333. The Way We Weren’t

(originally aired May 9, 2004)
I feel like so much more can be done with these flashback shows. These characters have all lived rich full lives on their own, there’s so many avenues you can explore of seeing how their personalities grew and what events changed them. But because that’s too hard, now in every flashback we see that everybody knew everybody as a kid. This might as well be Simpsons Babies. This show takes that lazy concept to the nth degree as it’s revealed that Homer and Marge had their first kiss as kids without even realizing it. But let’s get the bare basics of the story out of the way first. Homer and Marge both retell their stories from their point of view: li’l Homer gets dumped off at camp by his father, only to be put to work at the kitchen of the girl’s cabins. Li’l Marge is there to learn proper etiquette and lady-like decorum. The two “meet” when Homer retrieves Marge’s retainer through the tray return, and they agree to meet each other for a date without seeing one another. Mishaps lead to Homer wearing an eye patch and Marge being a brunette, but the sparks still fly regardless as the two youngsters share their first smooch.

I don’t like this idea. I really don’t. “The Way We Was” was perfect, where Homer first lays his eyes on Marge, he’s completely bowled over at this vision of beauty he’s never seen before. Social circles are weird like that, you go through high school and flip through your old yearbook and you see people you have no fucking idea were in your class. But in these new flashbacks, Homer has been friends with Lenny, Carl and Moe from the beginning, and Marge hangs out with the three female characters the series has. And now we see that the two met long, long before that fateful afternoon in detention. Great effort was made to obscure things so that neither would remember the other’s identity. Homer makes up a fake name to impress Marge, but on the flip side, why does he never ask her her name? That’s normally the first thing you’d ask a girl you like, right? There’s also this weird thing going on in insisting that Homer and Marge have never kissed or been with anyone else, which ultimately I have to agree with. Homer is a loser and Marge is a prude, I don’t think either of them had many relationships before they crossed paths.

Via some wacky happenings, Homer ends up trapped at fat camp, keeping him from his second date with Marge, leaving her crestfallen. Patty and Selma fuel the disappointed flames, leaving her disillusioned about boys. Homer manages to escape, but ends up being too late. This is a terrible memory Marge has harbored for a long time, and as she explains, one that won’t just up and go away. But, two things. One, she seems a bit too cold toward Homer about all of this; after hearing the explanation, she could at least express some relief, even if that doesn’t quell her years of repressed feelings, which nothing really could. And second, we’ve got a minute of screen time left, so like “Geek Wedding,” we have to remedy the situation fast. But at least here we see that a few days have passed, and that Homer is trying to make things right. So Homer produces Marge with a blast from the past: half of the special rock he gave her as kids. She still has the other, and two pieces become one… in more ways than one. Like “Simple Simpson,” this show’s got nothing on the holocaust of episodes last week, but ultimately is unremarkable and boring. It’s just so uninspired in these flashback shows that we have to see all familiar faces. When Homer arrives at fat camp, I could already guess Wiggum and Comic Book Guy would be there. It’s just too predictable.

Tidbits and Quotes
– A spin-the-bottle mishap causes Milhouse and Homer to kiss. Milhouse fawns for some reason over his first kiss, which of course it’s not (there’s an episode called “Bart’s Friend Falls in Love,”) and for some reason hangs around being a weirdo later on (“He’s the kind who kisses and leaves you!”)
– Moe gets some new characterization, in that he was abandoned by his parents at the camp and sleeps under their canoes. More sad, pathetic Moe; I’m fine with him being a little sympathetic, but they push things way too far.
– They do their best, but Marge’s voice is not easy to disguise. I’ll say Julie Kavner does a pretty good job making her voice higher and less scratchy for Li’l Marge, and Dan Castellaneta is as good as ever as Li’l Homer.
– Lenny gives Homer some “protection” for his date, a switchblade. He looks right at it and gets stabbed in the eye, which is why he has the eye patch. It’s a pretty loud stab, wouldn’t he need to go to the emergency room for something like that? I’m getting creeped out just thinking about it.
– Homer decides whether he should take a rowboat or swim to the girl’s camp (“Hmm… I guess it’s row vs. wade, and it’s my right to choose!”) What an unbelievably lame joke. It’s one of those things you hear and you can feel your brain throb out of annoyance.
– I think this show has had its fill with Katherine Hepburn parodies. We had the old beach biddies from “Catch ‘Em If You Can” and now here two shows later. Sure parodies of the actress date back to the amazing “Lisa’s Pony,” but they were a lot better written back then.
– Why does Helen Lovejoy have graying hair as a little kid? It’s like they just shrunk down some of these characters. Also Cookie Kwan is there too. I’m surprised they didn’t have Li’l Lindsey Naegle with a candy cell phone or some shit.
– The only bit of the show I really liked was Homer “inventing” the clever move of yawning and stretching to put his arm around Marge, but her misinterpreting it that she’s boring him.
– Walking no more than ten steps from where he had been sitting with Marge, Homer unwittingly falls down a incredibly steep cliff into the lake. Now he had just gotten to a shore there by boat, was the camp built on the steepest incline ever? Where is this gigantic cliff and why is it so close to a camp with a bunch of ten-year-olds who could easily fall down it like Homer did?
– Homer is stuck at fat camp… for some reason. Surely he wouldn’t appear on a camp roster, and surely they wouldn’t waste their time working him if they weren’t being paid for it. I guess they’re just a bunch of masochistic slave drivers.
– Homer cites the things he’s done that are far worse than the incident in the past: when he hid a gun from her (Scully show), suing the church (Jean show), ruining Lisa’s wedding in the future… huh? That never happened; can you imagine “Lisa’s Wedding” being done now, with insane, jerkass Homer doing some wacky antics at the wedding? It’s a small line, but it’s almost like rewriting the past to make it like Homer’s been this crazy asshole for the entire series. His character has changed dramatically, to the point where they literally feel like two different people, and that the writers don’t seem to address or acknowledge this is worrying to me.

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19 responses to “333. The Way We Weren’t

  1. I don’t understand why everybody seems to be the exact same age in these flashbacks. I would have assumed CBG was a lot younger than Wiggum.

    • I was going to comment on that, too. I always thought Moe was a good decade older than Homer and Barney.

      I’ve never understood the need to have everyone know everyone else their entire lives. It’s incredibly stupid and unrealistic.

  2. It seems very unrealitstic that Marge be mad at Homer about something that happened when they were kids, despite the fact that they’ve been together for years besides that. That always annoyed the piss out of me.

  3. I have to hand it to the writers, at least they had the sense to make the time period of this flashback episode vague enough so as not to create massive confusion and contradictions regarding the series’ backstory. Unlike a certain other flashback episode from season 19.

  4. This episode is pretty terrible and spits all over the flashbacks from Seaosns 2 and 3.

  5. I’ve seen this episode once and I thought it was horrible in every way an episode can be horrible. Boring, unfunny, intelligence-insulting.

    Unrelated, but Mike, I got a question for you. I have seen in some reviews where you SEEM TO like South Park a lot. I am not a South Park fan, of course, but I do wonder something. You often (and often rightly) criticize Zombie Simpsons episodes that are tasteless and go too far (mainly jokes involving suicide, rape, etc) as well as how assholeish and stupid a lot of the characters are. I am curious, then, why you enjoy South Park, since — while there is a lot of intelligence displayed by Trey and Matt, and most episodes have at least have enough good lines or scenes here and there — the main source of South Park’s humor is … tasteless .. and the main trait all characters on South Park display is “being an asshole” or “being unsympathetic”. IMO. Do you think this style just works for South Park, while it just doesn’t fit with the pre-established world of the Simpsons that we used to know and love? Or do you think South Park just does this type of material better? Just curious.

    • I’d imagine it’s because south park has prominently featured those elements whereas the simpsons was, in general, not a shock value show. It was progressive but it’s like it’s trying to be edgier to be ‘hip and/or cool’ which isn’t genuine.

    • I love South Park, I think it’s a brilliant show. I could really write a whole other blog about it, but to break it down in the simplest say, the way that show handles crude material works, and the way modern-day Simpsons does it doesn’t. Random example: one show has Butters shipped away to a religious pray-the-gay-away camp, and there’s a running gag involving kids killing themselves in order to escape. Now there are many cases of troubled sexually unsure kids committing suicide, so this is thorny territory, but what makes it funny is the counselors completely unaffected reactions to it. It’s just a normal thing for them to find this kid hanging in his bedroom; clearly they’re having trouble reaching these kids if this is the result, but they remain completely oblivious to that fact. All of the show’s crassness and political incorrectness always comes with a meaningful commentary, or multi-layered humor. When Zombie Simpsons does a suicide joke, it’s normally just “he’s depressed so he’s gonna kill himself LOL!” like we see with Moe, or Artie Ziff this season.

      As for all South Park characters being unsympathetic, I have to assert that’s not true. I already did a post about the differences between asshole Cartman and asshole Homer, in that the former is a character you want to see fall, and that’s why it’s fun to watch. Stan and Kyle are really our protagonists, and are always portrayed as reasonable and level-headed. Most of the rest of the town are usually just ignorant and slovenly, quick to abide to mob mentality, really no different than the people of Springfield. Cartman’s really the only major character I can think of who’d be unsympathetic, but even with the horrible things he’s done, ultimately he’s kind of a pathetic character, a sad, spoiled little kid who always wants to get his way. That’s far more interesting and entertaining than modern-day Homer, who does and says insane shit for twenty minutes and everyone reverts back to loving him thirty seconds before the end credits. Plenty of episodes have ended with Cartman being defeated, on The Simpsons, Homer comes out on top every time.

  6. What is with the writers shoehorning ALL the recurring characters in the newer flashback eps? i mean it’s just too fucked up having all of them know each other as kids and then grown up into adults…. wait til that declan desmond ep in season 18 comes around oh boy… and finally why does the sun and moon travel across the sky the wrong way in the show now??? ugh…

    • Well, I personally know a lot of people that I also knew when I was younger. My best friend is someone I’ve been friends with for 21 years — since KINDERGARTEN. Of course, I live in a small town, and a town where no one seems to ever leave (though my best friend moved to Orlando, Florida a while back). Springfield is often portrayed as a small town where, also, no one ever leaves (Krusty is sometimes portrayed as Hollywood-big star, for example, but he just won’t leave Springfield; Mr Burns is the world’s richest man but lives in the small town of Springfield, etc). So, I guess it KINDA makes sense. Though I liked flashback episodes like “And Maggie Makes Three” where we got to meet plenty of great one-time characters. Meh.

      The sun/moon travelling wrong thing was brought up on Dead Homers before. Is it some obscure joke, are the animators stupid…. who knows… Groening once jokingly said that any goofs and inconsistencies in the series — and why characters are ACTUALLY yelow or have natural blue hair and things like that — all has to do with everyone being infected by the radiation around them…. hmm..

  7. Yhe irony there is of course that they’ve gone out of their way to explain that marge dyes her hair and that 5 fingered pink people would seem like inbred mutants to them.

  8. wasn’t wiggum a rent-a-cop when homer was a little boy?

    i really wanted to like this episode, but it was just so pointless and boring, and topped off by such an embarrassingly over-maudlin ending to boot. at this point i’m watching these episodes for the first time solely to keep up with the blog (a testament to what a fine site you’ve got here, good sir), and it’s proving that i stopped watching at the right time. i stopped watching sometime during the thirteenth season, and so far it looks like the only halfway decent episodes i missed were ‘the dad who knew too little’ and ‘moe baby blues.’

  9. They really should have thrown in the towel on flashback episodes after “Lisa’s Sax”. I don’t think there’s been a single decent one in the years since.

    I remember cringing at Moe turning to the audience and saying “And that’s the origin of that” after reacting violently to what he thinks is a prank phone call. More of that horrible self-awareness that does nothing but reinforce how long this show’s been on and how it should have ended years ago. Blech.

  10. I actually liked this episode! These days I still watch the Simpsons, but it’s kinda like looking at a car wreck if you know what I mean. Great review of the episode Mike (and I agree with most of the comments on here as well) and I guess the writers and producers of this show want to continue it season after season like SNL, though with SNL it actually works.

  11. “ruining Lisa’s wedding in the future” was pretty funny imo. I know a lot of people hate the self-referential stuff like that, but the entire point of it was to make you go, “huh?” Kinda dumb, but kinda amusing, which is a better than most of the jokes that surround this one. Your other points are completely valid, though; if that episode HAD been made in this era, Homer would have had future-Lisa kidnapped by the mob and when he couldn’t pay them off, they sell drug her and then sell her to the “Yeeeeeeeeeees” guy who marries her in an impromptu ceremony in Moe’s Tavern where Comic Book Guy, Apu, and Sideshow Mel all attend and make “wisecracks”.

    • Yeah, but the point is not the joke, the point is that Homer NEVER ruined Lisa’s wedding, and the writers instead address it like one of Homer “usual crazy dumb actions”, which is cringe worthy. Homer is not perfect, and he is far from perfect in that episode, but he did his best as a human being; in the end was Lisa that had to stop the wedding.

  12. The one thing I do like here, and the one memory I have of this episode is an awsome line from the Sea captain:

    “I am the sailin’ instructarr! and on movie nights I run the projectarr! but only Pg nothin Arr!”

    I don’t know why, but that line always makes me laugh and ran through a period of me saying any word ending in t and r as tar in a pirate voice.

    I know it isn’t much and doesn’t exactly redeme the utter yawn fest of this episode, but still if a story has one good line that sticks in my brain and amuses me this late in the run that is a point. Indeed, this is sort of the only really quotable bit I can honestly remember for about the last couple of seasons.

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