(originally aired December 10, 2006)
We had sad, pathetic Moe two episodes ago, and now we have sad, pathetic Nelson. What’s with pussifying all these characters? Yeah, it’s the idea that the school bully is just scared, vulnerable and wants to be loved, but that’s such a trite concept that the show does nothing to build upon. Nelson invites everyone to his birthday party, and only Bart arrives, having been forced to go, and also the one who riled everyone else up to ditch him. He soon feels bad, as Nelson is apparently a pitiful, lonely loser, and the two become friends. I’ve mentioned this previously, but a big thing lost in these new episodes is subtlety. Making Nelson more than just a threat on the playground is fine; we’ve seen softer sides to him with his infatuation with Andy Williams and huckleberries. But here, Nelson’s this cloying, co-dependent basket case. It’s such a wild shift, and none of it was particularly entertaining. It’s sort of like a character study, but I wasn’t buying into it.
Bart discovers being friends with Nelson gives him amnesty from the other bullies, which warms him up to his new acquaintance. But Nelson becomes insanely jealous when he finds Bart hanging out with Milhouse, and Bart gets understandably shaken up about it. The two have a final confrontation on a field trip, where feelings are shared (“There you go again, you act all nice and then you go crazy!” “Well, maybe I get jealous, but it’s just because… I’ve never had a best friend before.”) Awww, how sweet. Gag. Everything feels so artificial and phony though, since this turn with Nelson had no real build-up to it. Why didn’t the other bullies show up to Nelson’s party? And doesn’t he consider them his friends? If they had showed Nelson is like the pariah in the bully circle and that they don’t really care about him, I would buy into that, since he hangs around with them all the time. Why didn’t they do anything like that? An annoyingly empty episode.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The B-plot involves Homer’s bedtime story time with Lisa, reading Angelica Button, which the shrewd viewer will notice slightly resembles Harry Potter. And by slightly, I mean it’s this show’s version of “parody,” which is just copy the thing and change the nouns. It’s also this bizarre thing that we’ve seen J.K. Rowling, yet this series exists, just like we have Star Wars and Cosmic Wars. And also, Homer cries into a signed photo of Graystache, which for some reason looks like the fantasy version we see when he tells the story, which exactly like him. What? It’s all a bunch of nonsense. The conclusion with Lisa preferring Homer’s made-up ending is kind of sweet, and I really like the line, “Time to do what I do best: lie to a child!,” but that’s about it.
– Bart and Lisa walking in on their parents have sex kind of bothers me. It’s happened in the past, but as a quick joke: spurring baby Bart’s first words, or working into a story, in a montage of Homer and Marge’s increasingly devoid sex life, but here, much effort is made by them to shoo the kids away so they can have morning coitus, then they see it, and we see Bart visibly traumatized. It’s kind of disturbing to me, then they follow it up with Milhouse mentioning he’s walked in on his dad masturbating. Or perhaps something much more filthy. I’d rather not extrapolate.
– “Individually, we are weak, like a single twig, but as a bundle, we form a mighty faggot!” Yeah guys, faggot is an actual word outside a gay slur. But lots of people don’t know that. So how can we make this joke? Show the dictionary definition on the screen. Because as I always say, explaining the joke always makes things funnier.
– Nelson escorts Bart to the good life, walking through the back of the cafeteria to VIP seating a la the long camera shot from Goodfellas. At least it’s a “parody” that integrates into the story, but it’s kind of weird, when did Nelson become kingpin of the school? And also, more poor cel shaded CG with the hallways.
– The well-established poor Nelson apparently has a digital camera that he took pictures of Bart and Milhouse with. Mmkay.
– At the start of act three, Bart fears for his life from Nelson at the kitchen table. Then Grampa appears (“Bully problem, eh!”) He’s just there standing in the kitchen, and due to a slight animation mistake, when the camera pulls out to reveal him, he slides forward a bit into position. And what a perfect visual representation of this trope. Characters appearing in scenes for no reason, just sliding into frame and then sliding out once they’ve done their stupid gag. Also, we’ve come such a long way since “Bart the General.” Both episodes involved Grampa advising Bart about Nelson the bully. Old Grampa was full of piss and vinegar. New Grampa is a pussy (“You know what they say: all bullies are cowards. It’s not true! They’re brave ’cause they’re strong!”)
– We end on a Brokeback Mountain reference at the end where Bart hugs the jacket Nelson gave him, which just feels kind of weird and disturbing given these are ten-year-olds. He’s really tenderly clutching that thing and stroking it… like what the fuck am I watching?