Compare & Contrast: Milhouse’s Parents Split Up

A Milhouse Divided15

“You know who the real victim is in all of this?  Milhouse.” – Marge Simpson

Zombie Simpsons excels at telling the audience what is happening rather than showing them, which is the script writing equivalent of being a bricklayer who doesn’t use mortar.  Show don’t tell is so fundamental to the job that you have to wonder how anyone could forget it, and the proof is in the piles of rubble that they try to pass off as finished work.  Case in point from this week’s dreary “The War of Art” was Milhouse’s reaction to his parents breaking up.

Thanks to Jerkass Homer’s energetic idiocy, Luann finds out that Kirk lied about not shacking up with anyone while they were separated.  This leads to Kirk getting kicked out (he ends up on the Simpsons’ couch despite their recent feud because whatever shutup), which means that Milhouse is once again caught in a fight between his parents.  The first time that happened was in Season 8’s divorce classic “A Milhouse Divided”, and the way each episode handles his reaction is the difference between building with bricks and mortar and just building with bricks.

Once Kirk and Luann are on the outs, Marge and Homer argue expositionally about the pain Homer’s plan has wrought, including on Milhouse.  Bart, casually listening in the doorway as though the show had no conception that he was there, chimes in right on cue to tell us exactly what we’re about to see:

Bart: He’s been playing Dancing Revolution for hours but the TV is off.

Exposited Sadness

He said it, you saw it, comedy genius!

That’s the entire scene.  But even as short as it is, it’s indicative of several of Zombie Simpsons recurring weaknesses.  For starters, Bart’s explicit pre-narration is worse than useless.  The above image would still be sad without it, but it would also be funnier since nothing ruins a joke more than explaining it before you tell it.  Beyond that, there’s also the fact that the previous scene was Kirk asleep on the couch.  Is he still there?  Is Milhouse visiting Bart or his father?  Who knows?  Kirk has nonsensically vanished from the Simpsons home even faster than he nonsensically appeared.  So not only has the hacktacular writing drained the scene of whatever humor it could’ve had, but its physical and story logic are a complete shambles.  Zombie Simpsons: dumb stories poorly told, lightly sprinkled with pre-chewed jokes.

Compare that to the same scene in “A Milhouse Divided”.  To begin, there’s no exposition.  We already know that Milhouse’s parents are split (the episode, you know, showed it to us), so they can cut directly from Kirk getting fired (“I don’t recall saying ‘Good Luck’.”) to this:

A Milhouse Divided14

Look!  Action that hasn’t been announced ahead of time.  What a concept.

Before he says a single word we can tell that Milhouse is pissed off.  Just look at the above image: his hair is a mess, his teeth are clenched, and he’s destroying as much shit as possible.  When he does speak, he doesn’t say “I’m angry at my parents and breaking their stuff”, he says:

And the winner of the Milhouse 500 is . . . Milhouse!

His words don’t tell us what he’s doing, they elaborate and deepen what we’ve already seen.  The same goes for the rest of the scene:

Luann: Milhouse, are you sure you want to drive that inside?
Milhouse: Yes!
Luann: Okay, be careful, sweet, sweet treasure.

Milhouse is acting like an angry and spoiled kid because at the moment that’s exactly what he is.  His Mom doesn’t care what he does so long as he’s hers, and indulging Milhouse to the point of shattered lamps and smashed furniture is a small price for her to pay to get back at Kirk.  It’s classic Simpsons, taking a painful and sad subject, in this case a mother and son both behaving kinda self destructively, and somehow making it fun and funny.

On the commentary track for this episode, Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein talk about how they didn’t want to do a “divorce” episode like the ones they had watched as kids where the d-word gets mentioned, but at the end everyone gets back together.  They tease the cliched, teevee ending with a slightly sweet music cue right before Luann has the common sense to say, “Ooh, no” after Kirk asks to get back together, but they don’t go through with it because doing so would neuter the rest of the episode.  Kirk’s collapse, Luann’s renaissance, and Milhouse’s sadness and anger, none of them would retain the same kick (comedy or otherwise) if it turned out it was all for nothing.

Zombie Simpsons, of course, not only went with the ending that was already a cliche forty years ago, it crammed everything into the last few seconds after the plot literally wandered off the mainland.  It didn’t make the scene with Milhouse any worse, but that’s only because it’s hard to see how it could get worse.  The Simpsons knew how to let a scene speak for itself and how to deliver an ending that doesn’t undercut what came before.

25 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Milhouse’s Parents Split Up”

  1. 26 March 2014 at 6:31 pm

    Beyond the writing (perfectly explained again), I’m interested at who the art director is for this show (or if there is one). There seems to be a bit more vibrance in the image from “A Milhouse Divided” compared to the one from “Art of War”. Granted, the action is different (angry kid v. depressed kid), but still. The ZS animaton just seems… drier. Still better than the animation on some shows (I’m looking at you, “Brickleberry”), but that’s not saying much.

    • 2 Sarah J
      26 March 2014 at 11:53 pm

      Yeah, ZS art tends to feel much more sterile and things seriously lack in the way of detail and character.

      • 3 ecco6t9
        27 March 2014 at 2:15 am

        Exactly, There is no Sony, Playstation, or Konami logo but look at the car and we call see it’s a Mercedes. Just the little details of realism/actual brands gives the show a reminder that it exists in our world.

        Kinda like how on South Park we went from Okama GameSphere to actually mentioning Wii, Xbox 360, and Playstations.

    • 4 Rob K.
      27 March 2014 at 10:32 am

      Classic Simpsons (before season 11) animation is more lively, more smooth and fluid, even more detailed in some ways, etc.

  2. 5 Stan
    27 March 2014 at 9:58 am

    Milhouse acts like a real zombie in that above description. As in if a zombie would be playing Dance Revolution (they should’ve just done a cutaway gag here, since they’re ridden with FG mimicry anyway).

    But overall, it’s a relatively strong comparison because what was one of the basic plot elements in “A Milhouse Divided”? The kid feeling weird (not angry, weird) for his parents breaking up. And what would be the plot of that… other episode? Something something something, oh hey, there’s also Milhouse.

    I’m pretty sure it felt that way for the audience.

    • 6 Rob K.
      27 March 2014 at 10:36 am

      I’ve noticed a lot of Family Guy episodes, Simpsons and also King of the Hill eps. have borrowed or copied off ideas from each other, even plots and scenes, hell even Malcolm in the Middle it seems like as well. Also Peter Griffin seems to be based on Homer Simpson and Police Chief Wiggum.

      • 7 Stan
        27 March 2014 at 10:54 am

        Oh, but I don’t mind them borrowing from the Simpsons. It’s the other way around that bugs me.

        • 8 Rob K.
          27 March 2014 at 12:37 pm

          The writers are simply running out of ideas. Seinfeld, even though it should have ended on an even numbered Season (Season 10, not 9!) did it the right way, or else the show would have gotten stale, boring and stupid.

  3. 10 Mr. Incognito
    27 March 2014 at 11:50 am

    Wait, the Van Houtens got back together in this episode? Don’t mind if I didn’t catch that.

    Also, I’m not the only one who noticed Marge acting way out-of-character: Letting Homer convince her to take a bigger slice of the pie from the painting. And the whole infighting was lost when Homer and Lisa went to Isla Verde (Not sure about the name but hey ZS is utterly forgetable right?).

    • 11 Stan
      27 March 2014 at 1:12 pm

      As far as I remember (and I don’t remember too far in ZS trash), Kirk and Luann never got back together since A Milhouse Divided. They made a running gag out of it back in the classic days. I think there was one attempt to bring them back together in a very forgettable episode where Milhouse thinks both his parents are dead and starts acting like Bruce Wayne for some reason. But other than that, it doesn’t ring a bell in my head.

      And honestly, you don’t introduce such minor changes after 20 years of stagnation. Those deserve to be introduced every 3-5 years. After 10 years, ode to FG, you usually kill some of your characters. But after 20… 25… I don’t even know anymore. End everything?

  4. 12 FireFlower
    27 March 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Kirk and Luanne got remarried back in Season 19 and then the writers forgot about it and had them broken up again and then they back together again…and now they broke up agin. This show REALLy needs to end!

    • 13 Rob K.
      27 March 2014 at 3:41 pm

      I would like to start a petition on Change.org and I hope everyone on the sight/blog here would sign it and other people too but I really hope someone else starts one. If not, in the next week or month I might start one. The Simpsons is becoming less profitable anyway on TV as time goes on…

      • 27 March 2014 at 4:30 pm

        Online petitions are sadder than Zombie Simpsons. Nothing has ever changed because of an online petition. Your time and energy would be better spent organizing a letter writing campaign because those seem more effective. For better or worse they gave us extra seasons of Chuck, Jericho, and Friday Night Lights.
        How are The Simpsons becoming less profitable? They might not get the same advertisement rates due to ratings but they are the cornerstone of Fox’s soon to be released streaming service, they still get licencing deals, and still get syndication money. At this point Zombie Simpsons is a self sustaining monster that I would not be surprised stays around until Season 30.

        • 15 Rob K.
          27 March 2014 at 4:33 pm

          Well, regarding profits, the new ZS episodes I mean, over time. But anyway well said and I have to agree after further research, at least to an extent with you BC.

          I wanted to add here that I keep thinking of the episode where Homer wrote that letter to Mr. Burns and esp. the one where Marge wrote to Roger Myers Jr. regarding the violent Itchy and Scratchy cartoons back when classic Simpsons was in it’s heyday in the 90’s! That would be rather ironic btw, lol.

  5. 16 Rob K.
    27 March 2014 at 9:06 pm

    I was looking through SNPP episode capsules btw and pinpointed something rather… Interesting, this might be a hint of thing to come. Think about this…

    The Simpsons “Das Bus” (1998)

    Didja notice:

    … the writers appeared to think that not everybody would know who Bill
    Gates was, so they had Homer say “Bill Gates? Billionaire computer
    nerd Bill Gates?”


  6. 21 Jeff
    28 March 2014 at 1:25 pm

    And why exactly was Luann mad at Kirk? She was with a bunch of guys when they were broken up.

  7. 23 RaikoLives
    29 March 2014 at 7:18 am

    The Dance-Dance Revolution things is also an obvious play on Milhouse alone on the seesaw when he can’t be friends with Bart. I expect you guys all know this and thought about it before I said it but I just got the net back after moving so I’m only catching up on these articles now. I don’t think Luanne explained the gag before we saw it in that episode either.

  8. 24 Todd Unctious
    29 March 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Kirk sleeps in a racing car. Do you?

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