“Hardly Kirk-ing” is the kind of episode that I wish The Simpsons could pump out every week these days. It’s well-constructed and funny enough, and while there’s nothing in here that’s either earth-shatteringly funny or sweetly emotional, both of which the show has given us in the past, it’s still a nice way to spend half an hour on television, and there’s not really much more I could ask for.
Chief among this episodes virtues is that it keeps everything pretty tight, in therms of plotting. There are three threads here (the children’s DVDs, Homer’s new finding-things hobby, and of course, Milhouse impersonating his father), and all of them bounce around throughout the episode, ping-ponging characters and screentime, and never seeming too disconnected or unrelated.
And none of those premises were particularly weak, either. The opening on the kid’s educational DVD had the funniest line of the whole episode, Homer saying, “I think it’s a Terence Malick movie.” And when it transitioned to the children’s bookstore, it mostly kept it up, too. The joke on ebook readers was pretty lame, but Krusty’s book, “A Children’s Garden of Milli Vanilli Jokes,” was kind of perfect. That DVD plot also stretched into Marge outlawing TV for a day, which means we get a fantastic sidetrack to a “pupppit” show at the Lithuanian Center.
Homer’s new-found Highlights Magazine item-finding talent was mostly just a running gag, and not actually a story in and of itself, but it was silly enough to make me chuckle a few times. Of course, the real focus of the episode was Milhouse finding out that he looks exactly like his father, with the help of baldness, a too-tight necktie, and some paint cans. The Van Houtens are Springfield’s perpetual sadsacks, so it makes sense that the best jokes from here are the ones that went for weird and depressing, like Milhouse exclaiming, “I can reach the poisons now!”
All in all, “Hardly Kirk-ing” is what I want late-period The Simpsons to be. It keeps itself together, plays off the larger extended universe of Springfield without seeming like a parade of “hey, I recognize that guy,” and is, most importantly, entertaining.