The Simpsons, Season Six, Episode Eleven, “Fear Of Flying”

This is remembered as a mediocre episode with a great first act, and I am deeply frustrated that I can’t go against the grain, because that’s an accurate assessment of it. I never expect this show to have anything specific to say, but I do expect it to have multiple threads that bounce off each other in a way that sparks my imagination; while it’s not actually less complex than the show usually is, only having the one train of thought means I have less to play with and makes the whole thing feel less meaty than this show normally is. What’s frustrating is that it’s in spitting distance of a neat idea, exploring Marge’s squareishness and playing it as actual neuroses. There are a lot of things that make Homer who he is – a natural gluttony and laziness, an indifferent school system, a terrible economy, and as we saw just last episode an emotionally distant father. I’m fascinated by how Marge’s wet blanket behaviour comes from her sisters and her upbringing (“Mother said don’t make waves.”), but the show never explores that to the same extent it does for Homer and Abe. Perhaps worst of all, this episode brings out a random fear we’ve never seen before and cures it so we never see it again. Like most Simpsons episodes, it acknowledges that the issues are bigger than twenty-two minutes, but it’s still less satisfying than most plots.

The big revelation is that Marge’s dead father was a male flight attendant, and the shame traumatised her into a fear of flying. Characters yelling “Don’t look at me!” over something innocuous is always hilarious, and Marge overcoming her trauma with “You might even say he was an American hero!” is equally hilarious, but I feel like we haven’t learned much about Marge at all. It’s really the second act, when Marge starts losing her mind, that we learn new things; how her steadiness can mutate into obsessive control over her environment, and how Homer will happily enable that when he stands to gain something for it, or at least won’t stop it until it becomes a personal inconvenience. It’s one of those things where I like it even though it makes Homer less sympathetic, because it does feel like a dick thing he’d do (his attempts to keep the therapist from acknowledging his behaviour as a problem are less tolerable, though “Wives against husbands. Children against fathers. Neighbours against me,” made me laugh).

Speaking of Homer, that opening first act really is stellar. It’s hard to make blatant plot movement funny, but having Homer get in trouble at Moe’s for pulling the most harmless prank in the world after seriously injuring Moe is hilarious, mainly for the attention to detail it brings (“Taking advantage of my alcohol-soaked clothes!”). The act even closes with a similar gag, as Homer’s honest attempt to confess to fraud is aggressively rejected past the point of reason (“And I keep telling you, you fly boys crack me up!”). The middle of it is simple riffing on the idea of bars in general; I still haven’t seen enough of it to know how far out of the show’s reality that Cheers parody is, but it still cracks me up. Most poignant is the scene where Homer commiserates with his family over losing the bar. I’ve been Homer in that situation, hearing good advice worded the worst possible way and ignoring it.

Chalkboard Gag: Ralph won’t “morph” if you squeeze him hard enough.
Couch Gag: The big dance number.

This episode was written by David Sacks and directed by Mark Kirkland. Anne Bancroft guest stars as Dr Zweig, and the animators threw a few visual references to her into the character. Ted Danson, Woody Harrelson, Rhea Pearlman, John Ratzenberger, and George Wendt cameo as their Cheers characters.

Poor animated characters, only allowed to have one haircut their entire lives.

As has been stressed in this essay, there’s a scene that parodies Cheers. Marge dreams a parody of Lost In Space, with Dan Castellanetta somehow doing a dead-on impression of Jonathan Harris in Homer’s voice. One of Marge’s traumatic childhood experiences with planes is a parody of North By Northwest, and amazingly the setup is funnier than the punchline (“This is what a cornfield looks like, honey.” / “Mmm.”). Homer’s Mount Lushmore caricature resembles the mascot of The New Yorker. Homer lifts a line from It’s A Wonderful Life. His favourite song is revealed here to be “It’s Raining Men”. Marge referring to her doctor as Lowenstein is lifted from The Prince Of Tides.

Iconic Moments: 3. “Crisitunity!” | “This lesbian bar doesn’t have a fire exit!” | Guy Incognito.
Biggest Laugh:

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