Homer may be dumb, lazy and fat, but he’s always been refreshingly realistic when it comes to his marriage with Marge. He understands and appreciates the fact he’s lucky to have such an intelligent, articulate and caring person as his spouse, and in turn has sacrificed his own lazy, loveable man-child existence in order to care for her and the kids. As such, their relationship has been one of television’s most endearing and enamoring kinships. So why does it now permanently pang with sadness?
Maybe it was the lack of new, cutting-edge plots. Maybe it was to put a spotlight on the stagnant existence of many of America’s long-term couples. Or maybe they merely regretted the fact it was painted so perfect; after all, no marriage is seamless, and no turkeys behind the bed can hide that fact. But as The Simpsons has trundled on, one of the show’s more frequent forays has been into the ‘troubled’ side of Homer and Marge’s relationship – it has been examined and exorcised so many times now that the heart-warming scenes of Homer and Marge bike riding into the sunset feels like a Keats daydream.
Even during the show’s prime, there were troubles that threatened to topple their seemingly solid simpatico – in the very first season, Marge was abhorred by Homer’s bowling ball present and fell for the French fancy that was Jacques, leaving Homer concerned and troubled by his wife’s weekly visits to the bowling alley. In turn, Homer tried, and failed, to resist the allure of Mindy Simmons, a sexy slob that appealed to all of Homer’s avaricious appetites. But from these two crises came winning solutions – both realised, and not before time, they were meant to be together. Homer may be childish and churlish, but his love of Marge was unwavering, while Marge knew that for all of Homer’s faults he was a kind, decent man who worked a depressing job to keep her and the kids happy.
But while in the past these two, on the surface, negative factors produced a heartfelt positive, as the show has descended it has been used for depressing dejection. Cracks were beginning to show during ‘The Cartridge Family’ in Season Nine, where Homer’s obsession with his gun saw the family move out. It took Homer a longer time than usual to come around, and even then you sensed he’d rather be holding his barrel than his wife at night.
Other blemishes include the infamous ‘Co-Dependent’s Day’, where Homer’s ramped-up alcoholism infects Marge’s abstinence, causing the two to become a permanently plastered fixture at Moe’s. In the past, it would be Marge’s cordiality and cleverness that would win the day, but here Homer’s horrendous vices are instead gleamed onto Marge, showing them both to be fractured, damaged and unhappy individuals that are only happy when they’re drinking. Even worse, Homer frames Marge for drink-driving, allowing her to sweat in self-disgust and sadness. “This is a new low for me,” Homer comments at one point, but that fleeting self-awareness is soon as quickly dashed as he is from the crime scene.
Compare all of this to another episode focused around drink and the impact thereof, ‘Duffless’, and the beer goggles produce a much sweeter taste. After a month of not drinking, Homer’s anxious to annihilate his liver, but Marge’s kindness and insistence makes Homer realise there is much more to life than sitting in a dank bar every night.
Even worse, the writers became strangely obsessed with rewriting, and subsequently ruining, the honeyed backstory of Homer and Marge’s first flushes of romance. ‘The Way We Was’ and ‘I Married Marge’ were bittersweet, brilliant flashbacks of their burgeoning romance, where the weight of the real world was attempting to crush Homer’s homeliness and, in turn, Marge’s magnificence, but their mutual love and companionship provided heart-warming finales. Homer was head-over-heels for Marge from the very outset, while Marge was understandably reticent.
‘The Way We Weren’t’ betrayed this by showing Homer and Marge in fact met at a summer camp, where Homer, albeit inadvertently, broke Marge’s heart. Even worse is ‘Three Gays of the Condo’, where a flashback shows Homer’s idea of a perfect date is taking Marge to Moe’s while he plays nachos with his buddies. The ending of the episode is supposed to be emotionally swelling, as Marge stands by a young Homer while he’s treated for alcohol poisoning, but it lands like a depressing jolt of acceptance rather than a dizzy appreciation of love – it also pretty much hammers home the fact Marge only stayed with Homer because of Bart, and even though that was probably always true, it feels particularly sad here. Also, think back to Homer’s initial date with Marge, where he ordered a limo, bought a horrid suit and promised her the best night of her life…surely that feeling wouldn’t have evaporated so quickly?
Other episodes such as ‘Dangerous Curves’ showed their relationship as one that was young and troubled, fueled by arguments and ill feeling, while even the seemingly throwaway opening in ‘Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song’ showed the complete opposite – two idealistic young adults with nothing but each other. By the time you’ve watched Homer pout and pack his bags on ‘Mobile Homer’ and Marge be tempted by a marine biologist in ‘Bonfire of the Manatees’, you really begin to wish this marriage would just break apart for good, for it’s doing neither party any favours – Homer is a loutish alcoholic who treats his wife and family with disinterest, while Marge is a spineless enabler.
When once their relationship had so many sweet moments (one favourite is when Homer, nervous about his NASA flight, calls Marge on a remote payphone), and while there was always a tragic sting to their young, foolish love, as time has progressed Marge and Homer’s relationship has merely become one that has been trampled upon more times than George Bush’s flowerbed. Poor vous, indeed.