Few celebrity splits have been as distressful or dissected as that of the Simpsons. Not singer Ashlee Simpson and husband Evan Ross, who are still married — as of today, at least.
I’m talking Marge and Homer.
Since early summer, rumors have swirled about a possible legal separation of the two lovably dysfunctional stars of the long-running animated TV series “The Simpsons.” The show returns Sunday night on Fox.
Nerves began fraying in June when the show’s producer, Al Jean, sat down with entertainment trade magazine Variety to talk about the show’s 27th season.
Jean mentioned casually that the couple “legally separate” in the opening episode. Jean also mentioned that Homer falls in love with his pharmacist, voiced by Lena Dunham, creator of the HBO series “Girls.”
Aargh! And whoa, mama!
The possible marriage dissolution was decried on “The View” and CNN, in Ireland News and the Christian Post, and in numerous social network posts.
So what if nearly half of real marriages unravel? After 26 years, viewers simply cannot be expected to envision a co-parenting arrangement for Bart, Lisa and Maggie.
“Three decades of raising young children who never seem to get any older would be enough to strain any marriage to the breaking point,” wrote one worried fan.
Jean has spent the past three months backtracking, clarifying and learning a lot about angst, American-style.
“Cartoon characters can fall down cliffs or blow each other’s heads off, but they cannot get divorced,” he said in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly. “I never used that word. And the next thing I know, it’s crazy headlines.”
Even Marge and “Homie” jumped in to help their creator by recording a short YouTube video debunking the “baseless rumors that we are going to split up.” Then Homer gets shot in the eye with an arrow.
This isn’t the first time divorce has come up on the weirdly endearing, albeit untamed, hit series. Nearly 20 years ago, Homer examined his marriage in an episode titled “A Milhouse Divided.”
Despite the current uproar, Jean remains coy about what actually happens in Sunday’s episode, titled “Every Man’s Dream,” other than to say that the two long-marrieds experience “a new form of marital strife” that does get resolved.
That leaves it to us in the peanut gallery to toss out theories, something I adore doing whether or not I’m right.
Here are my top guesses for what’s coming. (For the record, these are real-life relationship challenges we all might pay attention to.)
Sleep issues. We do know that Homer discovers he has narcolepsy, a disorder that causes sufferers to fall asleep suddenly. While extreme, narcolepsy is on the spectrum of many sleep issues that cause headaches for couples.
Add snoring, hot flashes, differing work schedules and electronics flashing all night long, and it’s no surprise that at least 25 percent of couples fight in bed. Perhaps Marge and Homer will follow a growing trend and move into separate bedrooms.
Feeling unappreciated. Or unloved. Or taken for granted. Dunham’s character, Candace, is reported to be funny and forward. Most important, she shows keen interest in Homer. The fact that she’s intrigued by his big stash of prescription drugs is lost on him. He likes the feeling of being liked, and people are capable of doing all sorts of stupid and regretful things when somebody looks at them the right way. Yes, I’m talking to you, Ashley Madison.
And to you, real-life prison worker Joyce Mitchell, who will be sentenced Monday for helping two convicted murderers escape from a maximum-security prison in upstate New York in June. “I enjoyed the attention,” she said, wiping away tears. She faces seven years in prison.
Boredom. Boredom is a real danger for long-married couples. Maybe Marge and Homer are getting too comfortable after decades together. Or, as hard as it is to fathom, Springfield might not be a sizzling mecca of exciting new adventures to get them out at night. Maybe they sign up for tango lessons in episode two?
Poor communication. Interestingly, the story line for the 1996 episode “A Milhouse Divided” was ahead of its time. After a dinner party at the Simpsons’ home, during which friends Luann and Kirk Van Houten fight constantly, Luann leaves Kirk. Expressing intense surprise, Kirk says he never saw it coming. But maybe he just wasn’t listening. About 60 percent of divorces today are driven by wives; many say they’ve been unhappy for as long as a decade. Homer likely isn’t the only one feeling that he’s running on empty.
Toothpaste. It’s the little things that drive couples crazy. The way he chews. The way she loads the dishwasher. Maybe Marge just couldn’t deal with the way Homie squeezed the tube from the middle.