602. There Will Be Buds

Original airdate: November 6, 2016

The premise:
Homer is roped into helping Kirk Van Houten coach kiddie lacrosse, and gets increasingly annoyed by his clingy friendship.

The reaction: This show has grown and changed so much over the years (all for the worse, of course, as exhaustively covered here), but the worst sin of all is something this episode seems to exemplify. From the outset, the series’ primary goal was to take the piss out of the most popular television at the time: the sitcoms of the 1980s; to twist all of the hollow, vacuous tropes and conventions of these insipid time wasters, to subvert audience expectation in a magnificent display of creative, subversive storytelling. But as time marched on, and the TV landscape changed, The Simpsons ended up changing with it. As we’ve seen, this show has many a time embraced many different sitcom conventions it used to make fun of. Episodes are peppered with attempted bait-and-switch gags or the occasional “edgy” joke, but stories and the characterization fueling them have now become incredibly and transparently simplistic, with easily illuminated plot turns and conclusions (if any). This episode feels like the ultimate example; with a little bit of space added for a laugh track, this script could easily be turned into a live action CBS “comedy.” Here we have Homer being paired with insufferable dweeb Kirk, who introduces the concept of lacrosse to Springfield. Everyone, including the kids, are totally on board with this; Bart and Lisa are super psyched about this new sport, and look up to their beloved “Coach K” through the whole show. Homer, meanwhile, isn’t so taken with Kirk’s penchant for rice sandwiches or Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and it doesn’t take long before his secret resentment gets out. So Kirk goes missing, and it’s the championship game! The kids need their coach, and time is running out! The kids and the townspeople chant “Save Coach K!” as sappy music plays, all completely irony free. The “joke” on top of this is that Kirk is at a strip club, so I guess that’s the show thinking they’re still being subversive (more on that later). Homer makes amends with Kirk and the kids win the game… like, wow, everything about the third act feels completely anti-Simpsons. Bart and Lisa act like over excitable teevee children, Homer gives an inspirational speech to Kirk played completely straight, and they make their triumphant return to the field like something out of a TV sports movie for kids. A lot of the tent poles of this show have turned to mush, and a lot of these problems have been present for a while now, but for some reason, this episode really exemplifies the state of this show now. It’s an overused quote, but it kind of fits: you either die the hero, or you live long enough to become the villain. The Simpsons is just another limp-wristed, safe, predictable, nondescript sitcom, not much different than the ones the show was born in retaliation of. And if you ask me, that’s pretty motherfucking depressing.

Three items of note:
– Whenever the show introduces a “new” idea, it always ends up feeling like an advertisement for it. Kirk spends a good minute playing up lacrosse and talking about how it’s played… Is it that radical a concept? My high school had a lacrosse team, it’s not like it’s a brand new sport. And it’s not even that the joke is Springfielders are a bunch of dense hicks. They’re won over almost immediately, but unlike previous iterations, there’s no real reason for them to be. Why do all of these people, many of whom are childless, give a shit about little league sports? It reminded me of that awful “Boys of Bummer” where the whole town was out for blood when Bart bungled a game, but at least there, I could tell there was an attempt (and failure) of satire. Here, it’s just played straight. No jokes, no additional layers, no irony. It’s just a normal story. How sad.
– I guess this episode is supposed to examine Kirk’s character a little more, and what I’ve learned is that he’s a bit of creep. Driving the minivan of kids, Kirk offers Homer a vape pen, and then asks him what’s the weirdest place he’s ever fucked Marge, with their kids well in earshot. Then later he invites him to come with him to a strip club. So this kind of muddies the waters of the story: Homer’s gripe is that Kirk is a big lamewad, but then there’s this skeevier stuff where Homer is clearly uncomfortable with Kirk’s behavior. So then we get to the very end, after this build-up of Kirk being into strippers, but it turns out he just pays to just talk to the dancers. So if the point is that he just needed someone to talk to, and that someone he thought was Homer, why would he be pushing him to come with him, and why wouldn’t he just say why? Also, what’s the story with him and Luann? The writers spent almost ten seasons loving writing material for pathetic loser single Kirk, and even now that they reunited him with Luann, it’s like they just can’t stop. He can’t have a conversation with his wife but he pays to talk to strippers? That’s pretty fucking pathetic and gross.
– This show was written by Matt Selman, who has acted as show runner on occasion for a handful of years now. I’m not entirely sure what the deal is with his standing, but I guess they just have him supervise one show a season? Going on seventeen years, Al Jean’s been show runner longer than the entirety of all the other show runners, and you can really feel that stagnation. Why not have Selman supervise over a third of the season? I don’t get why it’s just like one or two. I can’t seem to look up anything about this in my very, very brief attempt at research, but it doesn’t really matter. I feel like I’ve seen some folks at No Homers praise the Selman shows, but while they might have a slightly different feel to it, it’s all the same pile of shit at this point. Along with this dumpster fire, Selman’s penned such classics as “The Food Wife,” “Husbands and Knives,” and everybody’s favorite, “That 90’s Show,” so you can draw your own allegiances.

One good line/moment: I hated this episode. Really hated it. I feel like retiring this section; initially it was like a sign of good faith that deep within the shit, there was some good in each episode, no matter how small or fleeting. And that may be true in some cases, but really, what does it matter? A choice smirk or brief chuckle is meaningless in the face of twenty minutes of putrid junk. If I get a surprise laugh or enjoyment out of something that really catches me off guard, I’ll put it here, but if not, I’m just leaving it blank.

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18 responses to “602. There Will Be Buds

  1. I’m in the strange position of wanting you to continue because I love these write-ups, but also not wanting you to continue because I feel really bad for you having to watch this putrid shit just for us. I feel really proud of you.

  2. The Anonymous Nobody

    I don’t know why they can’t just promote Matt Selman to the role of co-showrunner. I mean, it’s not like it’s unheard of. During the classic years, only one person (maybe two if you’re willing to include season nine) ran the show by himself. And honestly, his episodes seem to have more energy and an easier story to follow. I know they don’t want to get rid of Jean because of how organized he is and his tenure, but they should really consider grooming Selman to take over. Two or three episodes a season don’t really make that clear.

    Also, like you said, The Simpsons initially got its strength from subverting and mocking the traditional sitcoms that surrounded it. However, as those shows disappeared and began being replaced by shows that learned from The Simpsons, the show itself lost something that made it unique. Add to it no longer being able to tell interesting stories or well-crafted jokes consistently, and it became the institution instead of going against it.

    Have you seen that video “The Fall of the Simpsons: How It Happened” yet?

    • Is that the video about “Principal and the Pauper?” If so, then yes, I have seen that one. I understand how people felt it was a punch to the gut with Skinner, but I’ve never gotten the down right hatred for the episode to the point that that is the one where the show fell apart. I’d say that pretty much all of Season 10 was that, with “Homer Simpsons in Kidney Trouble” being the one that threw the franchise over the edge.

      • The Anonymous Nobody

        Well, this video does mention “The Principal and the Pauper” as the turning point, but it’s also a half hour so it might not be the one. Honestly, I kinda like that episode. I know people are upset with it because they changed Skinner’s entire history, but the show never took it seriously. If the writers made it clear that it was non-canon and it was just another one of those “experimental” episodes the show was doing at the time, I don’t think everyone would have such a problem with it.

        But yeah, the video is like what the people on Dead Homers Society say about the show all the time: It used to be the best show on TV, it started falling off around season eight, and now, it’s a completely different show with the same characters. I also agree with you that season ten was the first bad season of the show, with a lot of horrible episodes (I hate “Kidney Trouble” with a passion) and season nine was just the bridge between the classic episodes and the worst period in the show’s history.

      • Yeah, the video I have watched was a half hour. It was quite interesting and gave some really good information about the show. I love how he talks about there being two shows called The Simpsons at the beginning.

    • I thought he brought up a lot of trite points but I appreciated his joke rewrite.

      The Simpsons to me could’ve only worked in the early/mid 90s. Nowadays, (broadcast) TV is all but dead, the Internet fills the subversive humor niche, and the Simpsons counter culture stance has now become, well, just standard culture.

  3. On No Homers constantly praise Matt Selman cause they love the idea that someone can save The Simpsons. But the truth is that Selman episodes are just episode with a coherent plot; to Zombie Simpsons fans that’s enough to make those episodes masterpieces. That’s the point we’re now. Yeah Mike, that’s motherfucking depressing.

    • From what I’ve read No Homers’ standards for what makes a good episode is incredibly low, so I’d take anything from that site with a pinch (or rather truckload) of salt.

  4. Selman is a writer and mixed showrunner.
    He wrote “Trilogy of Error” (perfect writing) and “That 90’s Show” (shitty writing). He showrun “Halloween of Horror” (pure gold) and “The Saga of Carl” (pure shit).

    • I honestly’t don’t see what is so bad about about That 90s Show. Sure, it isn’t a great episode, and it was kind of pointless since The Simpsons were technically “That 90’s Show,” but it wasn’t a bad episode. It had some great jokes in it and stuff.

      • Continuity isn’t the worst thing about this episode. Marge is an idiot for Homer, all references to the 90’s are easy and lazy, the teacher is a really annoying character and plot is just a dating (marriage) crisis.

      • That 90s Show actually made me laugh and had good songs. Even though I don’t care for the line, it’s one of the last episodes that is quoted by the masses (“He who is tired of Weird Al is tired of life”).

        Marge getting rid of Homer’s drug, with him pleading, “I need it!” only for him to actually need it medically was hilarious.

      • Yeah, the Weird Al comment is great. I also love the bit when some dude calls Kurt Kobain up saying he found that new sound he has been looking for. I’m sure that was taken from a movie before that episode, but it was still hilarious.

  5. I… actually don’t remember much about this episode. I know I have seen it. As I remember the strip club bit, but that is about all I remember of the episode.

  6. “Here, it’s just played straight. No jokes, no additional layers, no irony. It’s just a normal story.”

    Marge, I’m confused. Is this a happy story or a sad story?
    It’s a story, that’s enough.

    “This episode feels like the ultimate example…”
    Heh heh heh…

  7. Re: Retiring the “Good line/moment” section: Ultimately it’s up to you, but I say go for it.

    Someone I know made an interesting grading scale for comedies: Laughing 50% of the time (because laughing at 100% of a show is literally impossible) equals an A, 40% equals a B, 30% equals a C, 20% equals a D, and 10% or less equals an F. Not that you’d literally be sitting there counting how many times you laugh, but you’d get a general idea of where you’d fall on the scale.

    To put another way, when an episode has only one or two chuckles, that’s a REALLY bad ratio of laughs to non-laughs. And this is why I ditched the show nine seasons ago.

  8. I’d say keep it up, but that’s only for my own sick amusement. I’m surprised you made it this far, to be honest. I couldn’t even get through this episode without turning it off 1/3rd of the way through.

  9. You’re so damn close. If you stop now you’ll fade into obscurity.
    Finish the journey, however many more years it may last.
    Your post for the series finale will be the stuff of legends.

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