The Simpsons, Season Five, Episode Six, “Marge On The Lam”

We’re never gonna see Homer shape up and become a respectable husband and father, and we’re never gonna see Marge leave Homer. What we get instead are variations on the theme of a rocky marriage, where Marge and Homer always start in the same position. The downside of this is that the characters can’t really grow or change; the upside is the sheer fun of putting them through a different kind of adventure every time. Where “Rosebud” riffed on Citizen Kane without actually being a full-on parody of Citizen Kane, this episode riffs on Thelma & Louise, which is to say it puts Marge through a fairly straightforward buddy comedy story, which does wonders for her character; the fundamental drive of a buddy comedy plot is two very different people with an unlikely friendship, and to make that means asking “Who is Marge’s opposite?”, which of course means asking “Who is Marge?”

Ruth Powers, the next door neighbour who first showed up in “New Kid On The Block”, becomes Marge’s foil, the cynical, leather-jacket-wearing smoker to Marge’s uptight square. I always get a kick out of odd friendships, and this is a good’un; despite their wild differences, they immediately click, with Marge’s kindness and Ruth’s laidback attitude coming together, and their girl’s night out feels fun because Ruth provides Marge with fun new experiences as well as the sense of safety underneath it – dangerous, but not deadly. Next to this is Homer. At this point, the emotional arc is fairly straightforward; Homer is emotionally useless, sees his actions come back on him, and thinks over what he really wants before deciding he wants Marge. Normally, when the show revisits a story, it slams through it faster; that doesn’t happen here, but to the show’s credit it manages to find new and even sweet variations on the theme; Homer wanting to bash the new weather station but finding it no fun without Marge is a perfect mix of sweet and ridiculous.

That level of imagination is really what kicks this story up a notch, and I suspect is part of not only Conan O’Brien and John Swartzwelder’s influence, but David Mirkin as showrunner; there isn’t just individual lines (favourites: “D’oh! Lumber has a million uses!” and “It’s a ghost car!”), the very plot itself is driven forward by brilliant absurdity. I don’t normally like to break down the jokes here, because a) there’s nothing more dire than breaking down comedy and b) youse lot in the comments tend to do it yourselves, but there’s one big scene that I want to break down. Ruth drops Marge off at a greasy spoon so she can avoid Ruth’s trouble. Police sirens are heard in the distance – as they obviously would, from a genre perspective – the sight of all the women fleeing at once is pretty funny, a logical extension of the idea that the diner is full of escaped criminals, which is pushed to its extreme when even the waffles end up sticking together.

It’s when Dolph rides through on his little bike with his helmet siren that the idea is finally pushed to its breaking point. Follow the logic: ‘women on the run from the law together’ is a fairly common genre trope therefore roadside diners are full of women on the run together therefore it’d be pretty easy to scare them all off with a siren therefore a teenager would definitely do this for kicks. We’ve somehow managed to completely push ourselves out of reality with a completely rational set of steps. I don’t think this is a conscious thing on either our parts as viewers, or on the writers’ part; for us it’s a lightbulb moment where the clear process clicks in our heads, and for the writers I think they’re so deeply entrenched in the process of setup/punchline that they can just casually push it as far as they can go. And that’s just the biggest example; I’m also a fan of the whole ‘cop pulls over our protagonists for a small reason’ trope being pushed to its extreme: “Uh-oh. Their left taillight’s slightly bigger than the right.”

Ultimately, the episode can’t push Marge and Homer’s relationship to its extreme, though to be fair it doesn’t really suggest that’s going to happen (from the way she says “Homer?” I’m guessing their marriage wasn’t nearly as threatened as Homer believed). The real closure comes from the way Ruth gets a fairly positive outcome; for Marge and for us, this was just a fun night out, a chance for Marge to play badass for an episode.

Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: The family break through the wall.

This episode was written by Bill Canterbury and directed by Mark Kirkland. Dan Castellanetta actually used a bullhorn for the lines where Homer spoke out of one. The man who silently watches his friend hit on Marge is a caricature of David Mirkin.

I barely touched on Miguel Sanchez Lionel Hutz, Inexplicable Babysitter, but this might be his best work yet. Love the late shot of him eating the popsicle after ‘successfully’ ‘negotiating’ for it.

Speaking of absurdity, I love Homer’s imagination sequence where he considers what a life stuck in vending machines would be like. Won’t lie: I have considered similar things in similar situations.

Much of the plot riffs on Thelma & Louise. Crystal Buzz Cola is a reference to Crystal Pepsi. The comedian who confuses the Simpsons is a parody of Garrison Keillor. Ruth accidentally puts in “Sunshine, Lollipops, Rainbows” by Lesley Gore before switching to “Welcome To The Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses. The old man fretting about his antique cans is a parody of actor Walter Brennan. The end of the episode parodies Dragnet. One of Troy McClure’s specials was “Let’s save Tony Orlando’s house”!”

Iconic Moments: 3. “Ahhhh, ballet.” | “Say hello to Miguel Sanchez.” | “IT’S IN REVELATIONS, PEOPLE!”
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