Many episodes of The Simpsons have generated their fair share of fan hate over the show’s 33 seasons, but what made the season 27 premiere “Every Man’s Dream” stand out for viewers and reviewers alike? Since the series debuted in 1989, The Simpsons has had a talent for annoying its own fans from time to time. While early seasons of The Simpsons were lauded by viewers and critics alike, even during the show’s so-called Golden Age, Springfield’s favorite family tended to troll their audience on occasion.
For example, The Simpsons’ infamous ‘Armin Tamzarian’ episode “The Principal and The Pauper” (season 9, episode 2) revealed that the show’s longstanding supporting star Seymour Skinner was not the starched shirt pencil-pusher he always seemed, but rather a rebellious hellion who stole the identity of a man he thought had died in Vietnam. However, The Simpsons retconned this controversial plot twist in the same episode, with Springfield’s population deciding to ignore Skinner’s origins and simply pretend they never discovered the deception. According to some fans, this sort of playful non-continuity kept The Simpsons fresh but limited the show’s emotional impact, according to others.
However, while episodes such as “The Principal and the Pauper” may be seen as divisive and some fans even felt that The Simpsons’ Golden Age was ended by “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” (season 6, episode 25), these outings had at least as many defenders as they did detractors. The sizeable fanbase of The Simpsons means that most of its “Worst. Episode. Ever” contenders have their defenders, which makes the failure of season 27’s premiere all the more striking. The episode saw Marge and Homer separate for the umpteenth time, but what made “Every Man’s Dream” stand out to fans and critics alike as a low point for The Simpsons? The answer was a combination of excessive guest stars, knotty plotting, and character choices that didn’t ring true to the established personas of the Simpsons themselves.
Early on in the show’s existence, The Simpsons used guest stars sparingly and carefully. The show’s Michael Jackson cameo (and The Simpsons’ subsequent canceled Prince episode), for example, mined its uber-famous guest star for unexpected comedic potential by having the pop giant play a deluded asylum patient convinced he was Michael Jackson. This sort of playful meta-commentary allowed The Simpsons to poke fun at the idea of celebrity at a time when the show itself was as (if not more) popular as the stars it attracted. However, as the popularity of The Simpsons waned over the years, the series became more and more unapologetic about fawning over celebrities to secure their voice talents. Where Jackson played an unhinged superfan of his real-life self, later celebrity guest stars such as Alec Baldwin and Mel Gibson simply played themselves, and The Simpsons made sure not to mock their many scandals.
This approach led to The Simpsons’ infamously hated Lady Gaga and Elon Musk episodes, both of which functioned as extended advertisements for their guest stars. “Every Man’s Dream,” in fairness, was not as shameless about praising its guests. However, Homer dating a character played by Girls star/writer Lena Dunham had potential, but bringing the entire primary cast of Girls into the episode was overkill. Dunham could have played off her persona and poked fun at herself, but the chaotic plotting of the episode and the decision to cram in appearances from Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver, Jemima Kirke, and Allison Williams resulted in the episode having no time to make fun of its supposed guest.
Although Homer and Marge had broken up before, the reason for their separation in “Every Man’s Dream” (Homer’s narcolepsy and bad behavior, which are equated with one another) was mean-spirited and poorly argued. The fact that both characters swiftly slept with other people to introduce The Simpsons’ celebrity guest star to the plot didn’t help. Even outside of this out-of-character behavior, though, throughout the episode, the pair lacked the chemistry Marge and Homer historically shared on The Simpsons.
The Simpsons Movie managed to center a tense plot around the possibility of Marge and Homer’s marriage falling apart despite how unlikely this twist was, but it worked because their emotional devastation rang true despite the movie’s mile-a-minute gag pacing. The Simpsons Movie featured a slew of memorable jokes, but they never detracted from the sadness of seeing one of television’s longest-lasting marriages torn apart. In contrast, the versions of Homer and Marge viewers saw in “Every Man’s Dream” didn’t appear to care about each other all that much, making their breakup meaningless for fans.
The Simpsons season 27 premiere’s ending revealed that most of The Simpsons episode’s action was only a dream, only to reveal that this dream was a dream within a dream. The Simpsons’ best Treehouse of Horror Halloween special managed to pull off an authentically funny and unexpected “it was all a dream” twist, so the goofy series can pull this tired trope out of the bag and make it feel fresh. However, the revelation that the dream within a dream was itself was all only a story told by an elaborate tattoo on the back of Dunham’s character was a step too far. Although potentially funny in its silliness, the repetitive nature of the twist made the plot feel pointless and seemed like an easy out for the writers.
As if aware that paired Marge and Homer up with new romantic interests would annoy long-time viewers, The Simpsons used its lax continuity to undo the episode. However, the effort was half-hearted at best. Rather than coming as a genuine surprise, the reveal that none of the episode’s action really happened (even within the loose canon of The Simpsons) smacked of a desperate attempt to write the plot out of a hole. Bringing Marge and Homer back together after both slept with other people would have been a depressing sight, and failing to return to the status quo was unthinkable for The Simpsons, so the ending that the creators opted for was effectively hitting undo on the story, earning the ire of both fans and critics.
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Author: Cathal Gunning