Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?
"Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" is the twenty-fourth and final episode of The Simpsons' third season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on August 27, 1992. In the episode, Homer is awarded a US$2,000 compensation after the radiation from the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant causes him to become infertile. Meanwhile, Homer's half-brother, Herb, now living on the streets, comes to the Simpsons' house with a plan on how to regain his wealth. He reluctantly turns to Homer for help, and asks for the $2,000 so that he can develop a new product that will translate baby babbling into speech. The product becomes hugely successful and Herb regains his fortune.
The episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Rich Moore. Danny DeVito guest starred in it as Herb, while Joe Frazier guest starred as himself. "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" was the second time Herb appeared on the show; he had previously appeared in the season two episode "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?", in which Homer causes him to become bankrupt. The producers decided to create this episode in part because many fans were unhappy about the sad ending to "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?". "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" received positive reviews from critics and DeVito was praised for his guest performance.
A routine physical exam at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant reveals that safety inspector Homer Simpson has become sterile after being exposed to radiation. Fearing a lawsuit, plant owner Mr. Burns awards Homer with the "First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence" and a US$2,000 prize in exchange for a legal waiver freeing the nuclear plant of all liability. Joe Frazier is the host of the award ceremony, which features extraordinary extravagance in order to trick Homer into believing that it is a real ceremony.
The Simpsons cannot decide on what to do with the money, especially Homer, who wishes to buy the Spinemelter 2000; an expensive vibrating chair. Herb, Homer's half-brother, now living on the streets, was the owner of a successful car manufacturer before he was ruined by Homer. After observing a mother unable to discern what her baby wants, Herb comes up with an idea to help regain his wealth: to create a machine that will translate baby babbling into actual English. Upon seeing a newspaper about Homer's award ceremony, he visits Homer, requesting the money to finance his project. He builds the translator and presents it at a trade show, which proves to be a huge success.
Along with returning the $2,000 to Homer, Herb buys several gifts for the Simpson family, including a new washer and dryer for Marge, a subscription to the Greater Books of Western Civilization for Lisa, and a lifetime membership to the NRA for Bart (since he is too young to have the machine gun he mentioned earlier). Herb then tells Homer that his gift to him is forgiveness for ruining him in the first place, and he and Homer re-establish a brotherly relationship. Finally, Homer is rewarded for his generosity and faith when Herb has a truck pull in with the "damn chair", the Spinemelter, which Homer is ecstatic to receive. The episode ends with the family relaxing in the living room while Homer happily relaxes on the vibrating chair.
The episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Rich Moore. The reason for the late broadcast on August 27, 1992 (the season usually ends in May) was because the Fox network decided to add an additional episode to the season and show it during the summer to become "the biggest network" on television. As a result, the writers, animators, and producers had to work longer hours than normal to be able to finish the extra episode, which became "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" The idea for the scenes involving the Spinemelter 2000 originated when one of the writers bought a vibrating chair to relax after working 20 hours a day on the episode.
The decision to make another episode with Herb was reached due to many viewers being unhappy about the sad ending to the previous episode "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" (season two, 1991), in which Homer causes Herb to become bankrupt. It was decided that an episode would be created in which he regains his fortune. Originally the producers were going to end the original Herb episode with Herb saying "I have an idea!" at the end of it, but they decided to flesh this out into a full story, which resulted in "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" In addition, the producers decided that they enjoyed Danny DeVito's guest starring as Herb in "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?", so they brought him back. Cast member Hank Azaria noted that DeVito was less enthusiastic in his second performance as Herb: "Some people come in and you can tell they kind of regretted doing it. The second time, Danny DeVito was like 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, let's get it over with.' He did a great job, but he didn't enjoy the process."
In part because the writers had so many ideas for what Herb would invent, the original script of "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" ended up being too long at fifty-three pages. During the same time as the voices were being recorded, the writers cut some of the material. One of the cut scenes featured Herb running after a train in order to ask which Springfield it was going to; the writers, however, decided to include a similar scene in a later episode, "Burns, Baby Burns" (season eight, 1996). There was originally a joke in the script that predicted the Soviet Union breakdown; however, as the Soviet Union already broke down between the writing of the script and the air time, the joke was scrapped.
Boxer Joe Frazier guest starred in the episode as himself. Show runner Al Jean has stated that Frazier was hard to record, especially him saying the word "excellence" in the title of Mr. Burns' award. George Meyer, who directed Frazier, commented that he got the pronunciation right after almost 20 takes. The original script for "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" included a scene in which town drunk Barney Gumble knocked out Frazier, who is a Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Frazier's son, however, objected to this scene: "Yes, I suggested that they change that. [Frazier] was a world champion, and a world champion does not get knocked out. My dad has only been knocked down twice, and that was by George Foreman." Originally, the producers wanted Foreman to appear instead of Frazier, but he was unavailable.
The title of the episode and the plot, to a certain extent, is a reference to the common expression "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?", a song of the Great Depression that has been recorded multiple times by artists since. The Walt Disney Company is referenced at the beginning of the episode when a homeless bum mutters to Herb: "Yeah, I used to be rich. I owned Mickey Mouse Massage Parlors, then those Disney sleazeballs shut me down." While Homer relaxes in the Spinemelter chair at the store he sees images in his head that are a reference to the penultimate scenes of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In one scene, Homer reminisces about sitting on his old couch while watching Dallas, the Hands Across America charity event, the Berlin Wall coming down, and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.. The last scene where Herb presents the Simpsons family with gifts for their trust in him is a reference to the film The Wizard of Oz, in which the Wizard presents Dorothy, the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man with gifts.
In its original American broadcast, "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" finished 31st in the ratings for the week of August 24–30, 1992, with a Nielsen rating of 10.7, equivalent to approximately 9.76 million viewing households. It was the second highest-rated show on the Fox network that week following the 44th Primetime Emmy Awards. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide were positive of the episode, particularly praising the scenes involving Homer's fixation for vibrating chairs and Maggie speaking to the family through the baby translator. The Guardian's David Eklid said episodes such as "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?", "Lisa's Pony" and "Stark Raving Dad" make season three "pretty much the best season of any television show, ever." The episode's reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey was named the 27th greatest film reference in the history of the show by Total Film's Nathan Ditum.
Herb's reappearance was praised by reviewers of the episode. Nate Meyers of Digitally Obsessed stated that Herb is "a perfect sibling for [...] Homer, with the two characters having a harmonious give-and-take comedic style. Indeed there isn't a great deal of substance in John Swartzwelder's script, but it is a great deal of fun with plenty of laughs to more than make up for this flaw. There is also a humorous cameo by Joe Frazier that puts a nice accent on the show." Bill Gibron of DVD Verdict gave "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" a near-perfect score of 99/100, praising it for "the jokes about what the money could be spent on (including one of the best bits ever in a Simpsons episode—Homer sitting on a high-tech vibrating chair) and a good impetus to reintroduce Herb."
Several critics have praised DeVito's appearance. DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson said he enjoyed seeing what happened to Herb, "and DeVito's performance helps make the show more successful; they really need to bring him back one of these days." Tom Adair of The Scotsman considers "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" to be a classic episode of the show, in part because of DeVito's performance. Gibron also liked the choice of DeVito as the voice of Herb as he is "almost the antithesis of everything Dan Castellaneta does with Homer vocally." Ditum ranked DeVito's performance as the tenth best guest appearance in the show's history.
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- "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" at The Simpsons.com
- "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive
- "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" at the Internet Movie Database
- "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" at TV.com