449. O Brother, Where Bart Thou?

obrotherwherebartthouOriginal airdate: December 13, 2009

The premise: Seeing how great a bond Lisa and Maggie have, Bart longs for that kind of connection with a brother of his own. Unable to trick his parents into conceiving one for him, Bart then opts to check out the orphanage, where he peaks the interest of impressionable young lad Charlie (voiced by Jordan Nagai, Russell from Up).

The reaction: Similar to “Pranks and Greens,” writing for Bart seems to be real difficult. I feel I could meet them halfway with Bart wanting a brother, but as this show is want to do nowadays, everything is painfully spelled out to us, most during a gigantic monologue exposition dump by Lisa about her irreplaceable sisterly bond with Maggie and how Bart will never have that. From there, we have a bunch of schemes he pulls to get his mother pregnant… which plays more unseemly than intended, at least to me. When Marge confronts him about it, Bart cranks it to “Bart the Mother” mode and tears start flowing. Who is this kid, and where’s Bart? A lot of these episodes feel so thin and unmemorable so far. At least the horrible Marge/Flanders thing from “Nada” will stick with me. These last few shows, what is there? The horrible South Park “parody”? Five seconds of the Plow King for nostalgia points? No dice.

Three items of note:
– It’s always easiest to highlight the diametric opposite nature of the show in its prime and the show now when they retread on jokes they’ve done before. Bart waits with bated breath for the announcement that his school will have a snow day… but to no avail. Back in “Skinner’s Sense of Snow” in season 12, they did the same joke, except it felt snappier and was told quicker (“Springfield Elementary… My Dear Watson Detective School. And lastly, Springfield Elementary… is open. And it’s open season on savings at Springfield Menswear… which is closed. Here, they do three fake ones, whereas they did only one before, then we get see Chalmers and Skinner at the radio station, who are making these announcements for some reason, openly admit they were fucking with Bart. What? When you’re a kid, waiting by the radio to hear those sweet sweet words of freedom, it seems like it takes forever; it’s funny in the old version because of the announcer’s completely lack of understanding that his phrasing and pauses is bizarrely misleading. The joke isn’t that your superintendent is messing with you on purpose, seemingly having nothing better to do with his time.
– This episode is on guest star overload: for Bart’s dream inspiring him to want a brother, we get the three Manning brothers, and the Smothers Brothers, who do a little routine that eats up a good amount of screen time. I’ve seen bits they’ve done that are kinda funny, but here, they’re just… not. Their humor style doesn’t exactly fit the show. Kim Cattrall, not already having an abnormally huge part in a previous episode, returns to do one line as Bart’s hypothetical third sister in a dream. But the standout is Jordan Nagai as Charlie; he’s just a kid, but I thought he did a really good job. He certainly didn’t sound like Russell, it was a different character to me.
– The resolution to the story is kind of weird to me. Bart takes Charlie to a horror movie and freaks him the hell out, which for some reason makes him feel regret. I guess he’s going to learn a lesson about responsibility? Then Charlie seems to betray him to Chief Wiggum, but is turning a double play and they run off. After our obligatory dumb “dramatic” climax, we see Charlie’s ultimate fate is being adopted by a family with six daughters. Alright, whatever. We’ll never see him again anyway.

One good line/moment: For once, I actually have a couple bits to choose from. “Be cool, he’s an orphan! You know, just like Annie, except he’s a dude and he hates tomorrow.” “I hate it so much!” Nagai’s emphatic read on that made me laugh.

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13 responses to “449. O Brother, Where Bart Thou?

  1. Wow, this one I have only the slimmest recollection of, even after reading the plot summary. The same deal with “Rednecks and Broomsticks” but I can at least remember the Cletus bits if not the whole plot. With this I’m pretty sure I forgot it 24 hours after seeing it, it was just so forgettable.

    I agree emphatically they have no idea what they hell they want Bart to be outside of not being as smart as Lisa. His character traits are so muddled at this point that any spark from his ’90s personality come across as fanservice or nostalgia bait than anything. I particularly remembered “Pranks and Greens” for how little they seem to remember (or care) how Bart should act, and being a morally responsible young adult or a whiny and needy kid is definitely not the way to go.

    Bart wanting a brother should have been something akin to Bart’s fantasy in “Lisa’s First Word”. How hard is that to stay in character? Making him desperately craving companionship is just an excuse for lazy writing. Any that ending “twist”? Oy vey.

  2. On another note, will you be reviewing the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover when or if it comes to pass next Fall? It’s kind of a “milestone” in some respect to any future retrospective of the series even though it will probably suck (Zombie Simpsons Meets Zombie Family Guy! Oh be still my heart.)

    • Even though Family Guy has slipped it still is a hell of a lot better than ZS and can actually have funny moments still and I wonder how the FG writers will write the Simpson family as this is an FG episode only, also American Dad will be on TBS next year as Fox didn’t want it for some reason even though it’s been consistent throughout its run but that’s Fox for you…

  3. This is an episode I actually kind of enjoyed when it aired. Though, looking back on it now, I think it was just because of the animation – the whole episode is set during the winter, and the animators do a lot of really nice stuff with snow and clouds in this one (I remember being especially impressed with the scene where Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearney are spitting off the sewer pipe into the lake). Snow is something you don’t see much on TV, and it makes for good atmospherics in animation. And like you said, Jordan Nagai did a fine job as Charlie. I couldn’t even tell it was him ’til I read the credits.

    Writing-wise, though, it’s just as much a mess as anything else from Season 21, from the horribly over-padded first act to the phony baloney dramatic climax and everything in between (what exactly was the point of that South Park scene, anyway?). It still baffles me why they chose to wimpify Bart so much this season. Whatever happened to America’s Bad Boy?

    • I wonder if the director of animation is or on the same level as that one on Bye Bye Nerdie in season 12, that’s pretty much the only thing keeping the show up and they always seem to get the right episodes to unleash their creative animation though πŸ™‚

    • I agree with you about the visuals. I also enjoyed the scene where Homer walked through Paris in the rain in ‘The Devil Wears Nada’.

      • Oh yes that was a nice looking scene, I would love to see a comparison to the Paris scenes in the upcoming Krusty episode to be reviewed. πŸ™‚

  4. I actually loved the hell out of this one. I particularly enjoyed Homer and Lisa watching ‘Unwrapped’ with the horses at the processing plant, and I thought the Smothers Brothers were funny, especially them complaining to eachother.

  5. Your bit in the “Three Items of Note” section about the school closings just proves my point that even though the Scully era had its flaws, they still knew how to deliver a gag, and thus are still fun to re-watch despite some characterization issues. Sadly, many modern episodes can’t even get the gag delivery right.

    Another example of this: The part at the beginning where Homer and Lisa try to change the channel but Homer accidentally increases the volume instead. We can see that’s what’s happening, but Lisa has to remind Homer (and, by extension, the audience) of this fact. Completely ruins the joke.

  6. Pingback: Reading Digest: Theater Appreciation Edition | Dead Homer Society

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