Another sequel episode, this time to “The Way We Was”! I’ve been puzzling over why this season has so many of them. I don’t have the DVDs for season three, so I don’t know if the crew explain it there, but my gut instinct is that this whole season shows the period just before everyone realised that The Simpsons wasn’t just a flash-in-the-pan, but a genuine cultural mainstay. Traditions like “Treehouse Of Horror episodes” or “Sideshow Bob” episodes haven’t yet been established as traditions; the recurring elements have started to mature into self-aware jokes (within this episode alone we have “Simpson, eh? I’ll remember that name.”) but haven’t yet become mythology (we have a whole episode about how Bart saved Krusty and he seemed to just forget about it instead of a throwaway joke). All these sequel episodes say to me that even the crew were a little surprised at the longevity of the show, and that season three shows them throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what stuck; we could have had an Unkie Herb episode every season, but we got Sideshow Bob instead.
Anyway, zooming back in on the actual episode, Marge is concerned she might be pregnant again, and when she goes to Dr Hibbert, Homer tells the kids the story of Bart’s birth, and how it kicked off the Simpson marriage. There are much fewer “Hey, it’s the 80s!” jokes than there were 70s jokes in “The Way We Was”, but they’re refined to a sharper point; the gag about Homer spoiling Empire Strikes Back as he walks out of the movie is one of those jokes that cracked me up as a kid and just gets funnier as the show ages.
What the show’s more concerned about is laying out where Homer and Marge were in their lives when Bart was born. Homer was 24 (in my head, he turns 25 before Bart’s birth, making him 35 in the current day), and he and Marge are living lifestyles that are both comfortably #relatable (Homer and Barney’s bachelor pad looks exactly as messy as when me and my best friend lived together around the same age) and establish the stakes for the story (one shot of Marge in her work clothes is all we need to see that the two are going to have financial struggles raising this baby long before their Vegas wedding).
But this isn’t a depressing story of working-class misery; Homer proposing to Marge is a near-hysterical emotional high on the level of “Oh Marge, pour vous” (which gets referenced at one point). Marge reading Homer’s card is hilarious (“That’s the card, give it here”), and it’s also a fairly sophisticated storytelling trick, as we can hear Marge’s reaction in her voice. It’s an incredibly romantic half-hour that shows true love struggling against strong financial difficulties; there are a lot of familiar emotional beats (Homer’s sense of responsibility, for example) filtered through this radically different context, and thinking about it, it’s an inversion of the biggest theme of the show. If so many episodes of The Simpsons say that spiritual enlightenment is, while more difficult to get, more worthy than material possessions and wealth, this episode says that already having it makes it easier to accept lack of wealth.
Of course, this just makes the cynical punchline of the whole thing even funnier: after peacefully telling his children how blessed he felt by having them, Marge comes back in, gleefully reveals she’s not pregnant, and the two of them high-five.
Chalkboard Gag: I will not torment the emotionally fragile.
Couch Gag: The family cartwheels onto the couch and strike a pose.
This episode was written by Jeff Martin and directed by Jeffery Lynch. There’s a minor animation error in that the Korean animators were using a stencil for the eyes, which made them slightly too large and perfect. Marge is made to look younger by making her hair shorter. Sam Simon thought the episode was inefficient, and that the three sections – Homer and Marge’s marriage, Bart’s birth, and Homer getting his job – should have been divided into three episodes; I strongly disagree, preferring the fast pace of what we got.
As said above, Homer and Marge go and see Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back. The title is a reference to the show I Married Joan. Homer and Marge sing along to “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone, and both manage to wring a lot of character out of it. Lisa wants to name the potential new baby Ariel, after The Little Mermaid, and Bart wants to name it after rapper Kool Moe Dee.
The moment when Homer sees the donut truck heading into the power plant is a reference to Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” plays over a montage of Homer looking for a better job. Mr Burns plays Ms. Pac-Man.
First Appearances: Homer begins his distinctive, whimsical, pop culture-infused way of starting stories; “It all happened at the beginning of that turbulent decade known as the 80’s. Those were the idealistic days – the candidacy of John Anderson, the rise of Supertramp; it was an exciting time to be young,” is no “The domestication of the dog continued unabated,” but it’s pretty great.
“I bet that guy she was singing about is real happy.”
“Actually, she was singing about God.”
“Oh, well, he’s always happy. No wait, he’s always mad.”
(This is another case of a joke’s throwaway delivery making it even funnier)