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The Simpsons

The Simpsons is an animated comedy about a family in the fictional town of Springfield. The family is made up of selfish father Homer, fretting mother Marge, precocious daughter Lisa, rebellious son Bart and silent daughter Maggie. FOX 1989-???

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Episode 9 - Life on the Fast Lane

27 March 2012

Synopsis: It’s Marge’s birthday but Homer has forgotten. Patty and Selma confidently predict that Homer will buy a gift that is really intended for him. When he gives her a bowling ball she decides to punish him by learning to bowl. Once at the lanes Marge meets suave bowling instructor Jacques. Soon Lisa and Bart realise that their parents’ marriage is in trouble.

The Good: Another master class in storytelling from The Simpsons. There is tremendous skill in handling the ramifications of marital breakdown in twenty two minutes packed with humour, pathos and surprising depth.

Homer’s selfish behaviour is easy to understand as we get the first ever still frame car exit. Where the shot remains on Marge and the children as we hear the sound of Homer racing off to the mall to buy her a gift for the birthday he forgot. But more than that, it was Patty and Selma’s role that established Homer’s history of buying Marge gifts that were really for him. Once she angrily reacted to getting a bowling ball he was all too eager to point out “If you don’t want it I know someone who does.” All it took were a couple of well placed lines to allow the viewer to build a picture of years of frustration leading Marge to a place where she might give in to adultery.

Enter the ever smooth Jacques. A wonderful comic creation thanks to Albert Brooks’ voice and solid writing. Jacques is forever turning a phrase in a new direction and escalating physically with Marge while staying in the context of being a bowling instructor. He even has the cheek to charge her $25 for a lesson and when she asks when they start he of course replies “We have already begun!” He has any number of fun lines and moments including a montage of his guiding hands on hers complete with instructing her on how to dip onion rings correctly.

The surprising depth to this tale of infidelity comes from Lisa. She sees Marge’s overcompensating for what it is and begins to go through the stages which children may go through when their parents split up. Its such clever writing because it works on several levels. As part of the story it adds an important sense of consequence to Marge and Homer’s behaviour, making the story seem real. It will also make every viewer think and be appreciated in very different ways by children and adults. Finally it even adds to the humour of the episode as Lisa tells Bart that he is in Stage 2: Denial “Am not, am not am not!” he replies.

Adding further to the sense of consequence is Helen Lovejoy who rushes up to Marge and Jacques to introduce herself “I’m Helen Lovejoy, the gossipy wife of the minister.” It’s a classic Simpsons shortcut, throwing in humour and storyline progression in one line. All of Marge’s groans and mumbles work wonderfully to convey her sense of shyness and doubt throughout the episode.

Homer steps up and finds a sweet way to compliment Marge and show how he cares. She then chooses to stay with him in a parody of An Officer and a Gentleman which works out nicely to give us the happy ending.

The Bad: Homer’s promotion (103) clearly hasn’t kicked in yet meaning that episode came well out of sequence.

Best Joke: You can take your pick of Jacqueisms but I will plump for his response to Marge’s protestations over being married: “I know, I know, my mind says stop but my heart and my hips cry proceed!”

The Bottom Line: This is the kind of episode which put The Simpsons on the map. The depth in the storytelling, weaving humour and emotions together so plausibly won fans of all ages. Great stuff.

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