SSR #9: “Life on the Fast Lane”

Intro

Introduction:
It’s always awkward and uncomfortable to witness a husband and wife fighting, but the old saying goes that whenever a couple stops talking and acknowledging each other; that’s when you need to start being concerned. Even though Marge and Homer seem to have a very stable relationship, we’re about to get a double dose of marital problems with the next TWO episodes. I guess it had to happen sooner or later in the series, so may as well get them out of the way now. “Life on the Fast Lane” aired on March 18th, 1990 and was the ninth episode to air in The Simpsons first season, even though it was the 11th episode written for the show. Also, like “Bart the General” (and the first episode, if you want to get technical), there is no chalkboard or couch gag.

BallHomer: “Beauty! Isn’t she?”
Marge: “It’s hard for me to judge, since I’ve never bowled in my life!”
Homer: “Well if you don’t want it, I know someone who does!”
Marge: *murmurs*

Plot:
Very early one morning, Bart, Lisa and Maggie are cooking breakfast for Marge because it is her birthday and they want to give her a surprise. After the surprise is delivered, Homer is shocked, not only by the surprise, but also the fact that he forgot it was his wife’s birthday and doesn’t have a gift for her yet. He sneaks (unsuccessfully) out of the house to get one, but in classic Homer fashion, ends up at a sports store instead and buys a bowling ball with his name engraved on it. That night, the entire family and Marge’s sisters go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant where Marge receives all of her gifts. Homer’s gift is the last one to be opened and Marge is completely appalled when the box opens and a bowling ball with Homer’s name on it, drops out; very appropriately on top of the cake as well.

Marge is angry at Homer for thinking only of himself and ruining her birthday. Homer suggests he takes the ball back and get her something else, but in her anger, she decides to keep the ball and go bowling by herself. Marge has no idea what she’s doing at the bowling alley, but her actions (and looks) catch the eye of local bowling professional and womanizer, Jacques, who is immediately smitten with Marge and is desperate to spend as much time with her as possible. He offers to give Marge bowling lessons and she accepts, oblivious to Jacques’s intentions. Marge’s skill improves tremendously and Jacques continues to get closer to her.

At home, while Marge is not present, Homer decides to pick up the slack and spends a lot of time with the kids. Whenever Marge and Homer are both around, however, they don’t talk very much and become very distant from each other. Marge seems to be having a lot of fun at the bowling alley and Homer doesn’t want to make her angry by telling her that he misses her and that he wants her to be home. Marge also insists on returning to the bowling alley on a regular basis to continue to getting lessons from Jacques. She becomes very aware of Jacques’s interest in her, and although she does try to shrug off his advances, she enjoys the extra attention from him. Jacques even gives her a bowling glove with her name embroidered on it, which she immediately loves because for once, it was a gift given to and intended for her.

This “fling” continues on for a few days and Homer’s mood worsens into a silent depression. Marge is also feeling the burden of her actions and time away from home by giving the children extra-large lunches and being extra kind and loving to them due to her guilt of being away from them. Lisa and Bart start to pick up on these signs, but are unable to figure out what to do or say to their parents, so they watch from the sidelines, worried about what will happen to their mom and dad’s marriage. Meanwhile, Jacques finally manages to get a brunch date with Marge outside of the bowling alley, and during the meal, Jacques asks if Marge would like to meet him at his apartment. Upon realization that Jacques is asking her for an affair, Marge faints and daydreams about what will happen if she goes to see Jacques. When she comes to, she asks him, “Is Thursday okay?”

When Homer finds the bowling glove, he is convinced that he has lost Marge forever, but on Thursday morning, he walks into the kitchen to say one last thing to his wife. Although he isn’t completely sure about what to say, he tells his wife that he loves the way she makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He remarks that with other sandwiches, the jelly always drips out of the bread onto the guy’s fingers, but with Marge, the jelly always manages to stay inside where it is supposed to. He says, “I don’t know how you do it…you have some sort of gift I guess. I’ve always thought so. I’ve just never mentioned it.” He ends his discussion by saying that it was time to tell her how he feels about her, because he doesn’t believe in keeping his feelings bottled up, essentially confirming to Marge that he does love and care about her. Homer leaves for work while Marge is still stunned in silence about this revelation.

Marge starts to drive to Jacques’s apartment, but along the way, she starts seeing a lot of happy couples together, reminding her of her own marriage with Homer. She stops the car at an intersection; one road leading to Jacques’s apartment complex, and the other leading to the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. She now must make her decision to stay with her husband or to officially have an affair. The scene cuts to the power plant where Marge, in fact, chooses to stay with her husband and stop meeting with Jacques. Homer is absolutely shocked and surprised to see his wife, and he responds by embracing her and then telling his co-workers, “I’m off to the backseat of my car with the woman I love, and I won’t be back for 10 minutes!” Ending the episode on an incredibly sweet and heartfelt moment between the two spouses.

Cop JokeJacques: “I bet you don’t know how to make a five-seven-ten split, do you Marge?”
Marge: “No”
Jacques: “But first of all, you yell, ‘The eighth pin is a cop!'”

My Personal History:
Like most of Season 1, I didn’t catch this one until it came out on DVD, but after reading a summary of this episode in an episode guide novelization, I was really curious about how this one would resonate with me, mainly because I was so surprised to see such an “adult” storyline in a show that was aimed for family viewing. I’ll get more into my thoughts in a small bit, but that was definitely my first impressions upon reading about it and eventually watching it when I did have the capability to. I think I also saw the summation of this episode as it was shown in the second clip show plot, “Another Simpsons Clip Show,” before I saw the actual episode in full.

BrunchMarge: “What’s brunch?”
Jacques: “It’s not quite breakfast and it’s not quite lunch, but you get a slice of cantaloupe at the end. You don’t get completely what you would at breakfast, but you get a good meal!”

Favorite/Memorable Moments:
Albert Brooks is back again for another eccentric role, this time in the form of Jacques, the French bowling teacher. I have to say; I absolutely hate and love this character, but both for pretty much the same reason. I can’t freaking stand that he’s trying to put the moves on a married woman, but at the same time, his performance is absolutely brilliant in doing so. Its over-the-top and all of his jokes and reactions are just so on point and hilarious that I can’t help but let out a small chuckle when listening to his performance. It’s a case of; you really hate what he’s doing, but at the same time, you’re supposed to hate him because he is trying to break up the marriage of two main characters, so by making him over-the-top, you’re at least having a little more fun with the character and making light of something that will not, by any means, change the dynamic of the family, and by extension, the show in general. I think my favorite joke involving him, and probably my favorite joke of the episode, is when Helen Lovejoy discovers Marge with Jacques at the diner, and when Helen leaves, Jacques tells a very uncomfortable Marge, “Your friend is lovely, let us hope something runs over her,” to make Marge laugh and calm down from the fear of being caught spending time with a man who isn’t her husband. I also really like when he is giving Marge a lesson and then he just randomly shouts “FOUR ONION RINGS!” when Marge mentions she is hungry, just because of how out-of-nowhere it is.

Aside from the comedic voice acting of Albert Brooks though, there isn’t really that much else that I found outstanding here. I really like the ending of the episode with Marge and Homer’s reconciliation, and all the stuff that Homer tells Marge in the kitchen on that fateful morning, but only because they are sweet moments that I’m a sap for, and not necessarily because I think it brings the story together (which I’ll be getting into in the next section). Homer started the episode out badly by thinking of himself and only himself, but he really did bring it together by the end of the episode. He did the ONE thing I always tell people to do when they come to me for relationship advice; speak from the heart. Lying out of your ass, or covering up your mistakes with gifts and other fabrications will only get you so far. If you make a mistake, own up to it, and show (or tell) your significant other how you feel.  Homer spent the entire episode in self-pity because he knows he upset his wife and he knows that she’s having a good time without him. Then, it finally hits him that if he doesn’t show his wife how much he cares about her and loves her, he’s going to lose her, and that’s when he confronts her and tells her how much he means to her and how special he thinks she is. That was probably one of the most personal compliments he (and anybody for that matter) has ever given to Marge, and that’s what finally showed her that he does care and that she would be losing the most genuine and heartfelt man she had ever met if she let herself have the affair. Because, while Jacques was a flirt and said very romantic and forward things to Marge, they never really put Marge in a place of comfort, which you could clearly see in her actions and dismissals of Jacques’s advances throughout the episode. If Marge was set on going for it with Jacques and leaving her family behind, we would have seen a much different story here. She didn’t love Jacques at all, she just enjoyed the attention she got from him. When Homer started giving her that attention, in his own personal way, she knew the choice was easy. Because of that, I think the ending was very well done and very well-written.

10 Minutes“Tell the boss I’m going to the backseat of my car with the woman I love, and I won’t be back for ten minutes!”
~Homer Simpson

My Review:
I am going to be honest here; I have not been looking forward to taking a look at or reviewing this episode. As per usual, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad episode by any means. In fact, for an adult-oriented story line, I think the writing is actually really good here and there are some really great performances in the episode as well (most notably Albert Brooks (Jacques) and his chemistry with Julie Kavner (Marge)). I just feel like, for the viewers, this one will be a very hit or miss episode. The individuals who will most likely understand what’s going on here are adults and people who are and have been in serious relationships. For a kid, or someone who hasn’t had that relationship experience, a lot of the morals and lessons may not connect right away and a lot of the value I think this episode contains, may fall flat to the wrong audiences. Heck, as a young pre-teen and early teenager, when I first saw this episode, I never would have seen this episode in the same light that I would today, now that I have fifteen years on my younger self and have been in a serious relationship where topics of this nature have emerged. Also, I find for episodes of this nature, where the the main married couple experience issues and then a strange man/woman come into the picture and try to mess up that foundation further…they can be a really uncomfortable experience at times depending on how they’re handled, and I think that remains true for the Simpson family as well. Which…it’s understandable, especially now, considering the two have been married on the show for more than twenty-five years now.

Also, I feel like the children’s sub-plot shouldn’t have been used in the episode at all. I feel like the inclusion of Lisa figuring out that her parents are having problems, and trying to get Bart to come to terms with her same realization, almost kind of distract the viewers of this episode from what should be the main focus; Homer and Marge. In fact, when Bart is so worried that something bad will happen, he tells his dad to “not say anything, because he might make it worse,” which happens to be the absolute worst advice he could give in that particular scenario. In fact, the very next scene is when Homer opens up his heart to Marge and tells her how he feels; which ultimately saves the marriage in the long run. It just kind of feels like the children were unintentionally working against the plot here, and with how the episode wraps up, it almost made their plight feel pointless, because they didn’t do anything to help the story get to its conclusion. I would have much rather seen another scene with Marge and Jacques getting closer, or an extended scene with Homer and Marge where Homer apologizes for his actions in the beginning act, because while he did touch Marge with his words near the end, he never technically apologized for his selfishness.

I also find it extremely odd with how easily Marge agrees to see Jacques at his apartment. During their entire time together, Marge was always uncomfortable with Jacques’s advances, and even though she went along with them a few times, she still never really got “charmed” by him. In fact, during the brunch before Jacques even asked about his apartment, she was still really put off by his forwardness and tried to deflect any compliment he gave to her. I suppose this reluctance was because of her guiltiness, since she was being charmed by the man, but again, it’s hard to say just because I feel like it could have been explored a bit more, you know, instead of the alternative and what we got in the form of the children’s side of the story. I really hate to bring that up again, but it’s a major point for why this episode really bugs me. I get that the children were included to show the gravity of the situation at home with Homer and Marge’s marriage on the rocks, with Marge feeling guilty and the need to overcompensate for her absence and with Homer sinking into a deep depression. If someone is able to pick up on that, then sure, it works pretty well, but otherwise, it just seems kind of…there for the sake being there. There’s just so much that needs to be implied for the story to flow together flawlessly and I feel that it takes a few watches for someone to completely understand what’s going on here and to actually feel the gravity of the situation. Otherwise, it would be a back and forth tennis match of “Why is Homer not doing anything?” and “Why is Marge doing this?”

Once you have those things figured out though, the episode is honestly a good watch and an insightful take on this particular subject matter. What can happen to a woman when a new man starts paying more attention to and being more romantic to her than her own husband? When a marriage is in danger, how will both parties act, and what will they do to make things right, if anything at all? Is it really possible to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich where none of the jelly drips out of the sides of the bread? That last one is still a mystery to me, but as far as Homer and Marge go, I think they will be okay…for now. Unfortunately, I think we have a long road to go in getting all of their issues sorted out, especially once we get to the later years of the show (if we even do). But as far as our next examination of their marriage is concerned…well, let’s just say we have a few roadblocks coming up, starting with the next episode. For now though, I’m going to leave it at that and sign-off on “Life on the Fast Lane,” so thanks for reading everyone and I’ll talk to you guys next time.

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It is good to be back! Sorry this took a bit longer than I initially planned, but admittedly, I did just return from a week-long vacation and I had a lot of loose ends I needed to take care of first. There were also a lot of things I wanted to add into this write-up after I finished my first draft, just because this is a very complex episode. Anyway, from the look of things, it should not be too hard of an endeavor to finish up the rest of Season 1, with only four episodes remaining (even if I only really like one of them), so I’m going to do my best to make this a weekly update for the next month, and once I finish the remaining episodes, I can start planning when Season 2 will start. It probably won’t start right away, since I am about to start a big project/endeavor for my Youtube channel, but once that is taken care of, I am definitely excited to see this series go even further. So thanks to all of you for your continued reading and patience for these reviews. It means a lot to me!

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