325. Milhouse Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

(originally aired February 15, 2004)
As I’ve mentioned several times, Al Jean’s latest tenure as showrunner seemed to involve attempting to bring the show back to its roots, but failing in most regards. We see it in episodes like this, which attempt to contain an emotionally-driven story, but are done in such a way that feel so csterile. Here we see that Luann Van Houten is moving Milhouse to Capitol City, leaving Bart without a best friend. At the start we see Milhouse acting belligerent and rambunctious on a field trip, figuring he has nothing to lose since he’s leaving Springfield seemingly forever. Bart is understandably upset; even though their dynamic has always involved him exploiting and doling abuse unto Milhouse, the two are still genuinely friends. Everyone has lost a childhood friend at one time or another so this is completely relatable, but there’s just something about it that doesn’t pack the right punch. We see Bart watching old videos of the two horsing around and he starts crying; it just feels way too cloying. I think back to “Homer Defined” and the shot of Milhouse alone on the see saw, which is both hilariously pathetic and legitimately sad at the same time.

Let me get this stupid B-story out of the way before I continue. After getting blasted at Moe’s, people mistake a disheveled Homer sitting on the sidewalk as a bum. With a wad of cash and Marge’s anniversary coming up, Homer takes to panhandling, which consists of him annoying passerbys and raving and screaming like a maniac, because apparently that’s in-character and funny to watch. An actual bum appears from nowhere and gives Homer tips of the trade for some reason; he only gets annoyed when he continues to panhandle after getting the money to buy Marge some nice earrings as his gift. That’s like the most magnanimous hobo ever. As Homer is stealing all of their “business,” said bum somehow knows who Marge is, tracks her down and exposes her husband’s actions. She’s upset at first, but then decides she wants more shit and demand Homer get the money to get her a broach. End of plot. I don’t mind Marge breaking her normal moralistic character, it kind of reminded me of the end of “The Cartridge Family,” except that ending worked, and this doesn’t. Her understandable anger at her husband is completely dissolved by her random selfish inclinations, it just ends up feeling unsatisfying.

Both with no one to really confide in or hang out with, Bart and Lisa inexplicably end up becoming friends. Some of their interactions are kind of cute, but a lot of their scenes together kind of just drag and are left joke-less. Just as their relationship continues to burgeon, Milhouse returns home, leaving Bart to ditch Lisa for him. Earlier we saw Milhouse had adapted a cool new persona to impress his new urban friends, but that was basically a disposable scene. It would have been cool if this show was actually about Milhouse, attempting to be like Bart in a new town so he could be on top, then lamenting having to go back to his lame self when he gets carted back to Springfield. But whatever, instead we have the Bart and Lisa thing, which ends with the most saccharine sweet ending ever, where Bart writes Monopoly Chance cards for his sister of kindnesses he’ll do for her. It’s so overtly manipulative and sappy, and not funny at all. This show used to triumph at creating emotional moments that were heartwarming and hilarious at the same time, now we see the show can barely do either right. Another disposable show.

Tidbits and Quotes
– We start with an extended sequence of the kids laughing at Nelson being poor, then getting kicked off the bus in the middle of nowhere and imagining himself in a tux and tails, lamenting, “Someday…” I don’t like that this has become his go-to character trait. It’s just sad and not funny…
– Nuclear inspectors are coming to the plant, so Burns has to hide the less-competent employees, sending Homer, Lenny and Carl to Moe’s. I guess gone are the days of shutting Homer in the basement to guard a bee. Why would Burns pay for their drinks?
– Isabel Sanford voices herself at the Museum of Television and Radio… I mean, TV, which is useless enough, but then they bothered to get Dick Tufeld, William Daniels and Nick Bakay to voice the Lost in Space robot, KITT and Salem the cat respectively, all of which say like two words. Two words. Couldn’t Hank or Harry have done it? Ridiculous. Just more padding out the guest star count.
– Simple, but effective billboard gag (Diamonds: Because Money Equals Love).
– I may be alone, but I love the “Yeess!” guy. He’s unquestionably one-note, but I really like Castellaneta’s performance. Here he sees a dirty, unkempt Homer walking to the register (“Oh no… oh noo… oh nooo!”) who then produces a fistful of dollars (“Oh yeessss!”)
– One of Milhouse’s Capitol City friends is like a little Eminem kid who raps… I dunno, is that like a joke? Whatever.
– Bart and Lisa horsing around washing the car is pretty cute, but the bits of them on bikes and discovering the Indian burial mound are basically joke-free.
– I was surprised when the episode ended, since it didn’t seem to resolve anything. Milhouse comes home, Lisa is dissatisfied, Bart does the schmaltziest thing ever and the two make up. It just felt very rushed, but no skin off my back, since I didn’t really care about the plot to begin with.

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10 responses to “325. Milhouse Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

  1. It’s not very funny, but at this point in the series I appreciate the writers attempting a down-to-earth, character-driven story with no random plot twists or gimmicks. Like in “I, D’ohbot”, it’s refreshing to see the story driven by the characters and their relationships with each other, instead of something random like “Homer needs to fight a bear” or “Marge accidentally gets implants.”

  2. The writers have mentioned this episode on DVD commentaries before, citing it as an example of an idea they couldn’t believe they hadn’t hit upon until 15 seasons in. And I guess they just kinda forgot they did pretty much the same thing way back in Season 3, and much better too.

    I remember the ending, where they did something incredibly sappy and dumb and then hoped they could get away with it by having Isabel Sanford point out how sappy and dumb it is. The lesson that drawing attention to how lame something is does not automatically make it not lame continues to elude the writers.

  3. I recall loving this episode back when it first aired for the reason Mike mentioned (that it was a character-driven story for the most part, and many of us could relate to the A-plot premise), but yeah, having re-watched it a few times, it’s simply not very funny. Especially the Bart and Lisa scenes, which just lacked any of the “punch” we expect from the show. The ending in particular felt like a very forced attempt at emotion. “Bart vs. Thanksgiving” was a much better-executed and realistic reconciliation ending.

    There are a few moments I did like:
    -“What about all the times I -didn’t- wear a tutu. Nobody ever brings -those- up!”
    -“I don’t like you, boy-mommy.”
    -“I want to know what you’ve been up to after work.” “I’m not gonna lie to you, Marge.” (continues reading the paper)

    • “I’m not gonna lie to you, Marge” would be funnier if it weren’t stolen wholesale from “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment”. And it comes on the heels of another brazen joke theft from Season 14, Bart’s fake apology bit from “Bart vs. Australia” reappearing in “Three Gays of the Condo”. I have to wonder sometimes if the writers honestly forget that they’ve done these jokes before, or if they know and they just hope we’ve forgotten. (C’mon, we’re Simpsons fans, we never forget anything.)

  4. All I remember is that awful ending where a disposable guest star I don’t care about comes in and says how awful the ending is or something.

  5. I actually thought this episode was one of 15’s best. I liked the Bart and Lisa story, as it was heart warming and done well. It shows that even thought this is past the point of meh, the writer’s can still do something with those two to show that their care for each other.

  6. I agree with the above that this is one of 15’s best, but that doesn’t say much about the season, does it? It’s like picking out the least-smelliest turd out of 22-ish turds. It might not be as disgusting as the other turds… but it’s still a turd.

    The problem with this one is how joke-free it is. Or, at least, I don’t recall any real jokes. I guess the best thing I can say about this one is that it sorta stuck with me, the b-plot I mean. When I first saw it, I wondered if anyone had ever actually gotten rich by just being a bum. Then, I found out recently, a homeless woman in New York got rich from donations. So, I thought of this episode. And this review made me remember the episode again.

    ………….And, well, now I have no reason to ever think about this episode for the rest of my life, heh.

  7. Huh, I like this episode a lot (well, except for the shitty subplot, and the apology ending); one of the very last in the series that I enjoyed. I think the friendship felt genuine and showed a new side to the Bart/Lisa relationship, but wish it had been focused on more. I’m a sucker for Bart/Lisa sappiness, which was certainly present in a couple classic-era episodes.

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