(originally aired February 6, 1992)
The sad state of being that is Marge Simpson is something the show has shown telling glimpses of over its first few years, and here it becomes front and center. Marge-centric episodes, like Lisa ones, have been said to be a pain to write, and it’s understandably so. While Homer and Bart are exaggerated and over-the-top, Marge and Lisa are more level-headed; their featured episodes tend to be and feel more realistic. Here, we see Marge’s life of marital servitude unravel, and it’s a very, very powerful first act. When you take a typical dynamic of the show and want to drive it to an emotional climax, you have to ramp things up. So while hearing Homer and the kids whine to Marge is normally just funny, here we see how they can be building irritants, pecking away at Marge’s sanity. Tedious task after tedious, thankless task wears at Marge more and more. When it gets to where everyday annoyances start plugging away at here, Marge does something we’d have figured she’d have done a long time ago: she fucking loses it, parking her car in the middle of a busy cross-town bridge.
Marge is eventually brought down and everything is okay. So says Homer. It almost seems like this would be the start and end of a crappy show, like a last ditch effort of appreciation is enough to sweep this psychological problem under the rug. But here it’s just the beginning. Marge concludes she needs a break: a weekend at a spa and resort Rancho Relaxo. A character of intrinsic restraint, Marge’s wild no-bars vacation consists of having a staff pamper her, and watching R-rated movies while drinking Tequila. The other Simpsons are left to fend for themselves in Marge’s absence. Bart and Lisa stay with their aunts Patty and Selma, a nightmarish domain of disgusting foot rubs and tongue sandwiches. Homer, meanwhile, must tend toward Maggie, who drives himself ragged, even more so when the baby crawls off and about town, desperately in search of her mommy.
Seeing how calm and mellow Marge is toward the end only makes the seemingly happy ending of her return seem sad, since we know she’s going to be unappreciated by next week’s show. It’s a testament to how great this show is that we can have episodes that very seriously explore huge fractures and dire issues with this family, but still love each one of them, and as a whole family unit. Either they remain optimistic, or they’re in the biggest permanent rut, but the Simpsons are overall content with their station in life.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The scene of Bart, Lisa and Homer talking over each other is mixed so well, and really gets across the building annoyance. One line that sticks out amongst the rabble is Homer’s “Double baloney! Double baloney! Don’t forget to make it double baloney!” But alas, they’re all out of baloney. I also like his later whine, “Ohh, alley balls!”
– We get some crazy Marge reactions here, from the lower pitched “GET. OUT.” to when she literally makes animal noises, something we haven’t seen since “Some Enchanted Evening,” and I don’t think again since.
– The almost final nail in the coffin for Marge is an insane crank call bit on the Billy & Marty show, involving them telling a guy his wife has died after walking into a plate glass window. The man is understandably devastated, and the two jocks laugh hysterically. It’s such an over-the-top parody of dumb shit these types of radio shows do, and the perfect example of insensitivity and craziness that would set Marge off.
– Little details are important. I love how the bus behind a standstill Marge is carrying the Shelbyville players, all in Shakespeareian garb.
– I think this is the first appearance of Arnie Pye in the Sky, a character I’ve always loved. Just as equal, we get the intro to his rivalry with Kent Brockman, as he takes offense to Kent claiming that this news story “is no mere morning traffic report.”
– Shows like these tend to not have big laughs, just a lot of great small moments, like the cops’ smirks upon Homer’s arrival, completely understanding his wife’s turmoil, and the female officer’s empathetic encouragement while taking Marge’s mug shot (but not enough to loosen her cuffs).
– We also get the first appearance of the rivalry between Mayor Quimby and Chief Wiggum, back when the latter had a bit more gumption. We saw this a bit more in the next few seasons, but I don’t think it was brought up much past season 7 or so. It’s a understandable and cool dynamic, I wish they’d kept it up.
– I love the ad for Rancho Relaxo, and its perks (“Swim, play tennis, or just sit and stare at the walls”), complete with a Spanish conquistador relaxing in a hot tub, in full uniform. Phil Hartman is back (seems like he’s in every one of these old episodes) as Troy McClure, hosting the in-room guide to the resort, who is absolutely great, as always.
– Homer doing a puppet show for Maggie only to have the dog attack him is such a great sequence of animation, and hilarious, of course, with Maggie clapping at the end.
– Maggie’s quest to find Marge is so sweet. Don’t have much to add on that, but it’s just really adorable.
– I love the random element of Barney being an omelet gourmand. He makes them with three kinds of cheese. Three!
– Third and final instance of inappropriate hold music. It’s reused animation from “Saturdays of Thunder,” but it’s definitely my favorite. When Homer calls the department of missing babies, he’s treated to “Baby Come Back.”
– I like Homer, once it seems all hope is lost, his efforts to soften the blow to Marge about Maggie’s absence. He tests the waters asking her how she’d feel if the dog ran away, but after hearing she’d think that awful, he back pedals. Later he tests out some liners, including, “Isn’t life funny? One day they’re babies, the next thing you know they’re off on their own!”