"Simpson Tide" is the nineteenth episode of The Simpsons' ninth season and originally aired on the Fox network on March 29, 1998. After being fired from the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, Homer decides to join the United States Navy Reserve. The episode was the second and last to be written by Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia and was also the final episode directed by Milton Gray.
It guest starred Rod Steiger as Captain Tenille and Bob Denver as himself, with one-time Simpsons writer Michael Carrington making an appearance as the Drill Sergeant. This was the last episode Al Jean and Mike Reiss executive produced together, although Jean would become show runner again in season 13.
Homer, Lenny and Carl all want a doughnut, but only one is left and Homer grossly drools all over it. Homer then thinks up a solution: he places the donut in the reactor core in an attempt to make it huge enough for them to all have enough to eat. Within ten minutes, the power plant is on fire and Homer is fired (after pretending it was his first day which Mr. Burns initially fell for, until Smithers pointed out he'd worked at SNPP for 10 years). While lying on the couch at home, Homer sees a recruitment ad on TV for the Naval Reserve and decides to make a difference and enlist. Moe, Barney, and Apu also decide to join him: Barney wants to look out for his best friend's safety, Moe wants to ensure his two best customers remain alive and well, and Apu is opposed by religion to any form of war but says "what the heck". Meanwhile, Bart is impressed when Milhouse gets an earring, and all the students (including the bullies) find it very cool. Bart then buys himself an earring as well, much to Homer's outrage. He then hopes to woo everyone with it, but later finds out that every student has bought himself/herself an earring, except for Lisa (who is forbidden by Homer to get her ears pierced earlier).
Homer and the others attend boot camp and soon graduate. They are later forced to participate in the annual war games and are placed on board a nuclear submarine the SSBN U.S.S. Jebediah which is under the command of Captain Tenille. Homer says goodbye to his family, and Bart and Homer argue about the earring. Bart bitterly removes the earring and gives it to Homer, who then boards the submarine. Captain Tenille takes a shine to Homer and when the Captain goes to check on a problem in the torpedo hatch, Homer is left in charge. At this point, an enemy submarine approaches Homer's, and Homer immediately responds by giving the order to fire a torpedo. However, Captain Tenille is in the torpedo hatch and is fired at the other submarine. The other sub fires back at them, and Homer gives the order to retreat. The submarine ends up in Russian waters and is seen by the United States government as an attempt to defect. This event creates a political schism between the USA and Russia, leading to the revelation that the Soviet Union in fact never truly dissolved. Nuclear war is anticipated until the US Navy drops depth charges on Homer's sub, aiming either to destroy it or force it to surface. The consequent explosion causes a pinhole leak in the submarine's wall. The crew all believe their situation is fatal until Homer remembers the earring he took from Bart. He uses it to plug the leak and saves the submarine.
The vessel surfaces and Homer is taken to be court-martialed. Because the officers on the review committee have done such awful things as accidentally sink a cruise ship, accept bribes from defense contractors, and refuse to stop impersonating Hillary Clinton, Homer's punishment ends up being a mild dishonorable discharge and he immediately forgives Bart, as the earring saved his life.
"Simpson Tide" was one of two season nine episodes that was executive produced by Al Jean and Mike Reiss, who together were the showrunners for the third and fourth seasons. Although Jean would later return to run the show, it was the last episode that Reiss received an executive producer credit for. Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia, the episode writers, were working on Jean and Reiss's show The Critic at the time, and pitched an episode where Homer joins the Naval Reserve. Although the episode is partly based on the film Crimson Tide, the original episode pitch was made before the film was released. After the release of the film, the writers decided to start incorporating things from the movie in the script. In the original draft, Bart sneaked on board the submarine with Homer. They were trying to do it "for the comedy of it", but could not get the draft to work, so it was cut. It was difficult for them to figure out how to get the captain off of the sub and they eventually decided to have him shot out of the torpedo tube, which in the DVD commentary, Al Jean says that Steiger claimed that he really did get stuck in a torpedo tube once.
The Navy drill instructor, along with the announcer to "Exploitation Theater," was voiced by Michael Carrington, who had written the season four episode "Homer's Triple Bypass" and previously voiced Sideshow Raheem. Bob Denver voices himself in the episode and was directed by Mike Reiss. Rod Steiger guest stars as Captain Tenille and was directed by Al Jean.
Many parts of the episode, including the title, refer to the 1995 film Crimson Tide. The character Captain Tenille is based on Captain Frank Ramsey, a character in the film who was portrayed by Gene Hackman. Tenille's name is a reference to the musical duo Captain and Tennille. The opening couch gag is a recreation of the Rocky and Bullwinkle animated bumper seen at the end of each Bullwinkle short. The music accompanying it is also adapted from the original music in the bumper. Homer mentions that he and his friends joining the Navy is similar to The Deer Hunter, and the Russian roulette scene from the film is later parodied. Right before the submarine submerges, the song "In the Navy" is played and the Village People (along with Smithers) can be seen dancing. Homer dreams of being on "the planet of the doughnuts", which is reminiscent of the film Planet of the Apes, and when aboard the submarine, refers to one of the crew members as Mr. Sulu, a reference to the character in Star Trek. Bart sings a portion of the song "Do the Bartman" and Ralph Wiggum comments that it "is so 1991", which was when the song was released. Grampa Simpson claims that he attacked John F. Kennedy on the PT-109 when Kennedy stated "Ich bin ein Berliner," leading to Grampa mistaking him for a Nazi. The piece of music played after it is revealed that the Soviet Union never dissolved is 'Boyar's Chorus' from Romantic composer Borodin's opera Prince Igor.
In its original broadcast, "Simpson Tide" finished 29th in ratings for the week of March 23–29, 1998, with a Nielsen rating of 9.2, equivalent to approximately 9.0 million viewing households. It was the second highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following The X-Files.
Michael Schiffer, one of the writers of the film Crimson Tide, is said to have enjoyed this episode. Mike Reiss considers the sequence where Russia returns to being the Soviet Union to be "the nuttiest the show has ever been". The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, called it "a fairly straightforward episode where the biggest laugh comes from Homer being able to talk to penguins and Bart trying to impress his classmates by doing The Bartman."
- Gimple, Scott M. (December 1, 1999). The Simpsons Forever!: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family ...Continued. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-098763-3.
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Simpson Tide". BBC. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
- "Simpson Tide". The Simpsons.com. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
- Reiss, Mike (2006). The Simpsons season 9 DVD commentary for the episode "Simpson Tide" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Jean, Al (2006). The Simpsons season 9 DVD commentary for the episode "Simpson Tide" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Associated Press (April 2, 1998). "ABC rides Oscar to ratings win". Sun-Sentinel. p. 4E.
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- "Simpson Tide" at The Simpsons.com
- "Simpson Tide" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive
- Simpson Tide at the Internet Movie Database
- "Simpson Tide" at TV.com