It’s interesting, watching the first season of a show that’s been on my entire life, seeing elements that would come to define the show presented as if they’re a really big deal instead of just a fact of life. This episode takes an underlying theme – Marge and Homer’s relationship is on the rocks – and turns it into an actual crisis, as Marge, annoyed at Homer’s thoughtlessness, is tempted to sleep with another man.
Once again, I find myself wondering just how this looked to audiences in 1990 (this episode won an Emmy, so obviously someone liked it). In 2017, it’s actually kind of a shock when a TV couple is perfectly happy together, and the Simpsons specifically have shifted from perpetual crisis to an earned happiness. The Simpsons shared popularity with Married… With Children, both presenting marriage as a miserable, difficult process; it’s hard to ignore that people in 1990 were really attracted to that idea.
We open with Marge’s birthday, which Homer systematically ruins in tiny ways – forgetting it’s Marge’s birthday and thinking it’s his, eating like a slob at the restaurant, and finally destroying her birthday cake with his thoughtless present (the episode specifically opens with Bart and Lisa making Marge a birthday breakfast, and seeing them be kids is always funny). Out of spite, Marge goes bowling for the first time in her life, and she runs into a charming Frenchman.
Albert Brooks returns as Jacque, the bowling instructor who falls for her. In this episode, his aggressive chattiness is used for an aggressive lover, and Brooks pitches his performance and jokes perfectly – he’s forward without being scary, and we can empathise with Marge finding him charming. The producers of The Simpsons insisted on having all the actors in one room together, which allows them to bounce off each other, and Brooks is always great at leaning into that, getting genuine laughs out of Julie Kavner.
Marge’s temptation ripples out through the family, as they all react in only the way they can. When Homer realises what’s going on, he falls into a depression. Lisa picks up what’s happening very quickly based on Marge’s behaviour, with Bart being fairly happy-go-lucky until he finally realises. Homer’s ultimate reaction seems crucial to his character to me: he tells Marge how he feels (in his typically dopey way) and lets her do whatever she wants. Right from the first episode, Homer has shown two traits: one, stupidity, and two, a willingness to make any sacrifice he has to in order to make his family happy.
Of course, in the end, Marge chooses Homer. She goes to his job, and Homer joyfully embraces her to the cheers of his coworkers, with the sentimentality undercut by both the fact that everybody’s ignoring the plant self-destructing, and the fact that Homer and Marge are going out to fvck in the backseat of the car. Speaking of things that ultimately become no big deal, I don’t think any fictional couple of TV fvcks with both the frequency and passion of Homer and Marge; again, I have to wonder how audiences reacted to that ending at the time.
Neither a couch gag nor a chalkboard gag this episode, with the show skipping the title sequence entirely.
This episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by David Silverman. The animation itself has improved to the point where it’s invisible, and the timing and editing have started to really escalate.
Bart becomes even funnier and more like his classic self when he’s not the protagonist. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Homer whistles “In The Hall Of The Mountain King”. Marge’s dream is a reference to The Gay Divorcee, and the ending is a reference to the film An Officer And A Gentleman.
We see Marge is left-handed when she writes her score.
First Appearances: Helen Lovejoy (who literally introduces herself as the gossipy wife of the minister), Lenny, Barney’s Bowlarama