Haven’t written about “The Simpsons” since the renewal deal was closed last month, but last night’s episode was both good and gives me an opportunity to discuss some things about the long lifespan of the series. Thoughts coming up just as soon as my ghost has to give me the Heimlich maneuver…
First of all, in the interests of full disclosure, “The Food Wife” was written by Matt Selman, whom I worked with at the college arts and entertainment magazine when he was a senior and I was a freshman. Earlier this fall, Selman and Al Jean invited me to participate in a couple of commentary tracks for the season 15 DVD set (season 14 is the next one to hit stores). The writers have recorded over 300 of those at this point, and they’re running out of things to say, which makes outside voices helpful. One of the episodes we did was “Co-Dependent’s Day,” where Homer and Marge become drinking buddies until Homer frames Marge for a DUI he committed, and during the commentary, we all got to talking both about the challenge of coming up with new Homer and Marge stories after all these years (and remember, this was eight seasons ago) and also with how far you can take Homer’s behavior.
I bring all this up because “The Food Wife” felt in many ways like a mirror of the A-story from “Co-Dependent’s Day.” Here, it’s Marge and the kids who are having a rare bonding experience, and Marge is the one who does the selfish, despicable thing in sending Homer away from the tasting – and straight to a meth lab(*) – but the overall structure was fairly similar. (The video game convention gags even track with the previous episode’s “Phantom Menace” spoof.) I’m sure there are other episodes in the previous 490 you could also compare it to – Marge’s initial fear, then love, of the Ethiopian food was pretty similar to Homer’s experience at the sushi restaurant waaaaaay back in season 2’s “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish,” for instance – but because I just rewatched and discussed that one so recently, it’s the one I had on my mind.
(*) First, I had to laugh at how pretty much every show I watch these days finds a way at some point to do a meth storyline. Then I mainly laughed at how easy it would be to confuse a meth lab with a hipster restaurant specializing in molecular gastronomy.
But at this stage, every episode of “The Simpsons” feels like it’s recycling a story the show has told before – usually several times, in fact. What makes the show still entertaining to me after almost a quarter century is that the writers still find funny variations on the same stories and jokes, and that for the most part they manage to stay true to the characters. Of course the kids would consider Homer to be the fun dad on those occasions when he’s actually making an effort, and of course Marge would feel jealous of this. And if she goes too far in trying to keep this as her special thing, she also recognizes it immediately, feels guilty throughout the meal and then heads off to save the day, complete with a great homage to the climax of “Ratatouille.”
And while telling a good Marge story, the episode was just packed with great jokes, from Homer turning into a video game character to get the kids to the other exhibition hall (the score tally included “Boobs Brushed: 6/7” and “Apologies Offered: 0”) to Comic Book Guy’s indignation that Marge would be eating a more authentic cuisine to the whole “Blogging a Food Blog” song (co-written by Tim and Eric).
After all this time, it’s incredibly rare for the show to present a new idea, but “The Food Wife” was a good reminder of how well it can still repackage the old ones.
What did everybody else think?