One Bad Episode

“Aw, come on Dad. This can be the miracle that saves the Simpsons’ Christmas. If TV has taught me anything it’s that miracles always happen to poor kids at Christmas. It happened to Tiny Tim, it happened to Charlie Brown, it happened to the Smurfs, and it’s gonna happen to us.” – Bart Simpson

The Dead Homer Society Manifesto lists Season 7 as having “One Bad Episode”. That episode is “Marge Be Not Proud”. Please understand that we only consider “Marge Be Not Proud” a ‘bad’ episode by the towering standards of early season Simpsons. Compared with the wretched dreck that is Zombie Simpsons it is a model of wit and comic efficiency. But when compared to its contemporaries in Season 7, and its hallowed predecessors in Seasons 1-6, it is noticeably wanting. It is the first Simpsons episode I ever watched when I felt, in the pit of my stomach, the wrenching ball of embarrassment, disappointment, and confusion that I’ve since come to associate with Zombie Simpsons. It was the first episode at which I shook my head at its simplicity, it was the first episode when I felt like I was watching television.

For its first six seasons The Simpsons had viciously mocked and relentlessly parodied conventional television. That was one of the things that made it great. It was animated and had no laughtrack, but other than that it had all of the trappings of the standard family comedy: the working father, the precocious children, and the housewife who holds everything together. But instead of following the usual formula it used those cosmetic similarities to mercilessly gut that which came before it. “Marge Be Not Proud” was the first time the show ever sincerely employed the rote, brainless patterns of a normal program. It was, in the parlance of crappy television, a ‘very special episode’.

Sitcoms of all stripes occasionally have these ‘very special episodes’ wherein one of the characters comes under threat from a health crisis or makes a decision which runs afoul of American morality. This could be trying drugs, or cheating somehow, or even . . . stealing something. It was that indulgence in the cheap storytelling of regular television (Bart steals game -> Bart gets caught -> Bart feels bad -> Marge finds out -> Marge distrusts Bart -> Bart feels worse -> Bart makes good -> they (literally) hug at the end) that made “Marge Be Not Proud” an indisputable first for The Simpsons.

It’s not as though The Simpsons had never explicitly (and seriously) shown emotional family moments before. In the first season Marge rescued Lisa from bad motherly advice (Moaning Lisa), in the second season Marge accused Bart of ruining Thanksgiving (Bart vs. Thanksgiving), in the third season Homer didn’t want to go to Bart’s soapbox derby race (Saturdays of Thunder), in the fourth season Marge felt ignored by Homer during her play (A Streetcar Named Desire), in the fifth season Marge threw Homer out (Secrets of a Successful Marriage), and in the sixth season Lisa’s wedding (Lisa’s Wedding . . . duh) collapsed because of her love for Homer. Genuine emotional moments were often handled within the framework of the show and The Simpsons knew how to play them with a light touch; using them to swiftly advance the story and then getting them out of the way. But in “Marge Be Not Proud” the emotional moments don’t just linger, they grind the story to a halt with multiple sequences that are both painfully long and clumsily obvious.

This is a tendency that has grown considerably worse over time, but it found its first expression in “Marge Be Not Proud”. What’s so amazing about it is that it really is an outcast in Season 7. It was produced right after “Mother Simpson”, which had ample opportunities to delve into schlock and didn’t, and it preceded “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield”, “Bart the Fink”, “A Fish Called Selma” and “Summer of 4 Ft. 2”, all of which could’ve gone the same route but kept moving instead. It is the use of that shopworn, moralistic plot (and the agonizingly glacial pace at which it unfolds) that makes “Marge Be Not Proud” the harbinger of Zombie Simpsons, a precursor to that feculently unwatchable teevee charade. It is the first bad episode.

The astonishing coincidence in all of this is that “Marge Be Not Proud” aired six years – to the day – after The Simpsons premiered with “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”. That’s why December 17th is Simpsons Day. This date saw both the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, the dawn and the dusk.

36 Responses to “One Bad Episode”

  1. 1 green man
    3 May 2010 at 12:03 am

    you’re wrong

  2. 2 green man
    3 May 2010 at 12:05 am

    so very wrong

  3. 3 Charlie Sweatpants
    3 May 2010 at 6:42 pm

    “Great, good conversation there.” – KBBL Sunday Night DJ

  4. 4 May 2010 at 5:50 pm

    “Lisa’s Pony”

    • 5 B.Coleman
      22 October 2012 at 2:28 am

      That’s a great, classic episode! Please stop watching the Simpsons golden years. Actually, maybe you’d prefer Family Guy.

      • 6 B.Coleman
        22 October 2012 at 2:48 am

        Let me explain that better: by “golden years”, i meant “classic era”. Not golden years like senior citizen years, i.e. the current show. No one should watch that.

  5. 7 shweeney
    16 June 2010 at 4:08 am

    can’t remember much about that episode.

    IMO the drop off in quality became apparent *during* season 7 – I even remember thinking during “Who shot Mr Burns (Pt 2)” that it wasn’t as good as part 1. S7 is still pretty good, but nowhere near the heights of 3, 4, 5 and 6. S8 onwards – not really worth watching.

  6. 8 Stan
    16 September 2010 at 6:55 pm

    Well, there’s certainly something to discuss as you’re being overly subjective at some places. I wouldn’t say Season 1 was so great either. I’d even say Season 7 was better than Season 1. The real “gold” of the Simpsonsian era rather spans from around 1991 (when Homer rides this Yugoslavian dude’s car) to around 1997 (when he battles greased up Willie in the school). And that’s roughly Season 3 – 9.

    But really, who gives a fuck today…

  7. 9 Hugh Jass
    12 November 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Scenes from the Class Struggle is also a real stinker and a harbinger of things to come.

  8. 10 a lady
    15 November 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Watching the Season 7 DVDs in sequence is a bummer. There were some less-classic episodes during the first half of the season — it looks like I only really love the ones credited to Swartzwelder and Daniels — but everything from “Bart on the Road” on feels kind of sad to me.

    I mostly like “Marge Be Not Proud,” but I agree that it feels like the first of its kind. I somehow didn’t see it till years and years after it came out, and I remember thinking, “wow, this is pretty good for such a recent episode.”

    The half-assed ending of the very next episode, “Team Homer” — in which the fact that Homer comments on the suddenness of Burns’s two changes of heart is supposed to excuse the fact that it’s a lazy sitcom device — is similarly nasty harbinger. (And I like that episode!)

  9. 11 Josh
    16 November 2010 at 12:14 pm

    What about “Bart’s Girlfriend” from season 6? That was the first episode I remember hating. The rest of season 6 was spectacular though, so I guess I didn’t think about it too much after that. I’d say there were more warning signs in season 7 than just that episode though. I hated “Marge be not proud” as well but I was annoyed by “Mother Simpson”,”Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield”, “Bart the Fink”, “A Fish Called Selma” and “Summer of 4 Ft. 2”.

    Which I think you did too, so perhaps we’re on the same page.

    But I would like to formally request that the episode “You Only Move Twice” be allowed to secede from Zombie Simpsons. I love that episode and Scorpio was one of my favorite characters, before I stopped watching the show. The rest of season 8 can rot in hell though along with everything that came after it.

  10. 12 Lovejoy Fan
    13 December 2010 at 1:23 pm

    No offense, Josh, but I don’t think we’re on the same page (with the exception of “You only move Twice” – excellent episode). Season 8 had some great episodes, and “Bart’s Girlfriend” is one of my favourite episodes.

  11. 13 MrPlow42
    28 December 2010 at 11:14 am

    I just read an episode guide to see when I stopped watching. Yes, season 8 was when I kept asking myself ‘What is this shit?’, hoped the next one would be better and then just gave up when it wasn’t.

  12. 14 Infantedifunto
    4 January 2011 at 12:04 am

    I think that Bart’s girlfriend is the begining of the end. Un the season six ther are other awful episode: “Who shot mr. Burns”. In that episode begins a lack of verosimilitude and imagination. Burns tryng to eclipse the sun? By god’s sake!!!!

    And what do you say of “Homerpallooza”. Grat bands, graet music, but bad jokes. Or… what do you say of “Lisa the vegetarian” and “Lisa the iconoclast”. The beggining of the “new” Lisa, whom from a clever girl pass to became a genious moralistic who hates everything and don’t stop to complain aboit the morality of everybody.

    To me season 7 is a combination of good and bad episodes. The season 8 is the worst crime in the world of animation.

  13. 15 Johnny Calhoun
    20 January 2011 at 1:02 am

    Uh, a Milhouse Divided? Piss pants every time.

  14. 16 Wardy
    8 February 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Whatever, I still love the part where Bart doesn’t understand “capiche”, and then misinterprets it as “catfish” when recalling the security guard’s speech in the car. I think I cried the first time I saw this episode and heard him say catfish.

    And You Only Move Twice is a top 10 Simpsons episode, easily. For it to be shamelessly “lumped in” with your 8-11 quota does it such a grave injustice, you’re no better than the producers of the Simpsons themselves by shitting on their own legacy with 10 god-awful seasons. Same goes for Homer vs The City of New York and The Cartridge Family, probably Swartzwelder’s finest hour, and with an unpredictable ending to boot.

  15. 2 March 2011 at 7:09 am

    I thoguht it was going to be Skinner the Impostor, for sure. The Cartridge Family was maybe the last great one. “But Marge, I swear, I _never_ _thought_ _you’d_ _find_ _out!_” also “fast kicking, low scoring and ties? you bet!” i say duringe very world cup

  16. 19 Mr.
    22 April 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Well… So what in your opinion the Simpsons could do better so this episode felt like other episodes?

    Also – What about the jokes in this epsode? Do you find them all crappy or what?

  17. 20 Mike!
    1 June 2011 at 1:06 am

    I’d love to see this elaborated on further. I really don’t see how the story structure or emotional moments are any different than any other episodes of the classic era. It’s a really sweet episode, and plus there are so many frigging great bits in here. Come on! Lee Carvello’s Putting Challenge!

  18. 21 Darren
    14 June 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I don’t really see how you guys could see this as a bad episode. It’s emotional moments are poignant and even on multiple viewings it’s still there. That’s what makes all the great emotional episodes of the classic era great. As for it being sort of cliched how about Homer’s Night Out from season 1 probably the worst case the show ever had of being a shitty 1980’s sitcom. Homer’s speech at the ending is one of the worst moments of the classic era. But disregarding that what made many great classic era episodes great emotionally was that they were able to take a sitcom cliche and make it interesting/hilarious and filled with down to earth powerful moments. I can pinpoint many many episodes in season 6 that are just so boring to watch A Star is Burns/Greyhounds/Fear of Flying. Season 7 was actually a breath of fresh air after two seasons of Mirkin’s rapid pace gag fest era. The Mirkin era is the furthest from being bad(season 5 is my 2nd favourite season behind season 2) but by season 6 I feel the concepts of every episode being completely gag driven had run its course.

  19. 22 Mikko
    11 August 2011 at 3:50 pm

    It’s a good thing that I don’t watch tv other than for a couple of shows or movies so everything I see feels very fresh although I might know that they/I am dealing with cliches.

  20. 23 Mr.X
    20 August 2011 at 5:42 am

    This really doesn’t make any sense. Firstly, season 8 is good. Second worst of the classic era yes, but not “shit” at all. Secondly, how the fuck does “Marge Be Not Proud” signal “the end” of the Simpsons? It’s a fantastic episode, I’d put it my top 20 and actually portrays Bart as a complex character and explores his relationship with Marge. Sure, it is a very emotional episode but in no way does it “grind the episode to a halt”. The ending where Marge finds the picture of her and hugs him has to be one of the most heart warming moments of the series, but it’s still very Simpsonian. Besides, you talk about The Simpsons parodying crappy sitcoms and not mimicking them, well I can tell you Season 1 is the most guilty season of that, as Darren mentioned.

    And even if it was a bad episode it wouldn’t signal “the end”. Numerous classic episodes came after MBNP. Summer of 4’2, Lisa the Iconoclast, The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show, Much Apu About Nothing, 22 Short Films. All A or A+ episodes. I can’t help but feel you dislike the episode for some irrational deep personal reason and this is just some hollow excuse to cover that up.

  21. 24 Rutiger
    13 October 2011 at 6:23 pm


  22. 25 zxcvb
    28 October 2011 at 7:56 pm

    As someone who agrees with your sites basic manifesto, you guys are horrendously wrong about “Marge Be Not Proud.” In fact, it’s a perfect example of The Simpsons ability to put their own subversive twist on classic sitcom tropes. A normal sitcom would have ended with Bart giving Marge the framed photo. Or may have Marge offer to buy Bonestorm for Bart, only to have him say, “No, thanks.”

    But instead Marge secretly buys Bart a new videogame! — except it’s, um, Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge. And then Bart pretends to like it, demonstrating legit maturity on his part. Brilliant and touching.

    The TRUE “One Bad Episode” of Season 7 would be “Bart on the Road” — even for The Simpsons’ cartoon universe it has too many logic leaps). Either that or “Homerpalooza” — whereas Homer At the Bat turned its guest stars into funny bit characters (“Lord Palmerston!”) Homerpalooza just uses them as cameos (“Sonic Youth is raiding my cooler!”)

    • 26 zxcvb
      28 October 2011 at 7:58 pm

      BTW, Season 7 is still my 2nd favorite season (after S6) because it also has a disproportionately large number of the funniest and best Simpsons eps.

  23. 27 Darren
    29 October 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Bart on the Road is great you monster.

  24. 28 Anonymous
    14 December 2011 at 9:45 am

    Look, we can all probably think of the episode that tipped the scales for us personally, but surely we can all agree that beginning with season 7 or 8 and onward there were fewer and fewer great/good episodes per season. By season 10 or so…it was all terrible and the original show was dead.

    This wasn’t a switch being flicked – it was a slow, painful descent.

  25. 14 December 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Disagree massively about ‘Marge Be Not Proud’.

    I’d say it’s emotional, not sentimental – while it does fit the formula of a traditional emotional episode, it’s done very well within that formula.
    The difference between emotion and sentimentality is whether that emotion connects for the audience member, or is sickly and repulsive – everything in MBNP is the former, rather than the latter.

    Every emotion and character point – Bart’s disappointment at getting Lee Carvalio, his desire to hide his crime from Marge, Marge’s ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’ reaction, Bart going in to get his photo taken seperately – it’s all genuine, identifiable, human emotion.

    There’s some really good gags as well – ‘Everything but kapeesh’; ‘That must be the happiest kid in the world’; ‘Marge, is Lisa at Camp Granada?’; the visual gags of Nelson’s vest and Bart’s marshmallow are all things that stand out.

    Rather than being the harbinger of the downfall, I’d classify MBNP as a classic, probably one of the top ten or so episodes The Simpsons ever did.

    I think the desire for a nice, neat explanation has led the writers wrong here, but generally a very good blog – this is the only entry I’ve seen that I’d completely, 180 degree disagree with.

  26. 31 bencoccio
    9 February 2012 at 10:38 am

    Sure, now he’s just a little boy stealing little toys. But someday he’ll be a grown man stealing stadiums and … quarries.

  27. 32 Anonymous
    17 February 2012 at 11:03 am

    This blog is ridiculous.

    MBNP is outstanding.

    If I wanted smoke blown up my ass, I would have stayed at home with a pack of cigarrettes and a short length of hose.

    I rest my case,

  28. 33 Doctor Colossus
    7 March 2012 at 10:29 pm

    first really bad episode – Bart Star imo. A few average/dull ones beforehand though

  29. 34 drewzuhoskydaily
    20 June 2012 at 3:49 pm

    This is a heartwarming episode. The last scene where Bart plays Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge makes me laugh EVERY TIME! “Ball is in… Parking Lot! Would you like to play again?” (beep!) “You have selected ‘no.'”

  30. 35 B.Coleman
    22 October 2012 at 2:33 am

    I thought this “one bad episode” was going to be the Sherri Bobbins one. That one really sucks.

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