Poor Julie Kavner. You can hear how hard it is for her to do the Marge voice in the Modern seasons. Just let the lady retire before her throat gives out!
Marge has always been one of my least favorite Simpsons characters. Not to say she’s bad by any means. Her stories just never really entertained me all that much.
The simple reason is that, nine times out of ten, Marge was the straight-man of the show. In a family full of absurd weirdos, she was the one who almost resembled a normal human person. Whenever anyone else in the family got into bizarre hijinks, she was usually the first to heave a sigh.
In that regard, Marge was an excellent addition to the cast. She perfectly highlighted even the smallest jokes. Like this one:
Homer’s Brain: It’s time to tell her your darkest secret.The Front, Season 4; Episode 19
Homer: Marge, I ate all your scented soaps in the bathroom.
Marge: Oh my god!
Homer’s Brain: No, the other secret!
Homer: Marge, I never graduated from high school.
Marge: Well, that still doesn’t explain why you ate my soap. Oh wait… maybe it does.
This straight-man mentality was also often used to highlight Marge’s skill and competence. Mainly by highlighting how absurdly stupid and incompetent everyone else around her is. Not in a mean-spirited way, mind you; this isn’t that new Velma show. Again, Marge is the normal person in an absurd world.
One of my favorite examples of this can be found in the episode ‘The Springfield Connection’ from season six. In this episode, Marge becomes a police officer, the only good one in the whole town. We’re treated to a delightful training montage that highlights how badass Marge is while hilariously displaying how worthless Wiggum and the rest of the force can be.
All that isn’t to say that Marge can’t be silly. When she’s interacting with the children of Springfield, she takes leave of her role as the straight-man. Instead, she becomes the clueless but well-meaning mother that accidentally embarrasses you with her displays of affection.
One of my favorite examples of this can be found in the season six episode ‘The PTA Disbands’, in which Marge becomes the substitute teacher for Bart’s class. Here, she does what any loving mother would do: immediately points out her connection to Bart and remains blissfully ignorant to all the pointing and laughing his peers put him through for it. Granted, this is more of a Bart scene than a Marge one, but it’s still a strong highlight of that particular trait.
Of course, Marge wouldn’t be such a memorable or beloved character if she was just the funny straight-man or cringe-worthy loving mother. She also had plenty of grounded heart-felt moments that gave her a great amount of depth.
A particularly notable one is her constant struggle to balance her own self-indulgence with her responsibilities as a mother. Marge often swings too far in either direction, either neglecting herself for her family’s sake or neglecting her family for her own desires. Like the episode where she gets addicted to gambling in ‘$pringfield (Or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)’.
One of the best examples of this can be found in the season seven episode ‘Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield.’ In this episode, Marge purchases an expensive Chanel suit on discount as a rare personal indulgence. Because of this suit, she’s invited to join a snobby country club. As the story progresses, she begins to berate Homer and the kids for their behavior.
Naturally, this hurts her children, which helps snap her back to reality. Upon realizing that she’s changing for the worse, she decides to leave the country club behind and instead go out for a fast-food dinner with her family. It’s a lovely scene that perfectly highlights the flaws and strengths of Marge’s character.
So what does Modern Simpsons do with Marge? One of two things: put a strain on her marriage with Homer or make her the cringe-worthy mother.
The former isn’t a bad idea. In fact, it’s one that Classic Simpsons explored a few times. The problem is that the Modern versions of these stories don’t do anything smart or interesting with it. Often times, Marge will get upset for no reason, then she’ll resolve the conflict for no reason.
Aside from that, she just says embarrassing things. Or does nothing at all. She doesn’t get a whole lot of focus in the Modern episodes; she’s usually sidelined for Homer or the kids.
Of course, all of her character depth has been completely stripped away. She’s not even the straight-man anymore, much less the struggling mother. The writers have basically reduced her to a side character!
Granted, that may be for the best. You can feel how much it hurts Julie Kavner to do the Marge voice these days.
Marge is probably the most sad example of how the Simpsons has devolved. Unlike the others, she hasn’t been subjected to the same jokes repeated over and over until they’re as stale as a year-old baguette. Rather, her character has slowly faded until there’s basically nothing left.
I suppose that’s a better fate than what Bart got…