Original airdate: May 22, 2016
The premise: After sending Bart outside to play unsupervised, Marge is put in prison, where she ends up thriving in an environment with no chores and no responsibilities.
The reaction: Sometimes I try to avoid direct comparisons, but in episodes like these, it’s almost impossible. Marge in a women’s prison? Been there, done that. But now, there’s a popular Netflix drama we can pretend to be parodying; make it the episode title, and perhaps we can glom onto another culturally relevant show! As pictured above, we get characters that look like Red and Suzanne, but the “parody” stops there. The initial set-ups of this and “Marge in Chains” are identical: Marge is the beleaguered workhorse who has a thousand things to do in a day, and one minor slip-up gets her in trouble with the law. Here, she gets Bart out of her hair by sending him outside, but when Wiggum finds him at the park without a parent, he promptly arrests Marge. I guess there’s some social commentary to be made here, but as usual, the surface is barely even scratched. Once in prison, Marge is naive, of course, but later gets pushed too far and knocks out a brutish inmate with her hair (there’s barely any build-up to this.) But after that, the plot shifts to her being a peaceful influence to the other prisoners by taking up gardening, and her being thrilled about early bedtimes and exercise time. So her knocking that woman out was just to get their respect? It doesn’t matter. In short time, she finds she loves it in prison, so much so when Homer manages to have her sentence cut short, she steals a guard’s gun and fires it in order to get more time. Even if this plot were better developed, this would be a hard pill to swallow. “Marge in Chains” was one of those shows more focused on wall-to-wall gags than its story, so I guess the core difference is this show’s attempt to do the opposite. With Marge needing a break, it’s like they blended it with “Homer Alone,” but then that brings the tally to two classic episodes they’re retreading in a much poorer fashion.
Three items of note:
– Just like “Chains,” we devote time to Homer and the kids to see how they’re faring with Marge incarcerated. But unlike the wonderful quick gag of the entire house going to shit within seconds, it’s multiple scenes of just bland nothingness. Neighbors chip in with gift baskets and baked goods to keep their spirits up, and eventually Homer decides he should probably get off his ass and do something. But not before envisioning a Ned Flanders/Marge hybrid to lust after. Between this and “Fland Canyon,” I guess these two are friends now? And like “Chains,” Marge makes friends with her fellow inmates, but none of the three pictured above have names or any real personality. Remember Philips? Tattoo Annie? And that was all within the last five minutes that Marge was actually in jail, compared to a whole two-thirds of this episode. Again, when the plots are this similar, it’s impossible not to think how fucking inept this is compared to the original.
– To kill time, we get an elaborate sequence of Homer envisioning himself as a B&W 50’s housewife, spurred by him vowing to step up as a parent. We then revisit it again for the end tag, which I promptly turned off. I’m still not completely sure why they do this four-act bullshit. Other FOX shows don’t, even comedies airing the same night. They’re just a waste of time. The story reaches a conclusion (in some cases, just barely), and then there’s just this worthless vestigial piece at the end of it.
– The ending involves Bart getting all the other kids to play without adult supervision, just in time for a tornado to roll into town and endanger them all. This occurs during a riot at the prison, where Homer just magically appears, having disguised himself a guard. But when the two of them hug and make up, the tornado magically disappears. And Marge is free to go just because. Why bother giving an explanation? We also see Wiggum talking to all the other parents, and I guess they get off with a slap on the wrist for losing their kids, unlike Marge. The very ending involves the family all hugging in the pantry, as Marge quips, “I want to say two things. I love you guys, and we’re out of peanut butter!” They all laugh. They end on a group laugh. And the line is a sub-par version of that awful sitcomy set-up for a group laugh. Once again, tired old tropes that the show mercifully skewered in the past are now embraced and played 100% straight.
One good line/moment: Michal Socha returns for another guest couch gag, featuring the family and the assemblage of the couch in the style of IKEA building instructions. A very cute and clever sequence.