December 17, 2012

One of the most pressing questions of The Simpsons‘ 24 year run—besides “Why has Homer not been arrested for child abuse?”—is, “Why hasn’t Marge ever asked for divorce?” It’s possible her husband is the dumbest man in the universe. He’s certainly the least sensitive. Just off the top of my head, he once gave her a bowling ball for her birthday. When she got interested in folk art, he smashed his car into her popsicle stick sculptures. She cannot have a party without him getting blind drunk. In fact, she can’t get up in the morning without him getting blind drunk. And yet, she never clears out.

When a show runs for 515 episodes (and counting!) it’s impossible for there to be any reasonable continuity. As such, there are lots of different versions of Homer and Marge’s relationship, and different reasons for why she sticks around. In the weakest episodes, she is won over by a grand, last-minute gesture—something sweet that might make up for the horrible thing that Homer did today, but does nothing to explain away the 514 things he’s done before. In the best, the writers manage to show that for all Homer’s catastrophic imbecility, these two have a bond of genuine love.

Consider my personal favorite, El Viaje Misterioso De Nuestro Jomer, when a chili pepper-induced acid trip sends Homer on a quest to find his soul mate. That the answer is Marge should be no surprise, but the writers handled this gracefully enough that their reconciliation is genuinely affecting. Also, the episode has Johnny Cash, which is never not fabulous.

I had an argument recently with a few fellow Simpsons fans—the kind that refuse to watch any episode that aired after the Clinton administration. They love this show as much as I do—the best episodes are in their bones—and yet they gave up on it over a decade ago. I’ve never been one of those. Just like Marge Simpson, I stuck by the old warhorse, through bad years and worse years and the years where they thought it was a good idea to have Lady Gaga guest star.

Yes, the show is better now than it was a decade ago. But that’s not why I stuck around. I love The Simpsons as blindly as Marge loves Homer, and I don’t care how bad it gets. The Simpsons premiered on the Tracey Ullman Show a few months before I was born, meaning that America’s first animated family has been on the air literally my entire life. There are some friends whose jokes you laugh at even when they aren’t funny. The Simpsons are in that category.

But, but, but—there are times when my patience is rewarded. The last two weeks’ episodes were a good example of where the show is right now. Last Sunday’s was a much-reviled hipster spoof, about an invasion of cooler-than-thou Portlandia types, voiced by the people behind Portlandia. It was tone-deaf satire, as much as a decade out of date, typified by an odd subplot about Marge’s inferiority complex that comes from not breastfeeding Maggie. (Knowing that she bottle-feeds was comforting, if only because I would feel bad for the woman if she had been breastfeeding since 1989.) That said, it had some good bits, most notably the end credits, which were played over an ad for Monty Burns’ Artisinal Nuclear Power. (Scroll to the end of this post to see it.)

Last night’s episode was golden—a heartbreaking flashback episode to the time that young Homer had to give up his beloved dog. The jokes weren’t topical; there was no strained timely satire; it was just a funny-sad story about a dumb kid and his dumb dog. And that’s the thing about Homer Simpson. He’s an ass, but most of the time his stupidity conceals an endearing naivety about the world. Even his rage can be endearing. I understand why Marge loves Homer, because I love the big lug too.

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