386. The Haw-Hawed Couple

(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?

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18 responses to “386. The Haw-Hawed Couple

  1. good episode. probably the only one this season… and the next, and the next…

  2. The writers seem to be actively trying to keep Nelson separate from Jimbo, Dolph and Kearney for some reason, turning Nelson from a bully ring-leader into an over-emotional loner that compulsively says “Haw-haw!” at things (which has been so over-used that it’s no longer remotely demeaning.)

    It’s like how Barney used to be Homer’s best friend and Lenny and Carl were his work/drinking buddies, but now Lenny and Carl are Homer’s best friends and Barney’s just a guy who’s permanently at Moe’s.

    • Also they’ve known each other since they were kids and Burns was Smithers father-figure making any brown-nosing by Smithers extremely creepy and bizzare…

  3. I like this one. It’s a much-welcomed break from the overused “Homer & Marge’s marriage in peril” plots, and the Bart/Nelson dynamic is definitely different than the Lisa/Nelson one in “Lisa’s Date With Density”, so it didn’t feel like a retread. Nevertheless, it wasn’t perfect and you highlighted some of the problems I had with 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.”

    I did like the Milhouse line, and Bart and Lisa’s confusion about why “Horse With No Name” is playing (“County fair music??”), but this sequence contained two eye-rolling moments: When Marge and Homer thank the Lord for the sex they’re about to have (seriously?), and shouting “Gooooooo love-making!” Ugh.

    “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.”

    Agreed, that was pretty lame. The only thing that would’ve made it worse is if Martin explained what a faggot was or if the definition was spoken aloud like a TV disclaimer.

    “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?”

    Agreed, that sequence doesn’t make any sense. The school staff should -hate- Nelson for his bully nature, not treat him like royalty. It just hit me: Why wasn’t a sequence like this in the Mook episode instead? It would’ve made more sense for Michael to get pampered, since everyone’s afraid of him. Lisa could’ve tagged along. It would’ve still been a recreation, but at least it would’ve made more sense.

    “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.”

    I sorta liked the B-plot, because it actually painted Homer in a sweet manner, which certainly hasn’t been the case in many modern episodes. His dialog while he “read” the ending to the story was great because the characters are saying just how he would read it, and the ending is full of plotholes: “I somehow escaped the hourglass!” Though it was weird how Lisa, after reading the actual ending, shrugged it off. A day earlier she was claiming that if the main character died, she would be devastated. Clearly not.

    Favorite moments in this one:
    -Bart’s confusion over Marge’s “jumped off the Empire State Building” comment
    -“Stupid highway 88! (laughs, but tapers off)”
    -The whole “Milhouse can’t say bully” scene. Pretty amusing once you know what they’re alluding to.
    -“LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO!” Nice reference to Misery.
    -“Who will spot the playful abalone? The mighty winkle? I think it might be -you-, Sherri.” (Sherri gasps in excitement)
    -“I’m sorry, Nelson never woke up.” “WHAT?!” “Never woke up, because he didn’t pass out. He’s right over there.” Great screw you joke.
    -“There, now she’ll never have to know about death until it strikes someone close to her.”

    Sorry for the long reply. Some would say modern Simpsons don’t warrant this much discussion, but oh well.

  4. “Haw-Haw! Hey, that hurts. No wonder no one came to my birthday party.”

  5. I kinda like “MUSTACHE POWERS, ACTIVATE!”

  6. “Grandpa randomly appearing in the house” is a long-established gag, isn’t it? I get the criticism with zombie-era characters appearing to randomly appear out of thin air in places, but “grandpa being in the house at random times” goes back to the classic era…

  7. I liked this episode it was a very refreshing change from all the bullshit in ZS but the whole ” 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. ”

    Unlike Star Wars and Cosmic Wars this “parody” seems to be like a flickering on/off switch as in one ep. it’ll be AB but in another it’ll be HP and so on until Lisa ends up meeting AB’s author in “The Book Job” talk about a total mindfuck…

  8. Just to add last season when the family were at the museum of Television and TV there was this obvious honeymooners “parody” and i was think you gotta be kidding me until Bart questions “isn’t that a rip off of the honeymooners” and there’s a sigh of relief unfortunately it included all the stupid “parodies” from “Homer the Father” (visual only so it wasn’t too bad i suppose)

  9. Is that title supposed to be a take off on The Odd Couple? Ow, it hurts!

  10. I don’t want to talk about the episode, since its utter crappiness talks for itself, but there’s one thing that keeps annoying me: the bipolar Lisa the child\Lisa the 30years old know-it-all. I mean, Lisa is a 8yo children, but a precocious one: with her “blues” melancholic vision of life but still innocent. Writers back then knew that being smart and deep doesn’t prevent being innocent and childish.
    But now writers use her in her most cheap borderline incompatible versions: Lisa in this episode is in her toddler version, wanting her dad to read her a story like a banal 8yo child; Lisa is a 8yo children, but always a really precocious one. They should have put a reason at least: like Lisa willing to spend time with her father; otherwise she would read the book herself (probably a less conventional book than the popular HP, but a book in reality as banal as the one she intellectually rejects(that’s how to use both sides of her personality)).
    I know Lisa seems a minor complain in this episode, but clearly shows again the writers inability to write about different shades of a solid personality, like the pathetic bully Nelson.

  11. Again like the equalia episode from a few series later, why the heck are kid friendships given overtones of romantic relationships? it really does disturb me.

    While i really didn’t like the way Homer wasn’t interested in reading to Lisa until he observed the Angelica button books could be of interest to adults (what happened to the rather nice father who did monkey impressions for his daughter?), I actually liked the angelica button thing in this episode. particularly with a lot of things like the merlinical councel that sound as if they’re from a fantasy novel and aren’t, as well as some amusing cliffhangers and titles like the truckle bed of doom., Greystache’s death was an amusing take of dumbledor’s in halfblood prince and the way some fans did react, albeit with Homer acting like a total idiot crying at mo’s afterwards, and I really did like Lisa saying “dad’s was better” after reading the ending for herself.

    Of course saying I liked anything in a zs episode this late is a major complement, most of them just drift passed with a resounding meh.

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