When Is a Movie Parody Not a Movie Parody?

Last night’s episode of The Simpsons was a parody of the classic 1967 movie Two For the Road. Except it wasn’t really a parody, since it didn’t make fun of the movie or send out any clear signals that it was based on a movie at all. (And since Two For the Road isn’t all that well known nowadays, many Simpsons viewers had no idea that it was based on anything; it probably just looked like a slightly different approach to flashbacks, rather than the usual solution of having Homer and Marge tell the story.) So rather than a parody or even an homage, I would call this an episode that was influenced by Two For the Road; the writers figured they could use the movie’s  multi-story, time-jumping structure on the show, and that it would work on two levels: those who had seen the movie would appreciate the nod, and the majority of viewers who hadn’t seen the movie would just find the structure interesting. This isn’t the first time The Simpsons has borrowed a story or structure from a classic, obscure movie; the great “Radio Bart” episode was an idea that Matt Groening got after seeing Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, and the story is borrowed from that movie, which was almost impossible to find at that time.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the episode itself (last night’s ep, I mean, not Radio Bart, which is eternally awesome), but this is the 973rd “Homer and Marge’s Marriage In Crisis” episode the show has done in the Al Jean era, and even the Two For the Road structure can’t make that story seem fresh.


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