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Recap / The Simpsons S19 E11: "That '90s Show"

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"That 90s Show" is the eleventh episode of the nineteenth season of The Simpsons. In this episode, Homer and Marge reminisce about their relationship in the 1990s (retconning their long-established 1970s background), when he was an aspiring musician and she went to college.

Plot:

On a cold evening, the family shivers by the fireplace, as Homer is too cheap to have the heating fixed, thinking that global warming would be enough. While looking for something for the fire, Lisa finds a college diploma belonging to Marge, who had previously said she and Homer married and had Bart a couple of years after high school. Since she knows that Bart is 10 and her parents are almost 40, Lisa ponders about what happened in the decade in-between. Homer and Marge then proceed to tell their children about the experiences the two of them lived in the 1990s.

Having recently moved together, Marge is accepted into Springfield University while Homer, who is part of a light harmony quartet with Lenny, Carl and Officer Lou, takes a demeaning job at Abe's laser tag arcade to pay for her very expensive studies. At college, Marge becomes infatuated with her progressive professor Stefane August, who is a staunch feminist and tells her that Homer is a "townie" who would never really appreciate her. Finding them together, a heartbroken Homer decides to radically change the sound of his group into a new style of rock he calls "grunge" (for Guitar Rock Utilizing Nihilist Grunge Energy). Marge dislikes Homer's new music for its dourness and anger, and after he mocks Professor August, they decide to break up their relationship.

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Upon moving in with Stefane, she begins to find his sensitivity rather overblown and sours on him. After he tells her that marriage is an outdated, oppressive and misogynistic institution, Marge (who expects to marry) realizes that the Professor was merely using her and breaks up with him. In the meantime, Homer's band Sadgasm becomes popular, but fame is little comfort for him after his breakup (even after having one of his songs covered by "Weird Al" Yankovic), and he composes "Margerine", a heartfelt song dedicated to Marge, who realizes that Homer still loves her. After finding out that Sadgasm has broken up as Homer has become a recluse and probably an heroin addict, she runs to aid him (turns out that Homer's supposed heroin habit was actually insulin because he got diabetes from drinking too many frappuccinos). After they make up, they both spend the night at the mini-golf course Bart was conceived in.

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Tropes:

  • Academic Alpha Bitch: The Springfield University students and the elderly professor, who mock the "townie" Homer after he says the name Joan Miro as it's spelled, instead of the correct pronunciation "Juan Me-row."
  • Artistic Age: One of the few times Bart and Lisa have commented on the age of their parents in relation to their age, pointing out that being close to 40 means there was a significant gap between the two dating in high school and having 10 year old Bart. Marge actually celebrated her 32nd birthday in the first season, with Homer roughly the same age, but despite having young kids both have been treated as being much older than they realistically would be.
  • Artistic License – History: Grunge existed before The '90s, with bands like Green River and Malfunkshun pioneering the subgenre in the early 1980s. The word "grunge" as applied to the sound also predates the early 90's. Sub Pop popularized it by using it to market Green River around 1987, and the first recorded use of the word in relation to the Seattle music scene dates to 1981. Another historical liberty is taken with the "Marvin Cobain" joke since Nirvana had already formed by 1990 and had already produced grunge music, including Bleach (Album).
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: Homer brings two coats and two pairs of gloves and tells Bart and Lisa they'll keep them warm. He then throws the coats and the gloves at the fireplace.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Frustrated with Marge spending a lot of time with her professor, Homer tells her that she should go with him. Little did he know that Stefane was within earshot and agrees to take Marge.
  • The Cameo:
    • "Weird Al" Yankovic appears on The Simpsons again, this time doing a parody of one of Sadgasm's "Shave Me", calling his version "Brain Freeze".
    • MTV's Kurt Loder delivers a news report about Sadgasm's breakup.
  • Comic-Book Time: This episode (infamously) established Homer and Marge as dating in the mid-to-late 90's, with all cultural touchstones of the time period and changes to their personalities in general, with Homer making a garage band and Marge getting swept up by a new age college philosophy professor. Previous episodes had them graduating high school in the 70's, with Marge already a Granola Girl in the midst of second wave feminism. While Negative Continuity has been part of the show for a long time, given the show was a major part of 90's culture and had already mocked it as a contemporary thing this also hit a Continuity Snarl.
  • Continuity Nod: While updated to reflect the 90's setting, the episode follows up on how Marge and Homer first had sex inside a windmill obstacle at a mini-gold course.
  • Continuity Snarl:
    • Besides Marge's personality, the main problem with this episode is the careless retconning of Homer and Marge being young and childless in the 1990s and the forced jokes about 1990s pop culture (especially considering that the show itself was a huge part of 1990s pop culture). Mike Amato put it best in his review:
    Let's talk for a second about what I believe to be the show's moving timeline. Homer and Marge's senior prom was in 1974, but that was from "The Way We Was", which aired in 1991. With the show still airing, being set in modern time, and with the characters not aging, time shifts forward, so at the point this episode aired, Homer and Marge would have graduated high school in... 1991. Weird, huh?
    • The episode's original pretext is Bart pointing out that Homer and Marge are 39, but had Bart, who is ten, right out of high school. But in "I Married Marge", it was made pretty clear that Homer and Marge were well into their twenties and had only been dating for that period. What's more, Homer's driver's license claimed him to be 34 in "Some Enchanted Evening"—Homer was only established as 39 in "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace", which happened a long time afterward. So either way, the timeline is still pretty broken-up, and it would have been much easier to just declare that Homer and Marge were 28 or so during the events of "I Married Marge."
  • Devoted to You: Even though Marge was cruel to him and left him for Stefane, Homer still loved her and sung a heartbroken song about her, mentioning her by name.
  • Expy Coexistence: Homer is a parody of Kurt Cobain. To make sure we get the joke, some record company guy, while watching Sadgasm play, makes a phone call. "Kurt? I've found your sound, Kurt."
  • Faux Yay: When Moe got caught trying to steal a patron's wristwatch, he claimed he was trying to flirt. To Moe's horror, his "feelings" were reciprocated.
  • Hippie Teacher: Stefane August reflects the new age college professors that had began popping up in the 90's, many who were actual 70's counterculture hippies and would teach their classes to question everything.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Subverted. Homer goes to Moe's for a drink, only to discover that Moe is offering cigars.
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • A young Comic Book Guy is heard saying "...and that's why The Lord of the Rings can never be filmed."
    • While splitting up their possessions, Homer takes all the stuff that will be worthless in the following decades (vinyl LPs, Enron stock, VHS tapes) and gives Marge all the stuff that will be successful later on (CDs, Apple stock, DVDs).
  • Jerkass: Marge's college professor, Stefane August. He manipulates Marge into dumping Homer for him and acts like he's a revolutionary feminist, but really he's just a jerk who would sleep with one of his students.
  • Mistaken for Junkie: Following the breakup of Sadgasm, Marge bursts into Homer's house and finds him passed out with a syringe stuck in his arm. She throws all his syringes away, thinking he's been using drugs, and nurses him back to health. He'd actually developed diabetes from drinking too many frappuccinos and was injecting himself with insulin.
  • Nice Guy: Deconstructed with Marge's professor, who is actually quite haughty.
  • The '90s: The Whole Episode Flashback is set during this time period. Curiously, there doesn't seem to be any real defined period; it should ostensibly be taking place between 1993 and 1998, but Homer's band is clearly meant to be a parody or predating of Nirvana, which hit it big in 1991.
  • '90s Hair: All over the place. Marge has "The Rachel", while Homer's hair is boyishly tousled like Kurt Cobain, Stefane has his hair in a cross between Hugh Grant's curtains and long Fabio-like hair. Many of the college men have gelled up hair or curtains like N Sync or Backstreet Boys or Freddie Prinze Jr..
  • Origins March On: This episode attempted to Retcon Marge and Homer's relationship with them first dating in the 90s rather than the 70s, as previously shown. It wasn't well-received, and the old backstory is still depicted in later episodes (despite becoming increasingly outdated).
  • Rule-Abiding Rebel: Played with, Marge becomes enamored with her college professor Stefane because he has the attitude of everything in society being a lie. This appeals to Marge because of her activism and feminist beliefs, but she starts to see the problems with that mindset when he denounces marriage itself as oppressing women, as she is still interested in marriage.
  • Second-Act Breakup: The third act focuses on Marge being with Stefane and Homer going through a deep depression.
  • Sequel Episode: Of a sort to "The Way We Was," a second season episode with a similar premise of Marge and Homer sharing a story before they have kids (due to something else giving the family a lot of time on their hands). The significant amount of Continuity Snarls due to the Comic-Book Time notwithstanding (Marge has long straight hair based on 70's styles in the first episode, here she has a short feathered style based on "the Rachel" from Friends).
  • Shout-Out:
    • The title is an allusion to That '70s Show.
    • The apartment complex that Homer and Marge live in is a reference to Melrose Place.
    • Homer's first group was a "new jack swing"-flavored R&B quartet in the style of Boyz II Men.
    • The scene where Marvin Cobain calls his cousin, Kurt Cobain, telling them about Sadgasm's sound, is a direct parody of the scene from Back to the Future where Chuck Berry's cousin Marvin calls Chuck to tell him about Marty McFly's new sound.
    • Sadgasm's songs are reminiscent of Nirvana songs, with the exception of "Margerine", a parody of "Glycerine" by Bush. Weird Al parodying Sadgasm is a reference to his Nirvana parody (numerous artists have said they didn't think they were successful until Weird Al made a parody of their songs). Kurt Loder reporting their breakup is a reference to him reporting on the death of Kurt Cobain on MTV.
  • Student/Teacher Romance: The whole plot revolves around Marge being involved with one of her professors.
  • Voodoo Shark: "The Way We Was" and "I Married Marge" are the first two flashback episodes, the former taking place in 1974 and the latter, which supposedly takes place immediately after, taking place in 1980. This episode is supposed to fill the space between these episodes and therefore would ideally take place in the 70's. Guess where it actually does take place.

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