Episode 23 - Barts Friend Falls in Love
3 February 2011
Synopsis: A new girl, Samantha, arrives at school and she becomes Milhouse's girlfriend. Bart grows tired of being the third wheel and decides to inform Samantha's father of what is going on. Meanwhile concerned by his growing weight, Lisa orders a cassette called "Subliminally Slim" to help Homer.
The Good: This was a lot of fun. Not only is the main story simple and well delivered but the surrounding stories and dialogue crackle with inventive wit.
I really liked the way Samantha was introduced into the story. With only twenty two minutes to play with sit com writers do need inventive ways to introduce new plots and characters quickly. So here Bart consults Milhouse's new magic eight ball about whether they will still be friends by the end of the day. The ball replies "No" and Bart questions aloud what could come between them. The shot then cuts straight to Samantha as she is being welcomed aboard by Principal Skinner.
From there Bart is fairly accommodating to his best friend's new relationship. He spends a lot of time with them and tolerates her presence until he can take it no more. He rats them out, feels guilty, confesses and is forgiven. It's a straightforward tale of jealousy and friendship.
However along the way the details were really good. Milhouse does a good childish job of conveying his excitement to the cynical Bart about having a girlfriend. Then we have Bart trying to replace Milhouse by spending time with Martin. That neatly demonstrated why it's not easy to find a new 'best' friend and also allowed us a glimpse at Martin's life once more. Bart tells Martin that he is looking for a friend who won't leave him for a girl. I couldn't help but laugh at the cheeriness of Martin's declaration that he was "as unpopular with the ladies as I am with the chaps!" Finally when Bart calls Samantha's Dad to sabotage their relationship we get a fun line showcasing Bart's mastery of understanding adult interactions. Samantha's Dad naturally wants to know who is calling to which Bart replies "Let's just say I'm a concerned prude with a lot of time on his hands."
In fact before Samantha even met Milhouse we got a fun scene with Principal Skinner (see Best Moment) where we learnt more about his time in Vietnam and how he feels about the treatment he received. It's little moments of characterisation like that which open the door for future stories and jokes. Once she entered the classroom the kids were treated to a sex education video introduced by Troy McClure. This was as amusingly exaggerated as you would expect. McClure announces "I'm here to provide the facts about sex in a frank and straightforward manner. And now here's 'Fuzzy Bunny's Guide to You Know What." The animated bunny's then date and mate to which Edna remarks "She's faking it" and concludes with them having babies. In the confused world of rabbit-human animated educational characters though McClure says that "Fluffy gave birth to fourteen beautiful bunnies...eight survive."
The B plot saw a concerned Lisa try to get Homer to lose weight. As ever Lisa looks sweet for trying to help her father and damn it if Homer doesn't stream roll that sentiment by being so funny. After listening to two outrageously gluntinous commercials Lisa explains to Homer that he could learn to eat less through subliminal messages. He doubts this claim and responds "Oh that's just a load of rich creamery butter." However he dutifully listens to the tape which due to the lazy shipping company is actually a vocabulary builder. We are soon treated to scene after scene of Homer using robust phrases while eating more than ever. At one point he sees Bart looking suspicious but ignores him and grabs a six-pack. What he said though was "Now there's a Machiavellian countenance. Ooh! A sextet of ale." It was an ideal B plot, providing quick laughs whenever needed.
The writers even squeezed in a joke about humans evolving a fifth finger some day, a nice meta-joke. The final good point to note is the opening Indiana Jones parody where Bart steals Homer's jar of change. It was well animated and very entertaining.
The Bad: Nothing much.
Best Joke: Though any of the other jokes I mentioned might be more to your taste, I really liked Principal Skinner's introduction of Samantha to her new classmates:"Now it's never easy to come to a new school so let's make her feel right at home. Please say a big Elementary School hello to Samantha Stinky." The whole class laughs and Samantha corrects him "Stanky" to which he responds with utter deadpan lack of empathy "Oh right. How embarrassing for you. Well goodbye" and leaves.
The Bottom Line: An episode which made more of itself than it had any right to. It was such a simple story and yet the writing elevated every scene to great heights of entertainment. Every scene had a joke or a plot point which worked well. This never felt like it was trying to be funny; the jokes flowed so naturally from what the characters were doing. Great stuff.
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