262. New Kids on the Blecch

(originally aired February 25, 2001)
Ah, boy bands. What a wonderfully bizarre phenomenon that was; meticulously manufactured pretty boys with non-offensive ballads about “true love” to generate huge amounts of profit. It’s the kind of thing that seems parody-proof, because it didn’t take long before the genuine articles felt like parodies unto themselves. But being the new hip this, of course the series was going to take a stab at it, and of course they could get *NSYNC to do a guest spot. There’s plenty of this episode that makes no sense and is dumb, but I have to say I have a certain fondness towards it. It’s almost like they knew they had to put a ridiculous spin on it, and when shit goes off the rails in act three, it kind of feels wonderfully absurd, than just plain absurd. Same thing with *NSYNC; they’re unnecessary and crammed in the show in every respect, but when they show up with their little theme music at the end as they land their speedboat on the aircraft carrier out of fucking nowhere, I’m laughing. Sometimes you push things too far and they become hilarious. This is one of those times. Mostly.

Things start out randomly as Homer decides he’s going to run the Springfield Marathon, and it’s even more impromptu and head-scratching than you’d think. Bart pulls a “prank” by posing as a foreigner and cutting off the leads near the finish line and winning. He’s rescued from an angry mob by LT Smash, a record producer who thinks he’d be perfect for the new boy band he’s organizing, along with Nelson, Milhouse and Ralph. It’s not exactly clear why any of these boys want to be in the band, but I guess that doesn’t matter. The other three don’t even feel like themselves; they’re just thrown in the story because we need recognizable kids there. Boy band protocol usually calls for five members, but we only have four boy characters, so they’ll have to do. By the end when Nelson is commenting, “I can’t sing without dancing!” I’m wondering exactly who are these characters I’m watching. I’m not saying it couldn’t have worked with these kids, but perhaps injecting some of their actual personalities into the episode would have helped.

The episode’s saving grace comes from the twist. Lisa is suspect of the Party Posse’s new song and its eerie chorus, and comes to a shocking discovery. “Yvan eht nioj” is “Join the Navy;” LT Smash is revealed to be Lt. Smash, who is using the boys’ music to inject subliminal messages for naval recruitment. But when the navy aims to shut the program down on the eve of a scathing parody of the boy band by MAD Magazine, Smash goes insane and hijacks an aircraft carrier to New York, aiming to take down MAD. The subliminal messages angle is an interesting one to go involving the sinister motives behind boy bands, but it all becomes just so incredibly silly. But part of me really likes that; it’s going overboard to the greatest degree. It’s a different kind of silliness than jockey elves or the Prisoner island in that the naval plot makes some modicum of sense, and we can go along that Smash is simply a maniac because he never seemed all that all together from the moment we met him (“Who are you?” “You’ll find out in due time.” “Well, it says here your name is L. T. Smash.” “The time has come. I’m L. T. Smash.”) The characterization in this show is garbage, and there’s a lot of nonsense, but a fair amount of that nonsense is actually really entertaining to me for some reason. As much as I should, I don’t hate this episode. It’s one of the better ones this season, that’s for sure, and for an episode featuring *NSYNC, that’s saying something.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The beginning is incredible confusing to me. The family is watching a TV program about great Olympic moments, causing Homer to impromptu announce that he’s going to run the local marathon. Never mind that we really didn’t need this at all, since the family could have just been watching the marathon for the plot to work. Then it’s as if he lost track of his own conversation, saying he’ll swap jobs with Marge and see who has it tougher, and storms out of the room. Marge and the kids exchange confused glances. So do I. What the fuck is happening? Does this man officially have brain damage?
– Like the quote on the marathon banner: “Ruin Your Knees for Charity.”
– Bart’s faux-Italian accent is a pretty cute bit, but then a bird takes off with his mustache and he’s revealed to be a fake. Not entirely sure why he wasn’t busted earlier, since I’m sure there was registration for this race, and also a whole bunch of people who would have seen him run in at the finish line, but whatever. Then, another problem. We see an angry mob is closing in on Bart on the town hall steps. Then L.T. Smash’s car pulls up in front, and we see from Bart’s POV that now all of a sudden the stairs are empty, and the mob is all on his level. Then when he jumps to the car and drives off, we see there’s people lining the sides of the stairs allowing him to get away. Who the fuck staged this scene? Did no one notice that it was sloppy and made no sense?
– The secret to the Party Posse’s sweet, sweet vocals? Studio magic. Or more accurately, a voice altering machine labeled ‘Studio Magic’ (“Thank you, NASA.”)
– Why would they perform at the school, where everybody knows who the kids are? It almost feels like a talent show, not the start of a superstar career. I do like Smash’s interplay with Skinner though (“Man, they’re gonna be big. And you stood in their way.” “No, I didn’t. I even came in early and made orange drink.” “Orange drink? What, do you live with your momma?” “She lives with me.“)
– I really do like *NSYNC’s appearance, I gotta say. It’s just so dumb, with Justin Timberlake repeatedly saying, “Word!” and the other guy constantly calling stuff “old school!” And their little dance in to their theme song, and at the very end where they show up out of fucking nowhere, and say, “We heard what you said!” Somehow, as they were randomly speeding around the bay. The dumbness of it all is staggering, but it’s hilarious nonetheless.
– The Party Posse’s songs are almost too good, since they basically sound like the real deal. The “Drop Da Bomb” video (directed by Ang Less) is pretty amazing, as the boys place up a flag pole a la the soldiers at Iwo Jima, but only to play volleyball with some fine Iraqi girls. And ‘Yvan eht nioj’ is brilliant, one of the last truly inspired and memorable things the series would have to offer.
– The dumbness continues with the reveal of Lt. Smash; first he’s got a navy tattoo, then a nearby fan blows open his shirt to reveal another one on his chest reading “I [Heart] the Navy,” then Lisa removes the period from Smash’s nameplate to make “L.T.” into “Lt. Smash.” It kind of goes a bit too long with his fake wig and pant legs, but it continues to be a great scene, with Smash’s superliminal messaging and informing Lisa that he can’t let her leave… except she already did.
– Homer childishly teases Lisa, to which he rebutts, “Cut it out! You’re a grown man!” I’ve screamed that at the screen many a time in the last few seasons…
– Smash is confirmed to be truly insane as he imagines the mindless Party Posse fans into future soldiers, fighting the hippie menace, striding atop a giant praying mantis sling shotting deadly flowers at their enemies.
– Marge and Lisa escape the aircraft carrier as Smash boats off and don’t seem to concerned about Bart. Also why the fuck did they have to leave Homer there? He proceeds to be a complete irritant in the background for the rest of the show.
– Like “The City of New York,” this episode was pulled from syndication for a while following 9/11. Perhaps the finale of a maniac blowing up a building in New York City is somewhat offensive in hindsight… but at least no one was hurt. I like the look at the MAD writer’s room (“Why don’t we call it ‘Everyone Hates Raymond’?” “Well, we stayed up all night, but it was worth it.”)


16 responses to “262. New Kids on the Blecch

  1. This was a good episode, but really disappointed in their reuse of the ‘New Kids on the Blecch’ joke from bart’s visit the the mad office in new york. I mean, it’s been years. it’s so odd.

  2. I can’t believe I’m talking to Milhouse!

  3. My favourite joke from this episode is probably when L.T. Smash moves the sticker on his nameplate so it becomes “LT. Smash”, to which Lisa replies “Lieutenant Smash!?” “That’s right, Lieutenant LT Smash.”

    Actually scrap that, Ralph being a baritone is pretty funny.

  4. “Why don’t we call it ‘Everyone Hates Raymond’?” “Well, we stayed up all night, but it was worth it.”

    Why do I imagine that’s what the Simpsons’ writing room is like today?

  5. I like this episode a lot, but I’m always bugged by the fact that “Join the Navy” said backwards doesn’t actually sound like it does here. Is that OCD of me?

  6. This episode seems well liked and remembered enough amongst casual viewers of the show, I’ve noticed. Maybe it’s the boy band parody thing or the n’sync guest appearance, but this is one of the more widely-seen and seemingly well-liked episodes by people who usually don’t pay much attention to the show. Eh.

    I think it’s alright. Kinda silly, the dumb shit that would ruin simpsons completely from here on out. But the subliminal/reversed thing was a pretty interesting and clever bit, kinda novel when it came out though not so much nowadays.

  7. It’s no Classic Simpsons, but I’ll admit that the rate at which my friends and I described things, such as jellyfish stings, as “old school,” increased 500% after this episode aired.

  8. i dunno, i really wasn’t all that impressed with this one. i thought nsync was obnoxious, and that most of the jokes were just stupid. especially the tattoo bit with lt and lisa. …but ESPECIALLY the gun bit. it was just trying too hard. although i agree with mr. snrub (again, i like the way snrub thinks!) on the “lieutenant lt smash!” gag. hungry hungry homer was considerably better than this, though hhh was probably also the last decent show of this season…

    • It’s the only Swartzwelder episode past season 9 that’s actually decent aswell (except maybe the Max Power episode). I honestly don’t know what happened to him.

      • His novellas are hysterical, so he’s still got funny in him. I personally like to think he saw the quality of the show was dipping so he spent his last few years on staff punking the other writers

      • I think his classic scripts were shaped into great episodes by the other writers, perhaps. These scripts either were shaped by shittier writers or not edited at all?

        I always had the theory he just stopped giving a fuck, though.

  9. I feel like they whiffed it with this episode. The boy band craze was one of those perfect examples of utterly ridiculous cultural phenomena for a show like The Simpsons to tear to shreds, but it feels like they just kinda tapped it with kid gloves before left-turning into the whole navy recruitment thing. South Park did a boy band episode a year before this, and if you ask me, they did it a whole lot better.

  10. Meh, South Park did it better with Fingerbang. There were a couple good jokes in this one (Lt. L. T. Smash, the MAD magazine room), but overall, not particularly good.

    I also didn’t like that they just tangible threw in the Ralph, Nelson, and Milhouse. There should be other kids in the Simpsons universe, right? Of course, this arbitrary and often inappropriate inclusion of recognizable characters without any reason is well documented.

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