The Simpsons, Season Four, Episode Seven, “Marge Gets A Job”

Sometimes an older episode of a show feels like a subtle dry run for the later, more ambitious episodes, and sometimes an older episode feels like an extremely obvious dry run. As the title implies, “Marge Gets A Job” is our first instance of Marge, um, finding employment. There are upsides and downsides to the fact that this is a proto-form of “Marge gets a job” episodes; the chief downside is that the plot is pretty ragged. I will concede that this might just be personal taste, but having a random character fall in love with the protagonist is, if not a lazy plot device then a boring one (though this gives us an all-time celebrity cameo joke when Burns tries impressing Marge buy kidnapping Tom Jones). This isn’t like “Life On The Fast Lane” or the upcoming “Last Temptation Of Homer” where it’s the central conflict of the episode. This feels like the crew randomly throwing in some conflict because they couldn’t think of anything else.

But the upsides are so good that I forgive this. The flaw of “character gets a job” episodes, on this show and elsewhere, is they can be pretty generic – not only in the sense that the story will usually go a certain way (character arbitrarily gets their new job, character has fun, something bad happens, character overcomes it, character either loses their job or quits), but in that they flatten the character and make them into an audience stand-in, as opposed to a particular person who makes their own particular choices.

This episode happily avoids that. It’s become a pretty common observation of late Simpsons that it will come in on a plot from an unrelated direction (though I grew up watching The Goodies which did the same thing, so that was one thing I never criticised it for), and this is a very early example of that but one that stays in the bounds of logical storytelling. Playing off the family’s generally terrible finances, they get hit by a case of slanted house; the cost of repairing it forces Marge to find work, and it’s a constant presence throughout the episode reminding us why Marge has to work at the plant.

Most importantly, Marge remains Marge all throughout the episode. Part of what makes the show overall entertaining is that we’re spending time in one particular very strange world, and part of what makes it feel like its own world is there are distinct parts to it; there’s a similar bleakness between the school and the power plant, but both work by their own rules, and that means we can do things like send Marge in to the plant and see how these two familiar elements play off each other, and in this case we have Marge’s total squarishness bouncing off the miserable grind of the plant; it is so, so Marge to look at people drinking and stroking guns at work and think that Funny Hat Day will solve it, and even funnier when most of the workers do seem to get into it.

(We also have a small Lisa/Marge moment, when the ever-productive Lisa spruces up her mother’s resume – an early moment of Lisa being way too adult, but it works – and when she’s bowled over by the romantic image of her parents working together, which I find charming)

I’m really having trouble talking about this episode, which I think comes down to the fact that there’s neither a clear emotional arc nor a clear thematic underpinning – “Homer At The Bat” had no emotional arc, but the whole thing was about softball, which gave me something to work with. “Marge Gets A Job” is one great scene after another with the barest essentials of a plot and a few recurring elements, like the absolutely brilliant Tibor running gag. It leaves the whole episode feeling slight, but I actually kind of like the effect, as if we’ve been dropped in this world for twenty minutes. It’s a case of B-level Golden Era Simpsons being A-level anything else.

Chalkboard Gag: I will not teach others to fly.

Couch Gag: The family’s heads are all on the wrong bodies, so they switch over.

This episode was written by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein and directed by Jeff Lynch. In retrospect, Oakley and Weinstein’s sadly short-lived Mission Hill would have a tone very similar to this episode. The entire plot – Marge getting a job at the plant and Mr Burns falling in love with her – came from Conan O’Brien, and now I feel kind of bad for saying the idea seemed unoriginal. Marge in a suit and lipstick was an animation nightmare. Homer watches a home repair video, and all of the jargon came from a real Time-Life repair book. Originally, there was a subplot about Homer visiting school children to talk about nuclear power. Tom Jones was one of the nicest guest stars the cast ever worked with.

The song performed for Burns at the retirement party is a reference to Citizen Kane. In the background, we see a photo of Burns with Elvis Presley, presumably from the meeting he referenced a few episodes ago. The retirement party is held in a derailed train called the Sprooce Caboose, the first of this show’s references to Howard Hughes’ Sprooce Moose.

There’s a subplot about Bart going through an actual Cry Wolf situation which, aside from a few scenes, is really weak, weaker than his cameo appearances out of it – like his attempt to PT Barnum the slanted house, or his comic book imagination conjuring up a very different ending for the Curies.

First Appearances: First instance of the crew trying to associate the Imperial March with Burns, although I don’t think it ever really worked, definitely not as well associating the Cape Fear theme with Sideshow Bob – the former is one of the most iconic pieces of music from one of the most iconic movies of all time, and the other is from one of Scorsese’s weaker efforts.

Biggest Laugh: