The premise: Once again feeling the sting of her boring life, Marge falls into the world of competitive timber sports. She turns out to be a natural and is loving her new self, but Homer worries that her new trainer might be more interested in her than she thinks.
The reaction: Let’s tick the ol’ overused story trope boxes: Marge wants some excitement in her life, a Simpson takes up a new hobby/talent and is immediately a success, Homer is worried Marge might leave him… we’ve seen it all before, and done much better, of course, but at least nothing here is stupid or out of left field. Noticing Marge is pretty skillful at chopping wood, Patty introduces her to Paula, who takes Marge under her wing to be a competitive tree cutter-downer, or whatever you call it. Marge channels her pent-up frustration of being an overworked, under appreciated housewife for over thirty years out on the logs, which feels true to her character. She also is really hung up on not being called boring, as it overtly stated several times (“What could possibly be her motivation?” “I’m… not… boring!!”) This comes as a result of a school play Lisa wrote about the family, portraying Marge as incredibly lame and domesticated. Unfortunately, the Marge-Lisa connection dies soon after that; there’s been a couple shows over the last twenty years about Lisa’s perception of her mother as just a boring housewife, and Marge attempting to make her daughter proud of her, and they’ve all been terrible, but it’s definitely a rich vein the show could mine that was touched on a couple times in the classic era, but could definitely be worth revisiting. Instead, we get Homer panicked that Marge is going to get turned gay and leave him. Oh boy. Paula is presented several times as being a bit too forward to Marge (repeatedly scooching closer to her sitting on a bench, effectively living like a married couple in Portland), but of course in the end it’s just a big misdirect, as she reveals to Homer she has a wife and child. Something Marge didn’t think was relevant to bring up when Homer talked to her about his suspicions about Paula earlier, I suppose. The Homer-Marge stuff actually isn’t that bad, but still feels a bit underwhelming in the end, and again, a dynamic we’ve seen done much better before. Outside of a few unique flourishes, the episode was mostly just pretty boring, which easily makes it the best of the season thus far.
Three items of note:
– Martin, Sherri and Terri make appearances early in the first act, now being voiced by Grey Griffin, an incredibly talented voice actress who has appeared in tons and tons of stuff (probably #2 only to Tara Strong for biggest VO actress on television), most notably being Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Fairly OddParents and as Scooby-Doo‘s Daphne Blake for the last two decades. So, yeah, we recast Russi Taylor’s and Doris Grau’s characters, but Phil Hartman and Marcia Wallace’s get put in permanent retirement. I honestly don’t know what the right answer is when it comes to dealing with characters when their performers leave us. There really isn’t one. Do you write them out? Have them fade into the background in a new silent role? Or just recast? In her very brief first outing, Griffin does a fairly solid job mimicking Taylor’s characters, so that’s good, I guess (oddly, her Martin sounds kind of like Charlene Yi to me). I just feel more than anything members of the cast dropping off our mortal coil speaks more to the needless longevity of this series than anything else.
– This episode’s handling of its LGBT material is pretty good, I suppose, given its not-so-stellar history during the 2000s (friggin’ “Three Gays of the Condo”…) Paula does come off a little bit predatory, which of course is done out of service for the misdirect, but it feels less “gay person seeking to convert a straight” and more akin to Lurleen or Mindy coming onto Homer. Except those characters and their unfolding relationship with Homer were more involved and were much better written. When Homer arrives in Portland to find his wife effectively domestically married to Paula, he’s shocked to see all of the gay in their house. A Janelle Monae poster! DVDs of Orange is the New Black, The L Word and Tig Notaro’s stand-up special! A pennant from Bryn Mawr, an all girl’s college outside of Philadelphia! Look at all our gay references! Gay people love these gay things! Not quite offensive, only in that it’s lazy writing.
– The show can cross Portland off its big travelogue list, as we get a few bits of Homer and the kids checking out the city as they go to visit Marge. We get an extended scene of them driving past streets with the same names as beloved Springfield regulars (Quimby, Kearney, Dolph, Van Houten, Flanders), as hardcore Simpsons fans will know were Matt Groening’s hometown inspirations to name those characters. But what’s the point of this scene? Knowing this information, I get the reference immediately, and then it just keeps going. There’s no real joke at the end of it (“Stupid Flanders street” barely counts as one). And if you don’t know that piece of trivia, I guess the scene would confuse you enough to go check it out online? And then once you read about it, you’ll just be laughing your ass off, I guess. I dunno.
One good line/moment: A few good moments throughout (Lisa wearing a replica of her own hair during her play was a great touch), but I thought Homer feebly trying to communicate how much Marge means to him throughout the back half of the episode actually worked pretty well, and was genuinely sweet, which is a rarity for these Homer-Marge marital strife shows (“I miss you when we’re separated in a revolving door! I miss you when I’m putting a sweater on over my head! I miss you when I close my eyes during a sneeze! I miss you when the clock springs ahead an hour! We’ll never get the time back!”)