Secrets of a Successful Marriage
"Secrets of a Successful Marriage" is the twenty-second and final episode of The Simpsons' fifth season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on May 19, 1994. In the episode, Homer fears he may be a little slow, so he goes to the adult education center. While there, he decides to teach a class of his own on the secrets of a successful marriage, since that is the only class he is qualified to teach. However, to keep his students interested, he is forced to tell personal secrets about his wife Marge, which she dislikes, leading up to Homer getting kicked out of the house.
The episode was written by Greg Daniels and directed by Carlos Baeza. It features cultural references to the plays Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire, and the films ...And Justice for All, A Few Good Men, Patton, and Chinatown. The episode has been analyzed in books such as Leaving Springfield and Education in Popular Culture. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 9.8, and was the second highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.
After Homer realizes that he is somewhat stupid, Marge recommends that he take an adult education course at the annex center. Down at the center, however, Homer changes his mind and decides to become a teacher. He talks to the administrator and accepts an opening to teach a class on having a successful marriage. Despite being confident that he can pull it off, he is frightened on his first day, which involves telling his pupils that a wedding is the process of removing weeds from one's garden, and is unable to help his pupils with their relationship problems. The class collectively gets up to leave, but when Homer mentions his conversation with Marge in bed, the class decides to stay, eager to hear gossip. Marge soon discovers that everyone in town knows her personal secrets, reacting by confronting Homer about it and he promises to stop. He instead continues telling her secrets anyway; this time telling the class that Marge gets sexually excited whenever Homer nibbles on her elbow. Homer then takes the night off teaching class by having his class observe the family over dinner.
When Marge scolds Homer that she wants the class to get out of their house, Moe suggests that Homer should nibble on her elbow. Marge finally loses her temper and sends Homer and the class out of the house. When Homer tries to get back in, Marge stops him, saying she can long longer trust him, and refuses to let him back in. Homeless, Homer stays in Bart's tree house. Marge tries to reassure Bart and Lisa that she and Homer love the children, despite their current situation, but Lisa and Bart are worried their parents will get divorced. Marge tries to get advice from Reverend Lovejoy, who tells her to get a divorce.
While Homer longs for his wife, Moe comes by the Simpsons' house to declare his interest in Marge, who turns him down. When Homer comes into the house with flowers he picked for Marge, Moe sees him and jumps out the window. Standing before her in rags, Homer professes his total and utter dependency on Marge, and she tells him that that is not a good thing, but Homer then makes his winning argument: he loves her, he needs her to love him, and can not afford to ever lose her trust again or he will end up dead. Marge is won over and allows Homer to return to the house. The family is glad that he has returned, although Moe is less than thrilled.
The episode was written by Greg Daniels and directed by Carlos Baeza. It was the second script Daniels wrote for the show. He thought the staff had previously done many episodes where Homer "wasn't good at anything", so he tried to figure out something Homer was really good at, and he came up with the idea of Homer being a good husband. While Bart had been the star of the show during the early years, by Season 5, the focus had clearly shifted to Homer. Writer/showrunner Al Jean stated that because Homer is an adult character, he has more depth to him and thus storyline possibilities. Showrunner David Mirkin commented: "Bart, to write him accurately as a child, he can only have so much depth at a certain age. With Homer, we try to explore all levels of adulthood. There are just more places to go. Writing Homer properly is the trick, he's our main rock of the whole series. Homer's IQ is fairly flexible, he won't necessarily understand how to open a door at some point, but he can name the Supreme Court justices. Finding that balance is key to making the show work and making it surprising and making it believable and emotionally grounded." Mirkin was very fond of the fact that Homer and Marge have the biggest fight they have ever had on the show in the episode, and he thought it was a "really great" exploration of their marriage. He noticed that because Homer is thrown out of the house, the audience really worry about their relationship. Mirkin had been asked many times why Marge and Homer are still together, to which he replied that all people stay together even if they argue, "there's some sort of connection".
Homer sings the end of the theme song to Family Ties while talking to an administrator at the annex center. Smithers's recollection of his marriage parodies the two plays Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire, both written by American playwright Tennessee Williams. Homer's bedroom rant to Marge is a parody mishmash of four popular films: ...And Justice for All (1979), A Few Good Men (1992), Patton (1970), and Chinatown (1974). He says: "Look Marge, you don't know what it's like. I'm the one out there every day putting his ass on the line. And I'm not out of order! You're out of order. The whole freaking system is out of order. You want the truth? You want the truth?! You can't handle the truth! 'Cause when you reach over and put your hand into a pile of goo that was your best friend's face, you'll know what to do! Forget it, Marge, it's Chinatown," all of which are lines from those films.
It was revealed in a flashback in the episode that Smithers was briefly married to a woman, but the two split up when he devoted too much time to his boss Mr. Burns. Smithers's relationship with Mr. Burns has long been a running joke on The Simpsons. His sexual orientation has often come into question, with some fans claiming he is a "Burns-sexual" and only attracted to his boss, while others maintain that he is, without a doubt, gay. Matthew Henry wrote in the book Leaving Springfield that this episode is "perhaps the best" example of an attempt to portray an actual gay lifestyle on the show. Henry added that the flashback is a "wonderfully rendered parody of scenes from two of Tennessee Williams's most famous plays, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire. To fully appreciate it, one must know something of not only the two plays cited but also of Williams himself, of his own struggles with both heterosexual and homosexual desires and the way in which these struggles were incorporated into his art. The creators of The Simpsons offer what I think is a perfect parallel for the relationship between Smithers and Mr. Burns by combining Williams's two most notable male characters and their defining characteristics: the suppressed homosexual desire of Brick and desperate dependence of Stanley."
In their book Education in Popular Culture, Alma Harris, Roy Fisher, Ann Harris, and Christine Jarvis analyzes the adult education aspects of this episode that portrays adult learners as "stupid and lazy". After Homer is appointed as a teacher, he feels immensely proud and boasts to all his acquaintances about it, initially making it seem like if the show is indicating that adult education tutors have a relatively high status in society. "However," the authors added, "Homer's pride is undercut for the audience by the awareness of how he came to be appointed and by the subsequent representation of the adult education center. It seems that anyone can become a tutor. [...] Homer's fellow tutors are drunks, incompetents and down-and-outs, adult education is therefore presented as an amateur business staffed by the dregs of society." The writers of the book thought the whole idea of storytelling and building on experience that Homer uses, and that many adult education tutors uses in real life, is represented in the episode "simply as an excuse for gossip and prurient curiosity". They also thought that statements like "I can't believe I paid ten thousand dollars for this course. What the heck was the lab fee for?" imply that adult education is "exploitative and poor value for money, and that the students themselves contribute to this by demanding an essentially recreational service." The authors concluded that the episode "certainly sustains a popular view of adult education as pointless and recreational. Similarly, no value whatsoever is attributed to the extensively researched, proven through practice and well-argued perspective that adult learners do best when the curriculum builds on and values their experience."
In its original American broadcast, "Secrets of a Successful Marriage" finished forty-third in the ratings for the week of May 16 to May 22, 1994, with a Nielsen rating of 9.8. The episode was the second highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following Melrose Place.
Since airing, the episode has received positive reviews from television critics. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, thought it was a "confident finale" to the fifth season, which "had seen the series become progressively more surreal and self-aware." DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson wrote that he thought the episode ended the season with a "high note", and that Homer’s insensitive gossiping about his relationship "presents lots of good bits. It completes this excellent year well." Jacobson's favorite line of the episode was "This is a place of learning, not a house of hearing about things!", which Homer tells his class after they demand him to reveal more secrets about him and Marge. Patrick Bromley of DVD Verdict gave the episode a grade of A−, and commented that episodes focusing on the relationship between Homer and Marge can "never fail", and there are "numerous opportunities for some classic Homer-isms" in the episode. Bill Gibron of DVD Talk gave the episode a score of 4 out of 5. One-time Simpsons writer and comedian Ricky Gervais named "Secrets of a Successful Marriage" his fifth favorite episode of the show, and commented that Homer's line to Marge, "I know now what I can offer you that no one else can. Complete and utter dependence," is "so sweet, because he's right!" It was placed at number seven on MSNBC's top ten The Simpsons episodes list. They felt the episode embodied Homer's qualities of being "stupid, good-natured and mildly pathetic, [...] from his conversations with his brain [...] to his final proclamation that the one thing he can give Marge that no one else can is 'complete and utter dependence'."
"Secrets of a Successful Marriage" contains one of CollegeHumor's Amir Blumenfeld's favorite "switcharoo" jokes, a joke that leads you to believe one thing, but is then "flipped completely" to create a new punch line. In the episode, a distraught Marge drives her car while hearing Homer's voice in her head saying things such as "You mean I'm going to be a daddy?" and "I hope we'll always be together... together... together..." The "switcharoo" is that it is revealed that Homer is actually hiding on the floor in the car's back seat, speaking these things to Marge. Blumenfeld said: "God, nobody saw that coming. And I mean that in a non-sarcastic way."
- Daniels, Greg (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Secrets of a Successful Marriage" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Tucker, Reed (July 22, 2007). "Ay, Caramba! We're old, man!". New York Post. p. 40. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
- Mirkin, David (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Secrets of a Successful Marriage" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Secrets of a Successful Marriage". BBC. Retrieved 2008-04-12.
- Richmond & Coffman 1997, p. 130.
- Turner 2004, p. 296.
- Carroll, Larry (2007-07-26). "'Simpsons' Trivia, From Swearing Lisa To 'Burns-Sexual' Smithers". MTV. Retrieved 2007-10-24.
- Henry, Matthew (2004). "Looking for Amanda Hugginkiss: Gay Life on The Simpsons". In John Alberti. Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons and the Possibility of Oppositional Culture. Wayne State University Press. p. 235. ISBN 0-8143-2849-0.
- Alma Harris, Roy Fisher, Ann Harris, Christine Jarvis (2008). "School for grown-ups". Education in Popular Culture. Routledge. pp. 163–164. ISBN 978-0-415-33242-2.
- "Nielsen ratings / May 16–22". Long Beach Press-Telegram. Associated Press. 1994-05-25. p. 4E.
- Jacobson, Colin (2004-12-21). "The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season (1993)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- Bromley, Patrick (2005-02-23). "The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- Gibron, Bill (December 23, 2004). "The Simpsons — The Complete Fifth Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
- Snierson, Dan (2006-03-24). "Best in D'oh". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
- Enwright, Patrick (2007-07-31). "D’Oh! The top 10 ‘Simpsons’ episodes ever". MSNBC. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
- Blumenfeld, Amir (November 1, 2007). "Our Favorite Simpsons Moments". CollegeHumor. Retrieved 2009-03-22.
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. ISBN 978-0-06-095252-5. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M.
- Turner, Chris (2004). Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation. Foreword by Douglas Coupland. (1st ed.). Toronto: Random House Canada. ISBN 978-0-679-31318-2. OCLC 55682258.
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- "Secrets of a Successful Marriage" at the Internet Movie Database