OTH: The Simpsons- "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish"/ "The Way We Was"

Two episodes heavy on Homer and Marge give us some notable moments.

Season 2, Episode 11

Aired January 24, 1991

Directed by Wesley M. Archer

Written by Nell Scovell

One of my least favorite tropes is when a show promises to mess up the status quo in a way that the audience knows won’t last. Something like a character moving away, or switching jobs.

Or dying, like here. The funny thing is, I think that “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish” is a quite effective episode, but I don’t see how anyone could think that Homer wouldn’t pull through.

I think this episode does a good job of nailing down desperation, a feeling Homer is plenty familiar with, although for different reasons than present here. The realization that your life is going to be cut short has to be a tragic one, especially when it’s as immediate as what Homer is experiencing. After the excellent flash of the five stages of grief that he portrays, there’s a palpable mixture of fear and acceptance that lingers throughout the episode.

One Fish, Two Fish (don’t feel like spelling the whole thing out) takes a surprise turn by not focusing on the core family past the first act, and gives us more time than expected with Grampa and Barney. And surprisingly, I think this works well, although I’ll get back to those characters. While I don’t know if I agree with Homer’s decision to leave his kids in the dark about his diagnosis (Bart and Lisa are at least old enough to deserve an explanation), I do like that the episode gives them one good scene with their old man before his quest takes him in other directions. Bart in particular gets some great father-son time, while I love Homer’s misquoting “When the Saints Come Marching In” when Lisa starts playing it.

Marge, however, gets plenty of time with Homer this week, and I genuinely love most of their moments together. This episode is written by a woman for the first time since, well, the first time the series aired, and Nell Scovell (future creator of Sabrina the Teenage Witch) does a magnificent job of giving Marge a voice while still letting Homer in his particular fashion. She has some good lines throughout, and helps to keep an emotional core at the forefront of the story, being Homer’s rock and the one thing he cannot bend on. We see this especially at the end, when he races to be intimate with her, despite missing most of his bucket list. This offers Julie Kavner a solid opportunity to validate her performance as Marge, which she does with warmth and poise.

But Dan Castellaneta is the MVP of this episode. His performance as Homer soars throughout, selling annoyance at Lisa’s request to shake up their dinner rituals, anguish at his death sentence, and everything in between. He’s making Homer come off as one of the greats at a sturdy pace, and can sell even the smallest lines. And he’s just as good this week as Grampa and Barney, who take up more time than expected this episode.

We’ve learned that Homer and Abe don’t have the best relationship with what we’ve seen thus far, with the next episode further showing some of Abe’s failings as a father. But the time we spend with them shows genuine forgiveness and effort for both of them. And it also shows why Homer is tired of his dad, who’s desperate for attention. Meanwhile, Barney, who is nominally Homer’s best friend, shows a little more shade to his character, being more than just a drunk. Almost a little more than a drunk, at least, but he has a nice moment with Homer on the car ride to Moe’s.

That bulk of the episode works quite well, but I do like the first act as well, which shows us the novel (for the early 90’s) world of Japanese cuisine, and even a little bit of karaoke! This is something that I would have been worried about coming off as racist, but this is a surprisingly reverent and respectful trip, and plays more with Homer’s fear and confusion of the unknown more than anything. And damn if it doesn’t make me crave some sushi.

One Fish is another successful episode, and turns a potentially middling concept into an early classic.

Season 2, Episode 12

Aired February 1, 1991

Directed by David Silverman

Written by Al Jean, Mike Reiss and Sam Simon

cw: sexual assault

So the show is on the news right now. Apparently a recent episode shows Homer as a teenager in the 90’s, and fans are… divided. Homer is now younger than Bart was at the start of the series, and it’s looking weird.

I get that, and I’m not not on board with the criticism. It is especially weird seeing this right as I get to my next episode, which is a time travel where we see how Homer and Marge meet in the first place, dating back to the mid 70’s.

It’s funny to hear how initially, the crew didn’t want to timestamp the episode too much, in fear that the show could later contradict itself. Which, lol. But at the same time, part of “The Way We Was”’ charm is seeing those reminders of life in 1974. Playing the Carpenters (boo) and Steve Miller (less boo), reenacting fads of the time like bra burning and streaking, and even the (apparently) real National Maximum Speed Law provision from this period all help to make this come off as, maybe if not authentic, moreso as personable. People like seeing deliberate references to the past in stories of the distant past. Seeing reminders of what was is interesting for those who were born before the story in question, and nostalgic for those who were alive, and can allow for clever moments, as we see throughout.

Although the real crux on this episode is less about taking us back into the 70’s, and really about analyzing Homer and Marge’s bond. Thus far, while their relationship has been strong, it has been somewhat confusing as to what Marge sees in Homer, and why. It’s just hard to understand what she sees in him, even if her passion is strong. It’s a nice pairing, but it doesn’t make all that much sense, does it? And honestly, Homer’s dedication to Marge in particular is also somewhat confusing.

But here, we see just how Homer fascinates Marge, and how she similarly inspires him. The tutoring scene shows this particularly well, but that’s present throughout the episode and the times we see the two together, as well. With Homer, it makes sense, Marge makes her feel whole, which is why he never gives up on her throughout the episode. It may seem creepy that he can’t put two and two together when she clearly revokes her previous accepting of his invite, and it is, but there’s something a little sweet about his dedication. The fact that he keeps his distance from her on prom night helps to keep him away from desperate stalker territory. Although he sure comes close early on, when Homer follows Marge around and tries his hardest to make it on the debate team.

Marge’s giving into Homer, meanwhile, comes off as unfortunate on the surface. Artie, her eventual prom date, comes off as charming and bookish, but he’s the real kind of scumbag who can’t, won’t take no for an answer, because why should he? Artie Ziff is a star student, and bound for a great future ahead of him, as opposed to that ignoramus Homer. A date like Marge should be proud to hook up with her.

This is all too real, and all too gross. There are too many men like Artie out there, and he’s unfortunately supported by too significant of a portion of society. Particularly people like Patty and Selma, who remain as condescending as ever. Their line about Marge getting homely dates for not putting out tells you all you need to know about their character. They also help boost Artie’s ego, who himself is proud to admit how handsome he is.

Never mind Artie’s request that Marge doesn’t reveal the truth about his “busy hands”, as he doesn’t want to affect his reputation. Pathetic and disgusting.

Homer definitely looks better in comparison, even if he crosses some lines of his own. Marge was right to be upset by his lying about taking French, and he does get off a little easy, but I’m able to buy her ability to forgive him and give him another shot.

It’s fun to see this look at Homer and Marge in their youth, and to go backwards in time. This won’t be the last time we look at Simpson family history, but this is a good way to start. We learn what drew Homer and Marge together, and get some good laughs along the way.

Stray Observations:

  • Chalkboard gag wars- “I will not cut corners” vs “I will not get very far with this attitude”. I admire the honesty of both of these, but cutting corners is

  • Couch gag wars- the couch falling over vs the couch dropping. They’re both nice!

  • Hmm, so one thing Greg Universe shares with the Simpsons family- Meatloaf Thursdays. I wonder if Rebecca Sugar had this episode on her mind?

  • The three life sentences that will get you through life- 1) “Cover for me” 2) “Oh, good idea boss” 3) “It was like that when I got there”

  • Won’t lie, it was weird to see a clean shaven Homer, even if only for a few seconds.

  • So Homer has a barbecue with Flanders, and a stern talking to from Burns to look forward to. I hope he brings the steaks.

  • “Goodbye Bart, I like your sheets”

  • Sadly, I don’t think we see more of these Siskel and Ebert spoofs.

  • We also see what makes Homer propose to Marge. lol

  • Hmm, well, we’ve learned thus far that Homer and Marge are 3 years apart, so being seniors together is… hmm.

  • “English, who needs that? I’m never going to England. Let’s go smoke.”

  • Abe’s line about not shooting too high hits a little close to home for me. Doesn’t stop me from trying, anyway.

  • If Barney was Elliott Gould, then he wouldn’t be Barney. But that insult would still be valid if she just didn’t like Gould.

  • New Character Column- We meet Rainier Wolfcastle as McBain on the TV, a fun enough Schwarzenegger spoof. Artie Ziff and Akira will also show up sporadically over the course of the series.

  • it’s a small world after all- In the first episode, we have George Takei playing Akira, the waiter, but he’ll forever be known as Mr. Sulu in Star Trek. And also his social media presence. And we see Jon Lovitz for the first time on the series, an SNL alum.