Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: The debut of The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has us thinking about our favorite TV exes.
The Simpsons, “The Way We Was” (season two, episode 12; originally aired 1/31/1991)
The marriage of Marge and Homer Simpson is one of TV’s most resilient, a bond that’s survived the likes of a 10-pin lothario, a comely country star, and entire writing staffs endangering the Simpson union on a near-seasonal basis. But only one character could’ve prevented Marge Bouvier and Homer J. Simpson from getting together in the first place, and his first appearance on the show cleverly depicts this cad as more noxious than a truckload of bowling Jacques.
But as portrayed by Jon Lovitz in his first Simpsons appearance, Artie Ziff is also one of the show’s great supporting players. He possesses all the qualities of a classic Lovitz character: Hubris, a saddle on an extremely high horse, and a habit for making grandiose declarations. Rebuked by Marge after getting too grabby in a post-prom clutch, Artie pleads for his “busy hands” to be kept secret. “Not so much for myself,” he continues, “but I am so respected, it would damage the town to hear it.” In developing Artie’s raging superiority complex, Lovitz gets a helping hand from director David Silverman, who designed the character as a pencil-necked dweeb who’s a head shorter than any other character in “The Way We Was”—even in his prom king’s crown.
Artie is an amusing disruption of his debut episode’s nostalgic air, the arrogance of Homer’s (and all of Springfield High’s) self-proclaimed “intellectual superior” leaving scratch marks on the Simpsons’ rose-colored glasses. He’s joined in that effort by the respective married and un-married misery of the Bouviers and Abe Simpson, further visions of what could’ve been for Homer and Marge. The power of “The Way We Was” is in its ability to blend these tones, showing why Marge and Homer would remember their early courtship so fondly, while acknowledging (to paraphrase a ’70s radio god who doesn’t appear on the episode’s soundtrack) that the good old days weren’t always good.
It’s a delicate balance, one that’s punctuated in quintessentially early Simpsons fashion: Bart pretending to gag on the heartwarming, never-let-go capper to his mom and dad’s story. It’s not hard to imagine Artie having a similar reaction to the tale, one he’d attempt to revise 11 seasons later. But even then he’d be foiled, because there’s just no splitting up Marge and Homer Simpson—not for any period longer than 22 minutes, at least.
Availability: “The Way We Was” is available as part of The Simpsons: The Complete Second Season DVD set, and can be streamed on Simpsons World (cable subscription required). The episode can be purchased digitally from iTunes and Amazon.