The Way We Was
"The Way We Was" is the twelfth episode of The Simpsons' second season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 31, 1991. In the episode, Marge tells the story of how she and Homer first met and fell in love. Flashing back to 1974, we see how Homer falls in love with Marge in high school and tries to get close to her by enlisting her as his French tutor. After several hours of verb conjugation, Marge falls for Homer too, only to become enraged when he admits that he is not a French student. Marge rejects Homer's invitation to the prom and goes with Artie Ziff. Artie turns out to be a terrible date and Marge realizes that it is Homer she really wants.
The episode was written by Al Jean, Mike Reiss, and Sam Simon, and directed by David Silverman. It was the first flashback episode of The Simpsons. Jon Lovitz guest starred in it as Artie Ziff. The episode features cultural references to songs such as "The Joker" and "(They Long to Be) Close to You", and the television series Siskel & Ebert & the Movies. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 15.6, and was the highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.
When the Simpsons' television breaks down, Marge tells her children how she and Homer first met. The year is 1974 and Homer and Marge are both in their senior year of high school. Unlike Homer, Marge is a responsible student, but after she burns a bra at a feminist rally, she is sent to detention. Homer is also sent to detention along with his best friend Barney for smoking in the restroom. When Homer sees Marge for the first time as she enters the detention room, he instantly falls in love. Despite his father Abraham's warning that he is wasting his time, Homer is determined to win Marge's heart.
To impress Marge, Homer joins the debate team, of which Marge is a member. At a debate, Homer finds out that Marge is more interested in the more articulate Artie Ziff. Therefore, Homer pretends to be a French student so that he can be tutored by Marge and when Homer asks Marge to the senior prom she accepts. However, when Homer confesses that he is not really a French student, Marge is furious at him for making her lose sleep for a debate tournament the next morning. She ultimately loses to Artie, who asks her to be his partner to the prom; she agrees. Homer does not realize that Marge has changed her plans, and so he shows up at her house for prom night to pick her up. Moments later Artie shows up, causing confusion to Marge's family, and a despondent Homer leaves. Undaunted, he decides to go to the prom alone.
At the prom, Artie and Marge are voted prom king and queen, and the two share the first dance. Meanwhile, Homer, heartbroken, leaves and cries in the hallway. After the prom, Artie tries to get romantic with Marge in the backseat of his car: after he pushes his luck too far, she slaps him and demands to be taken home. Meanwhile, Homer's limousine time has run out, and without any money, he decides to walk home. Along the way Marge and Artie pass by Homer. After Artie drops Marge off at her house, she returns in her car to pick up Homer, realizing that he was the man for her all along. Homer manages to fix up the strap of Marge's dress with the corsage that he got her after Artie ruined it from his earlier attempt.
The episode was written by Al Jean, Mike Reiss, and Sam Simon, and directed by David Silverman. Jon Lovitz guest starred as Artie. It was his first guest appearance on The Simpsons, but he has appeared many times since. Artie's departing line to Marge after he drops her off was supposed to be "Good night. I'm Artie Ziff!", but short on time, the editors shortened it to just "Good night?".
Characters making their first appearance on the show in this episode are Wiseguy, Artie, Rainier Wolfcastle (as the fictional action hero McBain), Principal Dondelinger, and Marge’s father. Artie's appearance and body language is based on a man Silverman went to high school with named Mark Eisenberg. Silverman said that when he directed the episode, he went through his high school yearbook for character ideas and designs, because Silverman went to high school in the period that the episode is parodying. Wolfcastle's voice and design was based on actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The writers actually invented Wolfcastle for the episode "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?", before "The Way We Was" went into production, but since "The Way We Was" aired before it is still considered his first appearance. The character was originally named McBain, after the film franchise that he stars in. When the film McBain was released in 1991, after the episode had aired, the films' producers refused to allow the show to use the name in future episodes, so the name Rainier Wolfcastle, to represent the actor's real name, was created to use instead. Later, the use of the name McBain returned to the show.
"The Way We Was" originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 31, 1991. The episode was, together with "Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment", selected for release in a video collection titled The Best of The Simpsons, that was released May 26, 1998. The episode was also included on The Simpsons season two DVD set, which was released on August 6, 2002. Jean, Reiss, Silverman, Matt Groening, and James L. Brooks participated in the DVD's audio commentary. An action figure set based on the episode was released by Winning Moves. It featured the characters Homer, Marge, Artie, Barney, Grampa, Patty, and Selma, all in their flashback designs. In April 2002, as part of an EB Games exclusive, action figures of Marge and Homer in their prom outfits were released by Playmates Toys. An action figure of Artie was also released in June 2004 as part of the wave sixteen release of the World of Springfield series of action figures by Playmates Toys.
The television show that the Simpson family watches at the beginning of the episode, in which the two reviewers discuss the latest McBain film, is a parody of the American television series Siskel & Ebert & the Movies. In the flashback sequence, Homer is seen singing along to the 1973 song "The Joker" by the Steve Miller Band while driving to school. Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin posters hang on the wall of Homer's 1974 bedroom. The 1970 song "(They Long to Be) Close to You" by The Carpenters is heard when Homer sees Marge for the first time. Homer eats a bucket of Shakespeare Fried Chicken when he reveals his feelings towards Marge to Grampa. At the debate, Homer disagrees about the idea of lowering the United States national speed limit to 55 mph (90 km/h), arguing that "Sure, it'll save a few lives, but millions will be late!" This is a reference to the National Maximum Speed Law provision of the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act that prohibited speed limits higher than 55 mph. Barney asks a girl named Estelle if she wants to go to the prom with him, but she tells him that she would not go to the prom with him even if he were American actor Elliott Gould. Artie says he can think of a dozen highly cogent arguments to why Marge should accept his prom offer, one of which is from a Time magazine titled "America's Love Affair with the Prom: Even wallflowers can look forward to one date a year," a reference to the American magazine Time. Songs played in the episode include "The Streak" by Ray Stevens , "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John, "Colour My World" by Chicago, "Pick Up the Pieces" by Average White Band, and "The Hustle" by Van McCoy.
In its original broadcast, "The Way We Was" finished sixteenth in the ratings for the week of January 28–February 3, 1991, with a Nielsen rating of 15.6, equivalent to 14.5 million viewing households. It was the highest-rated show on the Fox network that week.
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, wrote: "A superb episode. Some colorful background for Homer and Marge (and a glimpse of Homer and Barney's schooldays) plus our introduction to the world of the McBain films. Excellent." DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson thought the episode was a "fine program", and added that Lovitz made Artie "amusingly annoying". Jacobson thought the episode captured the "tone of the mid-Seventies with warmth and insight", and the courtship "seemed charming but not sappy, and the show worked well overall." Jacobson's favorite line of the episode was Grampa's advice to Homer about Marge, "Oh, son, don’t overreach! Go for the dented car, the dead-end job, the less attractive girl!" When Homer arrives at the Bouvier house to pick up Marge for the prom, Selma tells Patty "Marge's dates get homelier all the time," to which Patty replies "That's what you get when you don't put out." Dawn Taylor of The DVD Journal thought these were the best lines of the episode. IGN ranked Lovitz as the eighth best guest star in the show's history.
In his book Drawn to Television – Prime-time Animation from the Flintstones to Family Guy, Keith Booker wrote: "The episode details in a rather sentimental fashion the early struggles of the irresponsible Homer to support his new family [...] Such background episodes add an extra dimension to the portrayal of the animated Simpson family, making them seem oddly real and adding weight to their status as a family with a long history together."
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "The Way We Was". BBC. Retrieved 2009-03-12.
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- Jean, Al (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "The Way We Was" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
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