The Simpsons, Season Two, Episode Twelve, “The Way We Was”

I confess, as much as I was looking forward to this episode, I was a little wary of it too. Romance stories from the 80’s are notorious for not exactly aging well, with stalking, Nice Guy Syndrome, and other fun examples of men’s desires overriding womens’. Also, later Simpsons episodes have a nasty habit of undermining the Simpson marriage, making Homer so aggressively awful that the only way they must be able to stay together is because Marge is a complete doormat. Luckily, this was an “oh ye of little faith” moment, because this is a Classic episode, and in the Classic iteration of the show, Homer is a flawed man willing to make any sacrifice for his family, and this episode shows how that dynamic was the very basis of their relationship.

The episode begins with the Simpsons’ TV going out of commission, and Marge using the freedom from TV to tell the children the story of how the two met in high school in 1974. Having literally grown up with the show, it’s hard to judge how predictable the characters’ places in society are – Homer being a slacker regularly in detention, Marge is an overachiever first poking her head in the feminist movement. A bra-burning incident nets her a day in detention, and this is how they first meet.

From there, it’s a case of Homer figuring out how to win Marge’s heart. He turns to a guidance counselor, of all people, to ask for help, and he suggests finding a common interest they share, which is how Homer finds his way onto the debate team. This is how Homer gets to know Marge just well enough to be able to ask her out, and when she says no, he pretends to be a French student to get her to tutor him.

(He provides references, which is funny enough, but then she follows them up, which tickles me)

When she comes over, they study French, and Marge is impressed by Homer’s improvement and by his winning personality, and he convinces her to stay a little longer.despite her test tomorrow. After bonding, Homer finally asks her to prom, and she admits to finding him charming and refreshingly honest, so she says yes. In his celebrating, he decides to live up to her opinion of him and admit that he’s not in French at all, which outrages her. She slaps him, walks out declaring she hates him, and in his stupidity Homer still thinks he has a prom date.

The basis of criticism of those shitty 80’s romance movies is that men harass, stalk, and lie to women in order to be with them, and that behaviour isn’t just not criticised, it’s valorised. This episode isn’t so much a rebuttal (*moons audience*) as it is using a few of the basic ideas as the dramatic action, keeping our two lovebirds as dramatic players, and not making Homer so awful that he becomes unsympathetic. It makes sense that Marge makes the decisions she does that lead to her storming out at one in the morning, because as far as she knows Homer is a decent guy up until she finds out about his lies. I also lovethat he himself is the one to instigate his downfall by being the honest guy she thinks he is.

Marge decides to go to prom with fellow debate student Artie Ziff, an intelligent and charming young man who has acted as counterpoint to Homer all episode. This causes a semi-farcical situation when Homer turns up first, and is mistaken for Artie by Marge’s family (also, it turns out Homer never realised she didn’t want to go to prom because he avoided her for three weeks, which meant skipping school for a very long time, which is such a Homer thing to do).

A sad Homer decides fvck it, he spent all this money, he’s going to prom anyway, and we see the saddest prom since [insert Avocadian]’s prom. Marge finds Homer quietly sobbing to himself, and she asks why he can’t accept she’s with Artie; Homer’s response is full of pathos. Homer might be stupid, but he knows he’s stupid, and he knows in his gut they’re supposed to be together. Maybe we haven’t all been in love, but we’ve all had some kind of feeling that there’s a way things are supposed to be, and we can’t always have it, and Homer’s monologue plays off that wonderfully. A relationship with Marge is the only thing Homer’s ever been sure about.

After prom, Artie takes Marge to a makeout point, and gets very handsy with her over her protests, to the point of ripping her dress. After realising he’s gone too far, he agrees to take her home. Artie’s arc is tiny, but interesting – he starts out as a charming counterpoint to Homer, who Marge agrees to go out with because she respects him, and it’s only after then that we hear him describe himself as everyone’s “intellectual superior”, before he reveals who he really is. Jon Lovitz wrings the maximum amount of comedy you can out of “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone about my busy hands. Not for myself, but because I am so respected, it would damage the town to hear it,” but it is a pretty horrifying statement, all the moreso for how common a thought it is.

Marge goes out to find Homer, walking home in the mud because he couldn’t afford the limo home (I thought he paid upfront?). She picks him up, and says she wishes she’d gone to the prom with him. We then get one of the more romantic moments in TV history, when the relationship between Marge and Homer, and indeed the Simpson family is born. It’s the origin story of an imperfect, but loving family.

“I’m gonna hug you, and kiss you, and then I’ll never be able to let you go!”

Chalkboard Gag: I won’t get very far with this attitude.
Couch Gag: The couch falls through the floor.

This episode was written by Al Jean, Mike Reiss, and Sam Simon, and directed by David Silverman. There’s a reference to Siskel and Ebert.

As far as “Hey, it’s 1974!” moments go, I think the episode does alright. It’s one of the first cases of the show using popular music to carry emotion (this is technically known as a needle drop), something that could only be done by how big the show was at this point. Homer sings along to “The Joker” by Steve Miller Band (beginning his long love affair with trashy rock music in two ways) and imagines “Close To You” by The Carpenters when he sees Marge (with hints of the song in the soundtrack after that). “The Streak” by Ray Stevens, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Colour My World” by Chicago, “Pick Up The Pieces” by Average White Band, and “The Hustle” by Van McCoy all play in the episode.

There’s also a reference to the lowering of the speed limit to 55mph in 1974.

First Appearances: Artie Ziff (and therefore John Lovitz), Sarcastic Guy (who gets some of the best lines), Rainier Wolfcastle, Principal Dondelinger, Marge’s father (though slightly different in design and voice)
Biggest laugh: “Would you like to present your rebuttal?”

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