The Simpson, Season Five, Episode Twenty-One, “Lady Bouvier’s Lover”

We’re moving away from the meta stuff this week; arguably, putting together Abe Simpson and Jacqueline Bouvier is another example of shaking up relationships, but they’re two random characters who’ve otherwise barely interacted, so to me it feels more like a little genre flip into romantic comedy. There’s a Meet Cute, a process of falling in love, and Burns swooping in as the romantic rival. What’s interesting is how this isn’t just a genre exercise just for the sake of it and the genre parody is actually quite a small element of the episode; the main focus of the episode is the unbearable misery of being old. I moved back in with my parents a few months ago, and seeing the dark jokes about degradation sitting next to my septuagenarian father makes them both bleaker and funnier (favourite: “Hurry! Each Matlock could be our last!”). The Simpsons could not be said to romanticise old age; it’s a mixture of loneliness, uselessness, and a body failing so often that you can’t tell the difference between love and a stroke (by comparison, life with my Dad doesn’t seem so bad).

It makes sense that Marge would be the one to spot Jacqueline and Abe’s chemistry and try to fan the flames; fixing the loneliness of her father-in-law and mother by setting them up seems like exactly the kind of thing she’d find swooningly romantic, and I enjoy how it turns her wet blanket tendencies into a story positive, moving the plot forward (it also makes sense that Homer would somehow believe their marriage would make him and Marge incestuous and retroactively warp the kids). There is a genuine romantic sensibility driving this episode, with Grampa giving a beautiful monologue that’s never undermined with a joke (“You remind me of a poem I can’t remember, and a song that may never have existed, and a place I’m not sure I’ve ever been to.”)

Next to this has to be one of the strangest, most underrated examples of Simpsons absurdity, when Bart buys an animation cel hoping to make money off it. On its own, this isn’t very silly, a simple set of jokes on a kid’s expectations for the world versus reality (“This is an arm, drawn by nobody. It is worth nothing.”), but the show manages to spin some truly absurd ideas out of it – Nelson having an out of body experience to laugh at Bart and Homer jumping straight to the idea of buying seventy transcripts of Nightline are great, but for sheer blazen originality, you can’t beat three grown men punching a ten year old in the face, which never fails to crack me up (“That’s for keeping me waiting!”).

Burns swooping in to take over the narrative is always welcome, and I think the little arc he goes through is really well judged; he starts out looking like a genuine romantic rival to Grampa, someone cooler, richer, and more charming, and that charm slowly dissolves through the final act of the episode; being annoyed by little Bartholomew is perfectly understandable, but he becomes impatient with basically everything inconveniencing the immediate consummation of his desires the more of a clear stranglehold he has over Jackie B. The ending is a kind of half-assed resolution parodying The Graduate, though I actually love it for that – it’s like, this had to go somewhere, and it’s a little obvious, so we’ll just have fun on the way out.

Chalkboard Gag: I will not re-transmit without the express permission of Major League Baseball.
Couch Gag: The family collide, shattering while the dog watches on.

This episode was written by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, and directed by Wes Archer, who gets a lot of delightfully gross animation out of Grampa. The episode was inspired by how many elderly characters the show had, and how strange this was at the time. Originally, the script was over 85 pages long and included a parody of Misery.

The title is a parody of Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Grampa is twice harassed by lawyers on behalf of dead entertainers for stealing their bit, first Charlie Chaplin and then Jimmy Durante; “lawyers stopped us doing this” jokes are so ludicrously common and I believe are influenced by this episode in particular, and none of the ripoffs come close to “Well, would it be alright with you if I just laid down in the street and died?!” / “Yes, that would be acceptable.” The climax, as said, lifts from The Graduate, complete with a parody of “The Sounds Of Silence”. Jacqueline references her friends, Zelda Fitzgerald, Frances Farmer, and Sylvia Plath, and blames their mental breakdowns on jealousy over her good looks. Mrs B’s favourite tune is “Moonlight Sonata” by the Glenn Miller Band. The song Burns and Jacqueline dance to is “Sing, Sing, Sing”. Bart and Lisa sing the jingle for Armour Hot Dogs, and when Lisa objects to the absurdity of only knowing commercials, the family perform the theme for Chicken Tonight. Burns mistakenly calls Homer and Marge Fred and Wilma Flintstone.

Iconic Moments: 2 “They need to be isolated and studied, so that we can determine what nutrients can be extracted for our personal use.” | Grampa smacking on the window has become a major element in Simpsons shitposting.
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