Episodes focusing on Marge and Homer’s marriage almost collapsing are old hat by now for longtime Simpsons fans. But as we all know, everyone has to start somewhere.
And this time around, Marge is the problem, not Homer.
We shouldn’t let Homer completely off the hook here. His thoughtless gift on Marge’s forgotten birthday does get the ball rolling. The ball in question is a bowling ball. Homer not only forgot Marge’s birthday, but he also has a habit of buying gifts that are really for himself.
To be fair to Homer, many people have problems buying gifts for loved ones. It’s not always an easy task. And we do see him trying. And we can maybe assume that he got Marge a gift of something he enjoys knowing its fun.
But he got the ball made to his own fingers and with his name engraved on the side. He knew what he was doing.
From there, after a really off-the-wall scene at a steakhouse where the wait staff sings for every table (this was another John Swartzwelder script), where Homer’s gift very symbolically smashes the birthday cake before anyone can have any, and with Patty and Selma providing their fun-sapping commentary, Marge opts to actually use Homer’s gift and go bowling.
That’s where Marge finds temptation, in a suave womanizing bowling instructor named Jacques, voiced again by comedic great Albert Brooks. Credit to the animators for making Marge’s bowling lessons look downright sensual. Likewise, Marge’s temptation makes a lot of sense. Homer isn’t very considerate a husband, Marge is getting attention and the possibility of bowling-themed romance, so while the viewer certainly doesn’t want to see Marge cheat on Homer, he or she can also easily see why Marge might be tempted to cheat.
Credit also the episode for showing how Marge’s action affect Homer and the kids. Lisa of course picks up on the whole thing first, but even Bart can’t miss the obvious. For all that the kids are involved, it’s really Homer’s silent pain at loosing the woman he loves that makes the episode as much as Marge’s understandable reactions to Jacques’ pick-up lines. Homer just doesn’t know what to do, and his own advice repeated back to him by Bart (“Keep your trap shut!”) obviously isn’t all that helpful. But here’s the thing: Homer may be bad at buying gifts, and he may be rude, obnoxious, and stupid, but he’s also rather sweet when dealing with Marge. His childlike appreciation of Marge’s PB&J making skills manage to say more than he could ever on how she makes him feel, and the two reconciling at the Power Plant makes for a wonderful moment.
That will, apparently, last for ten minutes.