Original airdate: September 30, 2012
The premise: Bart seeks out all his old ex-girlfriends to see if any of them still hold feelings for him. The only one unaccounted for is Mary Spuckler, who has run off to New York City, which means the Simpsons are going to NYC! Again!
The reaction: How many ten-year-olds do you know think their love life has peaked and want to track down their exes to get emotional closure? This is yet another episode where they write Bart as a teenager, but it’s also a story born of this show’s absurdly long lifespan. At this point, Bart’s had seven or eight “girlfriends,” but where does that work in the show’s timeline? Episodically, you can accept it, but showing the whole roster here just raises some weird questions. But whatever, the main girl here is Mary Spuckler, who if I remember correctly, wasn’t really a love interest of Bart’s, Cletus just strung the two together for a hillbilly arranged marriage. But why bring back this character at all? It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with her voice actress Zooey Deschanel now having a hit FOX comedy. Could it? Mary, once one of Cletus’ naive and innocent hick children, now, for whatever reason, has gone off to New York, is a talented musician, and a staff writer/performer on SNL. And she’s… eleven? Twelve, tops? These stories just don’t make any goddamn sense with children. Earlier, Bart watches a video of the two of them in Cletus’ hay loft; “I don’t know if we should be up here, Bart Simpson…” Mary coos in Deschanel’s sexy adult Southern drawl voice. It’s like the set-up of a bad porno, as well as reminding me of “Natural Born Kissers” as the place Homer and Marge got their mojo back. But that creepiness aside, this story just doesn’t work with Bart at all, seeing him so cloying, awkward and desperate. And like in “Cheating Bart,” they give him a line that undercuts everything and reminds us he’s still a young child (“Girls don’t like me. I don’t really like them either, but I think I’m gonna.”) This is after he’s been pouting for days, put cut-outs of his exes faces onto Lisa’s dolls to psychologically torture himself with, and guilt-tripped the family to go across the country for the sole purpose of seeking out a girl he kinda maybe liked this one time. None of it adds up whatsoever.
Three items of note:
– The inspiration of Bart looking back over his failed love life is some kind of town ball where he realizes he has no one to dance with. He continuously taunts Milhouse for dancing with Lisa, which I guess is supposed to be him deflecting his own misery, but it just feels very uncomfortable. I know Milhouse is like everybody’s punching bag, but the two are supposed to be friends, right? And I guess Lisa just straight up reciprocates Milhouse’s feelings, at least to a slight degree. I just don’t see this; what happened to the Lisa that sees him as a big sister? It reminds me of hearing that in early drafts of the movie, Lisa’s beau Colin was going to be Milhouse, and I remember being confused by that. But after seeing recent shows featuring the writers clearly shipping the two closer and closer together, it makes a little more sense now. I guess they expect fans to see themselves in Milhouse, and him making headway with Lisa is like a “win” or something? I’m still not entirely sure.
– So the Simpsons return to New York, roughly fifteen years later. They make hinting references at them repeating themselves, as well as the return of the Khlav Kalash guy, but no reference to Homer’s blind, uncontrollable rage toward NYC. He basically acts as Bart’s distant chaperone as he tracks Mary down. Meanwhile, Marge and Lisa attempt to see the sights on a shoestring budget, one of the few times the show remembers that the family are quite hard-up for money. This then leads to Lisa spearheading a public recreation of Romeo & Juliet once their Shakespeare in the Park show is cancelled? Which they prepare for and perform in like a few hours? I dunno, it’s just so dumb. And all of their New York jokes are either softballs, or just variations of jokes they’ve already done before. Why go back to NYC if you don’t have anything new to say?
– I don’t understand why they didn’t just have Zooey Deschanel voice a new character. Why not? Did they think fans were that attached to Mary Spuckler? They just throw Zooey attributes onto her old mostly empty character: she can sing, she has a new trendy outfit each scene, she’s introduced doing a lady dowager outfit? But where did all this come from? We don’t even get a scene explaining how she left, or her talking about how she felt unfulfilled with her hillbilly family and she wanted more out of life, blah blah blah. Cletus randomly appears two-thirds in to bring Mary back, and Bart helps her escape on a train. But why? Again, we don’t know anything about Mary’s character, or her wants or ambitions. If she goes back to Springfield, that’s a win for Bart, but you need that scene where she expresses why she’ll be unhappy there, which would lead to Bart helping her get away. Instead, it’s like watching a threadbare story with big patches just missing.
One good line/moment: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I got a surprise laugh out of an awfully tasteless 9/11 joke (“Dad, you love New York now that your two least favorite buildings have been obliterated: old Penn Station and Shea Stadium!”) I couldn’t believe they actually did that, but the joke actually kind of works, given Homer probably harbors negative feelings on World Trade Center Plaza after the whole booted car fiasco.