Compare & Contrast: Marge in Therapy

Fear of Flying18

“Eww, you like the Monkees?  You know they don’t write their own songs.” – Girl on Bus
“They do so!” – Marge Bouvier
“They don’t even play their own instruments.” – Girl on Bus
“No!  No!” – Marge Bouvier
“That’s not even Michael Nesmith‘s real hat.” – Girl on Bus
“Ahhhhhhh!” – Marge Bouvier
“Kids can be so cruel.” – Dr. Zweig
“But it’s true, they didn’t write their own songs or play their own instruments.” – Marge Simpson
“The Monkees weren’t about music, Marge, they were about rebellion!  About political and social upheaval!” – Dr. Zweig

When The Simpsons would have one of its characters go someplace new or do something they’d never done before, whenever it introduced a new element to the show, it usually made that thing a harsh (if sometimes sympathetic) satire.  So, for example, New York City is filled with jerks and dickish parking officers, but it’s also got nice people who’ll yell back at the jerks in Tower One and glamorous (if inane) Broadway shows.  The sushi restaurant is friendly and delicious, but there’s still drunken karaoke and a map to the hospital on the back of the menu.  The dentist is a sadistic lunatic, but he’s also not wrong about calling you a liar when you tell him how often you brush.

Zombie Simpsons, of course, has a hard time sending the family anywhere novel or having them do something new because everything they come up with is a repeat of some kind.  Beyond that, though, when they do put the family in an unusual situation, they tend to put things in the most positively exaggerated light possible.  Cruise ships are idyllic paradises that are the most fun you’ll ever have.  Going to E3 or some other big show is awesome because you’ll get to run around with VIP passes and see all this cool stuff.  Trips to fancy restaurants are never too expensive or disappointing, and the staff will always treat you like gold.  It’s a completely different mentality, one that’s insulated from unhappiness and incurious about pretty much everything.  And, it goes almost without saying, seeing happy people have fun isn’t generally as funny as the opposite.

For a clean example of how weak this soft focus mentality is, look no farther than the therapist’s office in “Specs and the City” and the huge differences with Dr. Zweig’s office in “Fear of Flying”.  Zweig is certainly a competent therapist, but she also straight up lies to Homer about not blaming him and interrupts Marge’s big realization because a measly $30 check bounced.  The doctor in Zombie Simpsons barely gets any lines because he’s more prop than person.  (He ends the episode cutting Homer’s hair in his office because comedy.)  But beyond his almost nonexistent characterization are the ways that Marge going to therapy is handled.

On The Simpsons, therapy is a almost prohibitively expensive and really can lead to families breaking up.  (Not that ditching Homer would entirely be a bad thing for Marge.)  But it also bears enough of a resemblance to real therapy that it provides plenty of opportunities for jokes, parodies and satire.  So we see Marge’s flashbacks to her traumatic first day of school and seeing her father as a stewardess, get her Lost in Space dream, and have Zweig cracking jokes about copyright, and sarcastically mocking the “rich tapestry” of Marge’s problem after Marge ignores her about the unpaid bill.

Fear of Flying19

Zweig may charge on a sliding scale, but she still charges.

By contrast, Zombie Simpsons has Marge complain about Homer in some rather serious terms but lacks the skill or coherence to turn them around and make them funny at all.  Instead they just give the therapist a bunch of bland therapy lines:

So, Marge, how’ve you been?

And has there been any improvement in Homer’s drinking?

Maybe if you just concentrate on one problem, like his temper.

The jokes, if that is what they are, consist solely of Homer acting outraged at Marge’s legitimate sounding complaints.  This is startlingly emotionally tone deaf, even for them.  The sympathy and audience here are with Marge complaining about Homer, which is portrayed quite seriously.  But the show sticks with Homer’s shock because, hey, that’s where what passes for the punchlines are.

More to the point, the therapy is, well, just therapy.  No attempt whatsoever is made to goose it into something funny and insightful.  It’s left alone and is so dry and straightforward that the doctor’s dialogue wouldn’t be out of place in an instructional video.  He never even comes close to something insane and hilarious like a buttoned down shrink yelling out her love for an all but forgotten mock 60s pop band.

World's Least Interesting Therapist

This man does not love the Monkees.  He’s so boring he may not listen to music at all.

Compounding the dullness is the fact that, in Zombie Simpsons at least, straight ahead therapy works, really really well!  After her bland (and more than a little depressing) appointments, Marge is a cake baking sex machine!  Chalk up another awesome point in the life of Homer Simpson.

Compare that to the just-good-enough and probably temporary (her next flight does crash on takeoff) relief Marge gets from her much funnier and more involved therapy.  Even her final, successful session doesn’t end triumphantly, it ends with Dr. Zweig saying Marge is “nuts” for thinking her father was “an American hero” and Marge immediately getting her name wrong.

The Simpsons created a joke laden, topsy-turvy satire of therapy that worked only to the barest minimum of the definition of success.  Along the way they had a smart but callous therapist, some understandable (if cartoonish) spousal paranoia, and a bunch of pop culture parodies, from campy sitcoms to Alfred Hitchcock. They also managed to treat Marge and her doctor like real people, with concerns and flaws.  Zombie Simpsons had textbook dull therapy work perfectly in that it kept the kickass life Homer loves completely intact without him having to do anything.

16 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Marge in Therapy”

  1. 1 Joe H
    29 January 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Oh jeez, that “solution” to the whole therapy issue was so lazy. Marge just has to go to therapy for the rest of her life and everything’s fine. And she can apparently afford the cost of seeing one every week like clockwork. Makes that whole conflict over Homer’s Google Glasses was ultimately pointless.

  2. 2 FireFlower
    29 January 2014 at 1:46 pm

    I don’t understand why Homer and Marge have so many fights. He is a jerkass and she is a self-centered bitch. They are a perfect couple!

  3. 3 Rob K.
    29 January 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Some Simpsons characters like the counselor above are just so f***ing generic.

  4. 29 January 2014 at 5:21 pm

    It’s worth noting on an even more basic level that the Simpsons going with a woman for a therapist is pretty damn significant. It’s easy to take it for granted, but the easy thing to do (as shown by ZS) would be just to go with a stereotypical male therapist type and work from there. The very fact that the Simpsons not only chose to present a woman in a traditionally male position, but wrote her just as successful and just as flawed as any male character just goes to show once again how subtly progressive the Simpsons was. Furthermore, they do it without her gender ever being a big deal either — Homer’s suspicion isn’t because she’s a woman and Lisa doesn’t have a stereotypical-liberal-type moment either.

    • 5 Sarah J
      30 January 2014 at 6:30 pm

      Zombie Simpsons also has kind of a tendency to make all of their younger female characters look the same. On that note, has this website done a “compare and contrast” for character designs yet?

  5. 6 Stan
    29 January 2014 at 5:48 pm

    Waitasec, you’re telling me that their A-plot this time was as follows: Homer gets spy glasses -> Homer spies on Marge -> Homer sees Marge go to a therapist -> Homer is pissed off -> Marge feels bad -> the therapist tells Marge not to feel bad -> The End. ??????????????? UH WHHHHUH?!

    What was their B-plot then? Barts makes V-cards for everyone but Nelson -> Nelson is pissed off and bullies Bart -> Bart ends up making a V-card for Nelson -> The End?

    • 7 Joe H
      29 January 2014 at 6:13 pm

      Actually it’s even worse. It goes more like this

      Homer gets spy glasses -> Homer spies on Marge -> Homer sees Marge go to a therapist -> Homer is worried -> Homer overhears that the therapist sessions get her back into a good mood each Wednesday -> Homer never tells Marge he spied on her. The End

      Your description of the B-Plot is pretty much it.

  6. 10 Sarah J
    29 January 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Zombie Simpsons is story driven, not character driven like The Simpsons was. As a result, ZS isn’t really as interesting. Rather than the characters directing the story, they just do whatever the story requires them to. This can easily result in recurring characters being inconsistent, and new/one-time characters being boring.

    I’m kind of wondering why the tone of the show shifted from a mostly pessimistic worldview to an overly positive one. Are the current writers hipsters who are used to being treated well, or do they give the Simpson family really good experiences because they love the characters and can’t stand to see them fail at something?

    On that note, how can Marge afford weekly therapy?

    • 29 January 2014 at 9:53 pm

      To answer the first question, yes. Most of the writers do think they are being satirical and mocking, but in practice, they are, on average, milquetoast.

      The second one is simple… this is a family that shifted up a few social classes ever since season 10, give or take the occasional “financial” episode (“No Loan Again, Naturally”).

      • 31 January 2014 at 4:19 pm

        “this is a family that shifted up a few social classes ever since season 10, give or take the occasional “financial” episode (“No Loan Again, Naturally”).”

        Exactly. This is a family that used to treat trips to a local discount store as a fun weekly getaway. Now they’re hanging out with celebrities every other week.

    • 13 Cal
      30 January 2014 at 2:03 pm

      I disagree. The Simpsons was driven by both story and characters, with the characters reacting naturally to events and each other.

      Zombie Simpsons isn’t driven by story at all; it’s more like, “We have 22 minutes to kill. What’s this YOLO thing I heard about? My wife says ‘Glee’ is really popular, can we get those kids to do voices?”

      • 14 Sarah J
        30 January 2014 at 6:50 pm

        When I say “story driven”, I refer to episodes where the characters are doing what the story wants them to do, not what the characters should actually be doing. Many ZS episodes feel like the writers took stock sitcom plots and threw the Simpson family in, playing everything straight. It feels like the characters aren’t really reacting to events, because much of the time their reactions are out-of-character. They don’t even really feel like characters any more, just a group of actors playing along with a bunch of random scripts.

        But I get what you’re saying as well. Another big ZS problem is stuff happening for no reason, and little payoff. All of the guest stars wouldn’t be so bad if they were better utilized. On ZS they just pop in, tell you their names, explain who they are, and then leave, very rarely having any impact on the plot. The “Glee” cast guest starring wouldn’t have been really annoying if the writers took advantage of it. Maybe if they did a full musical episode, or did a parody, either of musical or of “Glee”. As much derision as the Lady Gaga episode got, I thought it was decent by ZS standards (which equals “meh” to “lame” by normal standards) because Lady Gaga actually played a part in the plot.

  7. 15 Anonymous
    30 January 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Even Dr. Sally Waxler has more character than that guy.

  8. 16 Rob K.
    1 February 2014 at 11:14 am

    On a side note, SNPP got it right with the review of this episode by Eric Rose:

    “What was up with the 12/18 Fear of Flying episode? It was just not classic stuff. Marge was totally out of character, Homer getting thrown out of Moe’s for the sugar bowl trick?!?! Just not funny, IMHO.”


    Well, some of it was anyway.

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