This one might be a bit tricky.
Writing for a baby character is a lot trickier than people realize. It isn’t just ‘make a funny little person that does goofy stuff and makes noises.’ You need to find a way to give personality to a character that can only emote through limited noises and facial expressions. Dialogue is either extremely limited or not an option at all.
Which is another reason why Classic Simpsons was so damn impressive. Because it managed to do just that with the fifth and final member of the family: Maggie.
Of the five, Maggie is probably the Simpson who gets the least amount of time in the spotlight. She’s usually used to further the development of other members of the family, namely Homer. Which makes sense; she’s a baby, after all.
Albeit a very smart, very capable baby.
Was this the wrong way to go about it? No, not at all. It was this very style that gave us some of the most beloved and iconic moments in the whole show, such as Homer’s ‘Do It For Her’ scene.
That being said, Maggie still had plenty of depth to her own character. Rare though her time in the spotlight was, it was delightful every time!
One of the episodes that best highlights this is ‘A Streetcar Names Marge’ from season four. In the B plot of this episode, Maggie is placed into a daycare, where her pacifier is taken away. In order to get it back, Maggie forms a wordless alliance with all the other babies and executes a series of elaborate prison-break/heist style plans, all using bottles and baby toys. The whole subplot is equal parts hilarious and adorable.
More than that, it’s a strong showcase of why Maggie was actually likable and cute. See, this whole bit was done without a single word of dialogue. Hell, they barely even made a sound! The babies never whined or cried or barfed or did anything else you might expect. Maggie just took all the things a baby would have access to and found a creative way to use them to solve the problem. It was silent comedy at its finest.
It wasn’t just comedy, either. Again: heart was one of the core aspects that made Classic Simpsons so wonderful. It wasn’t just out to make you laugh, it also tried to warm your heart or make you cry. And the writers certainly didn’t neglect Maggie in this regard.
A great example of this can be found in the episode ‘Lisa’s First Word.’ In this episode, the Simpsons family gather around Maggie and unsuccessfully try to get her to speak. Now, the majority of this episode is more about Bart and Lisa, most of it being a flashback to a time before Maggie was even born. In this time, we see each of them call Homer by his name, refusing to fulfill his wish of being called daddy.
But then we get the ending scene. While Bart and Lisa begin to argue, Homer takes Maggie upstairs and puts her to bed. He speaks to her in a soft, loving voice before turning off the light and closing the door. Then, once she’s alone, Maggie removes the pacifier and whispers her first word: “Daddy.”
Please excuse me. I appear to be having a heart attack due to a cute and wholesome overdose.
That was Maggie’s character. A cute and wholesome baby who used anything she could get her hands on to solve a problem. While she spent most of her time pushing the development of other characters forward, her time in the spotlight was always a highlight of the show.
So, what does Modern Simpsons do with Maggie? Well… more or less the same thing. Only they seem to have forgotten about the creative problem solving bit and now just focus on her doing things a baby wouldn’t do.
There are countless examples of this. Like the time Homer became a sheriff and pissed off the mob, so Maggie shot the gangsters down with a sniper rifle to protect him. Or in the Simpsons Movie, when Maggie appears out of nowhere to drop a boulder on the bad guy’s head to save the day.
Now she doesn’t solve problems using whatever baby things she has on hand in a creative way. She just breaks the laws of reality and performs impossible acts at the writer’s whim. Because that’s funny, right?
“Look, the baby has a gun! Laugh! LAUGH!! IT’S FUNNY!!!”
Oh, and it should go without saying that the emotional foundation of the character is gone as well. There hasn’t been a single wholesome Maggie scene in years. She’s either doing braindead slapstick or she’s just not there at all.
It’s clear that the writer’s don’t really know what to do with Maggie. They don’t know how to write actual stories surrounding a baby who can barely speak. So instead, they just use her as a cheap gag to help dissolve tension at the end of a story. To hell with logic or reason, just make the cute baby do a thing and we’ll call it a day. She’s less a character and more a cheap plot device.
To put it plainly and simply: they’ve given up on her entirely. Kinda like they have with the rest of the show.
Man, that’s a depressing note to end this little series on…