Where do you start with The Simpsons? Running for 26 years, the grand-daddy of all animated sitcoms is so renowned that every new episode ought to be greeted with cries of joy. However, it often faces accusations of being in decline (due in no small part to its sheer longevity) and as we start season 27, viewers may have grown weary of the family’s antics. And no matter which side of the fence you sit on – whether you remain a diehard Simpsons fan eager to see what the family get up to next, or whether you think it’s a limping dog that needs putting out of its misery – the opening episode will do nothing to change your opinion.
‘Every Man’s Dream’ is an episode that was much tooted on social media prior to airing, as it dealt with Homer and Marge breaking up. The set-up sees Homer diagnosed with narcolepsy, and he uses it as an excuse ( unsurprisingly) to avoid having to do anything. Marge sends him to the pharmacy to pick up his medication and after he fails to do so, the two head to therapy, where Marge is advised that the best course of action is to separate. Getting used to the single life, Homer winds up dating his hipster pharmacist (guest voice Lena Dunham) before realising that he needs to fight for his marriage. And then, it turns out it was all a dream several times.
I am a Simpsons fan and I am proud of it, so it hurts me a bit to have to say that this season premiere is simply not that good. All the classic elements are here – a couch gag, an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, background gags (the name of the pharmacy being a good one) – but they are secondary to story, and the story isn’t that good. The premise smacks of a ratings stunt, in much the same way that Family Guy killing off Brian didn’t even really seem like it was going to last or impact massively beside the initial boom – and, of course, no-one truly believed that this was going to be the end of the Simpson’s love. There was a certain predictability – Homer and Marge’s marriage in crisis has cropped up at multiple points throughout the Simpsons’ history, and this episode has nothing to add but a lesser version of what has come before – it was not as funny, clever or heart-warming as its predecessors.
The main section of this episode dealt with Homer and his new squeeze (Marge was kind-of forgotten about, which is a bit of a shame as it could have offered a different perspective and a bit of emotional depth) in what seemed to be a drug-fueled night that ended with Homer in her bed. This was something I did not like at all – although Homer has devolved into a complete moron, the one character trait that always remained constant is that he is a loyal man dedicated to his wife – that he would cheat on Marge while they were still married, and after only a couple of days in such a cavalier manner, did not sit right with me.
This stunt would not have been so bad were the episode itself particularly funny, but it generally failed to deliver. The narcolepsy played out exactly the way you’d expect it to, and it felt like a reason tacked on to lead us to the main plot, although the hospital scene with Dr Hibbert losing his cool after Homer jokes about not paying his bill was one of the best bits of the episode. The lack of laughs is more noticeable when the plot lacks substance as much as this one.
Not that this was the worst aspect, however. Homer returned to the home, ostensibly to make a grand gesture and win Marge back, only for it to transpire that it was all a dream. This episode had more dream layers than Inception, but you couldn’t help but have the feeling they were employed because of lazy writing – it was too difficult to come up with an actual plot resolution, so this plot device was used to magic away everything we’d just watched. You can’t help but feel, then, that watching was a waste of time. There was potential here, but it simply wasn’t realised.
If you are a Simpsons fan, you’d notice some of the call-backs in this episode – the pharmacist’s tattoos including the Space Coyote and Mr Sparkle, Bart’s terrifying clown bed in a montage, the two Germans in one of the power plant’s ‘owner of the month’ pictures – but they serve only to remind you of better episodes. There’s still life in The Simpsons, undoubtedly – I am looking forward to an upcoming Treehouse of Horror episode that sees Sideshow Bob return and finally kill Bart – but this premiere was not a good start to this season. I will continue to watch The Simpsons, but I’m hoping that later episodes provide more laughs and better stories – nostalgia can only carry you so far.