66. Marge Gets a Job

“Power plant retirement party? Right this way…”

  • First broadcast: Thursday 5 November 1992, Fox Television
  • First shown on UK terrestrial television: Monday 20 April 1998, BBC2
  • Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss
  • First draft: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein
  • Writing staff: Jay Kogen, Wallace Wolodarsky, George Meyer, Jon Vitti, John Swartzwelder, Jeff Martin, David Stern, Conan O’Brien, Frank Mula, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein
  • Storyboard: Jeff Lynch, Kevin O’Brien
  • Animation director: Jeff Lynch

This is one of those episodes where the right people came up with the goods every step of the way: a brilliant original idea by Conan O’Brien, written up as a fantastic script by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, then superbly polished and produced by Al Jean and Mike Reiss, and finally animated with huge fun and affection by Jeff Lynch. Not a weak link to be seen, from start to finish.

Plot
As the title says, Marge gets a job. But as it’s season four, before she gets the job there has to be a comical reason for the Simpson family needing more money (their house is subsiding on one side), followed by a comical reason for a job vacancy to present itself (a power plant employee retirement party), followed by a comical reason for Marge to get the job (she fabricates her CV), and so on. We’re more than halfway through the story before she actually begins the job and Mr Burns develops a crush on her (which was O’Brien’s original idea). If you pick the whole thing apart, there’s little left save that original idea, but it’s one of those episodes where the peripheral stuff is so strong that the journey is almost better than the destination. 10

Characters
It’s the first proper story to involve Mr Burns this season, and it’s a treat. We already know enough about the perimeters of the character to not need any explanation for how and why he behaves the way he does. The writers know this too, so they waste no time in having fun at his expense. Hence the scene where Burns and Smithers reminisce about digging up Al Jolson (“The rest of that night is something I’d like to forget”) or where Burns has an employee thrown out of his own retirement party (“I’ve not finished!” “Oh yes you have!”). Burns, Marge and Homer are kept apart until the very end of the episode, which is exactly the right thing to do. For dramatic purposes, bringing the three of them together is too potent a device to deploy when the story is only partly told. Marge is in Streetcar mode, taking charge and keeping her head (despite lying her way into the job). By contrast Homer is far from at his best, appearing inconsiderate, ill-informed and – when he drinks a free sample of washing-up liquid – idiotic. At least he stands by Marge at the end, even if he doesn’t seem quite sure why. 8

Locations and design
Mr Burns’ office is now the most exciting location in Springfield. Not only does it have a giant wall of monitors on which he can observe and mock his workforce (“Jackanapes! Lollygaggers! Noodleheads!”) along with the comfiest chair and tallest windows and softest carpet and swankiest furnishings. It also has not one but TWO secret compartments, each of which can be opened at the push of a button and which are big enough to house, respectively, Tom Jones & Mr Smithers, and “10 high-priced lawyers”. Oh, and there’s the trap door in front of Mr Burns’ desk which we haven’t seen yet but which plays a key role in many future episodes. Burns always looks unhappy when he has to set foot outside this magical grotto of contraptions – and who can blame him? 10

Pardon My Zinger
There is a sub-plot running alongside Marge getting a job, involving Bart faking a series of ailments to avoid taking a school test. His mock cries of pain – “Oh, my ovaries!” – are among the episode’s funniest moments, likewise Mrs Krabappel’s tired incantation of Bart’s brush with “smallpox, the bends and that unfortunate bout of rabies.” When Grampa thinks Maggie is unwell, we get even more arcane diagnoses, including housemaid’s knee, the staggers and dum-dum fever. All the scenes at the power plant retirement party are superb, including the setting: the ruins of the ‘Spruce Caboose’, a wrecked train converted into a series of function rooms, complete with headless brakemen playing the part of ushers. Less subtle but no less funny is the moment when Marge, on her first day at work at the power plant, pushes a button on a machine and there is immediately a huge off-camera explosion. 10

Special guests
Tom Jones does what’s required of him, including singing two of The Hits, getting gassed and being hit on the head. He takes it all in good grace and sounds surprisingly natural. It helps that the writers give him some appealingly down-to-earth turns of phrase (“Sorry mate…” “Get help, love!…”) Phil Hartman is back again as Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz. The former has clearly fallen on hard times since hosting the Miss American Girl Pageant, as he’s now fronting the straight-to-video Half-Assed Approach to Foundation Repair. Still, we’ll no doubt remember him from such instructional films as Mothballing Your Battleship and Dig Your Own Grave and Save. 10

Music
At one point we see Mr Burns in his office looking at his wall of monitors, and the soundtrack quotes a bit of the Imperial March from the Star Wars films. It doesn’t work because it’s too on-the-nose. We know Burns is a nasty piece of work; why telegraph the fact so obviously? Far more imaginative, and therefore successful, is the song that Smithers performs at the retirement party for the power plant employee. Yes, it’s yet another lift from Citizen Kane, but is done with so much care – both musically and visually – that it overcomes any charge of laziness and becomes exceptional in its own right. There’s even a gag slipped into the lyrics (“He’s Monty Burns!” “I’m MR Burns!”). Listen also for the delightful “calling all workers” music that plays under the sequence of the plastic tube rattling round the factory, and the plaintive two-note sting that ends part one, when Bart sits up after falling out of his bedroom window. 9

Voices
Phil Hartman imprints himself on your brain for eternity when, as Troy McClure, he advises viewers of The Half-Assed Approach to Foundation Repair that they’ll need some “corrosion-resistant metal stucco lath”. But what if we can’t find metal stucco lath? “USE CARBON FIBRE STUCCO LATH!” he bellows, ecstatically. Following close behind is Smithers’ howl of despair when his freshly-scrubbed toilet is despoiled by a torrent of urine from Homer, and Lionel Hutz’s shriek of terror when Mr Burns unveils his 10 high-priced lawyers. 9

Animation direction
Jeff Lynch fills the episode with memorable frames. There is Smithers’ office, with the giant picture of Mr Burns seemingly looking straight down at him:

Grampa advancing on Bart with an oral thermometer:

The skyline when the retired plant employee is kicked off the Spruce Caboose:

The way the same employee slumps in his chair when failing to get his job back:

The sight of the wolf and Willie charging towards each other:

And the staging of Mr Burns’ song, particularly the final frame:

Mr Burns has never looked happier. 10

Homages, spoofs, fantasies
It’s possible that this has the greatest number of fantasy sequences of any Simpsons episode so far: 1) Homer’s fantasy of being retired (which is him lying on the couch); 2) Homer’s fantasy of living wild in the woods, cut short when he realises he forgot to bring the TV; 3) Bart’s fantasy of Marie and Pierre Curie as giant radioactive monsters (“It’s the Curies! We must flee!”)

4) Smithers’ fantasy of Mr Burns floating in through the bedroom window and descending towards him (cut short by the Fox censors to avoid showing any bodily contact)

and 5) Mr Burns’ fantasy of Marge’s husband as a tousled-haired hunk, laughing and calling him a “senile old fool”. Quality doesn’t lose out to quantity, however. All five sequences are timed perfectly and fit the mood of the episode exactly. 10

Emotion and tone
This story revels in a very broad, knockabout tone. There’s more than a touch of Carry On At Your Convenience, especially in Mr Burns’ wooing of Marge and her outrage at his intentions. The script wisely suggests Burns’ treatment of Marge is both stupid and unsustainable, and the closing scenes seem to bear this out, though there is one exchange between him and Marge that sounded more tasteless than amusing in 1992, and now just sounds hideous (Marge: “I’m going to sue the pants off you.” Burns: “You don’t have to sue me to get my pants off.”) 7

Verdict: 93%
B-b-b-b-b-BURNS.

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