Milhouse ends up on the losing end of an epoxy fight with Bart and has to get most of his head shaved. He ends up looking just like his father, and naturally the two boys try to take advantage of the situation.
As the episode opens, Marge is unfortunately being my least favorite kind of Marge: the hysterical (and I mean, in hysterics, not actually funny) reactionary. The family, heaven forbid, has been watching Baby Poindexter DVDs, which have apparently stunted the intellectual development of the children who watched them. This quickly snowballs into her banning television altogether, and less than five minutes in I’m already sick to death of her. It wasn’t funny when she tried taking Itchy and Scratchy off the air in 1990, and the same shtick isn’t at all funny now.
Since Marge hates media invented during the 20th century or later, the Simpsons go to the local children’s book store. This sequence is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s tired jokes about print being a dying medium, ho-hum Kindle references and Marge continues to be irritating. There is however, a rather brilliant sequence with a “Story Lady” reading to the children in that awful, insincere, falsely enthusiastic way we’ve all heard as children. Even as a young girl, I would always hate it when story ladies, kindergarten teachers and various other adults would speak that way to me, as it gave me the distinct impression they thought I was incredibly stupid because of my age. So kudos to the Simpsons staff for getting some good mileage out of this one, especially with the punchline of the store security guard whisking her away, apologetically telling the parents she doesn’t work there.
I also have to give the episode a further tip o’ the hat for the unrelated first act actually having a story point carry over throughout the entire show; that of Homer gaining the power of being very good at finding things, after becoming obsessed with the “find the hidden objects” pages in an activity book.
Anyway, the book store thing finally ate up enough screen time for us to get on with the actual plot. Bart heads over to Milhouse’s and gets sticky white goo in his hair, which is then shaved off, making the poor boy look like a miniature Kirk. Milhouse takes this surprisingly well and the boys waste no time in trying to take advantage of it.
In yet another moment that makes me die inside just a little, the boys call Lisa. On Skype. With the exactly correct fucking incoming call jingle. My first thought was to check my own laptop before realizing it was coming from the television.
Most of the jokes associated with this are pretty predictable, and you’ve probably seen most if not all of them in other shows and very likely in earlier Simpsons episodes as well. Things start out innocently enough, and the kids think being an adult is a rollercoaster of fun, until they get too far in over their heads and realize that gosh darn it, adults have a lot of responsibilities and obligations!
Out of all these stunning insights into the reality of adulthood, the most consistently amusing was Bart changing Milhouse’s voice using a necktie. No tie, he sounds like his usual self, put the tie on and tighten it a bit, and he sounds like Kirk. Tighten it some more and he ends up with Duff Man’s voice. Is it clever? No. Is it cheap? Yes, but it gets a laugh out of me and we can’t be highbrow all the time, can we? Also of note is a little vignette with Milhouse attempting to drive told through very quick cuts:
I’m renting a car!
I’m driving a car!
I crashed a car!
I’m renting another car!
Lisa’s feeling sad that she’s not allowed to go to the Jazz Hole to see some act no one else had ever heard of, so Bart and Milhouse-as-Kirk decide to cash in on the Baby Poindexter class action lawsuit and use the money to take her downtown to see it. Unfortunately, as those of you who tried to cash in on the San Andreas lawsuit learned, it’s a pittance of a sum, and now they can’t afford the bus home.
Luckily for them, it’s Homer to the rescue, tracking down the kids with his activity book-induced powers of finding. Milhouse admits what he’s done to his father, and sucks up to him a little by saying that having his life was actually pretty cool. Bart remarks that he never wants to end up looking like Homer. Cue strangulation.
I find it a little difficult to sum up exactly how I feel about this episode. All the pieces of it mostly work well together, especially once Marge’s stupidity is pushed into the background. There’s a greater feeling of cohesion to this episode that we’ve gotten in a lot of the other ones this season. All in all, it’s quite a pleasant sort of episode.
But I can’t help but feel it’s a bit of an odd duck. The Milhouse plot feels childish. Yes, it’s a story focusing on children as its leads, but in terms of tone it feels like it’s aimed at a much younger audience than The Simpsons is usually made for. Milhouse using false legs made of paint cans to make himself look adult height, using his father’s identity for pranks, and most of all, every single adult in town buying it makes the whole thing feel like something out of a Nickelodeon program.
That’s not to say the story doesn’t work, or that I don’t want the Simpsons kids to act like kids, on the contrary, those sorts of episodes are often among the best. It’s all in how it’s told. Most of the time, good episodes or bad, I feel like the stories are at least told by writers who give the audience some credit, like a nice Stephen Fry children’s audio book. “Hardly Kirking” feels like it’s being told to me by a Story Lady who’s about to be dragged off by security.