It’s common – and I’m fully guilty of this – to forget Marge Simpson. Marge is mainly remembered as the boring nagging square, which a) ignores how funny the show could make her squarishness (“It must be exciting to make a whole different set of beds.” “I know you’re joking, but it is!”) b) ignores how entertaining her episodes are and c) ignores how much sympathy the show has for her. I think people sometimes go so far as to project their own lack of interest in her onto the show itself, believing that the show under serves her because they grew up idolising Homer, Bart, and Lisa.
(Bojack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg once tweeted a fanfic poem about Marge, and it drove me up the wall because every question he raises has an answer – yes, Helen Lovejoy is Marge’s friend, as well as Agnes Skinner and Luann Van Houten. Outside Homer, Marge’s most emotionally intimate relationship and the one she explicitly draws emotional strength from is with her sisters, whose main trait is telling her they hate Homer. Inside Homer, it’s too dark to read. The rest doesn’t apply to Marge, because she’s not Sylvia fucking Plath.)
Getting off my high horse for a second, I think this episode must be a case of an idea boiling over – that the crew realised just how much shit Marge takes from everybody, and turning that into an episode. The first act shows one of Marge’s particularly shitty days; everybody talking at once or the kids being loud and annoying in the car must be a usual annoyance, but then things like Homer’s bowling ball problem escalate it into absurdity (“I dunno what Nick’s telling ya, I haven’t flushed a ball in years.”). Marge snaps and parks her car in the middle of a bridge, and it takes Homer with a megaphone to calm her down.
Marge decides to take a vacation alone (such a Homer touch that he immediately assumes she wants a divorce and panics), leaves Bart and Lisa in her sister’s care, and leaves Maggie with Homer when she seems distressed – and I gotta say, while it’s weird that they all basically assume that Homer couldn’t take care of Bart, Lisa, and Maggie all at the same time, it leads to some seriously #relatable comedy gold in Lisa and Bart – only It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia has ever managed to capture how siblings can go from worst enemies to strongest allies in the right situation, and here, the terrifying prospect of sleeping in their aunt’s beds is enough to bring them together.
Meanwhile, Homer has his hands full looking after Maggie. The show would come back to this well to much greater emotional and comic highs, but the relatively low-key presentation of it here works for me if only because it doesn’t present Homer as completely dysfunctional – he can feed, change, and otherwise care for Maggie, he just does it in a very silly way. I always love when the show goes into Maggie’s perspective on the world, as it does when she runs away to find Marge, because the show takes on a sweeter vibe, which sets up some great cynicism in response.
Meanwhile, Marge is pampered by the episode. What Bob-Waksberg got wrong in his poem is that Marge is not someone who craves recognition; what she wants is room to be selfish and hedonistic; the episode allows her to indulge in it, and to recognise this aspect of herself, and though we know things are going to snap back to normal we at least feel that everyone, including her, has learned more of her needs.
Chalkboard Gag: I will not spank others*.
Couch Gag: The family forms a human pyramid.
This episode was written by David M. Stern and directed by Mark Kirkland. I don’t research these before I write them because I want to settle on how I received the episode before finding out the actual facts; my instincts were right, because Stern pitched the episode when observing that other writers kept pitching Bart or Homer stories and he wanted to mine Marge for laughs. Originally, the episode visited a mental institute rather than a spa, but it apparently read terribly at the table. I’m glad, because then it would feel like a retread of “Stark Raving Dad”.
The episode opens with a pastiche of Road Runner and Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Marge’s arrest is a parody of Raising Arizona. Marge watches Thelma And Louise. The song Homer hears when he calls the Missing Babies Unit is “Baby Come Back” by Player.
The “Just stamp the ticket” guy comes back, refusing a pamphlet from the Squeaky-Voiced Teen.
Not only is an ironic-hold-music gag reused, it even recycles the animation from “Saturdays Of Thunder”!
Inbetween the story are beats shading in the town of Springfield. I think this is both the first scene of Quimby and Wiggum’s rivalry, but I’m more tickled by the small piece of Krusty and Mr Teeny’s relationship (“Aw, you got chocolate all over it!”).
It is interesting to consider the Animated TV Moms who came in Marge’s wake.
First Appearances: Patty and Selma’s love for MacGuyver.
Biggest Laugh: A rare pure animated example. Maggie’s cutely sadistic clapping is what gets me more than anything.
*”Describe your sex life with a Simpsons quote”