(originally aired January 28, 1990)
As I’ve mentioned, season 1 feels like a big experiment on figuring out what this show would end up being, and as such, some things feel sort of off watching them after so many years. The personalities of the Simpson family are so universally known, even by those who don’t even watch the show, that it’s slightly jarring seeing them act any different. This show features many bizarre out-of-character moments, but I can’t say it doesn’t fit in with what we’ve seen already. At the start the Simpsons was a bit more subtle and, dare I say, serious in its portrayal of middle class society and family life, and as such it’s not as laugh-out-loud hysterical as the show would become. Here we have Homer frustrated with his imperfect family and his efforts to better themselves, a conceit that sounds like the complete opposite of the Homer we know today. But there are plenty true-to-character moments sprinkled about, and given his desires to have a perfect Kodak Christmas in the first show, it’s not a far leap to want to mold the stereotypical perfect family either.
We start with Homer demanding his family be on their best behavior at the company picnic, hoping he can score some brownie points from his boss, or at the very least not piss him off. There, Bart and Lisa are unrestrained brats, Marge ends up drunk off her ass, and Homer is in complete envy of a disgustingly polite and cordial family, wishing it was his own. Now, all of this already sounds like it’s from a completely different show, but as I’ve said, the premise fits within the overarching conceit of the season, this slightly off family and their interactions and reactions to society and social norms. Marge and the kids eat like slobs and are comfortable with this, assuming all families act like that, but Homer remains stringent that there is hope for the Simpson family.
Like many of his problems, he finds the answer on TV whilst at Moe’s: a commercial for a questionable therapist Dr. Marvin Monroe. In one last grossly alien moment, Homer of all people pawns the family television to gather up the money to pay for a session. During the session, the good doctor surmises that there is a great seething aggression within the family towards each other and they need to vent it. They start out with whacking each other with foam mallets, which ends when Bart finds them to be more effective without the padding, right into Dr. Monroe’s shin. The doctor then pushes with more severe therapy: electroshock treatment, in a chaotic finale where each Simpson repeatedly shocks and gets shocked by one another, so much so that they cause power outages across Springfield. Even through this, the family remains thick as thieves, and when Homer catches the doctor on his money-back guarantee and is in $500, they are ecstatic. The Simpson family may get at each other’s throats, but at the end of the day, they’re still a family, regardless of its questionable foundations.
For all the out of whack things in this show there are also plenty of bits that still ring true with the show today: Mr. Burns’ sprawling estate, the incompetence of the Springfield police force, and Homer’s undying belief in the words of TV. The show ends with the family going off to buy a brand new television with their newly attained money. As they rush to the couch every week in the opening, TV is their great unifier as a family, it makes them who they are. There’s also a great subtle gag toward the end in Dr. Monroe’s waiting room, we see a bunch of waiting clients, including the suspiciously happy family from the picnic, all donning scowls. Perhaps it’s not the Simpsons aren’t the isolated screw-ups they may think they are.
Tidbits and Quotes
– “My boss is going to be at this picnic so I want you to show your father some love and/or respect!”
– As out-of-character as it may be, it feels very Homer to chase after his out-of-control kids like a wild man screaming, “Be normal! BE NORMAL!!”
– A very peculiar bit with the mother with the Southern twang talking to the other women about which child she loves more. “Usually I use their grades as a tiebreaker. They both got straight ‘A’s this term, so what’s a mother to do?” There’s also a great follow-up by a tipsy Marge: “I sense a true greatness in my family, it’s a greatness that others can’t see. But it’s there, and if it’s not true greatness we have, we’re at least average.”
– A very true early Burns quote yelling at the band, “Musicians, cease that infernal tootling!” Also the first mention of releasing the hounds.
– The first time of many Homer breaks down into hysterics during grace: “Our kids are uncontrollable hellions! Pardon my French… but they act like savages! Did you see them at the picnic? Oh, of course you did… You’re everywhere, You’re omnivorous.”
– Another testament to this season’s subtle humor is the stuff with the cops in the bar. There’s jokes there, but they are so subdued. Moe offers the two pretzels, to which Eddie declines: “No thanks, we’re on duty. Couple of beers would be nice though.” Then later when Homer tries to justify their dog’s attraction to them, claiming he has “wieners in his pocket,” Eddie responds, “Figures.” Like that’s a normal thing someone would have. Brilliant.
– Within the insane moment where Homer pawns the TV comes a great line when Marge suggests she pawn her wedding ring instead: “I appreciate that honey, but we need $150 here!”
– More bizarre background stuff: the walls of Dr. Monroe’s waiting room look like they’re made of waffle cone. Also the absolutely insane cured alternate Simpsons, complete with the Homer substitute inviting his family out for frosty chocolate milkshakes.