"Colonel Homer" is the twentieth episode of The Simpsons' third season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on March 26, 1992. In the episode, Homer embarrasses his wife Marge at a movie theater, leading to a big argument between the two. Homer, angry at Marge, visits a redneck bar in the middle of the night where he meets a waitress named Lurleen Lumpkin, a talented singer. Homer becomes Lurleen's manager and tries to make her famous, but he does not appear aware that Lurleen has fallen in love with him. With Marge already upset and thinking Homer is cheating on her, he must decide on the importance of his marriage after Lurleen makes romantic advances toward him.
The episode was written by The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and directed by Mark Kirkland. It is the only episode of the series for which Groening received an individual writing credit. American singer and actress Beverly D'Angelo guest starred in the episode as Lurleen. Although the character makes several cameo appearances after this episode, Lurleen makes her second full-time appearance sixteen years later in "Papa Don't Leech". The episode features cultural references to songs such as "There's a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)" by Herman's Hermits and "Funkytown" by Lipps Inc, and the films Deliverance, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and Look Who's Talking.
Since airing, "Colonel Homer" has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. It attained a Nielsen rating of 14.8, and was the highest-rated show on the Fox network for the week it aired. The episode was selected for inclusion in a video collection of selected episodes, titled The Last Temptation of Homer, that was released on November 9, 1998. An action figure set based on "Colonel Homer" was released in March 2002, and two of Lurleen's songs from the episode appeared on the Simpsons compilation album Songs in the Key of Springfield.
The Simpson family goes to the local movie theater to see a film. Bart and Lisa see Space Mutants VI, while Homer, Marge, and Maggie see The Stockholm Affair. As the film starts, Homer acts loud and obnoxious, embarrassing Marge. When he gives away the film's ending, Marge tells him to shut up and the audience applauds, embarrassing Homer. During the car ride home, Marge tries to apologize for what she said, but Homer will not accept it. He drops Marge and the children off at home and goes off on a long drive into the night. He finally stops at a redneck bar called the Beer 'N' Brawl, where he grabs a beer while listening to an attractive young waitress named Lurleen Lumpkin performing on stage. She sings a song that follows Homer's current state with every detail, and once she finishes, Homer introduces himself to her.
Several days later, still humming Lurleen's song, Homer drives to her mobile home to ask for a copy. Lurleen tells him she has not recorded the song, so Homer insists that she come to a recording company to record a CD. Homer grants the recording company clerk permission to play the song on the radio, and Lurleen's songs are an instant hit all over Springfield. At home, Marge asks Homer about Lurleen; he claims that she is just a waitress who is turning into a music superstar. Marge does not approve that he is seeing her, as she fears that something more will come of the relationship. Homer becomes Lurleen's manager, and to fit with the role, he buys an expensive white cowboy suit which he wears at home. Marge is furious, and asks if he is having an affair. He denies it, and says whether Marge likes it or not, he is going to help Lurleen become a country music star. The whole family gathers at the recording studio with Lurleen to record more of her songs. Her new single, a suggestive love metaphor called "Bagged Me a Homer", leads Marge to gnash her teeth in rage.
Homer gets Lurleen a gig on a country western television series called Ya-Hoo!. Just before her performance, Homer and Lurleen spend the night in her mobile home, and she shows him one of her new songs. In the song she asks Homer to "bunk" with her, but Homer knows that would violate his marital vows and leaves. During her performance, Homer is approached by a business agent who asks to buy Lurleen's contract, but Homer refuses. In Lurleen's dressing room, Homer becomes locked in an embrace with her, then describes how his love life is flashing before his eyes. Homer tells Lurleen that he only wanted to share her voice with the world and leaves before he does anything to lose his family. He again runs into the agent and this time sells Lurleen's contract for US$50. At home, Marge takes off all her clothes and gets into bed, naked. Marge then watches the Ya-Hoo! show when Homer returns. When Homer gets into bed, Marge hears what Homer did through Lurleen's bluesy song on the television which Lurleen concludes by saying she hopes Marge knows how lucky she is.
Writing and directing
The episode was written by series creator Matt Groening, the lone episode (discounting the Tracey Ullman shorts) in which he received an individual writing credit, though he has co-written for the episodes "Some Enchanted Evening", "The Telltale Head", and "22 Short Films About Springfield". "Colonel Homer" was partly based on the 1980 film Coal Miner's Daughter, which tells the story of country music singer Loretta Lynn. Groening said he had always wanted to write an episode in which Homer is offered a chance at being rich and famous, other than being with his family, but then chooses his family over glamour at the end. He pitched the idea to the writers of the show, who suggested the parody of Coal Miner's Daughter and also that Homer should become a manager for a country singer. Show runner Mike Reiss was originally skeptical about the episode, as he did not think Homer could get a new job when he already had a full-time job at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. Reiss eventually gave in, but in future episodes the writers tried to develop the explanation that he got fired from the plant and then rehired at the end. Groening said that during the episode production, he received comments from the production team that Homer was acting like a "jerk" in it, but his explanation was that Homer's behavior was due to his desire to make Lurleen a star and he was oblivious to her attempts to seduce him until the end. Mike Reiss stated that "Whenever we want to write stories about characters getting divorced or actually having an affair, rather than with Homer and Marge, which we could never do, we use secondary characters for that."
The episode's director, Mark Kirkland, said he enjoyed directing the episode because the characters' emotions throughout it are "very human and real". He believed many viewers watching the episode would recognize the emotions from experiences in their own lives, and would feel sympathy for the characters. The idea of Homer annoying the people at the movie theater was based on an experience Groening had with a friend of his when he was younger. They were sitting by themselves in a movie theater and two "annoying" women sat down right in front of them. Groening's friend told the women to move and they did. One of the women then turned to Groening and his friend and said, "Now are you satisfied?", to which Groening's friend replied: "I won't be satisfied until I see you burn in hell."
Voice acting and music
American singer and actress Beverly D'Angelo guest starred in the episode as Lurleen Lumpkin. The actress first met Groening at a party at Frank Zappa's house, and was called in to audition for Lurleen based on her performance as Patsy Cline in Coal Miner's Daughter. She got the role after completing a singing test. D'Angelo wrote two songs for the episode: "Your Wife Don't Understand You" (which Lurleen sings at the Beer 'N' Brawl where Homer hears her for the first time) and "I Bagged a Homer". D'Angelo wrote both songs in an hour and presented them to Groening at the episode's table read. Unlike most other guest stars on The Simpsons who record their lines and then leave to accommodate their schedule, D'Angelo stayed with the production team all day and pitched several jokes for the episode. Entertainment Weekly named D'Angelo's performance as Lurleen one of the sixteen best guest appearances on The Simpsons. Tom Nawrocki of Rolling Stone rated the songs D'Angelo wrote as two of the best songs in the history of the show.
The episode marks the debut appearance of Lurleen on The Simpsons. She was created by one of the show's character designers, John Rice. Kirkland thought the first design Rice drew of Lurleen was too "bland" and "plain", so they decided to model her after D'Angelo and add "every kind of pretty girl cliché" into the design. Rice and Kirkland then sent the character to Groening, who sent back a note saying "wow". Reiss's show runner partner Al Jean said that "one of the most difficult things when translating real people to a Simpsons look is for women to look beautiful", as the Simpson overbite and facial construction make it particularly difficult to design women's looks. Lurleen's last name, Lumpkin, came from the country bumpkin character Tony Lumpkin in the 1773 comedy play She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith.
Bart's voice actor, Nancy Cartwright, wrote in her autobiography My Life as a 10-Year-Old Boy that the episode's script gives the audience a "visual and aural feast". She said the background designers "must have gone on another field trip for this one" because they captured the look of a typical musical recording studio. The recording studio in the episode, where Lurleen records her new songs with the Simpson family, features two rooms, one for the artist and one for the engineer, with a pane of glass between them. Cartwright said the designers added their own "special touch" by putting a few cracks on the walls, designing a slightly dilapidated ceiling, and by making it look as if the soundproofing on the walls is falling off. The property designers went on a field trip to Sun Studio to receive inspiration for the props in the recording studio, such as the "in session" red light, the mixing board, the musical instruments, and the volume-unit meters that indicates how loud the artist is singing. For the interior design of the recording studio, the color designers mixed colors such as orange, mauve, gray, and brown to make them complement each other. The colors in the engineer's booth were darker to make Homer's white suit stand out from the background. The appearance of the engineer at the recording studio was based on John Boylan, an American music producer who produced the highly successful album The Simpsons Sing the Blues. Lurleen's mobile home was designed to be "very confined" and "tiny" so that the compositions of Homer and Lurleen would be tighter, thus giving the scene an intimate, romantic feeling.
The episode's title and Homer's attire are references to Colonel Tom Parker, singer Elvis Presley's manager. Films playing at the Springfield Googolplex movie theater at the beginning of the episode include Honey, I Hit a School Bus (a parody of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), Look Who's Oinking (a parody of Look Who's Talking), and a film called Ernest vs. The Pope which stars the fictional character Ernest P. Worrell. During his long drive to the Beer 'N' Brawl, Homer passes a boy playing a banjo on a porch, a reference to the "Dueling Banjos" sequence in the film Deliverance. The same boy appears later at the recording studio waiting in line with his banjo to record a CD. William Irwin writes in his book Philosophy and the Interpretation of Pop Culture that this "burst of banjo" must convey a message even if the viewers do not "get" the reference to Deliverance: "Thanks to prevailing connotations of banjo music, viewers who do not recognize the banjo tune as the theme from Deliverance will not laugh, but the mere sound of banjo tells the audience that Homer has entered a backward, redneck area."
The Beer 'N' Brawl redneck bar is based on the bar in the film Urban Cowboy. The Beer 'N' Brawl sells Laramie High Tar cigarettes, a reference to the American cigarette brand Laramie. After arriving home from the Beer 'N' Brawl, Lurleen's song is stuck in Homer's head, and he even sings it to his bowling ball for good luck. Homer's co-worker Lenny decides to give it a shot and sings "There's a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)" to his bowling ball. Homer says that the last song before Lurleen's "Your Wife Don't Understand You" that he could not get out of his mind was the Lipps Inc song "Funkytown". The syndicated country comedy show that Lurleen appears on, Ya-Hoo!, is based on the country television series Hee Haw, which ran in syndication from 1971 to 1993.
Ratings and critical reviews
In its original broadcast, "Colonel Homer" finished 22nd in the ratings for the week of March 23–29, 1992, with a Nielsen rating of 14.8, equivalent to approximately 16.63 million viewing households. It was the highest-rated show on the Fox network that week. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. Nate Meyers of Digitally Obsessed gave the episode a 5/5 rating and called it "another great" episode that chronicles the love between Homer and Marge, showing the "ups and downs" of their marriage. He said Lurleen's songs are "filled with clever observations", but it is Homer's befuddlement that makes it a "classic" episode. Meyers added, however, that country music fans might "take offense at Matt Groening's script, which hams up every stereotype imaginable". DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson said that after the "great" previous episode "Dog of Death", "one might expect some drop-off with 'Colonel Homer', but virtually none occurs. It offers another classic episode that benefits from a memorable guest voice performance from D’Angelo. Homer’s moment in the sun creates a fun plot and the program nicely lampoons the country music business." The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, said the episode is a "good example of The Simpsons fixing itself on a target (in this case, country and western music) and extracting every possible gag. Lurleen's songs are all marvelous."
Hock Guan Teh of DVD Town said he enjoyed the episode, and although it does not contain the "usual amount" of The Simpsons humor, the "rich character development itself makes this episode worth multiple viewings. However, anyone allergic to country music should give this one a pass!" Bill Gibron of DVD Verdict thought the episode featured "one of the best" parodies the Simpsons writers have ever conceived, the parody of the country television series Hee-Haw called Ya-Hoo!: "While one must give multiple kudos to Beverly D'Angelo for writing and performing her own witty hillbilly ditties, it's the twisted cornpone [television series Ya-Hoo!], with such stars as Big Shirtless Ron and Cappy Mae, that really propels this installment into comic heaven. Homer's sheepish response to Lurlene's advances shows just what a decent, family loving man he is." A reviewer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram called the episode "heartwarming", and commented that The Simpsons "once again shows that at the heart of this crazy family there is an abiding love." Genevieve Koski of The A.V. Club said "it's a pretty impossible question for a die-hard fan, but if I were forced at gunpoint to name my favorite episode ever, 'Colonel Homer' would probably be the first to leap to mind, if only for the pure joy that is 'Bagged Me a Homer'."
Lurleen has made several cameo appearances on the show after this episode. She appears for her second time in the season four episode "Marge vs. the Monorail", voiced by Doris Grau, as she is briefly interviewed by Kent Brockman during the monorail's maiden voyage party. When he asks her what she has been doing lately, she responds that since Homer left her, her personal and professional life have gone downhill. She looks dirty and scuffed up, and talks with a harsh, croaky, gravelly voice, rather than the soft, Southern voice she had when she was first introduced. Lurleen also has a cameo in the season four episode "Krusty Gets Kancelled" as the center square on The Springfield Squares, and appears in "Team Homer" as a member of the bowling team "The Home Wreckers". In the season seven episode "Bart on the Road", Lurleen's name can be seen briefly on a banner saying "playing tonight" in Branson, Missouri. She made her second full-time appearance in the season nineteen episode "Papa Don't Leech", in which the Simpsons family takes Lurleen into their home after she becomes a fugitive from the Springfield authorities for not paying her taxes.
Compared to "Colonel Homer", Lurleen's comeback episode "Papa Don't Leech" received rather negative reviews from television critics. Richard Keller of TV Squad expressed dislike for the episode, stating that he hopes the show will reconsider the next time they decide to give a "solo opportunity" to a one-off character "many people don't remember". Robert Canning of IGN said, "there were too few laugh-out-loud moments in this lackluster episode. Overall, it was nice to see Lurleen again, but she'd probably get more laughs in future cameos than in carrying an entire episode."
"Colonel Homer" originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on March 26, 1992. The episode was selected for release in a video collection of selected episodes, titled The Last Temptation Of Homer, that was released on November 9, 1998. Other episodes included in the set were "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish", "Homer Alone", and "Simpson and Delilah". The episode was later included on The Simpsons season three DVD set that was released on August 26, 2003. Matt Groening, Mark Kirkland, cast member Dan Castellaneta, and show runners Al Jean and Mike Reiss participated in the DVD's audio commentary of the episode. "Colonel Homer" was again included in the 2005 DVD release of the Last Temptation Of Homer set. An action figure set based on the episode was released exclusively to Toys "R" Us stores in March 2002. The set, featuring Homer in his white suit and Lurleen with her guitar, is part of the World of Springfield series of The Simpsons action figures created by Playmate Toys. Lurleen's songs "Your Wife Don't Understand You" and "Bagged Me a Homer" appeared on the Simpsons compilation album Songs in the Key of Springfield, that was released on March 18, 1997.
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