It was way back in 1991, in season two episode ‘A Brush With Greatness’, that the makers of The Simpsons first depicted Great Britain – in this case, it was a cutaway to Ringo Starr’s country pile, where he was dutifully sorting through fanmail dating back to his days in The Beatles.
Since then, a future Lisa married a stuck-up British toff (season six’s ‘Lisa’s Wedding’), a future Maggie was shown pregnant at a London hotel named “The Benny Hilton” (season 23’s ‘Holidays Of Future Passed’), a team of Springfield’s finest travelled to Scotland to capture the Loch Ness monster (season 10’s ‘Monty Can’t Buy Me Love’ and the Simpsons took a full British holiday (season 15’s ‘The Regina Monologues’). The Simpsons’ love affair with Britain is bordering on obsession, and we so love them for it we can just about forgive the “Big Book Of British Smiles” (season four).
Yet you have to wonder if anyone involved with the programme has ever actually set foot on British soil. In this week’s episode, Olivia Colman plays Lily, a British woman who frequently breaks into song. It depicts scenes of London pubs in which tweedy men have moustaches, bowler hats, braces and ale flagons and cobbled London Streets that look like something from Disenchantment, Matt Groening’s animated Netflix fantasy. The most topical gag is the name of a pub – the Brexiting Swan. Meanwhile, Groundskeeper Willie narrates the episode in the bizarre Scottish accent Dan Castellaneta has spent 30 years not improving.
The Simpsons always goes for broad-brush cultural stereotyping of other nations, but its version of Britain is based on hopelessly dated source material: Monty Python, Mary Poppins, James Bond and The Beatles. At the time of their last British holiday, Tony Blair was in power and The O2 was the Millennium Dome. Perhaps it’s time the family hopped over the pond again and updated its vision of our nation – there is plenty more to laugh at these days, sadly.
Lily (Olivia Colman), a British woman with whom all men fall in love, is exiled to the States and makes her way to Springfield, “America’s least romantic city”, in the hopes of escaping unwanted male attention. In Homer Simpson, however, Lily finds a man who is utterly immune to her charms and is compelled to pursue him instead.
Meanwhile, Marge has taken the kids to upmarket holiday spot Martha’s Vineyard to stay in a family member’s cottage (there was a “no Homers” clause to the deal). Even without the patriarch causing chaos, this Simpsons vacation goes awry when Bart gets covered in ticks and the Vineyard is overrun by boatloads of tourists.
What was good
Oscar-winning national treasure Olivia Colman, of course, in spite of her thin character and confused motivations. Even with sub-par Simpsons material to work with, the way Colman delivers lines is a cut above, particularly when she explains her affection for Homer in a prayer: “Forgive me, Lord, I must have Homer, please let me win him even briefly. It will be like having a lover and a child at the same time.”
What wasn’t good
Déjà vu. How many times have we seen Homer being tempted by another woman and ultimately deciding Marge is his one true love? The worst thing about this regurgitated plotline is the apologetic way it’s presented this time – even Homer finds the idea of an affair boring.
Marge to Bart, who’s fed up and covered in tick bites: “Watch Itchy and Scratchy”.
Bart’s reply: “I am itchy and scratchy!”
WTF of the week
In a British pub, a brawling local holds a tin of ‘Wankers Shortbread’ with a Union Jack on it. We’ll say it again: Wankers Shortbread.
Easter egg of the week
A rare appearance of Mr Burns’ yacht, Gone Fission, first seen back in season 10.
Nice to see you, Leonardo DiCaprio…
He’s surprisingly yet to lend his voice to the show, but a non-speaking Leo makes his second Simpsons appearance as one of Lily’s potential suitors. She rebuffs him.
Pop culture parodies
When Homer has the realisation that he does, in fact, have romantic feelings for Lily, we see the pair of them locking eyes in a psychedelic melange of animated styles, including a Rotoscope-style segment that nods to A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’ video.
On a higher-brow note, a scene that sees Homer, Lily, Lenny and Carl relaxing on the power plant lawn is a visual reference to the work of French impressionist Georges Seurat. Fancy that.
The title of the episode is, of course, a pun on Marilyn Monroe’s 1955 movie The Seven Year Itch.
Eye on Springfield
- Writer(s): Joel H. Cohen and John Frink from a story by Al Jean
- Guest stars: Olivia Colman
- Couch gag: On the moon, Homer floats off into space.
- Blackboard message: n/a
- Is it as good as the old ones? Nowhere near
- Like this episode? Try this one: Season three’s ‘Colonel Homer’ – the one with Beverley D’Angelo as country singer Lurleen Lumpkin – is the ultimate Homer infidelity episode, of course.