“And Maggie Makes Three” (season six, episode 13; originally aired 1/22/1995)
A sequel of sorts to “Lisa’s First Word,” “And Maggie Makes Three” almost has more in common with the first episode in the “Where do Simpsons come from?” trilogy: Season three’s “I Married Marge.” The first-person pronoun in that title being the operative term—the secret of “I Married Marge” and “And Maggie Makes Three” being that these are actually Homer-centric episodes. Sure, the events of “I Married Marge” and “And Maggie Makes Three” have a bigger impact on Homer’s wife, but Marge is the level head in the marriage who’s already been through this two other times. (Not to dismiss her role in the proceedings, but it must be old hat by now.) Homer, on the other hand, starts these types of episodes as a blank slate with an empty head, a character who believably sees his cushy white-collar job as back-breaking labor. The depth of Homer’s stupidity can strain credulity at times, but it also enables the Simpsons team to teach him multiple variations on the same lesson.
For all they have in common, “And Maggie Makes Three” also makes for an entertaining reversal of “I Married Marge”: Whereas the arc of that episode forces Homer to face up to his own adulthood by settling down and getting a good job, “And Maggie Makes Three” finds the character doing all he can to throw off the shackles of responsibility. And it almost works, too, if it weren’t for these famous last words about his job at Barney’s Bowlarama: “Don’t worry, Marge: I’ve come up with a perfectly balanced budget. There will be exactly enough money for you, me, Bart, and Lisa if we make a few small sacrifices.” Like Lucy Ricardo luxuriating in the ease of wrapping pieces of chocolate, Homer has just offered a big, juicy sacrifice to the gods of comedic comeuppance and undue hubris.
Envisioning low-paying, high-filth (“Bring three rags—oh, and a change of pants.” “Why?” “When it happens, you’ll know”) employment as a “dream job in paradise” is part of what continues to make Homer Simpson such an enjoyable television presence. Another part of the character’s appeal is the genuine bond he has with each of his children, no matter how many times he may strangle Bart or shout at Lisa to knock it off with the dang saxamaphone. The conclusion of “And Maggie Makes Three”—during which it’s revealed that there are no pictures of the youngest Simpson in the photo album because they’re all being employed to keep Homer happy during his work day—could seem too convenient, but it makes more sense with time. There’s a purity to Homer’s relationship with Maggie, one uncomplicated by schoolyard pranks or left-wing scolding. As an echo of the big, headline-grabbing coda of “Lisa’s First Word,” it’s perfect—and perfectly heartwarming. Maggie may have forced her father out of the Bowlarama and into the acid rain, but her affection makes the job transition all worthwhile.
Once she’s born, at least: Like that of her older brother and sister and their respective flashback episodes, Maggie’s conception is the fire that’s lit underneath “And Maggie Makes Three”—a fire Marge does her damnedest to conceal. Once more, Homer’s natural thickness pays off, as he’s so caught up in his pin-monkey reverie that he fails to read the signs that the glorious fantasy is coming to an end. Not just the biological signs, but the “Here comes Simpson No. 5” billboards that are practically plastered across Springfield after Patty and Selma leak the news. In a little under two minutes, “And Maggie Makes Three” lays out a clinic on comic reversals, the rule of threes, and how nicely those two devices play together, as the Bouvier sisters get the gossip rolling by calling the first and last names in the phone book (but none in between) and Homer goes from blissfully unaware to hair-rippingly panicked in six simple beats. Fitting for the mirror image of “I Married Marge,” “And Maggie Makes Three” tells some of its best jokes backward; it’s no wonder writer Jennifer Crittenden later worked for Seinfeld and Arrested Development.
As explicitly called out by Bart, Homer’s freakout forms the major connective tissue between “And Maggie Makes Three,” “Lisa’s First Word,” and “I Married Marge.” Unlike its predecessors, however, this episode doesn’t have the same amount of era-specific signifiers to fall back on. The memories forming the core of the episode require only the smallest amount of time travel—goosing the exaggerated nostalgia of Homer’s flashback intro (“The clear beverage craze gave us all a reason to live”) and necessarily limiting the number of “Hey, remember that?” jokes the episode can make. On that score alone, “And Maggie Makes Three” works as one of the most effective Simpsons flashbacks, free from That ’70s Show (or “That ’90s Show”) games of dress-up, with the exception of Dr. Hibberd’s Arsenio Hall flattop. Though, as the callback to Homer’s dad-pattern baldness attests, it’s simply not a Simpsons flashback without a little hair humor. And besides, this being an animated program—where symbolic bridges can burn in seconds and satin jackets melt into metaphorical sinew—there’s no extra cost for putting the characters in funny wigs.
Thinning hair is a small price to pay for the true paradise Homer J. Simpson has made for himself—that and the eroding memory that briefly leads the character to recall his past self as head- and spare-tire-less. But as the final frame of “And Maggie Makes Three” demonstrates, he’s not making these sacrifices for himself. He is, as his modification of Mr. Burns’ de-motivational plaque illustrates, doing it for Maggie.
- Knightboat: The Crime Solving Boat is one of The Simpsons’ all-time great fake TV shows, but that gag would be nothing without Dan Castellaneta’s read of “But Marge! Knightboat! The crime-solving boat!” There’s so much implied in that small choice of emphasis, as if Homer’s imagined a world populated by crime-solving, crime-committing, and crime-abetting boats. (And don’t you think for a second there’s not an episode of Knightboat where Michael turns down the wrong canal, temporarily turning his personal watercraft/best friend evil.)
- In one of the most biting uses of Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” in animation history, the Looney Tunes staple soundtracks the Bowlarama assembly line that whittles full trees into single bowling pins. Moral of the story: Don’t ask where hot dogs come from, and don’t ask where the bowling pins go after you knock them over.
- Another great comedic feint with a long, long setup and a killer (no pun intended) punchline: Homer’s strategizing session for boosting business at the bowling alley ends with a few shotgun blasts and shouts of the undeniable tagline “Get your bowling!”
- Expectant parents: Next time someone congratulates you on your pregnancy, try this expression of gratitude: “This is getting very abstract, but thank you! I do enjoy working at the bowling alley!”