Compare & Contrast: Marge’s Competitors and Failure Generally

The Twisted World of Marge Simpson14

“I was wrong to have a dream.  Wrong as usual.  I mean, if you’re nothing special, why kid yourself?” – Marge Simpson 

The obvious choice for comparing and contrasting Marge’s sandwich shop in “Super Franchise Me” is her pretzel wagon in “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson”.  In both episodes, we see Marge not only strike out on her own a bit, but into the food industry, and with eventually poor results.  Of course, in Season 8, we get into the story right away, instead of wading through an unrelated opening (montage included); and it makes a lot more sense that she’d be able to open a garage-based franchise with $500 instead of the never mentioned five or six figures required for a full blown retail store; and the endings are vastly different, with one tying nicely into the rest of the episode, while the other involves another random incident in an episode that already had way too many of them.  (Oh, and they needlessly repeat Cletus listing his kids.)  Instead of getting into all that, however, I’d like to take a closer look at Marge’s competition and, more broadly, what it says about how Springfield itself is presented in The Simpsons and Zombie Simpsons.

The first scene in “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson” is a meeting of the “Investorettes” over coffee.  In addition to Marge, we’ve got Helen Lovejoy, Luann van Houten, Maude Flanders, Edna Krabappel, and, of course, Agnes Skinner (It means Lamb, Lamb of God!).  The setup doesn’t require any explanation because we can tell right away what they’re doing: they’re a group of women with a few extra dollars who are getting into business.

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“Children are so fat today!  Isn’t there some way we can make money off that?”

The conflict that will eventually escalate into a mob war is all set up right here in the opening scene.  It’s Marge versus her erstwhile partners, and it’s strong enough to carry an entire episode without any assistance from a B-plot.  After their initial falling out, we see each side countering the other a couple of times, and it builds on itself all the way to the little guy asking for “forgiveness, please”.

Moreover, the Investorettes are clearly the stronger party.  They get the sleek, looks like it doesn’t even need your business, Fleet-A-Pita truck, while Marge is left hauling pretzels around in the back of her beat up station wagon.  They kicked her out, they go after her business when all she’s doing is trying to work, and they hire even more vicious mobsters than Homer does.  They are a strong and worthy foe for Marge, and the episode reflects that in everything from Marge only buying a franchise to spite them all the way to Chief Wiggum and Helen diving away from the exploding truck.

The story is well built enough to both fill the time and add emotional heft, which means that the show is free to crack jokes and cram in as many funny scenes as possible.  There’s Jack Lemmon’s terrible introduction video (where he has to walk away from the camera before he sits down, check for millipedes, and extol the futuristic virtues of working in a garage).  There’s the franchise saleswoman allaying Helen Lovejoy’s nativist suspicions by calling a pita a “Ben Franklin”.  There’s Homer guilting Fat Tony, Skinner’s “boaking” accident, and the barrage of pretzels knocking Whitey down.  The combat between the two groups gives a purpose to all the mayhem.

Compare that to the complete lack of friction between Marge’s sandwich shop and the one that the Cletus clan opens across the street.  They have no history with Marge and aren’t even in the episode before Bart points out their competing franchise.  We don’t see why they’d want to do this, why the franchise lady would set them up next to Marge, nothing.


Oh, look, the antagonists have arrived . . . fourteen minutes into a twenty minute episode.

Compounding the stupidity is the way that, as soon as they open, Marge’s shop is simply assumed to be kaput.  If anyone should be able to compete and win against Cletus – in food, no less – it’s Marge.  But Zombie Simpsons doesn’t so much as entertain the idea.  Instead, they cram a bunch of weak redneck references in there because . . . well, because that’s what they think is funny with Cletus.  It sucks for the same reason that there’s a difference between Skinner getting his hand broken, and Skinner getting his hand broken so that the mob can force him, at laser targeted gunpoint, to use school money to buy pretzels from an unsuspecting Marge.  Goofy shit is a lot funnier if it has a reason to be goofy, or, as Krusty once put it, the pie gag only works if the poor sap’s got dignity.

Beyond just the plot flimsiness, however, Cletus and family showing up out of nowhere to succeed for no reason is another manifestation of the many ways Zombie Simpsons has hollowed out the wonderfully bleak premises of The Simpsons.  Opening a national fast food franchise costs a lot of money and, if it works, is a ticket to serious prosperity.  By contrast, paying five hundred bucks for a poster and a bug infested bag of “ingredients”, or even opening a food truck, is the kind of low-rent adventure the citizens of a small and poor town might actually do.  It fits with who we know the characters are, which not only makes it easier to believe in the story, but also opens the rest of it up for satire.

Frank Ormand isn’t a bad guy, but he knows how hard and humiliating it is to hang off one of the lowest rungs in American capitalism.  He’s a good natured and well meaning hustler, but a hustler nevertheless.  The mystery lady who only shows up when the plot demands it, on the other hand, is just another Lindsey Naegle clone, with no motivation, no backstory (implied or otherwise), and nothing to do but spit out exposition and shallow punchlines (mostly exposition, though).  To wit:

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Frank Ormand:  Ooh, you sound like me.  Well, the old me, which was, ironically, the young me.  I was once like you were, young lady, like all these people, lost in a sea of flashy gimmicks and empty promises.  Then God tossed me a life preserver, a tasty, golden brown, life preserver.

That’s how he starts his pitch: homey, friendly, and encouraging.  In just his few brief scenes, we see a guy who’s not trying to scam anyone, he’s just locked into a shitty business that, despite decades of evident failure, he even still believes in.  The earnesty and desperation are what makes his cornball pitch funny, like a used car salesman who’d be personally hurt by anyone who thinks his overpriced jalopies aren’t quality automobiles at bargain prices.  Then there’s this:


Trudy Zengler:  Marge, see this face?  It’s opportunity.  Blink and you’ll miss it. . . . Just kidding, I’m right behind you.  I’m Trudy Zengler, vice-president of development for Mother Hubbard’s Sandwich Cupboards.  How would you like to run your own business, take control of your financial future?

We don’t know who she is or why she’s there, but she’s got a zany pitch and a helpfully expository question that just happens to apply to some worries that neither we nor she knew Marge had at that moment.  Ormand’s is great because it’s a Simpsonized version of what a guy like him would actually say.  Hers falls flat because it’s a rote recitation of facts that don’t make any sense.  Frank Ormand’s desperation is genuine; Trudy Zengler, on the other hand, has about as much personality and depth as the cardboard cutout they later have Burns fall in love with.

On The Simpsons, trying is the first step towards failure.  So when Marge tries her best, she indeed fails miserably.  (If you want some butter, it’s under her face.)  But on Zombie Simpsons, cool stuff just happens all the time.  The sandwich shop is a hit and only gets stopped because someone else’s is an even bigger hit.  In the Springfield of The Simpsons, neither Marge nor Cletus would ever have had the money to even open the store.  But in the Springfield of Zombie Simpsons, money is no object and even the dirt poorest are rich when they need to be.  Cloying optimism was never part of The Simpsons, but it’s hard to imagine Zombie Simpsons without it.

33 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Marge’s Competitors and Failure Generally”

  1. 15 October 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Amen, well stated and said.

  2. 3 Joe Crofts
    15 October 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Sigh, another instance of the ‘instant professional’ trope…

  3. 6 Stan
    15 October 2014 at 5:32 pm

    Why is that earring clipped to her cheekbone?

  4. 7 Joe H
    15 October 2014 at 7:22 pm

    This episode also had some bizarre Family Guy-style cartoon cartoon gags. Not only does Gil apparently have mutant bird legs, but one of Cletus’s sons has a monkey tail.

    • 8 Charlie Sweatpants
      15 October 2014 at 9:35 pm

      The Gil legs were definitely weird. I hadn’t thought of those as Family Guy-style, but you’re right, they kinda are.

      • 9 FireFlower
        16 October 2014 at 9:36 am

        A “joke” like that makes even less sense when they showed Gil’s legs in a much earlier episode. He was dressed as a female basketball mascot…and he had shapely womanly legs.

    • 16 October 2014 at 10:34 am

      Best laugh I had during this episode was my sister saying that Gil is a direct descendant of the Southern chicken lawyer from Futurama.

  5. 12 FireFlower
    15 October 2014 at 7:49 pm

    They had Burns fall in love with a cardboard cutout? The same thing happened to Comic Book Guy last season!

    HA HA HA!

  6. 13 Anonymous
    15 October 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Charlie Sweatpants never fails to be eloquent and observative when comparing and contrasting these episodes. Keep up the good work.

  7. 14 LSP
    15 October 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Charlie Sweatpants never fails to be eloquent and observative when comparing and contrasting these episodes. Keep up the good work.

  8. 16 ecco6t9
    15 October 2014 at 9:43 pm

    They had all those hillbilly sandwiches but I thought a franchise could not make their own menu except with limited exceptions?

    • 17 Joe H
      15 October 2014 at 11:58 pm

      That whole Cletus sequence seemed like a lazy afterthought. Thinking about it for more than 2 seconds makes the whole premise fall apart.

  9. 18 Sarah J
    15 October 2014 at 9:46 pm

    I don’t get why ZS fans can treat this as the same show as The Simpsons. Everything is completely different. I still maintain that if you took Zombie Simpsons scripts and altered them slightly, changing character and location names, design, and animation style, it would pass for a show completely unrelated to The Simpsons and it wouldn’t be very popular. Sometimes I see people argue that ZS is only bad when compared to The Simpsons and that, on it’s own, it’s still better than most stuff on TV, but I disagree. This is a crappy show, plain and simple. ZS isn’t just inconsistent with The Simpsons, it’s inconsistent with itself. Characters just do things based on what’s convenient, not what they’d do or be able to do.

    (on a side note, wouldn’t the script-playing be kind of a fun project? Do alterations, get some voice actors, animate it, show it to people, and see if they recognize that it’s supposed to be like The Simpsons)

    A lot of the changes in the show aren’t just to do with less competent writing, it’s writing that just doesn’t get the show or the characters. Charlie is right, ZS represents a pretty positive world where the Simpson family is actually very well-off. Zombie Simpsons are what I like to call “TV Poor”. TV Poor characters are usually the result of writers trying and failing to write low-income characters, either because they have no idea what being low-income is like, or because they want the characters to be happy (either out of wish-fulfillment or because they love the characters and don’t want to see them suffer too much) or because they can’t think of enough shenanigans for a low-income family to get into. I don’t know a whole lot about the ZS writers, so I can’t say what it is for sure. The hipster-ness of a lot of ZS episodes suggests either the wish-fulfillment or the not-knowing-what-poor-is.

    • 15 October 2014 at 10:35 pm

      Well said! Also remember when Homer won a million dollars in the lotto? That episode had many plot holes in it and TV Poor should be a trope btw.

      • 20 Sarah J
        18 October 2014 at 3:04 am

        … Heh, I made it a trope a while back, though it’s called Informed Poverty. Feel free to add to it; it needs more love.

        And that lottery episode was so stupid. I know Homer is an idiot, but did he REALLY think Marge would be so upset after they got so much money? I kind of imagined he’d at least buy her something nice when he breaks the news in an attempt to keep her calm. And why would he spend money on going to zero gravity heights, or having a private Coldplay concert? Again, it feels like writer wish-fulfillment. The things THEY’D do if THEY had the money, not what Homer would do when he has it. Giving Homer a million dollars is pretty outlandish and kind of breaks the whole “working class family” thing, but they could still do some really funny stuff with it.

    • 21 Frank
      15 October 2014 at 11:39 pm

      despite my positive review below, I like what you said here, especially about TV poor characters. In the episode where Lisa gets her sax, the family can barely afford an air conditioner. In the second episode with Homer’s brother, Homer struggles with what to do with $500, spend it or give it away, knowing that he won’t see that type of money again.

      in this episode, Marge somehow struggles with the bills and savings, yet has enough money to buy a restaurant franchise. a pretzel franchise is probably a couple of thousand bucks, at most. a subway? I figure a couple of hundred-thousand bucks.

    • 23 Joe H
      16 October 2014 at 12:06 am

      The show definitely operates on a Family Guy sitcom conceit of its own premise just for the sake to getting an episode in the can. The Simpsons spent a decade establishing themselves as blue-collar working class Americans and whenever they strayed from that lifestyle, the show would go to great lengths to (temporarily) justify it. Now it’s just “a rich businesswoman shows up out of the blue and grants a random housewife her own franchise”

      Even the Flintsones put more effort and rationale in depicting their standard of living as a working-class family.

      In this same episode we have this problem. Apparently they can’t buy their own freezer locker, but can get a lease on a major restaurant chain just like that without even trying?

      • 24 ecco6t9
        16 October 2014 at 1:53 am

        I will give Family Guy credit that they explained once that Fox pays for everything. (Farmer Guy)

      • 26 Sarah J
        18 October 2014 at 2:56 am

        Yeah, it really breaks the suspension of disbelief. It’s one thing to break a few rules once in a while for comedy or to move a story, but Zombie Simpsons operates on no rules. The family can be poor or wealthy just based on what’s convenient for the story, so it’s hard to buy that they’re an “average American family”. This kind of thing is Bad Writing 101. It’s like the writers don’t know they’re supposed to be writing The Simpsons; they think they’re writing an anthology series and that’s why everything is totally different from episode to episode.

        On a side note, in addition to the reasons for the Hollywood Poor writing I listed, I should’ve added a common criticism of Zombie Simpsons: it may just be a symptom of the show being on too long. It’s no secret that as the show went on, it began to rely increasingly on crazier and crazier plots. The Simpsons had its share of craziness, but it was in smaller doses. Homer Goes to Space was something you’d see no more than a few times a season, not every episode. It’s much more difficult for the writers to keep the family grounded in what is supposed to be their “reality”, for lack of a better word. Of course, this still has to be combined with lazy writing to get us the craptacular Zombie Simpsons result. They don’t even try to come up with a plausible (or at least funny) way for Marge to have a restaurant. Did she inherit it? Maybe she has some kind of mid-life crisis, and when some horrible crimes occur in a restaurant, it’s placed on the market for such a low price that she feels she can justify taking out the loans needed to buy it. (with a shady loan dealer place that tries to put on a friendly image) Or something. I dunno, I’m not a comedy writer.

    • 27 Hannah
      16 October 2014 at 7:46 pm

      “Sometimes I see people argue that ZS is only bad when compared to The Simpsons and that, on it’s own, it’s still better than most stuff on TV, but I disagree.”

      I think this trope began in the transitional years when it was pretty much true, beginning in season 8 (including the above mentioned episode), certainly for most of season 9 and even some of season 10, but has continued to be repeated past the point when it obviously no longer flys. I watched the Apu, Manjula, Elton John episode after many years of watching little to no Simpsons and was surprised how well it held up as an enjoyable and well done piece of animated comedy. What I remember from most of watching Season 10 the first time round (this was on the BBC so later than for Americans) was a sense of gnawing disappointment at the slow departure from the Simpsons legacy.

      • 28 Sarah J
        18 October 2014 at 2:34 am

        True. At that point, the quality declines, but the show is still entertaining. They might not hold up to the classics (which is admittedly a VERY high standard to hold a show to) but they’re still above average. But modern episodes I consider downright unwatchable. Nothing makes sense. Nothing is good. The show is lucky to get more than a smile or two out of me per episode. Even after I stopped watching, I’d still tune in for the Treehouse of Horror episodes, because those still remained pretty decent for a while. But even those went completely downhill eventually.

  10. 29 Frank
    15 October 2014 at 11:34 pm

    ok, i have to admit, i’ve seen worse episodes. but what I liked about this episode was what I didn’t actually see – I didn’t see Bart act like a 16-year-old teenage girl; i didn’t see Lisa act like a sanctimonious killjoy or faux-cultured artsy fartsy; didn’t see jackass homer; didn’t see any guest stars; didn’t see too many jokes that only people in 2014 would enjoy (except for that stupid Pintrest/Twitter comment by Cleetus); i didn’t see an angry, bitter marge or one that was over-dependent on her husband; i didn’t see a family breakdown over some stupidity. Burns was pretty goofy but not that goofy (he did try to dispose of the body).

    i’ll agree that the story was weak, the build-up to the main premise was weak and the resolution was horrible. but the actual characters (well most of them at least) seemed for a brief moment to be reflections of their former selves, which is more that I can say about the past few episodes.

    didn’t care for the homer vs. sloth thing, but I did like the hommage to Seurat’s famous painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”, possibly because I like that painting so much.

    In conclusion, this episode is a land of contrasts.

  11. 16 October 2014 at 10:27 am

    Woman in photo.. Has earring but… No earhole!!!

  12. 33 Turcano
    17 October 2014 at 5:24 pm

    They have no history with Marge and aren’t even in the episode before Bart points out their competing franchise. We don’t see why they’d want to do this, why the franchise lady would set them up next to Marge, nothing.

    Had this episode been made two decades ago, I would have taken that as a jab at Subway’s dodgy franchising practices. But we all know that this show no longer has the wontons to make fun of brands outside of clumsily altering the name.

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