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Brush with Greatness

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"Brush with Greatness"
The Simpsons episode
Episode no.Season 2
Episode 18
Directed byJim Reardon
Written byBrian K. Roberts
Production code7F18
Original air dateApril 11, 1991 (1991-04-11)
Guest appearance(s)

Ringo Starr as himself
Jon Lovitz as Professor Lombardo and the doughnut delivery man

Episode features
Chalkboard gag"I will not hide behind the Fifth Amendment".[1]
Couch gagThe couch tips over with the family sitting on it and Maggie sits in its place.[2]
CommentaryMatt Groening
Brian K. Roberts
Al Jean
Jim Reardon
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Old Money"
Next →
"Lisa's Substitute"
The Simpsons (season 2)
List of The Simpsons episodes

"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.[3] 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 Fox the week it aired.


After Bart and Lisa see Krusty the Clown do his show at the Mt. Splashmore water park on TV, they persistently ask Homer to take them there. Homer gets annoyed, but reluctantly agrees to take them. At the park, while Marge and Maggie go to the Rip Tide, a wading pool for infants, Bart, Lisa and Homer ride an intense water slide named H2WHOA!. Due to his weight, Homer becomes lodged in the water slide mid-course and, after a backfired attempt to dislodge him using some children (who end up getting stuck with Homer), the park's rescue crew are forced to shut down the ride and remove the blocked section of pipe with the help of a large crane. That evening, the news media makes fun of Homer for his massive size and harasses Krusty with accusations over promoting an unsafe slide.

Once home, an embarrassed Homer finds that he weighs 260 pounds on the bathroom scale and 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 had 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, earning praise from her teacher, Professor Lombardo. 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 a new wing of the Springfield Art Museum. Desperate to please his boss, Homer convinces Marge to agree, although she declines Homer's urging for her to paint Burns as a beautiful man. While at the Simpson house, Burns takes a shower, and Marge inadvertently walks in on him naked, although neither speak of the faux pas later. Meanwhile, Homer has lost 21 pounds from his exercise regimen and now weighs 239. After Mr. 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 finds additional inspiration in a letter from Starr (who is determined to answer decades' worth of old fan mail), praising the painting she sent him. After working until well into the night, she finishes the painting in time for its unveiling at the opening of the museum wing. The painting depicts a naked, frail, and weak Mr. Burns. The people are shocked, until Marge explains that it depicts what Mr. Burns actually is: a vulnerable human being who will, one day, be no more. Mr. 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."[1]


Ringo Starr guest starred in the episode as himself.

Al Jean and Mike Reiss originally pitched the idea of Marge taking an art class and churning out depressing paintings, with the family realizing she was secretly unhappy.[4] James L. Brooks took that pitch and came up with the Burns commission plot as well as the idea she would paint him as frail and naked.[4] The script 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.[5] 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 in the season five episode "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" and the season seven episode "Lisa the Vegetarian" respectively. When the story of Marge's 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 reading only two lines, and he told Roberts he would be able to do it when he visited Los Angeles a few weeks later. The staff was thrilled, and they immediately decided to expand his role.[5][6] 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!"[7] 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.[5] 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.[7] In addition to Starr, the episode features a guest appearance by Jon Lovitz as Lombardo and the doughnut delivery man who delivers doughnuts to the nuclear power plant. Lombardo's physical appearance was based on an art teacher Reardon had in art school.[8]

Cultural references[edit]

The line for the H2WHOA! ride reproduces the staircases in the lithograph Ascending and Descending by M. C. Escher.[1] 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.[2] 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.[1] Homer exercises in a way similar to how Rocky exercises in the 1976 film Rocky.[2] The music that plays as Homer approaches the scale is the main theme from the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.[6] A copy of Andy Warhol's painting Campbell's Soup Cans is visible at the art gallery.[1]

The title for the episode is an ode to the "Brush With Greatness" segments that David Letterman had on his NBC late night program, Late Night with David Letterman which was being broadcast in 1991 when this episode of The Simpsons was first broadcast.


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 Fox that week, following Married... with Children.[9]

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."[10]

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.[11]

Paul A. Cantor, author of the book Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization, said that "once again Brian K. Roberts proves his genius with 'Brush with Greatness' in a superb work where Marge cultivates her wonderful artistic side".[12]

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."[13]

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."[2]

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.[14] Although Starr did not mention "Brush with Greatness" in the video, several media sources compared his announcement to his portrayal in the episode.[15][16]


  1. ^ a b c d e 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.
  2. ^ a b c d Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Brush with Greatness". BBC. Retrieved 2007-07-30.
  3. ^ "Brush With Greatness". The Retrieved 2007-07-30.
  4. ^ a b Reiss, Mike; Klickstein, Mathew (2018). Springfield confidential: jokes, secrets, and outright lies from a lifetime writing for the Simpsons. New York City: Dey Street Books. p. 67. ISBN 978-0062748034.
  5. ^ a b c Robert, Brian (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "Brush with Greatness" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  6. ^ a b Jean, Al (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "Brush with Greatness" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  7. ^ a b Groening, Matt (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "Brushing with Greatness" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  8. ^ Reardon, Jim (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "Brushing with Greatness" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  9. ^ "What we watch, what we don't...". Austin American-Statesman. April 21, 1991. p. 15.
  10. ^ Goldman, Eric; Iverson, Dan; Zoromski, Brian. "Top 25 Simpsons Guest Appearances". IGN. Retrieved 2007-02-13.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ Cantor, Paul (2003). Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-7425-0779-1.
  13. ^ Jacobson, Colin. "The Simpsons: The Complete Second Season". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved 2009-03-23.
  14. ^ "Ringo Starr's fan mail deadline". Boston Globe. 2008-10-13. Retrieved 2009-04-25.
  15. ^ "Ringo Starr Doesn't Want to Answer Mail, Sign Photos for Fans". Fox News. 2008-10-14. Archived from the original on 2008-10-19. Retrieved 2009-04-25.
  16. ^ "Ringo Starr: I've got to get fans out of my life". CNN. 2008-10-14. Retrieved 2009-04-25.

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