(originally aired January 31, 1991)
NOTE: During the past week I was visiting my hometown in New Jersey. However, that did not hinder my Simpsons obligations. I managed to burn through six episodes with two very good friends of mine, and together we recorded brief, five-minute commentaries for them. They’re quite rambling, misguided, and mostly disposable, but hey, they’re only five minutes, and if you’re reading this, chances are your time isn’t that valuable to begin with.
These audio reviews will also be an excuse for me to write less. A bit of a cop out, but hey, I got four hundred episodes more, so cut me a break.
Here we have our first flashback show, giving us a look at how our favorite couple met and fell in love, told in an absolutely perfect and heartwarming fashion. We open innocuously enough with the family watching TV, with not only a great Siskel & Ebert parody (Homer chuckles and comments, “I love watching the bald guy argue with the fat tub of lard!”) but the first look at McBain, the action-packed film series starring Swartzeneggar double Rainier Wolfcastle. As much as I know that the schtick would grow stale if extended, I would love to see a whole McBain film. We’ve seen enough snippets over the years that one could probably be cobbled together, but I think it would be fantastic. Anyway, the TV burns out, and the family are stuck having to talk amongst themselves, and topic eventually turns to how Homer and Marge first met.
It’s now the bygone groovy time of 1974 where we meet our youthful heroes: Homer is a shaggy-haired slacker who skips class with fellow loafer Barney to smoke in the bathroom, and Marge is a headstrong go-getter with a knack for debate and foreign languages. These are two characters who would never have anything to do with each other if not for Marge being sent to detention for a radical bra-burning stunt on school grounds. Homer is immediately smitten, and seeks advice where he can: the guidance counselor suggests to find common interests and to “spend, spend spend!” while his father gives him a terribly reverse pep talk about aiming low (“Go for the dented car! The dead-end job! The less attractive girl!”) We get a real glimpse at how these characters matured and became who they are today, but in a very subtle way. We see Grampa’s horribly dilapidated apartment and the rough way he treats his son and get a glimmer of where Homer got his questionable parenting from, and Marge’s discouraged political stunt dims the fire of her activism, sort of sadly paving the way for her future as a domesticated housewife. Both of these scenarios are kind of depressing now that I ponder them…
Homer fakes needing tutoring in French to get closer to Marge, which works, until she discovers it has all been a ruse. She instead goes with her pompous nerdlinger acquaintance Artie Ziff, voiced by the great Jon Lovitz. Lovitz is near the top of fantastic guest voices; his comic delivery and voice is almost tailor made for animation (which we would later get in spades on The Critic), and Ziff is a great character from Lovitz, a seemingly nice guy, but completely engulfed by his self-elevation from his peon classmates. He says it all in his acceptance speech as prom king: “Instead of voting for some athletic hero or a pretty boy, you have elected me, your intellectual superior, as your king. Good for you!” True love wins out in the end as Artie gets grabby and Marge gives ol’ Homie one more shot, and the rest is history. It’s a really sweet episode, probably one of the series’ most so, full of lots of great character moments and sly nods to the future, the first at building the framework of the Simpsons past of how they became who the dysfunctional family we know and love today.
Tidbits and Quotes
– I always loved Homer imitating McBain’s cool quip “That makes two of us”; he’s so like those dopes who do that, trying to sound cool. Also great is he and the kids’ desperation when the TV goes out, culminating with them staring intently at a single pixel. Marge shouts, “I think this is sick. You’re staring at a dot!!”
– We find out here that Bart was born out of wedlock, and that Marge’s pregnancy sparked Homer’s proposal. It was kind of ballsy for them to implicate this back in the early 90s, and I’m glad they did, as it inspired the wonderful followup flashback show “I Married Marge.”
– For some reason, I really like Marge’s activist friend. I think it’s because I wish a future episode would have further explored Marge’s high school days, showing more of the origins of her bottled-up indifference. Marge’s friend seems like the kind of person who pushes things onto people, thinking it’s of their best interest. Women should be given equal pay for equal work, but Marge contends, “Not if I have to do heavy lifting, or math.”
– Shakespeare’s Fried Chicken (a bucket of it sits in the Simpson apartment) is a chain I’d really like to see more of. Not related at all, I love Dan Castelleneta’s performance as Grampa, sounding younger and feistier. Actually related, his teenage Homer is wonderful too, having a higher, squeakier quality to it.
– Young Homer is brash, but oh-so-lovable. His query to his counselor (“I just met this girl Marge Bouvier and I want to force her to like me”) sounds so boorish on paper, but said and meant with such sincerity. Also great is his response when the counselor inquires about Homer’s post-graduate plans: “I’m gonna drink a lot of beer and stay out aaaaaaaaallll night!!”
– Jon Lovitz also appears as the shop teacher, who has a more nasally tint. And one missing finger.
– The second act break is so golden, maybe one of my favorites ever. Homer may deal with rage and depression, but he’s the eternal optimist: even after Marge leaves in a devastated huff, he still knows it’s going to work out.
– I also wish we knew more of the Bouvier household. Marge’s mother appears briefly with some matronly advice (“If you pinch your cheeks, they’ll glow. Ladies pinch. Whores use rouge.”) We also see a rare glimpse at Marge’s father, long gone from this world (allegedly).
– We also see the first appearance of the “Wiseguy,” the sarcastic Charles Bronsan-sounding guy who fills a variety of jobs over the series. He’s Homer’s limo driver, and has some great lines, the best being his last as a dejected (and broke) Homer decides to walk home after the worst night of his life, to which Wiseguy responds, “Why spoil a perfect evening?”
– I’d talk about the perfect, sweet ending, but it’s hard to come up with stuff to say. It’s immortal, it’s classic, it couldn’t have been done any other way.