In the latest of The Simpsons’ increasingly attention-seeking plotlines, the golden couple are finally – but temporarily, no doubt – calling it quits. Petty plot points like these are costing the show its spark and its audience
The best thing about Homer and Marge Simpson is that they endure. They’ve endured temptations from co-workers and amorous French bowling instructors. They’ve endured relatives who’ve been hell-bent on splitting them up. They’ve endured Homer’s drunkenness, Homer’s indiscretions and Homer’s infrequent travels to outer space. Things always go wrong, but they always find strength in one another. Always.
Until now. Because now Homer and Marge Simpson are getting legally separated. It’s been announced that, in the first episode of the 27th Simpsons series, Homer will fall in love with a pharmacist played by Lena Dunham, and that’ll be the end of their marriage.
As Simpsons executive producer Al Jean told Variety, “In the premiere, it’s discovered after all the years Homer has narcolepsy and it’s an incredible strain on the marriage. Homer and Marge legally separate, and Homer falls in love with his pharmacist, who’s voiced by Lena Dunham. We’ll have cameos from the other women from Girls.”
This news is nothing short of a full-blown tragedy. Homer and Marge Simpson have been married for years. Quite how many years is a slightly confusing matter – they got married in the early 1980s and then permanently stopped ageing in the late 1980s, which means that they’ve either been together for 10 or 35 years – but that’s not really the point. We’ve always looked to Homer and Marge Simpson for stability in troubled times, and now they’re crashing apart on the rocks. How could The Simpsons do this to us?
Well, truth be told, they aren’t. Anyone who has grimly clung on through the dregs that latter-day Simpsons episodes have flung at us are perfectly used to this level of nonsense by now. New episodes aren’t even episodes any more, simply delivery systems for desperate, promotional non-stories. Remember last September, when everyone briefly got their knickers in a twist when The Simpsons announced that it would kill off a long-serving character, and it ended up being Krusty’s dad? Remember what a disappointment that was? This is going to be exactly the same.
I guarantee that the legal separation will happen, and be permanently resolved, within the space of a single episode. This isn’t Maude Flanders dying. It isn’t Marcia Wallace dying. It’s barely even a nudge on from the Viva Ned Flanders episode from 1999, where Homer got drunk and married a cocktail waitress – something ostensibly bad happened; 10 minutes later it was fixed; a week after that, it was forgotten for ever. This will just be a repeat of that, with the added bonus of an annoyingly voiced pharmacist.
This is what The Simpsons has become now. It’s gone from a show that disappoints you when it airs a repeat to a show that disappoints you when it airs a new episode. Gradually, over the space of decade, the primary function of The Simpsons has been to remind you that it still exists.
Another widely reported plot point from the new series, for example, is Sideshow Bob finally murdering Bart Simpson (albeit within the confines of a Treehouse of Horror episode). And, just to underline once and for all that the entire caravan is running on fumes, Spider Pig is coming back. Spider Pig, the unfunny Jar Jar Binks figure from an eight-year-old film that still managed to come out long after The Simpsons had gone off the boil.
Surely this is it for the series now? It can’t have much longer left. It’s one thing to lose a cast member, but it’s another thing to lose the spark that made the show so beloved in the first place. Crowbarring apart the programme’s central relationship – even temporarily – in the name of ratings is a step too far. Forget Homer and Marge, maybe it’s time the rest of us became legally separated from The Simpsons.
This article was written by Stuart Heritage, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 10th June 2015 11.34 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010