It’s been said that The Simpsons has predicted everything from Donald Trump’s presidency to the horse meat scandal. Recently, it’s emerged they also got there first with news bulletins being broadcast from home (Kent Brockman, abiding by an under-70s curfew in 1999 episode ‘Wild Barts Can’t Be Broken’) and Tom Hanks self-isolating (it’s just him telling fans, “If you see me in person, please, please leave me be,” supposedly a nod to his Coronavirus diagnosis but only if you try really, really hard to make it fit, like a piece of jigsaw you know isn’t really in the correct position but you’d already lost the will to live when you decided you were bored enough to attempt a jigsaw).
Whether it’s evidence of Charlie Brooker-style Black Mirror techno-wizard sorcery on the part of the writers or proof of the old adage that if you throw enough shit at the wall some of it will stick is up to you. But here’s a weird thing. The second episode of the second-to-latest season of The Simpsons (season 30, broadcast in 2018) features Homer and Marge self-isolating some two years before any of us were unlucky enough to be familiar with the term.
Heartbreak Hotel sees the couple compete on reality TV show The Amazing Place, from which they’re ejected in the very first round. Due to secrecy around the show, they’re then legally obliged to hide out in an airport hotel until the entire season has wrapped filming. What follows will likely resonate with many couples in quarantine, whether longtime partners like Homer and Marge or newer couples thrust into a new arrangement due to coronavirus.
At first, for Homer at least, it’s all a novelty, a chance to spend time without the kids and enjoy the bounties of an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet and Sundries gift shop in the foyer. Such a good time is Homer having, he sings an Elvis Presley-style song about it, ‘Airport Hotel’, one of the funniest musical Simpsons moments in years. “The pool’s so chlorine-y, baby/The towel’s so teeny, baby/Not a lifeguard to be seen-y/We could die…”.
Marge, meanwhile, is in self-loathing mode for having crapped out of her favourite TV game show, and is begging the housekeeping staff to let her do her own housework. Soon, the reality of the situation sets in for both Homer and Marge, and the episode becomes that much more relatable to UK isolators in week two of lockdown, at the point when tolerance for the way your partner chews/breathes/looks at you has depleted to almost nothing, you’re breaking out in a chronic case of the cabin fever and you’ve Googled how much rat poison you could slip into someone’s food without affecting the taste.
So when the cinematography shifts into black and white, we’re into a pastiche of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, in which a dishevelled Homer accuses Marge of “braying” every time she opens her mouth and a gin-soaked Marge cruelly flirts with Nick, another show reject who’s been invited to their room for a party. “Boy, last night sure was a searing portrait of a marriage in turmoil,” says Homer over the breakfast buffet the following morning. “It’s still in turmoil, you chocolate-gobbling dream-killer,” replies Marge.
Does it end happily? Not particularly, no. But this is The Simpsons, Homer and Marge’s marriage is made of famously stern stuff, and the 30-year-long status quo is, of course, reset by the next episode.
Really, it’s well thought of as a handful of dos-and-don’ts for couples cohabiting in these strange times. Don’t go to bed on an argument. Don’t overdo the gin (it makes everyone cry-y). Be sensitive to your partner’s feelings. And don’t write off the latter-day Simpsons episodes, finally available to non-Sky subscribing Brits thanks to the recently launched Disney+. They’re really much better than the prevailing groupthink would have you believe. And, really, have you got anything better to be doing?