Lisa: Well, as a feminist, virtually anything a woman does is empowering.
Homer: Is my job creating power empowering?
Lisa: No. It’s oddly dehumanizing.
If you’re an occasional blog reader like me, you’ll no doubt have encountered a specific type of post or comment about The Simpsons. It goes something like this (key words bolded): Aww man, classic Simpsons episodes are the best! Everything started to suck after Season 8. I don’t know why this show is still on the air. It hasn’t been good for years.
You’ll soon see that I’m not a member of this particular internet phenomenon. I maintain that every new season of The Simpsons contains some good episodes, some great episodes, a few real stinkers, and a mostly mediocre collection of cheap laughs. There are about 20 episodes in each season, and while some seasons have offered up more gems than others, there has always been a pretty big difference between the best and worst episodes of any given season. The Simpsons has been running for over 20 years now (in fact, we’re about the same age!) and it’s natural that viewers might tire of some of the reworked storylines, but multi-use plots and sometimes predictable narratives are not indicative of the show’s overall quality.
I’ve certainly seen enough episodes where Bart does something bad, realizes he can’t live with the ensuing guilt, and eventually does the right thing by minute 19. I’ve also seen enough episodes where Lisa does something precocious that distances her from her average family, but everyone has reconciled by the end. My favorite episodes, however, are not necessarily the episodes that I think are best. The best episodes of The Simpsons follow a certain narrative framework that was somewhat visible in this most recent episode.
Good episodes of The Simpsons contain an A-plot and a B-plot (and occasionally a C-plot!) First something happens to start off the narrative, and in this case, the episode begins on Valentine’s Day. Homer is enjoying a quick pink cocktail at Moe’s and as he leaves the bar, he realizes that the gargoyle-faced bartender doesn’t have a date for the big night. This is the A-plot.
The B-plot takes shape post-Valentine’s Day, when Marge discovers a grey hair. She visits the salon, where her stylist informs her that she’s actually been grey for years, but the blue hair dye he uses on her emits toxic fumes that cause her to forget the entire experience. As the stylist hovers over Marge’s silver locks with a brush dripping blue goo, she makes an empowering decision: Marge will forego the dye altogether and embrace her grey beehive.
As the episode progresses, the A and B plots unfold concurrently, but they do not engage each other. Homer acts as Moe’s wingman and Marge encounters various reactions to her grey hair, but even when she displays her new ‘do to Homer, their conversation does not address his involvement in the wingman plot. Characters interact with each other, but their simultaneous plots do not generally overlap.
At least until the end, when a sequence of events brings the two plots together. In this episode, Marge meets with her chain-smoking sisters, Patty and Selma, at a Starbucks rip-off. She overhears two hot young women discussing whether Home will appear at a club that night. Marge gets in her car, furiously applying make-up while steering with her knees, and crashes into a ravine. As Marge extracts herself from the car and tramps through the woods to the club, her appearance becomes increasingly witch-like. When she arrives at the club, she finds Homer, and he convinces her that he loves her despite the grey hair. Marge asks if he prefers blue hair, and he assents through a brief montage of blue-bodied and blue-haired women, including a Na’vi female from Avatar and Smurfette. Marge again dyes her hair blue, and everything goes back to normal.
The critical aspect of this ending is that everything must return to normal. Both Homer and Marge had independent experiences via the two distinct plots, but eventually their storylines culminate in a single shared experience that makes them closer. A stronger episode might have given another subplot to Bart and Lisa as well, though they shared a particularly comic scene when they both stood in front of a mirror and hyperventilated as they tried to figure out where their heads stopped and their hairlines began. Will Bart sport a Milhouse next week? Stay tuned!