking in said water.)
– Now why would you hire a company called Clumsy Student Movers? You basically know what you’re paying for.
– A particularly disturbing moment revealing that one of Bart’s former babysitters is apparently near catatonic after whatever trauma she may have endured. I like that the show has the balls to regularly pull out dark humor like this, even for the sake of a quick joke.
– Homer attempting to converse with Ruth is hilarious, with his delicate tip-toeing around mentioning her divorce (“I’m glad one of us remembered. That could’ve been embarrassing”) and his complete inability to read between the lines (“…we’re talking about sex, right?”)
– The “Death Row” arcade game is classic: the Change of Venue button heads you to a Game Over in Texas, with an 8-bit prototypical Rich Texan celebrating the convict’s execution.
– Hutz is brilliant right out the box (as always) upon hearing Homer’s case: “I don’t use the word hero very often, but you are the greatest hero in American history.”
– Homer’s advice about woman he gives his son is immortal: after failing to compare them to a refrigerator, he instead compares them to a beer (“They smell good, they look good, you’d step over your own mother just to get one!”) Then he proceeds to get drunk, leading to a great slurring nonsense performance by Castellaneta, with a wonderful drawing of a bored, disillusioned Bart waiting patiently for his father to pass out.
– More great stuff at the trial: the Miracle at 34th Street homage with the bags and bags of letters, and the defense’s realization they might lose at the hands of a completely overweight jury.
– Amanda Huggenkiss is probably my favorite fake name. When Moe shouts, “Why can’t I find Amanda Huggenkiss?” Barney responds, “Maybe your standards are too high!” He also gets a great line when Moe leaves, telling him not to steal any beer: “What kind of pathetic drunk do you take me for? Gasp! Somebody spilled beer in this ashtray!”

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3 responses to “67. New Kid On The Block

  1. Earlier episodes would often have the WInfields appear somewhere in the Simpsons’ neighborhood (in “Simpson and Delilah” they live down the road in the same direction as the Flanderses, and in “Separate Vocations” they live across the street) but I think this is the only episode where they’re actually the Simpsons’ next-door neighbors.

  2. It’s odd we see ruth powers again a couple of times and not Laura, then again it’s odd we don’t see more comebacks of some guest stars, —- or at least not until zombie simpsons wanted to remind us of classic simpsons and made us all feel bad.

    I do love the “You won’t be needing this!” It’s just so wonderfully overthetop, also seeing Lisa behaving like an actual kid with her kissy kissy to torment Bart is another nice thing I’ve missed.

  3. I don’t use the word hero very often, but you are the greatest hero in American history.

    My second-favorite Hutz line ever.

    (#1 – Works on contingency? No, money down! Hmm…I probably shouldn’t have that Bar Association logo, either.)

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