(originally aired January 25, 2004)
It seems I’ve been doing a lot of comparisons to classic episodes this season, due to Al Jean’s attempts to either drag back old one-off guest stars or tread through familiar emotional ground, except in a haphazard way. Here we have Marge channeling her dissatisfaction of her husband through a creative outlet, a la “A Streetcar Named Marge,” but rather than star in a play, she writes a trashy romance novel, the kinds housewives read that typically have Fabio on the cover. Her characters are thinly veiled, the long-suffering wife to a lecherous brutish seaman falls for the kindly, rugged gentleman next door, inspired by the always helpful Flanders. Before that, we have a profoundly stupid opening where Homer mows down a nuclear inspector in Burns’ office with his car, seemingly killing him, an action which is impossible since it’s several floors up. Terminated, he falls into a job as a car salesman, which lasts all of two minutes before he gets another job driving an ambulance. Or rather, he just buys the ambulance and automatically becomes an ambulance driver. It’s almost like a parody of Homer-gets-a-job at this point, like… I don’t know. I just don’t know what to make of it.
I feel some people could point at an episode like “Streetcar” and cry, “See? See?! Jerkass Homer existed before the Scully years!” But, as it always is, it’s all about context. “Streetcar” is one of my favorite episodes, and the handling of Homer’s character to keep him likeable despite his oafish behavior is stellar. He remains distant and oblivious to all of Marge’s plights, but never in a way that seems mean. In bed, he admits to her that he has absolutely no interest in any of her outside interests, and when Marge asks him why he never told her this, he responds as earnestly as possible, “You know I’d never do anything to hurt your feelings.” And you believe it. Homer’s a believably dense and dim man whose bubble of ignorance can only be popped after actually seeing the play. In this episode, Homer isn’t exactly antagonistic, but when he lumbers home demanding Marge cook him dinner and chastising his kids who he forced to work for him, it pretty much seems like it. And when Marge writes about potentially finding happiness with another man, it feels so saddening to me, as well as disturbing that it’s about Flanders. Thank God I jumped ship on the show before they did that episode where she considered actually having an affair with him. Man oh man, how fucked up is that?
Homer-Marge relationship episodes were dodgy in the past since it was always a bit of a leap of faith that Marge would ever take back Homer, but nowadays, they’re really complete fantasy. Homer’s such an out-of-control maniac, as we’ve seen, but this episode strikes an even more sour tone since we see Marge’s point-of-view on the subject. Her book is really the subject of her inner feelings, and as we see it play out that Homer is this complete sloven degenerate (“I’m free to be selfish, drunk, emotionally distant, sexually ungenerous…”), it becomes depressing that this is how Marge sees her husband. For all their scrapes and scuffles, what always felt so comforting about this show is that the family truly cares about each other, particularly Homer and Marge, who felt like two believable people who were very much still in love. Nowadays Homer is a complete cartoon character, and Marge is either a complete doormat, or reveals her true devastating feelings like in this show, or “Brake My Wife, Please.” It’s just kind of depressing.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Marge attends a book signing of a romance novelist, and then all of a sudden decides she wants to be a writer. Just like that. Here’s what sells her on it (“If I write a book, will they tell me when it comes out?” “Well, they should, yes.” “Then I’ll do it!”) I’m very confused…
– Marge has got to be really hard to write for, especially when she’s all by herself. Her dialogue is pretty… shit (“This story is as dark as those new Milky Way bars!”) She attempts to find inspiration for her book, so she looks at the sailboat painting over the couch, envisioning a glorious, whale-ridden seascape (“A novel about whaling! That’s something you haven’t seen before!”) Not a bad joke. But wait, let’s explain it in case some people didn’t get it (“Thank you, ‘Scene from Moby Dick’!”) Sigh. Plus this betrays a past bit where Marge reveals that she painted that for Homer; not to be a stickler for continuity, but I always thought that was very sweet.
– The in-novel scene between Marge and Flanders is quite unsettling, considering this is all in Marge’s mind.
– Another episode, some more throwaway guest voices, from Thomas Pynchon to Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. I did like Tom Clancy’s bit though (“Would I say, ‘If you’re hunting for a great read this October, Marge Simpson’s book is a clear and present danger to your free time’? Hell no, I wouldn’t. …what do you mean I just said it? That doesn’t count!”)
– Ah, the reappearance of Dr. Marvin Monroe. So completely unnecessary. Why would they name the fucking hospital after him if he wasn’t dead? Whatever.
– Homer furiously chasing Flanders across town, cornering him at the top of a steep cliff… then getting down on his knees to beg him for help his marriage. What a humungous fucking cop-out.