Something I’ve come to appreciate with these watches is how well The Simpsons made stories and jokes out of Marge being a wet blanket. When I started this project, it was common to interpret Marge as an unfun character – that her story role is mainly to stand back and watch the other family members do fun things while groaning disapprovingly, with the criticisms being a) she’s not fun to watch and b) this is an example of sexism on the part of the show, shoving a Mother in the back and not giving her anything interesting to do. This isn’t entirely wrong, but it is mostly wrong. Marge’s conception as a character might be a result of a limited, perhaps even sexist understanding of what a female character approaching middle age can be, but the show has a lot of empathy for her and her situation and often draws a lot of weirdness and story out of both, all the way back to the first season. This episode isn’t the deepest Marge episode, but it does make plot and fun out of her being a total square. The Investorettes strikes me as something a bunch of middle-aged and older women would do in a small town like Springfield, and I can totally picture one of Marge’s friends getting the idea (perhaps from a magazine whilst getting their hair done) and Marge going along with it because everyone else is excited, only for her lack of enthusiasm to bring everybody down, and it’s a great setup for a story because it gives her a revenge-based reason to try and go out of her comfort zone as well as an antagonist outside her own insecurity to keep her focused.
(We often talk about how the show takes the long way around to get to the main story, but it is pretty good at throwing us right in the middle of a situation and letting us figure out how the characters got there)
From the comfort of 2020, Marge’s involvement with the Pretzel Wagon borders uncomfortably on being a multi-level marketing scam (and thank goodness it didn’t go down that route, because it would have been morbidly depressing), but I think it accidentally shows the appeal of those scams to its victims by virtue of showing the emotions they’re shooting for – achievement on a personal and simple scale, where rules have all been set out for you and all you have to do is follow them to win. Right or wrong, Marge is a woman who follows a recipe. From there, this becomes the story of someone who does everything right and still fails, and I gotta tell you, I felt for her; I think we’ve all been in a situation where nothing we tried worked and we found ourselves depressed and convinced of our own unimportance (“Aim low. Aim so low no one will care if you succeed.”). Admittedly, this is where a character like Homer will spice things up by escalating the plot further; him bringing in the Mafia is such a Homer way of trying to fix a problem and make it ten thousand times worse. I suppose this is another situation where The Simpsons is a confluence of ideas. The effect of going from Marge’s well-meaning failure at her business to Homer dealing with the Mafia has a specific emotional tone you can’t get anywhere else.
This leads us into the final act, where there’s the increasingly typical problem of the story just kind of ending. From the point of view of just being funny, it’s perfectly cromulent; Marge discovering the whole Mafia thing is inevitable, but in the sense that hiring the Mafia for your wife’s business is usually going to end with her figuring it out, and the conclusion where the Investorettes hire the Yakuza in competition is absolutely hilarious, it’s just thematically the whole thing kind of peters out with no conclusion. This is a consistent problem with season eight – in previous seasons, even the wackiest episode gave me much to talk about, but that’s falling away. It feels like the show is simply running out of things to say.
Chalkboard Gag: I am not licenced to do anything.
Couch Gag: The family pop up in holes in the lounge room a la Whack-A-Mole.
This episode was written by Jennifer Crittenden and directed by Chuck Sheetz. The main plot was inspired by the then fashion for both pita bread and pretzels. Josh Weinstein would later regret not making the food more interesting, because both would fall out of fashion, although I think it still works. Many of the franchises at the Expo were based on real get-rich-quick schemes, and do in fact more strongly resemble MLM schemes. Jack Lemmon guest stars as Frank Ormand, and I love his folksy charm, where he’s not quite smart or mean enough to be a conman, making him perfect as someone who could charm Marge.
Some great alliteration on the line “No deal, McCutheson, that moon money is mine!” Dan Castellanetta ad libbed the line “Yeah, Homer’s right!” in the scene where the power plant staff are talking about getting pretzels, a very Futurama joke showing up early in this show. The satire of trying to sell Middle Eastern food to conservative middle-aged white women kills me, and is weirdly enough still relevant even as pita bread itself has been so thoroughly brought into the mainstream as to not be notable – I still see discussion on the way foreign food is often made blander and simpler to appeal to white people.
The montage of the Mafia destroying Pretzel Wagon competition was based on Goodfellas. Frank’s “You’ll be there” speech is a riff on a speech from The Grapes Of Wrath. Frank himself is based on Lemmon’s character from Glengarry Glenn Ross. Two of Cletus’ many children are named after Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s kids. The Whitey Whackers scene was based on a real incident in which baseball fans barraged the field with promotional baseballs to protest a bad call.
Iconic Moments: 3. “Copyright, 1968? Hrm, determined or not, that cat must be long dead by now. That’s kind of a downer.” | “You could call ‘em Whitey Whackers!” | “You have twenty-four hours to give us our money. And to show you we’re serious, you have twelve hours.” | The little guy that Homer wants to watch.
Biggest Laugh: As much as I love “When are the pancakes coming in the mail?”, this incredibly dumb joke is what got me.