The Judd Apatow-penned episode of The Simpsons aired somewhat quietly against the noise and spectacle of last night’s Golden Globes ceremony. Apatow’s brand of gross-out, manboy humor would normally seem a perfect fit for the long-running series, but the script defiantly veered in a more old-fashioned direction – probably appropriate given that it was originally written 25 years ago.
For those who regret the more recent years’ focus on the Family Guy style of irreverent hijinks, “Bart’s New Friend” brought back a touch of the series’ heart. Apatow’s script wasn’t the laugh-riot many expected, but it did feel more mature and confident than many recent episodes.
The proceedings began with Homer accidentally attending the retirement party of Don, the back-up safety inspector in Sector 7G who had been covering Homer’s dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of mishaps through the years. Paranoid and panicked by the absent safety net, Homer uncharacteristically dives into his job, spending hours studying the myriad safety protocols required to run the plant.
“Marge, if I lose my job in this economy, it’s a death sentence,” Homer responds to Marge’s pleas for relaxation. “Well, I guess as a fallback I could direct films like Angelina Jolie.”
So, the Simpsons head to the circus (how many times have the Simpsons been to the circus) where Sven Golly, master hypnotist, hypnotizes Homer into believing he’s a 10-year-old boy. Homer immediately wins the undying approval of Bart thanks to a particularly deep streak of prepubescent immaturity (“Booger pizza. You’d better pray they find that hypnotist, Marge.”).
My favorite gag of the evening involves Marge, sleeping alone for the first time in years as the 10-year-old Homer feels uncomfortable sleeping in her bed, reaching into her nightstand, taking out a long box, (wait for it… wait for it…) and pulling out a set of knitting needles and yarn. What? It may be Apatow, but this is still The Simpsons.
The emotional undercurrent comes as both Bart and Lisa begin to appreciate their father more for becoming a friend than for being a father. Bart steals Homer away to Itchy and Scratchy Land (room for another Disney in-joke, “Soarin’ over Springfield”) to enjoy as much of his regressed father as he can.
Just before returning to normal, Homer tells Bart, “Stay ten forever.” Honestly, that phrase could easily serve as the motto for any of the actors in the Apatow troupe. Upon his return to adulthood, Homer remembers the sensation of having a best friend and can no longer strangle Bart in frustration. Instead, he tries a new approach – hugs.
It’s a sweet – probably sappy – end to a different Simpsons. It throws back to the episodes of yesteryear but doesn’t quite reach the heights of hilarity in that same era. No doubt the writers ripped Apatow’s original script apart (references have been updated and the overall structure adheres to the later years), but the bleeding heart is still in tact.
And, for that, Apatow should be proud.