"Burns' Heir" is the eighteenth episode of The Simpsons' fifth season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on April 14, 1994. In the episode, Mr. Burns has a near-death experience which prompts him to find an heir to inherit his wealth after he dies. Although Bart is initially rejected, Burns soon decides to choose him after seeing him as "a creature of pure malevolence". Marge convinces Bart to go spend some time with Burns, and soon becomes more disruptive than normal to his own family and decides to go live with Mr. Burns.
"Burns' Heir" was written by Jace Richdale, his only writing credit. David Silverman was originally going to direct the episode, but he was so swamped with his work as supervising director that it was re-assigned to Mark Kirkland. While the Simpsons are at a movie, there is a parody of the THX sound Deep Note. The THX executives liked the parody so much that the scene was made into an actual THX movie trailer, with the scene being redone for the widescreen aspect ratio. A deleted scene from the episode sees Mr. Burns release a "Robotic Richard Simmons" as a way of getting rid of Homer. The scene was cut, but later included in the season seven clip show "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular".
Mr. Burns almost drowns while taking a bath and he later realizes that no one will carry on his legacy when he dies. He decides to try to find an heir that will inherit his vast fortune. He holds an audition and many of the boys in Springfield try out, including Nelson Muntz, Martin Prince, and Milhouse Van Houten. Bart and Lisa also try out and fail; Lisa because she is a girl (with Milhouse abandoning his plan to return to the stage dressed as a girl after overhearing Mr. Burns) and Bart because he read Homer's badly-worded proposal. Angry and humiliated after the audition ends, only made worse by Burns kicking him in the butt with a mechanical boot, Bart vandalizes Mr. Burns's house. Mr. Burns approves of Bart's malevolence and decides to accept him as his heir.
Homer and Marge sign a legal document which officially names Bart as Mr. Burns' heir. Marge suggests that Bart should spend some time with Mr. Burns. While initially repelled by Mr. Burns' coldness, Bart begins to take a liking to him after Burns promises to give Bart whatever he wants out of his life. Bart decides to abandon his family because Mr. Burns allows him to do anything he likes. His family becomes angry and wants Bart back, so they decide to sue Mr. Burns, but the case does not turn out in their favor. The Simpsons get a deprogrammer to kidnap Bart, but the deprogrammer takes Hans Moleman instead and brainwashes him into thinking he's a part of the Simpson family.
Meanwhile, Bart becomes lonely and wants to go back to his family. Mr. Burns does not want him to leave and tricks him into thinking that his family hates him, using a falsified video with actors playing the Simpson family. Bart decides that Burns is his true father and the two celebrate by firing employees at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. However, one of the employees is Homer and Mr. Burns then tries to break Bart's ties with his family by forcing him to fire Homer. Bart instead "fires" Burns and drops him through a trap door. He decides that he loves his family, and moves back in with them.
"Burns' Heir" was the first episode in which Jace Richdale received a writers' credit, although he was a part of the show's staff for several seasons. When he was starting out as a writer on the show, Richdale was told to come up with some story ideas and he came up with the basic plot off the top of his head. David Silverman was originally going to direct the episode, but he was so swamped with his work as supervising director that it was re-assigned to Mark Kirkland. While the Simpsons are at a movie, there is a parody of the THX sound Deep Note. During that scene, a man's head explodes in a reference to the film Scanners. The THX executives liked the parody so much that the scene was made into an actual THX movie trailer, with the scene being redone for the widescreen aspect ratio.
A deleted scene from the episode sees Mr. Burns release a "Robotic Richard Simmons" as a way of getting rid of Homer, which dances to a recording of K.C. and the Sunshine Band's "Shake Your Booty". Simmons was originally asked to guest star, according to David Mirkin, he was "dying to do the show", but declined when he found out he would voice a robot. It was fully animated, but was cut from "Burns' Heir" because it often did not get a good reaction during table reads. According to Bill Oakley, there was a "significant division of opinion amongst the staff as to whether Richard Simmons was a target The Simpsons should make fun of" because it was "well-trod territory." They also felt it distracted viewers from the story. To the production staff's surprise, the scene would make the audience "erupt with laughter" when screened at animation conventions and college presentations, so they decided to insert it in the season seven clip show "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular". Also shown in the deleted scenes section of the season 5 DVD.
The trailer advertising Mr. Burns' search for an heir is a loose parody of the trailer for Toys, a 1992 comedy starring Robin Williams. Mr. Burns also sings "Let's All Go to the Lobby". Marge's fantasy about Bart graduating from Harvard University with Mr. Burns' money is interrupted by a fantasy of her being lifted into the sky by Lee Majors, accompanied by a sound effect from The Six Million Dollar Man, in which Majors played the title character. Mr. Burns states that he got the idea for installing cameras all through town from Sliver, which he calls a "delightful romp." Moe using a home-made sliding action holster with a pistol while looking in a mirror is a reference to Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. Similarly, Homer secretly eating flowers is a reference to a scene in The Last Emperor in which the empress eats flowers. The young boy saying, "Today, sir? Why, it's Christmas Day!" makes a reference to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. When Mr Burns fakes a video recording of the Simpson family stating they don't want Bart to return, is a parody of a similar scene that appeared in the movie North. The scene in which Burns tells Lenny to defend himself from sacking without using the letter 'e' bears a resemblance to the French novel A Void by Georges Perec which famously contains no 'e's.
In its original broadcast, "Burns' Heir" finished 53rd in ratings for the week of April 11–17, 1994, with a Nielsen rating of 9.4, and was viewed in 8.85 million households. The show dropped four places in the rankings after finishing 49th the previous week. It was the third highest rated show on Fox that week following Living Single and Married... with Children.
The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, wrote that, "the episode lacks the emotional punch of others in which members of the family are separated." DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson wrote that the episode was "such a great concept that it’s a surprise no [one] went for it earlier." He felt that it "occasionally veers on the edge of mushiness, but it avoids becoming too sentimental. It's a blast to see Burns’ world from Bart’s point of view. DVD Talk gave the episode a score of 5 out of 5 while DVD Verdict gave the episode a Grade B score. Paul Campos of Rocky Mountain News described the Robotic Richard Simmons scene as "a level of surreal comedy that approaches a kind of genius."
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family. Created by Matt Groening; edited by Ray Richmond and Antonia Coffman. (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. ASIN 0060952520. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M. ISBN 0-06-095252-0, 978-0-06-095252-5. p. 140.
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Burns' Heir". BBC. Retrieved 2008-04-12.
- Richdale, Jace. (2004). Commentary for "Burns' Heir", in The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Silverman, David. (2004). Commentary for "Burns' Heir", in The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Mirkin, David. (2004). Commentary for "Burns' Heir", in The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Oakley, Bill (2005). The Simpsons The Complete Seventh Season DVD commentary for the episode "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- "Nielsen Ratings /Apr. 11-17". Long Beach Press-Telegram. Associated Press. 1994-04-20.
- Williams, Scott (1994-04-21). "CBS edges ABC in weekly ratings race". South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
- Jacobson, Colin (2004-12-21). "The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season (1993)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved 2009-05-05.
- Gibron, Bill (2004-12-21). "The Simpsons — The Complete Fifth Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2009-05-05.
- Bromley, Judge Patrick (2005-02-23). "The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 2009-05-05.
- Campos, Paul (2000-01-11). "Simpsons' charm is in telling truth". Rocky Mountain News.
- Shorto, Russell (2007-08-24). "Simpsons quotes enter new Oxford dictionary". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-05-02.
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- "Burns' Heir" at The Simpsons.com
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- "Burns' Heir" at the Internet Movie Database