Thursday, 21 February 2008

The Simpsons: The Twisted World of Marge Simpson

This episode seemed both under and overwritten. The first half was particularly verbal, necessitated by the satire of salesmanship. While parts of the verbosity were excellently witty, a lot felt overwrought and fell flat. The opening scene, for example, mixed some brilliant lines (‘Children are so fat today; isn't there some way we could make money off that?’; ‘I'm not wild about these high-risk ventures; they sound a little risky’) with some forced lines (the pancakes and Edna and Maude’s ideas). Meanwhile, the rather unimaginative expo routines were salvaged by the patois of the salesman. The techniques highlighted (‘I don't want to alarm you, but scientists say…’; ‘those fat cats in Washington’) still deserve to be ridiculed out of non-ironic use. However, a lot of the satire is now redundant, especially around the re-branding of foreign foods post-Freedom Fries (has anyone married the T-shirt slogan, ‘Freedom Fries’, to a picture of an electric chair yet? I patent that).

In contrast, the second half coasted by with several extended speechless montages. The nice soundtrack to the Mafia takeover and some cute visuals (Ned being shut out of the garage) didn’t really alleviate the other pedestrian scenes. The obvious comedy reveals in particular failed (Homer in the church; it not being Grandpa the second time). The second half did nevertheless deliver some endlessly quotable lines in ‘You have 12 hours’ and ‘In those words, yes’. Obvious, perhaps, but they’re wonderfully recyclable for so many situations.

The episode, though, was shot through with some real tenderness (Marge replying, ‘Now you're the one who's being na├»ve’; the genuine sweetness to the animation of Lisa at the parade, Mr Burns driving off the car, Homer’s face while Fat Tony begged the favour, and Homer’s downcast face after missing the fight) to redeem the bad cruelty. Good cruelty would be Agnes telling Marge, ‘You’re Gimbels’ (it’s always funny to insult someone subtly, pause, then clarify the insult). Bad cruelty was Marge commenting, ‘Don’t forget fat people; they can’t stop eating!’, which was rendered somewhat superfluous by the earlier fat joke. That said, the preceding remark about Bavarians was a pleasure.

I know the episode was written by a woman, but was it slightly misogynistic? The Investorettes scene came across as being at the expense of women investors, rather than investors generally, and there was a casual sexism to Fat Tony’s wife being ‘most vocal on the subject of the pretzel monies’ despite the delightful delicacy of the writing.

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