Brush with Greatness
"Brush with Greatness" is the eighteenth episode of The Simpsons' second season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on April 11, 1991. In the episode, Marge revives her high school-era interest in painting by enrolling in an art class after getting encouraged by Lisa. When she wins first prize in a local art competition for a portrait of Homer on the couch in his underwear, Mr. Burns commissions her to paint a portrait of him. Meanwhile, Homer is determined to lose weight after becoming stuck in a water slide at an amusement park.
The episode was written by Brian K. Roberts and directed by Jim Reardon. Beatles member Ringo Starr guest starred as himself, while Jon Lovitz starred as Marge's art teacher, Professor Lombardo. The episode features cultural references to films such as Rocky and Gone with the Wind. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics, who praised the use of Starr and the central focus on Marge. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 12.0, and was the second highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.
After Bart and Lisa see Krusty the Clown do his show at the Mt. Splashmore water park on TV, they consistently irritate and supplicate Homer about going there. Homer gets annoyed, but reluctantly decides to take them there. The family goes to Mt. Splashmore, where Bart, Lisa and Homer ride an intense water slide named H2WHOA!. Due to his weight, Homer gets lodged in a section of the slide and the park's rescue crew are forced to shut down the ride and remove him with the help of a large crane. Homer is made a fool of on the news for his massive size and admits that he needs to lose weight.
Once home, Homer announces to his family that he will go on a diet and exercise more. While Homer is looking for his weights in the attic, Bart stumbles upon several old paintings of Ringo Starr that Marge made as a student in high school, when she had a crush on Starr. Marge tells Lisa that she was scolded by her art teacher for doing those paintings; she also recalls sending a painting to Starr for an "honest opinion", but she never got a response. Lisa suggests that Marge take a painting class at Springfield Community College, which she does. She makes a painting of Homer on the couch in his underwear, which her professor, Lombardo, praises. The painting wins the college art show, thus gaining her fame and the headlines of the newspapers.
Mr. Burns wants Marge to paint his portrait for the Burns Wing of the Springfield Art Museum. She reluctantly agrees, as long as Burns insists that the painting portray him as a beautiful man. While Burns heckles Marge as she does the painting, Homer finds out that he weighs 239 pounds, which is twenty-one pounds less than what it had been. After Burns insults Homer's weight, Lisa and Maggie, Marge throws him out and is ready to quit until Homer encourages her to finish the painting: She also gets a reply from Starr, who is decades behind on answering his fanmail, praising her artwork. After working until well into the night, she finishes the painting and then it is unveiled at the opening of the Burns Wing. The painting depicts a naked, frail, and weak Burns. The people are shocked, until Marge explains that it depicts what Burns actually is: a vulnerable human being which will, one day, be no more. Burns is outraged at first, but then, like everyone else, accepts his new glory, praises Marge's painting and thanks Marge "for not making fun of [his] genitalia", to which Marge replies, "I thought I did."
The episode was written by Brian K. Roberts and directed by Jim Reardon. Prior to writing the episode, Roberts had been an audio and visual editor on the show. Musician Ringo Starr made a guest appearance in the episode as himself. He was the first Beatle to appear on the show; both George Harrison and Paul McCartney would later guest star on the show in the season five episode "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" and the season seven episode "Lisa the Vegetarian" respectively. When the story of Marge having a crush on Starr was pitched out, Roberts took the opportunity to write Starr into the script because he had always wanted to meet a Beatle. He then sent the script to Starr, who was then in Southern France. Starr agreed to do the guest appearance after only reading two lines, and he told Roberts that he would be able to do it when he visited Los Angeles a few weeks later. The staff of the show was thrilled when Roberts revealed that Starr had agreed to do it, and they immediately decided to expand Starr's role in the script. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening said of the guest appearance: "We were so excited that we got Ringo Starr coming in to do the show and we recorded him over at the Complex in West Los Angeles. We were given a list of rules about what we couldn't do to Ringo, such as 'Don't touch him', 'Don't approach him', and 'Don't ask for his autograph'. But of course when he shows up in this big limo, Brian brings out a big poster and asks him to sign it!" Roberts explained that he had not received the memo with the rules so he showed up with a copy of the script cover and asked Starr to sign it. Groening asked Starr if he wanted to be animated the way he was in Yellow Submarine or the way he was in the cartoon series The Beatles. Starr chose Yellow Submarine because he did not like his appearance in the cartoon. In addition to Starr, the episode features a guest appearance by Jon Lovitz as Lombardo and the doughnut delivery man that delivers doughnuts to the nuclear power plant. Lombardo's physical appearance was based on an art teacher Reardon had in art school.
The line for the H2WHOA! ride reproduces the staircases in the lithograph Ascending and Descending by M. C. Escher. The way Krusty removes the clown make-up from his face resembles the way the Joker removes his make-up in the 1989 film Batman. When Homer announces he is going on a diet, he says: "As God is my witness, I'll always be hungry again!", a reference to the famous line "As God is my witness... I'll never be hungry again!" from the film Gone with the Wind. Homer exercises in a way similar to how Rocky exercises in the 1976 film Rocky. The music that plays as Homer approaches the scale is the main theme from the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. A copy of Andy Warhol's painting Campbell's Soup Cans is visible at the art gallery.
In its original broadcast, "Brush with Greatness" finished thirty-seventh in the ratings for the week of April 8–14, 1991, with a Nielsen rating of 12.0, equivalent to approximately eleven million viewing households. It was the second highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following Married... with Children.
The episode received positive reviews from television critics. Many lauded the use of Starr; for instance, IGN ranked his performance in the episode, along with Paul McCartney's performance in "Lisa the Vegetarian" and George Harrison's performance in "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", as the tenth best guest appearance in The Simpsons' history. They added that "Although none of these appearances were really large, the fact that the most popular band of all time appeared on The Simpsons is a large statement on the popularity and importance of the show." Doug Pratt, a DVD reviewer and Rolling Stone contributor, wrote that "Brush with Greatness" has a "well thought-out" plot and he enjoyed the use of Starr and Marge's previously undiscovered talents. Paul A. Cantor, the author of the book Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization, said the "once again Brian K. Roberts proves his genius with 'Brush with Greatness' in a superb work where Marge cultivates her wonderful artistic side." DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson wrote: "From the opening at Mt. Splashmore through Homer’s diet and the unveiling of Mr. Burns’ controversial portrait, the episode packed a lot of great material. It also expanded Marge’s character in a pleasing way, as it avoided any semblance of sappiness; we needed a break from sentiment after 'Old Money'. Overall, 'Brush with Greatness' provided a terrific episode." 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: "A superb episode, with Marge rightfully centre stage. Despite his general unpleasantness, Mr Burns' gratitude to Marge is both welcome and unexpected. And the dig at Water Parks is spot on."
In October 2008, Ringo Starr posted a video on his website in which he said he was too busy to answer fan mail and that all mail sent to him after October 20 would be thrown out. Although Starr did not mention "Brush with Greatness" in the video, several media sources compared his announcement to his portrayal in the episode.
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-06-095252-5. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M..
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Brush with Greatness". BBC. Retrieved 2007-07-30.
- "Brush With Greatness". The Simpsons.com. Retrieved 2007-07-30.
- Robert, Brian (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "Brush with Greatness" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Jean, Al (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "Brush with Greatness" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Groening, Matt (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "Brushing with Greatness" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Reardon, Jim (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "Brushing with Greatness" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- "What we watch, what we don't...". Austin American-Statesman. April 21, 1991. p. 15.
- Goldman, Eric; Iverson, Dan; Zoromski, Brian. "Top 25 Simpsons Guest Appearances". IGN. Retrieved 2007-02-13.
- Pratt, Douglas (2005). Doug Pratt's DVD: Movies, Television, Music, Art, Adult, and More! 2. UNET 2 Corporation. ISBN 978-1-932916-01-0. page 1094-1096
- Cantor, Paul (2003). Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-7425-0779-1.
- Jacobson, Colin. "The Simpsons: The Complete Second Season". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved 2009-03-23.
- "Ringo Starr's fan mail deadline". Boston Globe. 2008-10-13. Retrieved 2009-04-25.
- "Ringo Starr Doesn't Want to Answer Mail, Sign Photos for Fans". Fox News. 2008-10-14. Retrieved 2009-04-25.
- "Ringo Starr: I've got to get fans out of my life". CNN. 2008-10-14. Retrieved 2009-04-25.
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