If you saw The Simpson’s last night then you witnessed the best cartoon on television today… absolutely show up the long-running show that helped pave the way for it. For those who missed it, yesterday’s episode entitled “Mathlete’s Feat” featured a guest animation by Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon, and the team at Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty during the traditional “couch gag” that opens each Simpson’s show. The result was about two and a half minutes of unorthodox traditional cold open that was at least 100x better than the episode that followed it. Observe:
This is how you couch gag, bitch.
Now there is no question that Rick and Morty is the best cartoon, nay, the best show on TV today, but we can’t forget that while it has fallen very, very, very far from its lofty level of quality, The Simpson’s is still an entertaining show, and one that I have previously described is a comfort to have around. For this reason I am happy to see that Fox has extended the show’s contract for at least two more seasons, meaning that the finale that Rick and Morty crashed the party (teehee) won’t be the last time the Simpson family rushes for the couch. However, the show is losing a major player in Harry Shearer, the voice actor who plays key characters like Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, and Principal Skinner. The plan for Matt Groening and the gang right now is to keep rolling with someone new doing the voices as close to Shearer’s signature as possible.
Given this recent news I felt it appropriate to look back on one of my favorite episodes, “A Streetcar Named Marge” which has prominent contributions from Shearer’s Flanders. The episode serves as both a parody and an homage of Tennessee Williams’ classic stage play A Streetcar Named Desire. Throughout the episode, the play and 1951 film based off it are loyally and lovingly referenced in such moments as when Homer observes Marge rehearsing her role as Blanche DuBois with the next door neighbor, Ned Flanders, and shouts up at the window “MARGE! MARGE!”
The basic premise of the episode is ridiculous as usual: Marge grows tired of her dull, repetitive role as a stay-at-home mom and auditions for a theater production. Simple enough, yet the production is a musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire. She ends up winning the lead female role of Blanche, and her success is received with little notice by her family. Homer is particularly indifferent towards his wife’s involvement in the musical. Marge utilizes Homer’s apathy to fuel the anger in her performance. Eventually, Homer realizes that his lack of interest in what makes Marge happy makes him selfish and conceited like Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar. In the episode’s final moments, Homer sweetly apologies for the way he’s acted and promises to be better in the future.
The general theme sharply points out how musical theater can sometimes take certain works, including award-winners like Streetcar, and stretch them too far. My favorite example of this is when Apu, playing a newspaper delivery boy ponders whether to accept Blanche’s sexual advances in a musical soliloquy. Some subtler themes also arise, as in the very beginning of the episode when the Simpsons are watching the Miss America pageant, an event that exhibits the bold fakery of feminine beauty. This pertains to both the false face that Marge as Blanche puts on in her out-of-character performance, as well as the reference to the original play in which Blanche is an aging beauty queen.
In classic Simpsons fashion, the episode also contains references to other popular culture items. First, while Marge attends stage practice she is forced to place Maggie in a day-care facility. The only one left that is not currently under investigation is Ayn Rand Day Care where helping others is forbidden. Maggie encounters trouble, though, when the facility caregiver cruelly locks away her beloved pacifier with the other children’s pacifiers. Maggie carries on by doing her best to channel Steve McQueen as she is assisted by the other children in her attempts to break into the pacifier locker. As she carries out her valiant efforts, the whistling theme from The Great Escape plays. Once Maggie succeeds in liberating the pacifiers for each child, the babies quietly suck away at them in eerie unison. Homer, Lisa, and Bart come just in time to pick up Maggie and observe the children who do not seem to notice them as they quietly back out of the day care. The scene pays homage to the ending of The Birds. In case you miss it at first, Alfred Hitchcock walks by with his dogs as the family runs away to Marge’s play.
As usual the show is filled with multiple references to American popular culture from high society to film lore to beer commercials with its fanatically colorful and animated (both satirically and literally). The Simpsons have always captivated America and me ever since we first saw them hop onto their living room couch. I definitely love Rick and Morty’s current adventures more than the going’s-on in Springfield, but I will always enjoy classic episodes from America’s original cartoon crazies.
Thanks for reading! I hope you will direct your comments, questions, and hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I also hope you’ll enjoy the film Mad Max: Fury Road which has earned the honor of Best Movie I’ve Seen This Year… So Far. I doubt it will hold the title with a Bond and Star Wars film still to come, but I imagine it will be in my top five by year’s end.
Keep on surviving,