The premise: Marge reveals she used to be quite the prankster back in middle school, resulting in her bonding with Bart over their shared fondness for mischief. Homer feels left out, and turns to Lisa to try to find out if any of their interests overlap.
The reaction: Sometimes there are certain episodes that feel so incredibly thin that there doesn’t feel like there’s much to grab onto. This season has had a lot of fairly ambitious episodes, so this one feels pretty undercooked in comparison, like they didn’t bother taking a few more passes on the script. Marge has a run-in with an older woman who seems deathly afraid of her (“Marge Bouvier, you ruined my life!”) It turns out she was the principal of her old middle school. In flashbacks, we see that upon moving up from grade school, Marge was all alone and a constant victim of bullies, with the principal being largely apathetic to her struggles. Marge accidentally causes the principal to trip and fall in a garbage can, resulting in her getting some much needed social cred. We then see two more intentional pranks Marge pulled on her, and that’s it. If this episode is about Marge’s actual secret inclination toward mischief, it feels like we needed to see more of her actually being a little shit and what drove her as a kid to do these things. Also, Marge was at that school for two to three years decades ago, and this principal is still traumatized by her? Whatever. Bart repeatedly tells his mother how impressed he is and how glad he has something to bond with her with (“We’re the same! I finally have a parent I’m proud of!”) Marge and Bart proceed to bond over them pulling pranks on irritable townsfolk like Comic Book Guy and Helen Lovejoy, but Marge’s conscious is taking its toll. She loves this new bond she has with Bart, but she feels bad about what she’s doing. This all culminates in a prank gone wrong involving tripping Mr. Burns into oncoming traffic, where he’s hit multiple times by cars and lands on top of power lines, getting repeatedly shocked, an aggressively cartoonish sequence that almost feels uncomfortable. Marge has a brief therapy session after that, which feels like it should delve into where these rambunctious urges of hers comes from, but we get none of that. Meanwhile, Bart seems nonplussed by almost murdering an 104-year-old man and begs his mother not to give up pranking (“If you give it up, you’re giving me up!!”) He breaks down in tears after this. The emotional stakes are ratcheted way up, but I just don’t care enough about what’s happening to buy into it. I get that Bart feels a greater sense of attachment to Marge, but this feels like it’s being pushed too far. Marge agrees to one last job, a prank pulled on her old principal, which results in her having a heart attack. However, this was actually a prank she and Marge pulled on Bart to get him to stop pranking. So being responsible for nearly killing Mr. Burns was just fine for Bart, but with this other old person, it’s fine? I feel like this has potential to be an interesting Marge episode, exploring her past and giving some insight into some hidden aspects of her character. She’s always portrayed as the perfect mom, so to see her indulging in some more off-kilter impulses might have been interesting. Instead, it all just felt so empty and pointless. There’s a lot of episodes that feel like they have premises with potential but end up falling short, but this one felt like it was barely even trying.
Three items of note:
– The B-plot involves Homer trying to see what he has in common with Lisa, if anything. He indulges in her love of vegan food, even though he finds all of it disgusting. The two plots seem to share a common thread that Homer and Marge are both doing things to bond with their children that they themselves don’t like, but they don’t really gel that well considering with Marge, it’s a secret shame she’s trying to suppress, while Homer genuinely hates everything Lisa’s making her eat. In the end, Homer and Lisa discover they have similar food allergies, and we get our sappy ending (“Dad, you passed down the most important part of yourself: your kind heart.”) The doctor lampshades this by fake coughing (“I’m afraid I’m allergic to treacle!”) Have the writers been reading this blog and seen how many times I’ve complained about bullshit overly-treacly endings?
– We see Superintendent Chalmers in the flashback, reacting to the principal being knocked in the garbage (“I’ll do a lot better with the next person I hire. He’ll be a WIN-NNERRRR!”) First off, I thought this was implying that he was going to fire the principal, perhaps being the beginning of an endless downward spiral for her, thus explaining why she despised Marge. But no, after this, we see she stayed on as principal to get pranked by Marge over and over. What? Secondly, does anybody still laugh at these “SKINNER!” variations anymore? They did a similar thing with Nelson doing alternates to his usual “Haw haw!” for a while, and occasionally still do. Thirty years of shows and we can’t stop with these cutesy takes on their catchphrases. It all just feels so fucking old. In the last episode, we actually attempted to show a different side of Chalmers, at least briefly, but even there we had him scream “SIMP-SON!” just like he does with Skinner. Maybe after seven hundred fucking episodes, we can maybe examine different things that might be funny about a side character rather than do the same running gag for the eightieth time?
– Bart’s love of pranking almost feels out of time for me. I’ve talked about how weird it is whenever he uses a slingshot in modern episodes; it harkens back to his origins as a riff on Dennis the Menace, which was an older reference back in 1990, but now is completely anachronistic. Here, we see Bart attempting to pull the peanut brittle can filled with snakes gag, something that I just can’t imagine a kid in 2022 even knowing what that is. Like maybe a really young kid might get his hands on a prank kit with a whoopee cushion, fake gum or whatever and think it’s funny, but modern day ten-year-olds are all on their smartphones cyberbullying each other on Tik Tok, not putting Kick Me signs on people’s backs. When’s the last time any kid has done that? I might be overgeneralizing a bit, but any time they try and portray Bart like this in new episodes, it always seems pretty outdated.
10 thoughts on “726. Marge the Meanie”
Season 33 has been a completely laughless affair but in a different way to the preceding decade with its cringe attempts at humour. Instead most of this season (mercifully) seems to have ditched even trying to be funny in favour of being a bit more experimental. I’d say it hasn’t worked and I really don’t even know what the show is or who it’s for anymore, but it’s not as painful to sit through. This episode,however, seems like a complete throwback to the show during the 20s. This would comfortably slot right into season 26. The dialogue and jokes were actually excruciating. Those Avatar ‘jokes’ reminded me of a really similar stilted scene with shoehorned in Planet of the Apes jokes. So this season is now filled with two distinct iterations of Zombie Simpsons, the worst of both worlds! 😃
Marge and Bart bonding… That’s something I haven’t seen in a Zombie Simpsons episode before… Oh wait, we had that episode in Season 17 where Bart worries about becoming a mama’s boy. It’s one of the most forgettable episodes in the entire series and no doubt this one will be too. Hell, if we were to compare this to an actual episode from the classic era, what about that mini-plot from “Lisa the Greek” where Marge takes Bart clothes shopping? That story alone had 200x as many laughs as this one did (And the aforementioned Season 17 episode, too). I’m starting to lose things to say again. This episode has no legs to stand on. I can’t even hate it like I do with episodes like the one where Bart gets into streetwear or the Kerry Washington teacher episode. It has about as much enjoyment as that episode this season where Lisa gains weight. I can’t believe I acknowledged that ones existence. I’m sad. I expected my Season 33 journey to be filled with horror and excitement like the aggressive awfulness of the previous two seasons. Instead, I’m worried that I’m gonna get out of this not feeling anything. Well at least its better than going insane and writing a bunch of nonsense. Whatever, I hope the last two episodes at least are either surprisingly decent (Ha!) or aggressively awful so I can at least entertain myself with my own joy or rage.
“Have the writers been reading this blog and seen how many times I’ve complained about bullshit overly-treacly endings?”
Don’t mess with the Mike, son
I know in interviews the writers say they pitch around 50 jokes for every one that makes it into the show. Episodes like this are why that’s mind-boggling. Reading these episode recaps, I get the impression it was more like 50 jokes per season.
Whenever I hear stories about the writers doing that, I find it really hard to believe. The show doesn’t reflect a bunch of people rewriting the script multiple times anymore. And if it’s true, it makes me wonder what they get rid of.
I know Mike Scully said that a lot of bad episodes are usually the ones that the crew spent a long time working on so they could get them right. Maybe they’re overthinking the show too much and getting rid of things that are actually funny?
I think this episode is shallow and it ignores a variety of interesting questions, but the reasons why Marge is (and was) a troublemaker isn’t one of them. It already answers that, doesn’t it? Marge is compelled to prank other people who treat her and others unkindly. She does it out of a sense of righteousness – of not wanting people to get away with a moral transgression. In this sense, she differs from her son whose mischievous instincts are often random, temperamental, and harmful to innocent people.
After a long streak of Selman-run shows, this one was actually run by Jean, which explains its extra crappiness.
Ah, so this was Al Jean’s work. Makes a lot more sense why the humor sucked more than it already has this episode.
I wonder if Marge’s love of pranks is a follow-up on that line in “The PTA Disbands!”:
Marge: (nonchalantly after nearly getting crushed by a log) Kids have been doing that one since my day.
NAG NAG ALL YOU INTERNET IDIOTS ALWAYS COMPLAIN ABOUT IT NOT BEING LIKE 90S ANYMORE GET YOUR ROSE TINTED GLASSES OFF WE ALL HATE YOU. GO AND WATCH SOMETHING ELSE. INTERNET FANS SUCK.