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Tag Archives: Homer Simpson
In the opening of “Last Exit to Springfield”, one of The Simpsons’ most celebrated episodes, Homer and Bart watch a scene from the latest McBain shoot-em-up. It ends with McBain’s dastardly antagonist Mendoza laughing maniacally, having felled his adversary with a poisoned salmon puff. Bart is aghast at such villainy, but Homer reassures his son that “there’s nobody that evil in real life.” Then, in one of the show’s trademark subversions, the episode immediately cuts to Mr. Burns, who is laughing exactly as maniacally at an imperiled window washer who’s dangling just outside his office.
The lesson is clear. As much as we may wish our most fearsome of foes were confined to celluloid and pixels, sometimes the art that holds a mirror up to nature can reflect our reality with a disquieting accuracy. More to the point, given that long ago The Simpsons itself had already depicted a wealthy businessman running for office against an experienced civil servant while railing against the establishment; since it had already shown a former TV star and political outsider (with awful, awful hair) defeating an incumbent through his use of media-friendly bombast; and considering the show even went so far as to posit a future where a newly elected Lisa Simpson would inherit a budget crunch from President Trump, perhaps we should start paying closer attention to its predictions.
But The Simpsons doesn’t just provide, as Kent Brockman puts it, “a chilling vision of things to come.” It also offers guidance. While no one should aim to look, think, or act like Homer Simpson, episodes like “Last Exit to Springfield” shine a light on the way regular people can find themselves emboldened by circumstance and demonstrates how we unwashed masses can stand up to the plutocratic figureheads who might threaten to take away the things we need and hold dear.
The Simpsons has never addressed Homer’s alcoholism more directly than it did in “Duffless”, and for good reason. As I discussed with the fine folks at the The Simpsons Show podcast this week, Homer’s love for beer is such an essential part of who he is to the general public, that it’s almost as synonymous with him as his dim-wittedness or his love of donuts. That essentially means the show can never truly change this facet of Homer’s personality, which, in turn, makes it pretty unlikely that The Simpsons will ever explore the issue in any greater depth than it did here. It’s a serious topic to tackle in the first place, and it’s a tough one to get right when you have to leave an iconic character the way you found him, to the point that he’s basically not allowed to make any sort of change for the better. Thus the series, as a general rule, tends to sidestep the issue.
Don’t get me wrong, The Simpsons frequently makes references to Homer’s vigorous beer consumption, but it’s generally played for laughs and never taken terribly seriously. I don’t have a problem with that either. Sure, at a big picture level there may be something mildly pernicious about depicting someone who drinks as much as Homer does never suffering any lasting consequences from it, but (1) The Simpsons is a comedy show, not an after school special and (2) Homer is, entirely independently of his drinking, already a terrible role model who rarely, if ever, suffers consequences for anything. Heck, the show centered an entire episode around that idea. If Homer Simpson is the example by which people live their lives, then they have bigger problems than one-too-many Duffs.
I was just a kid when I began watching The Simpsons religiously. That meant that, at the time, a good portion of the show went completely over my head: homages to classic movies, references to snuggling, jokes about Richard Nixon. It also made revisiting the show as an adult a wonderfully enriching experience. While the exquisite construction and sheer hilarity of the series enraptured me as a kid, I discovered deeper layers of storytelling, humor, and commentary in the show as an adult that I could never have fathomed in all my young fanaticism. But that naivete also meant that I completely missed how unremittingly dark the series could be in an episode like “Homer’s Enemy”.
Now The Simpsons is no stranger to dark comedy. It’s often employed in the tragicomic stylings of characters like Moe Szyslak or Hans Moleman, who suffer repeatedly for our amusement and turn up again no worse for wear. But there are few moments in the show’s canon that can match the pure black comedy of Frank Grimes’s descent into madness, or the conclusion of his debut episode, where the denizens of Springfield are laughing at Homer’s antics, while Grimes is lowered into his grave after an untimely death.
I dreaded the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover. Even setting aside the inherent pitfalls of crossovers generally, it’s been a long time since either show was pitching its fastball. Despite the two series’ basic similarities, their comedic sensibilities differ pretty dramatically. The idea of one show’s staff writing the other show’s characters did not inspire confidence in either side of the writers’ room. And the tense, if playful, rivalry between The Simpsons and Family Guy did not suggest an easy fit behind the scenes.
But against all odds, Richard Appel, who served as a writer and producer for both shows, oversaw the episode, and put together a surprisingly cohesive, funny, and above all else, worthwhile crossover.
Michael Scott had just hit Meredith with his car. Jim and Pam were already together. That’s where I started with The Office.
I don’t normally begin television shows in the middle. In fact, I’m pretty doctrinaire about avoiding spoilers and slogging through a series’ early growing pains to understand the foundation on which later stories and character developments will be built. But a friend had invited me to a watch party for the Season 4 premiere. I was hard pressed to say no.
And it cracked me up.
Oddly enough, some fans point to the fourth season as the beginning of the series’ decline – when it stopped being a realistic if fractured look at modern office life and descended into the wacky adventures of an increasingly cartoonish workforce. But the laughs got my attention. Every week, Michael Scott had some great line that tickled my funny bone until the next episode aired. From something as weird as “You don’t know me; you just saw my penis.” to confused statements like “New ideas are fine, but they’re also illegal.” to the even more whimsical pronouncements like “I DECLARE BANKRUPTCY!” each episode had more than its fair share of entertaining and quotable bits.
But while the buffoonery of Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute drew me in, it was the show’s emotional core – best exemplified by the relationship between Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly – that made the show something special. When I first watched them hold hands and pick out ridiculous items from a garage sale, I had no idea of the strain and struggles the characters had been through to get there. I just saw a cute couple who had a fun repartee and seemed to really enjoy each other’s company. That was what kept me coming back.
Parodies are often a gamble. You have to hope that the audience understands the reference, and enjoys the in-jokes and homages to other works. If not, you have to hope that the story or characters you’re referencing are solid enough to provide the backbone of an episode on their own, otherwise you are asking for a call-and-response that the audience doesn’t know how to answer.
This was the biggest problem with tonight’s episode of The Simpsons, “The Man in the Blue Flannel Pants.” The episode is essentially one long reference to AMC’s Mad Men, the award-winning drama about advertising executives in the 60’s. In this episode, Homer becomes the accounts manager for the power plant, wearing under the daily grind of glad-handing and schmoozing with the plant’s clients. The homage is replete with a guest appearance from Mad Men’s John Slattery as the outgoing account manager. Unfortunately, despite the fact that it has been on my list for some time, I have never seen Mad Men, and it made the episode feel a little threadbare to me.
Someday, The Simpsons is going to end.
As a diehard fan, even one who has some significant misgivings about the current state of the show, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The Simpsons has been on as long as I’ve been watching television. Even at its lowest lows, it’s been the small screen version of comfort food for me, and sooner or later our favorite family will sign off for the last time.
If show runner Al Jean is to be believed, that might not be for another twenty-five years. Still, the day is going to come, and I think it’s close on the horizon. With the recent contract negotiation, standoff, and finally renewal through Season 25, the end of the show appears to be on the minds of those who work on and produce it. Whether it’s threats to pull the plug in order to prompt salary cuts or requests for a share in the back end profits of the show, those involved seem to have a not-too-distant endpoint in mind.
This begs the question – how do you end a show that will have been on television for a quarter of a century and produced more than five-hundred episodes? How do you sum up, honor, and conclude twenty-five years worth of adventures? It’s a tall order to say the least.