With The Simpsons now streaming on Disney+, more than 300 episodes from the last three decades are at our fingertips – and what with the ongoing apocalypse we seem to be living through, this couldn’t have happened at a better time.
For those who don’t, like me, already watch multiple episodes a day, there are so many classic moments to re-familiarise yourself with: Homer joining the Stonecutters (Homer The Great, season six)! Sideshow Bob’s greatest attempts on Bart’s life (Cape Feare, season five)! The notorious two-part mystery of Who Shot Mr Burns (seasons five and six)! And my personal all-time favourite, Lisa’s heartening affinity with a substitute teacher (Lisa’s Substitute, season two)!
But although the lion’s share of famous stories are fronted by the louder, more high-profile characters, I’d argue it’s very easily our blue-haired, gravelly-voiced queen Marge who is by far the greatest Simpson.
Yes, it’s a bold claim, I know: the two guys are the most iconic in the literal sense, while Lisa (rightly!) gets plenty of love too, thanks to her intelligence, passion and progressive attitudes.
But for being the wholesome beating heart of the family, the town, and the entire damn show; Marge is truly the MVP of Springfield.
Don’t even try arguing with me. I even wore her giant face on a T-shirt to Brighton Pride last year.
In archetypal terms, we see this type of character a lot: the standard so-called ‘sitcom wife’ who’s tied to an oafish husband and lumbered with wildly exhausting kids. Look at Debra Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond, Peggy Bundy in Married… With Children or Edith Bunker in All In The Family, to name just three.
But that said, in the extremely heightened world of The Simpsons, where everything’s dialled up to 11 and showrunners like to keep a very loose handle on the realism, Marge is among the most natural, grounded presences.
In contrast to everyone around her, she’s winningly… ordinary, for lack of a better word. She’s unassuming in her interests and desires, with a strong moral compass that always comes good in the end (even though, yes, she probably should have left Homer on many, many occasions).
The fact she’s not as fiercely clever and ambitious as Lisa or as whacky and mischievous as Homer and Bart just makes her all the more endearing: it’s the simple, everyday things in life that get her excited, and therein lies her brilliance.
Take, for example, the moment in Bart Gets An Elephant when Bart’s offered a $10,000 cash prize on a radio phone-in. While dollar signs practically light up in Homer’s eyes and he beams ‘we can buy all kinds of things!’, Marge is hilariously enthusiastic as she suggests with sheer unabashed excitement: ‘Or double-ply windows! They look just like regular windows but they’ll save us four per cent on our heating bill!’
When Bart’s shoplifting stops her from getting the happy family photo she’d set her heart on (Marge Be Not Proud, season seven), the disappointment is properly heartbreaking.
And further down the line, in the season 17 ep Marge’s Son Poisoning (yes, contrary to popular belief, there is excellence to be found in the later seasons!), he rejects her when she embarrasses him in front of his peers; and again, beneath all the razor-sharp punchlines, it’s quietly devastating.
Everything falls apart without her, too: in the season three instalment Homer Alone, she treats herself to a weekend away and Homer manages to full-on lose baby Maggie in her absence. In Marge In Chains (season four), she’s jailed for forgetting to pay for a grocery item and the whole bloody town falls into disarray.
It was once revealed in DVD commentary that junior writers were, at one point, given Marge-based episodes with which to prove themselves – because they’re apparently the hardest to make funny.
It’s understandable: whilst Homer is spectacularly daft enough to carry just about any type of humour, from slapstick to screwball to outright indecent; Marge is always in danger of being nothing more than the so-called ‘straight man’ on the sidelines; the frowning voice of disapproval spoiling all the fun.
But thanks to clever writing and a relentlessly brilliant performance from Julie Kavner, she’s become the true hero of Springfield.
Without her balancing out the sheer chaos elsewhere, the show simply wouldn’t work. All hail our ever-murmuring, red-pearl-wearing, potato-stanning legend.
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