Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?
"Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?" is the third episode of the eleventh season of the American animated sitcom The Simpsons. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on October 24, 1999. In the episode, Homer becomes a food critic for a Springfield newspaper and ends up annoying the restaurant owners of Springfield after he makes negative reviews just to be mean, advice he took from fellow critics. Springfield's restaurant owners then attempt to kill Homer by feeding him a poisoned éclair. American actor Ed Asner guest starred in the episode as the newspaper editor that hires Homer. The episode has received generally mixed reviews from television critics since airing.
Springfield Elementary arranges a trip to the offices of The Springfield Shopper for the students though Homer, who is chaperoning the kids, accidently takes his group to the zoo first. At the newspaper, the students are led through the daily workings of the newspaper, which mainly consists of trying to sell subscriptions. Homer smells cake and follows it to a retirement party for the newspaper's food critic. Crashing the party, Homer greedily eats the food. The editor, seeing Homer's love of food, offers him a job as the new food critic, having grown tired of the retiring critic's caustic review style. He asks Homer to prepare a 500-word sample review first.
Homer struggles with the review, at first turning in a poorly written draft written on a typewriter without a working "O" that eventually devolves into the repeated phrase "screw Flanders" after Homer runs out of ideas, but he soon gets help from Lisa, who becomes his ghost writer, putting Homers thoughts about food into eloquent writing. Soon, Homer becomes popular with both restaurants and readers, with his glowing reviews of Springfields restaurants causing a renewed appreciation for food in the city. At the Springfield Shopper office, the editor introduces Homer to other critics. They chide him for being too generous in his reviews, pointing out that his only bad review so far had been for a pizza slice he found under his couch. Homer foolishly gives into their peer pressure and writes a series of bad reviews, including a mean-spirited visit to Luigi's where the irate chef attacks him with a meat cleaver, and a dine-in theater where he criticizes both the performance (Krusty The Clown as Macbeth) and the food. Finally, Lisa gets sick of Homers mean-spirited reviews and quits, leaving him to write the article himself, which results in a drastic drop in quality. His editor tells Homer to shape up. Meanwhile, the local restaurateurs hold a secret meeting about Homer's negative reviews. They decide to kill him. A French chef volunteers to do the deed by feeding Homer a poisonous éclair at an upcoming food festival.
At the food festival, Homer goes about his reviewing duties, still cruelly tearing apart everything he eats. Bart overhears some of the restaurateurs discussing the murder plot, and he, Marge and Lisa attempt to find Homer and warn him. Meanwhile, Homer has reached the French chef's stall and is about to eat the éclair. Lisa loudly reveals the murder plot, but Homer shrugs it off. She then exclaims that the éclair is "low fat", and Homer throws away the lethal pastry away in revulsion; it lands in Hans Moleman's gruel pot, where it explodes, creating a big crater. The police rush to the scene and arrest the Frenchman, though the assassin escapes while Wiggum is making fun of Louie for his love of frittatas. Homer and Lisa reconceile and leave together, though they are soon chased by an angry mob of the various restaurant owners Homer has wronged. As the screen fades to black and the credits roll, the sounds of the mob beating up Homer are heard.
"Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?" was written by Al Jean and directed by Nancy Kruse as part of the eleventh season of The Simpsons (1999–2000). American actor Ed Asner guest starred in the episode as the newspaper editor that hires Homer. The character is based on Lou Grant, the character Asner played in the series The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant.
The episode features several references to popular culture. For example, the song Homer sings upon being given the food critic job is set to the tune of "I Feel Pretty" from the musical West Side Story. The restaurant Planet Springfield is a parody of Planet Hollywood, containing items such as the film script for The Cable Guy (1996), Herbie from The Love Bug (1968), a model of the RMS Titanic from Titanic (1997), an alien similar to those from Mars Attacks! (1996), models of a TIE fighter, an X-wing fighter and C-3PO from Star Wars, as well as "the coffee mug" from the film Heartbeeps (1981) and "the cane" from Citizen Kane (1941), which is not a real prop. "Citizen Kane" is also referenced in the script with the line "People will think what I tell them to think when you tell me what to tell them to think!" Also there's a reference to Glengarry Glen Ross, with a desperate salesman (like Jack Lemmon in the film) as Lisa is touring the local paper earlier in the episode.
"Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?" originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on October 24, 1999. On October 7, 2008, the episode was released on DVD as part of the box set The Simpsons – The Complete Eleventh Season. Staff members Mike Scully, Al Jean, George Meyer, Dan Greaney, Matt Selman and Nancy Kruse participated in the DVD audio commentary for the episode. Deleted scenes from the episode were also included on the box set.
Since airing, the episode has received generally mixed reviews from critics. In 2003, Ryan Lane of The Daily Orange listed it as the ninth best episode of the series, noting that the "most recent episode on the list is also perhaps the show's last classic." Nancy Basile of About.com listed the episode as one of the episodes she felt "shined in season eleven". In 2011, Keith Plocek of LA Weekly's Squid Ink blog named "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?" the sixth best episode of the show with a food theme. While reviewing the eleventh season of The Simpsons, DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson on the other hand commented that "after the solid ['Brother's Little Helper'], Season 11 dips with the more mediocre ['Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?']. Oh, the show has its moments, especially when Homer’s criticism becomes more mean-spirited. Still, the program rarely becomes anything more than okay; it’s certainly enjoyable but that’s about it."
Karma Waltonen and Denise Du Vernay analyzed "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?" in their book The Simpsons in the Classroom, in which they demonstrate how episode of the series can be used in teaching. They wrote: "Although the show's characters do not often model expository writing, we can still find ways to use The Simpsons to illustrate the importance of style. Young writers, for example, may find that their writing resembles Homer's when he attempts to write restaurant reviews in 'Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner.' Homer's diction is poor, his piece rambles off, and he attempts to make the word count by repeating 'Screw Flanders' several times. We can thus illustrate that students need to reduce wordiness [...], while developing their arguments through pertinent content or parallelism. We can also stress revision by showing what Lisa is able to do when she helps her father brainstorm. For example, when they need two more words to end the review, Lisa replaces 'Screw Flanders' with 'Bon appétit'."
- Bates, James W.; Gimple, Scott M.; McCann, Jesse L., Richmond, Ray; Seghers, Christine, ed. (2010). Simpsons World The Ultimate Episode Guide: Seasons 1–20 (1st ed.). Harper Collins Publishers. pp. 524–525. ISBN 978-0-00-738815-8.
- Lane, Ryan (2003-02-14). "Reviewer rates 10 best ‘Simpsons’ episodes ever". The Daily Orange. Retrieved 2011-10-02.
- Jane, Ian (2008-11-01). "The Simpsons - The Complete Eleventh Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2011-10-02.
- Basile, Nancy. "'The Simpsons' Season Eleven". About.com. Retrieved 2011-10-02.
- Plocek, Keith (2011-11-11). "Top 10 Simpsons Food Episodes: Tomacco Ribwich with a Side of Guatemalan Insanity Peppers + Skittlebrau". Squid Ink (LA Weekly). Retrieved 2011-11-12.
- Jacobson, Colin (2008-11-19). "The Simpsons: The Complete Eleventh Season (1999)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved 2011-10-02.
- Waltonen, Karma; Vernay, Denise Du (2010). The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield. McFarland. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-7864-4490-8.
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- "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?" at The Simpsons.com
- "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive
- "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?" at the Internet Movie Database