103. Secrets of a Successful Marriage

(originally aired May 19, 1994)
We haven’t seen a balls-to-the-wall marriage crisis episode since season 2’s “War of the Simpsons,” and they’re always really hard to get invested in. As we would see in the many many future episodes like this to come, most involve Homer being stupid and thoughtless to betray Marge and him having to make it up to her in the end. Homer is just barely in his wife’s good graces as it is, and when he screws it up further, he really needs to up the ante in his efforts to make Marge, and us watching, truly believe that he deserves to be taken back. “Homer’s Night Out” in season 1 is a perfect example, though that’s kind of a horse of a different color as Homer’s escapades weren’t entirely vile. Here, Homer’s dumbassery is truly ramped up, a “Jerkass” if you will, his actions really do go too far, and the payoff of his redemption isn’t nearly as satisfying as the writers may have hoped. In the end, I just don’t buy the two getting back together so quickly, and that’s kind of a fatal flaw.

The show starts with Homer bemoaning at the revelation that he’s a bit slow, so he takes a trip to the adult learning annex. From there, he stumbles into the position as teacher of a class about marriage, which goes nowhere until he inadvertently brings up personal information about Marge. His gossipy class is riveted at these juicy tidbits, and Homer feels proud of himself for being able to captivate an audience. Now, we’ve seen Homer’s personality bounce around a bit this season, but his behavior always seems to make sense for the story. Episodes featuring a more obnoxious Homer like “Homer Goes to College” and “Boy Scoutz N The Hood” at least featured situations that made the way Homer acted make sense. Homer’s initial concern is that he’s none too bright, which then turns into a desire to be looked up to, so he breaks his promise to his wife and continues to reveal intimate details about Marge, then turns a family dinner into a humiliating class session. As an audience, we should never feel negative toward Homer, as his actions are always innocently misguided, but when act two ends with him being thrown out of the house, he absolutely deserved it.

Act three involves Homer’s descent into madness, living in Bart’s treehouse a filth-ridden mess, pining for Marge back. It’s a truly pathetic sight that seeks to set the groundwork for his great revelation at the finale. Lisa gives her father some advice, to remind Marge of the one thing he can give her that no other man can. In the end, Homer’s got it: he can give Marge complete and utter dependence. He needs her to put up with him because he loves her, and has learned that since he can’t even begin to survive on his own, he’ll never betray her again. I get it’s supposed to be half jokey, but something really rubs me the wrong way about this ending. Marge’s marriage/servitude to Homer is already an unspoken sad story throughout the series, but bringing it to the forefront like this, as a joke, doesn’t seem right. Out-right saying Marge will put up with all of Homer’s shit because he loves her. I get the message here, and there could have been a way the scene could have really worked, but instead… it doesn’t. There’s some select scenes and jokes that work, but in the end, it’s a flat trouble-in-paradise episode with Homer being way too bombastic. And this was almost a flawless season too.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening with the card game is a pretty great set-up, perfectly illustrating how slow Homer really is. His dragging contemplation keeps him at Lenny’s well into the night, and when Lenny finds him, he starts his thinking over, and Lenny kicks him out. This show looked pretty strong up until Homer got the teaching job… which really makes no sense. There could’ve been other ways this episode could have went, like Homer acquiring a new skill or taking an interest in education in a bizarre way. I dunno.
– The other classes at the annex are great: Moe’s gangsta rap self-defense class, which is so well-animated, Lenny’s class on tobacco spitting, who stare at him with such revery, and Hans Moleman’s class on eating an orange (“Just eat the damn orange!”)
– The best scene of the show is seeing Smithers’ past marriage, which starts as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (with a great performance by Shearer screaming “You leave Mr. Burns out of this!!”) then turns to A Streetcar Named Desire with Burns calling for Smithers. It’s a visually gorgeous black-and-white fantasy.
– I do like how petty and ravenous the class gets about Homer’s gossip. Homer bemoans the failure of his class (“I told Marge this wouldn’t work the other night in bed!”) which Moe quickly turns to be (“So something wasn’t working in bed, huh?”)
– The scene where Marge first asks Homer to stop gossiping to his class is an example why this episode doesn’t work, when Homer rambles on his various movie quotes in a row. It’s a great performance, but has no business in this scene. You need to maintain that Homer is some kind of a human being reacting to the needs of his wife, but here he’s just completely out of his mind.
– Great line at the start of Homer’s first gossip-less class: “What is a wedding? Well, Webster’s Dictionary describes a wedding as, ‘The process of removing weeds from one’s garden.'” The class leaves in droves. Another great line from Otto: “I can’t believe I paid $10,000 for this course! What the heck was that lab fee for?”
– Speaking of “War of the Simpsons,” we get a similar bit from there of the Lovejoys convincing Marge should get a divorce. When asked if that’s a sin, Lovejoy sighs whilst holding a Bible: “Marge, everything is a sin. You ever sat down and read this thing? Technically, we’re not allowed to go to the bathroom.”)
Another scene I don’t care for is when Marge is driving and seems to be thinking of Homer’s voice saying he loves her, but turns out to be Homer in the back seat. The joke completely back fires, and just reads as manipulative and creepy. I’d be even more pissed if I were Marge. But the episode’s only get three minutes left so we got to patch them up quick.
– Homer pep-talks his brain to think of something quick or they’ll lose Marge forever. Homer’s brain is on other matters (“Eat the pudding eat the pudding eat the pudding eat the pudding eat the pudding eat the pudding eat the pudding eat the pudding.”) Exactly eight times, mind you. A good friend of mine counted.
– I’m not positive, but this may be the first time Moe’s been shown to have a real shining toward Marge. I love the truly sleazy and manipulative way he tries to get himself into the house and openly admits to horning in on his best friend’s territory. Now, seedy behavior like this makes sense for Moe, but not Homer. I love the tension and dramatic angles when Homer walks in, wondering what’s going on, which sends Moe into panic mode, who runs off, smashes through a window and runs away.

Season 5 Final Thoughts
What a season. This show really has changed from humble beginnings. With David Mirkin in the show runner seat, we’ve seen The Simpsons become a little more wacky. Did I say ‘little’? I meant a lot. The series has drifted from its grounded emotional stasis as was in season 3 and 4, and become more focused on over-the-top jokes and ridiculous bits. This would be catastrophic if not for two things: the stories and characters are continuously engaging, and the jokes are fucking funny. Season 5 is the funniest season by far so far, with more laugh out loud moments than I can even remember, and I just watched the damn episodes. In that season 3 was perfect in that it was full of heartfelt episodes that got you invested in the characters and their plights, season 5 is perfect in that it was consistently hilarious each and every episode. I greatly await this streak to continue in Mirkin’s second run in season 6.

The Best
This is the hardest list I’ve had to choose so far. I got my top five, but I have two amended runner-ups. It’s the best I can do.
“Homer Goes to College,” “Rosebud,” “Treehouse of Horror IV,” “The Last Temptation of Homer,” “Deep Space Homer” (Runner-ups: “Homer and Apu,” “Homer Loves Flanders”)

The Worst
“Secrets of a Successful Marriage.” And they were so close.

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11 responses to “103. Secrets of a Successful Marriage

  1. I’m right on board with you about ‘secrets’. I found myself wondering why I would so often skip it on rewatches. The sad fact is it feel much more at home in later seasons, even if in its individual moments there is some supremely funny stuff.

    It’s also hard to believe anyone ever taking homer serious as a teacher, ever. EVER.

    Sleazy Moe is a good introduction (well, sleazy towards Marge introduction, anyway). Much better than his pathetically lonely shtick. He’s better gross, rather than simply pathetic.

  2. What the fuck? This is a great episode. One of the best of the season. Mainly because it’s literally flippin’ hilarious (which means I can overlook some other stuff). You disappoint me, Mr. Amato.

    • Different strokes for different folks, brother. It definitely has some great moments, but I was kind of ‘meh’ on it. Humor could absolve some of my issues, but there’s so many funnier and better crafted season 5 episodes that came before it.

  3. One of my favourite episodes. The episode’s biggest flaw for me is probably a few frames of slightly dodgy animation when Marge unhooks Homer’s tattered rags from the coffee table – and that’s pretty much all.

    Here, have an animated gif of Funk Dancing For Self-Defense:

  4. Yeah, this is one of my favorite episodes too. Actually surprised you didn’t like it, Mike.

  5. I agree with you on this one. The resolution was so poor – how could offering complete dependence be considered a positive?

  6. David Mirkin talks on the DVD commentary about how he wanted to do this episode because there really are a lot of couples out there whose marriages are built on horrible flimsy co-dependent pretenses like this. He acknowledges that it’s screwed up and horrible, but that’s the way life is, and it can be pretty funny if you look at it a certain way. And while I don’t doubt that it’s possible to mine humor out of that idea, I don’t think applying it to Marge and Homer’s marriage was the right decision. We’ve grown to love these characters, and the idea that Marge only loves Homer because he depends on her to do everything for him just seems too dark for this show.

  7. Season five best and worst:

    Best: Rosebud, Treehouse of Horror IV, Marge on the Lam, Bart’s Inner Child, Boy Scoutz N the Hood, Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy, Bart Gets an Elephant, Burns’ Heir, Lady Bouvier’s Lover, Homer Loves Flanders

    Worst: Secrets of a Successful Marriage, Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Badass Song, The Last Temptation of Homer

    Worth Watching For the Jokes: Homer Goes to College, Homer’s Barbershop Quartet, and The Boy Who Knew Too Much

  8. To me this episode is one of the best ever, and i totally buy the end, so real and no tv-conventional. In fact, i would have found boring and meaningless if Homer actually did something more for apologize, because as ists showed, he himself was the perfect reason of his love for Marge. I have no words, its simply perfect.
    But im not surprised Mike didnt like it, since he even liked some really empty and cluelessly saccarine episodes filled with forced emotional moments from further seasons. We do have really different view of what is truly emotional, and especially, real.

  9. Wow, thought this one was a later episode.
    Really though while I can understand the commentry’s point that yes there are some pretty crappy marriages out there, for Marge and Homer this dependence thing simply doesn’t feel right at all, since unless there’s any redeaming virtue in Homer, you just have the sad story of a woman who crushed all her creative dreams and ambition to shackle herself to a selfish pig.

    this is why in pretty much every homer and marge episode from then on, the jerkassier homer got the more I thought “why the hell doesn’t Marge leave already?”

    In Zs this gets down right nasty, (I even remember Marge once actually calling herself an enabler of Homer’s alcholism and ), but this seems to be the seeds of all of those stories right here, particularly with that ironic title.

    I’ll also say on a cultural level the hole Homer Simpson stupid idiot who can’t survive without his wife is also boardering on the verge of misandry, then again the same could be said for a lot of the portrayal of men in Simpsons, though episodes like this do rather highlight the fact.

    either way a shame some great jokes (I do rather like Homer’s “I ruined two! good jackets), were ruined with this down right depressing and none funny ending.

  10. The Anonymous Nobody

    I get why you didn’t like this episode because when you really look into it, it’s a little pathetic and dark that Homer and Marge’s marriage is nothing more than a codependent union. Well, more dependence in Homer’s case, but I digress. But I always felt like that was an unspoken thing. Like, the viewers were always supposed to know that Homer needs Marge to survive and he can’t live without her. It can also be looked at as really sweet because there’s no person more important in Homer’s life than Marge, and without her, his existence is pointless and he will be forever lost and out of sorts with the world.

    I don’t know, I still like this episode no matter what. There’s too much to love about it. The set piece at Lenny’s place, the various adult education courses, Homer’s movie rant (which is really bizarre but still hilarious thanks to Castellaneta’s delivery), Homer’s attempt to have a perfect family dinner while the class is there, Moe’s attempts to swoop in and snag Marge. This is a classic in my book.

    Also, this piece of dialogue:

    LISA: I think it’s great you’re a teacher, Dad. So, will you be lecturing from a standardized text, or using the more Socratic method of interactive class participation?

    (Beat.)

    HOMER: Yes, Lisa. Daddy’s a teacher.

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