The reaction: This is like if a flashback show and a future show had a baby, and it was a well-intentioned, but bland and meaningless mess. Bart’s upbringing is marked by the influences of two people: Homer not giving a shit about him, and everything he does being eclipsed by Lisa’s great successes. We start with the former, seeing li’l Bart continually ignored and cast aside by his father. We also see he has a much greater relationship with Abe, which is kind of sweet when we see it carry on into his adolescence. There’s even a somewhat illuminating moment between teenage Bart and Homer (who is smoking a bong with Wiggum for some reason); Homer opens up about how he had Bart at such a young age and he always felt unprepared for the responsibility, as we had seen in the past. It’s a sweet, honest moment, but it’s basically just him saying this outright (tell, not show strikes again), and ultimately ends just repeating the same refrain of him undermining Bart. Meanwhile, from kid to adult, Bart always finds himself unfavorably compared to Lisa; she even ends up eclipsing him at his own high school graduation. Lisa blows up at him, sick of being blamed for his misery for their whole lives. He tells him he’s a great artist, though the only hint we saw of that is briefly seeing him do simplistic boardwalk caricatures, so we end with seeing Bart having his own bike repair shop, and he’s also a mural artist. There are scenes and moments here that might have actually felt somewhat impacting (if they were better written), but it would have helped if the episode had actually felt like it went through a progression. We see Bart grow up over twenty years, but each time jump he’s still dealing with the same problems, and explaining how he’s feeling exactly the same over and over and over again. It’s like watching an episode trapped in a time loop.
Three items of note:
– Like I said, Bart’s relationship with Abe as a kid was pretty sweet, especially him hiding out from the cops as an preteen after a night of shenanigans. It would have helped if Abe had actually imparted some advice or wisdom that would have pushed the plot further, but instead that happens in a thought bubble after he’s dead, just flat out telling Bart what he should do. Finding out that Abe is dead could have actually been a sweet, affecting moment given how much he meant to Bart, but instead, it’s treated as a “joke.” More like a fake out; teen Bart bikes past the retirement home to the neighboring cemetery, does a trick off another headstone and lands in front of Abe’s grave.
– If I can give this show a little credit, this is the first time we’ve seen Bart, Lisa and the other kids in town as teenagers and it actually feels like they’re older. I just remember in “Future-Drama” where you see a crowd shot and if just looks like they pasted the kids’ heads onto teenage bodies. Milhouse’s maturing over the years was neat to see, Martin actually had a deeper voice, unlike previous appearances, and we get a disturbing line from Sherri after Bart thought he was making out with her twin (“The further we go, the more you’ll know the difference.”)
– Obviously the episode is based upon Boyhood, and it’s filled with small references to the film. The more prominent is during the party, a bunch of kids are tossing saw blades at the piano and a photo of Homer, a reference to the film where a bunch of kids are tossing blades into a piece of drywall. I remember watching the movie thinking something terrible was going to happen, like a kid was going to get seriously cut or something, but it didn’t. Later in the film, he’s texting and driving after having told his mom he wouldn’t, and nothing happened there either. Boyhood was fascinating as an experiment, seeing these actors grow up as you watch, but ultimately it kind of felt like not much really happened to justify watching it. I guess it’s more similar to this episode than I thought. Plus, I couldn’t think of another thing to bring up, so there you go, my mini review of Boyhood.
One good line/moment: There were actually a few small moments here, I liked. Of all the future characters, I really enjoyed the brief appearance of a sad Disco Stu sitting alone at the boardwalk (“I used to think disco was coming back. Now I’m just Stu. Nothing Stu.”)