“Samantha!” – Mr. Stanky
“Dad!” – Samantha Stanky
“Noooooo!” – Mr. Stanky
As far as nothingburger girlfriend characters go, Kumiko is so empty that she makes the relatively one-dimensional Rene from Season 9 look like Katniss Everdeen. Rene at least talked to Moe before dating him out of pity. Kumiko apparently fell in love with Comic Book Guy without even so much as meeting him. But even that vacuous characterization is rich and deep compared to Kumiko’s father, who shows up out of the blue and instantly becomes the focus of the episode despite failing, after his very first scene, to do what he said he was there to do. And, of course, per standard Zombie Simpsons operating procedure, he doesn’t get a name.
Back in Season 3, the show gave us another father who didn’t want his daughter dating one of Springfield’s losers. He also didn’t get a first name, but in that case it didn’t matter because by the time he was on screen for his one scene, he’d already been a shadow over their doomed romance from the beginning of the episode. I speak, of course, of Samantha Stanky’s father, Mr. Stanky, in “Bart’s Friend Falls In Love”.
To understand how The Simpsons could make a better character despite his having only one scene on screen and just four lines, it helps to look side-by-side at how and when each of them is introduced and expanded. Mr. Stanky (which is hard to type without giggling a bit) is mentioned for the first time in the middle of the first act, just three minutes into the episode, when Samantha, forced by Mrs. Krabappel to introduce herself in front of the class while being graded on grammar and poise, says:
We just moved here from Phoenix. My dad owns a home security company. He came to Springfield because of its high crime rate and lackluster police force.
Right there, with the man himself most of the episode away from even being seen, we can form a mental picture of the guy. He owns a security company, and he’s willing to uproot his family and move across the country to a city with lots of crime because of it. We know right away that he’s not a sentimentalist and probably isn’t someone you’d want to screw around with.
By contrast, Kumiko’s father doesn’t show up until twelve minutes into the episode, at what I guess is supposed to be the first or second act break (Zombie Simpsons makes it hard to tell). Up to this point we hadn’t heard of him at all. He didn’t rate so much as a toss off line from Kumiko or Comic Book Guy about her father maybe not wanting his daughter pulling up stakes and moving to America to live with some dude he’s never met. They had eight minutes left to fill, so you knew something had to keep the new lovers from riding off happily into the sunset, but the episode is so poorly set up and written that it could just as easily have been an argument about Marvel vs. DC, the superiority of American or Japanese animation, or really anything, up to and including a meteor strike or General Zod showing up. Having dropped in from nowhere, he and Homer proceed to recap the episode and explain who he is and why he’s there. We don’t see him confront Comic Book Guy or Kumiko, he just stands there.
Men of action!
The next scene is Kumiko crying and walking out of the store, escorted by her father. They proceed down the sidewalk and, for all intents and purposes, his story is completed barely a minute after he arrived on screen. He came to get his daughter. He got his daughter. The end. Naturally, Zombie Simpsons can’t drop things there, but whether they know it or not, that’s the story they just told us.
Compare that clumsy plot advance to the second time we hear Mr. Stanky mentioned, when Milhouse and Samantha are, as the old children’s rhyme goes, kissing in a tree. Samantha puts a halt to things because:
Milhouse, I’ve gotta go. My Dad thinks I’m having my braces examined.
Without the man himself so much as coming close to the screen, we know that he has no idea that some local kid in a city he probably doesn’t even like is kissing his precious baby girl. We also know that if he did know, he wouldn’t approve, because otherwise, why would she lie to him about going to the orthodontist?
She kinda, sorta is having her braces examined, but her father is unlikely to see it that way.
The next time he’s mentioned is at the end of what is very clearly the second act, when Bart has grown exasperated with being the third wheel and losing his best friend to a skirt. Milhouse, desperate to continue his closed-mouth-kissing, pre-adolescent romance asks if they can still use Bart’s treehouse because:
If her father finds out, he’ll kill her.
This is tight as a drum storytelling. Milhouse is making explicit what was hinted at earlier and giving Bart the crucial piece of information he needs to break them up, all in a single, eight word sentence.
The third time we hear from Mr. Nakamura (which isn’t funny at all, especially compared to Stanky), it’s when he’s inexplicable sitting in a Japanese restaurant getting drunk with Homer. The last time we saw him he was walking off with his daughter and talking about taking her back to Japan. Did she object or disappear? Was the flight delayed? Is she locked in his hotel room right now? Why would he listen to Homer anyway, a man he barely knows who clearly knew his daughter was with the man he wholeheartedly disapproves of? Who knows? Zombie Simpsons doesn’t care about any of those questions and thanks you for not caring as well.
Nakamura’s next scene comes after he and Homer get into the hallucinogenic snake wine. It’s the very pretty centerpiece to the episode wherein they cram as many Simpsons characters as they can into Miyazaki references. This all ends with Nakamura coming face to face with one of the masked guys from Spirited Away and telling us all out loud that he now doesn’t mind Comic Book Guy marrying his daughter. Like I said, it’s pretty, but it’s also gratutious filler that advances the already shambling story roughly two (very obvious) centimeters.
The fourth time Mr. Stanky comes up is when Bart narcs on Samantha and Milhouse’s little love nest. Again, this is superb storytelling, as the threat he poses to the young romance, implicit at first and growing ever more explicit, is now approaching at full speed. Hitherto he’d only been referenced, now he’s on the phone with Bart and bearing down on the treehouse like a parental hurricane.
The fifth and final time he’s part of the episode is the culmination of the previous four. His abrupt and unexpected appearance at the treehouse shows us that he’s exactly who we’ve been told he is: a take charge kinda guy who doesn’t want his little girl anywhere near some punk kid she thinks is a good kisser. He grabs Samantha (literally), tosses her in the car, and speeds her out of Milhouse’s life. It’s the climax of the episode, with the remainder being Bart and Milhouse reconciling and the bittersweet ending with Samantha at the penguin house.
The last couple of times we see Mr. Nakamura, he’s expositing his new found approval of his daughter’s dumpy boyfriend, showing up to their wedding in a silver C-3P0 costume (the fuck?), and then getting drunk with Homer some more on an elementary school playground because those last thirty seconds aren’t going to fill themselves. It’s a sticky sweet ending that’s no different than what was happening before he arrived, which isn’t surprising since he is, as most Zombie Simpsons characters are, more prop than person. His reason to be there was so flimsy that no one even mentioned him for the first two thirds of the episode, and when he did show up it had little to do with his stated intentions and everything to do with Zombie Simpsons shoving some movie references into a previously blank spot on their storyboard.
Mr. Stanky, on the other hand, was a constant and growing off screen threat who did exactly what his daughter and her brief boyfriend knew he would. Both of them were killjoys in their way, but one of them was good at it and lent the episode and the ending the kind of character, depth and complexity that make the jokes hit home and the story relatable. The other was just there.