Compare & Contrast: Marge & Lisa At Breakfast

Separate Vocations6

“Lisa, there are a lot of people in world who like to tell you what you can’t do.  But they don’t always know what they’re talking about.” – Marge Simpson

In both “Lisa Simpson, This Isn’t Your Life” and “Separate Vocations”, Lisa becomes afraid that, despite all her ambition, talent and drive, she’s going to end up like her mother.  The two setups are as close to identical as can be expected given that they were broadcast nineteen seasons apart.  But they take radically different directions once Marge learns of Lisa’s fears.  In The Simpsons, Marge reacts like a loving parent, albeit somewhat naive and misguided; in Zombie Simpsons, Marge reacts like a butthurt child herself. 

The differences are immediately apparent in the scenes where Marge finds out how Lisa feels.  In “Separate Vocations”, the family is sitting at the dinner table.  Marge gives a defensive but understandable “It’s not that bad” when Lisa expresses her contempt for Marge’s lot in life.  It’s one line, and the very next thing out of Marge’s mouth is her desire to help Lisa realize her dream of becoming a jazz musician.  Both things, Marge’s (extremely) mild disappointment and her immediate recovery into being a supportive parent work into the larger scene, which sees both Bart and Lisa’s plot lines advanced as well as both Marge and Homer realize that their kids want to be nothing like them.  And, it goes almost without saying, the dialogue is rife with jokes, including Homer’s inability to join the army or the police and Lisa’s wonderfully elaborate musician fantasy. 

In order to reveal the exact same information, that Lisa doesn’t want to become Marge, Zombie Simpsons has a scene with Marge and Homer in which that is the only topic of conversation.  Marge immediately reacts like a spoiled kid, and most of the scene is her (very out of character) wallowing in self pity while Homer acts manic to try and distract her.  No other plot points are advanced (or even mentioned), and it takes longer too. 

Following those scenes, Zombie Marge and regular Marge follow radically different paths.  But they both end up at the breakfast table with Lisa, and here the massive differences between the two become crystal clear.  In “Separate Vocations”, Marge tries to reassure Lisa that homemaking provides plenty of opportunities for creativity.  (This is after Marge’s plan to show Lisa that she can be a jazz musician hilariously backfires with the immortal line, “You’ve inherited a finger condition known as ‘Stubbiness’.”)  Here’s the dialogue:Smiley Breakfast

Marge: This morning, I turned bacon, eggs and toast into a nice smiley face for Bart and Homer.  

Lisa: What’s the point, they’ll never notice.

Marge: Oh, well you’d be surprised.

Homer and Bart immediately appear to demolish Marge’s carefully constructed breakfast without so much as a thank you, though Homer does manage a satisfied belch.  Just as with the outing to the music store, Marge acts perfectly in character, and the comedy comes from the utter failure of her earnest attempts. 

In Zombie Simpsons, Marge also cooks breakfast.  Only this time, she’s not trying to reassure or encourage her daughter.  She’s attacking her daughter in a way that’s petty, venomous, passive-aggressive, and very un-Marge:Frowny Breakfast

Lisa: Mom, is something wrong?

Marge: Would it be so bad to turn out like me?

Lisa: Mom, I admire everything you do!

Marge: But it’s not good enough, is it?

Yikes.  And Lisa didn’t even do anything to Marge.  All Lisa did was mention to Homer that Marge’s grades declined when the two started dating.  Lisa never said anything to Homer about not wanting to become like Marge but, thanks to Zombie Simpsons’ inimitable contempt for storytelling, that doesn’t matter.  Marge lays into her daughter as though Lisa had deliberately and maliciously set out to personally insult her.

Nor does Marge redeem herself with her laundry scheme.  She goes right on laying the serious guilt trip on her daughter:

Lisa, honey, I insist, because it’s important to you that you don’t turn out like me. 

It works, and Lisa gives up the school so Marge’s feelings won’t be hurt any longer.  This is the diametric opposite of Marge’s behavior in “Separate Vocations”, when she goes out of her way to encourage and support Lisa. 

In a final bit of what is either sloppy editing or simple meanness (Zombie Simpsons often makes it hard to tell the difference), the last shot of Lisa is of her looking regretful about her decision as she hugs Marge.  This is different than a funny-sad ending where a comedy character loses or gets thwarted, this is just sad. 

The Simpsons kids have been embarrassed, stifled, or just plain let down by their parents many times, but not intentionally.  Even some of the most traumatic moments caused by Homer’s awful parenting, such as his failure in “Lisa’s Pony” (which this episode also apes more than a little bit), are accidental.  Here, Marge is intentionally harming her kid, and that isn’t so much funny as it is cruel and tragic. 

But let’s not end on a sad note.  Let’s remember that in “Separate Vocations”, not only does Marge support Lisa, but Lisa eventually regains her self confidence after Bart acts like more of a decent human being that Marge does in all of “Lisa Simpson, This Isn’t Your Life”:

You got the brains and the talent to go as far as you want, and when you do, I’ll be right there to borrow money.

10 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Marge & Lisa At Breakfast”

  1. 1 Cassidy
    16 November 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Yeesh. That’s one scary looking shot of Zombie Marge there.

    • 2 Patrick
      16 November 2010 at 2:27 pm

      I would understand if Patty or Selma gave Homer that look but MARGE? :S and in the season 20 episode ‘Waverly hills’ Marge did so much to get Bart and Lisa into that excellent school so marge doing this totally doesnt add up? :S

  2. 3 Stan
    16 November 2010 at 6:11 pm

    It’s funny, because while it seems that your comparison is correct in its theoretical structure, i.e. what would a parent do in a situation that his or her child lost them as a future idol for self, you miss something completely obvious to those who have the decency to make such contrast. When I saw that part of the episode, while it may as well be interpreted as a parent-child dialogue, the first thing that came to my mind is a flagrant dialogue of similar characters on Family Guy. We did not see on the Simpsons before, neither would we ever see it on FG, but if you recall how simple, jumping to first conclusions are character dialogues in that show, you’d understand my point. Many a time do we see Peter or Lois talking the same way to Meg, for example, taking them for crap and treating them as such. For today’s Marge, it’s nothing new, it’s just a character like any others, and it’s just a plot we throw in for fun. Fun.

    The way I see that contrast has already been discussed before and is simple: ZS tried hard to take on FG in every way. They lost to that show a decade ago and desperately try to grab on to it in order to milk TV for viewers. The Simpsons of the 1990s did not do that – there was place for reality, for the comprehension of relations between parents and children, based on real values and interpreted in a standard way. There was this kind of spirituality between them that made episode ideas appear so real. ZS don’t need that. They don’t care about that. Nobody needs that. They need wacky stuff, something not normally happening, so that they could get a laugh or two from how stupid it seems on TV.

    So when we see this kind of Marge taking to shit on her daughter for no apparent reason – hold on, for a plot element cometh. So basically it’s simply filler, don’t expect much from it, no heartwarming discussions about what is wrong and what is not, and how this is not as much of this than that, and so on and so forth. It’s for the stupid TV viewers, probably on pot or simply idiots, so why really bother with trying to go so “deep” into that shit, maaaan.

    And I rest my case.

    • 4 Patrick
      16 November 2010 at 6:19 pm

      TBH most of the new simpsons eps would make perfect FG episodes so it really shows out the situation here and IMO there will still be good simpsons episodes and moments but its not enough to keep it on the air and whats going on now with the simpsons is exactly why a show should NEVER stay on the air this long and lastly stop trying to beat gunsmoke’s record, they were consistent (i’ve never seen the show so thats just a guess) unlike you so just end at 500 and give them their long overdue sendoff (which IMO should have happened at episode 200).

      • 16 November 2010 at 8:15 pm

        Knowing the staff, namely Groening and Jean, they’ll make some dumb statement (after they’ve beaten Gunsmoke’s record) about how their next conquest is to beat “Meet the Press”, or some tv program that’s out there.

        And speaking of Gunsmoke, I’ve seen that show in reruns and it’s unintentionally funnier than a lot of Jean era Zombie Simpsons.

  3. 6 RobM
    17 November 2010 at 1:31 pm

    You know, I always told myself that I loved the Simpsons… and then asked myself “So why don’t you watch it much any more”.

    Having just found this blog and read a few posts like the one here I’m commenting on I think I now understand why.

    Cruelty isn’t funny. Well meant but half-assed parenting can be. That’s why the old simpsons were funny in a way that the newer stuff just isn’t.

    • 7 Patrick
      17 November 2010 at 8:44 pm


      • 17 November 2010 at 9:20 pm

        An awesome show generates its own cool. Shitty ones mimic whatever society currently considers ‘trendy.’

        • 9 Stan
          17 November 2010 at 11:55 pm

          It’s not necessarily awesome, it’s just original. I don’t laugh at FG jokes, they have too much unneeded violence in almost each scene, then someone always has to say “bitch”, “ass”, “fuck” and “shit”, or it’s not real humor.

          But it’s comparable and better in scope of the fact that characters react with each other, they don’t rely on “false” media (think of the Ke$ha tune here), rather than cultural memes, and whenever there is time to kill then go cutaway gag on everything unrelated by relating it with a wacky plot device.

          ZS is complete fail in all that. It lost its original values and didn’t plagiarize anything useful so far. So it just dandles like, pardon me, a turd out of a butthole.

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