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Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"

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"Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble""
The Simpsons episode
Episode no. 211
Directed by Mike B. Anderson
Written by John Swartzwelder
Showrunner(s) Mike Scully
Production code AABF04
Original air date December 6, 1998
Chalkboard gag "I am not a licensed hairstylist".
Couch gag The Simpsons are frogs, with Maggie as a tadpole.
Commentary Matt Groening
Mike Scully
George Meyer
Ian Maxtone-Graham
Ron Hauge
Mike B. Anderson

"Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"" is the eighth episode of The Simpsons' tenth season. It first aired on the Fox network in the United States on December 6, 1998. In the episode Grampa's kidneys explode, leaving him in urgent need of a donor. His son Homer initially agrees to donate one of his kidneys, but after hearing of side effects of only having one kidney, he begins to have second thoughts about the operation.

"Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"" was directed by Mike B. Anderson and written by John Swartzwelder, although the episode's premise was pitched by former staff writer George Meyer. Meyer also pitched the sequence involving the "ship of lost souls", which received mixed reactions from The Simpsons staff members. The episode contains references to Night of the Living Dead and North by Northwest, among other things. In its original broadcast, the episode was seen by approximately 7.2 million viewers and finished in 54th place in the ratings the week it aired. Following the release of The Simpsons - The Complete Tenth Season, "Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"" received mixed reviews from critics.


Homer decides to take Marge and the kids down to Bloodbath Gulch, a ghost town turned tourist destination. On their way there, Homer's car breaks down, right in front of the Springfield Retirement Castle, leaving Grampa to assume that they have come to visit him on his birthday. Homer tries his hardest to start the car up again, but is eventually forced to take Grampa with them after he is able to reach them. While in the town bar, Grampa drinks too much sarsaparilla and just as the family is leaving, says he needs to go to the bathroom. Homer refuses to stop, saying that he needs to get home in time to watch an episode of Inside the Actors Studio featuring F. Murray Abraham. Grampa is forced to hold it in for hours and as a result, his kidneys explode. Homer ignored this at first, thinking he needed a new muffler for the car. Dr. Hibbert informs the family that Grampa does not have much time to live, and that the only way he can be saved is if Homer donates one of his kidneys. Homer happily agrees, and is admired and pampered for it by his wife and kids. However, he becomes frightened after finding out about the risks involved in the operation and, while he makes it to the hospital, jumps out a window at the last minute.

Guilt-ridden and ashamed, Homer deems himself unworthy of living amongst civilized people and decides to start a new life at sea, climbing aboard Captain McAllister's ship, described as "the ship of lost souls" (though the back of the ship reads, "Honeybunch", because McAllister never painted over the name). While there, he meets several strange people including a man who looks and sounds like Peter Lorre, who have their own tales of misery. Homer tells them his story but is kicked off of the ship when he mentions that he ran away and left his father to die. Homer eventually drifts back to shore, where he witnesses a father and son build a sand castle and laments how he never had such a relationship with his own father or his kids. Homer decides determinedly to rectify his mistake and takes off for the hospital, trampling the sand castle in the process.

Homer arrives in time, reconciling with Grampa and apologizing for his behavior, but ultimately panics and flees again when Dr. Hibbert says "...this may sting a little". Homer's mad dash from the hospital is stopped by an oncoming truck. While the driver (Hans Moleman) manages to hit the brakes just in time, one of the cars it was carrying slides off and lands on Homer. Homer later wakes up in traction in a hospital bed, and is greeted by Dr. Hibbert, Marge and the kids. Believing Grampa is dead, Homer sadly vows to visit his grave after he gets better. However Grampa, who is alive and well, appears in the doorway and declares that he's never felt better. From the sheepish look of the others in the room, Homer looks down and discovers that, while he was unconscious, they took out one of his kidneys. Angry at first, Homer vows to get it back, but settles down after his family tells him that he did the right thing for Grampa. They engage in a group hug, and Homer proceeds to consider Bart as a potential donor for himself.


John Swartzwelder wrote the episode.

"Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"" was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Mike B. Anderson. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on December 6, 1998. Although it was written by Swartzwelder, the idea for the episode was pitched by former staff writer George Meyer.[1] Nevertheless, the episode still contains several "classic Swartzwelder moments" according to executive producer Ian Maxtone-Graham, including Homer escaping on a handcart and the line "this is everybody's fault but mine".[2] Because the episode contained several scenes of the Simpsons driving, the animators "orchestrated" the scenes by using several different backgrounds.[3] At one point in the episode's setpiece, an arranged gunfight is seen. In the gunfight, there would originally be a man saying "Look, up on the roof, it's a prostitute" and shoot her. Although he thought the gag was funny, Mike Scully, an executive producer and the showrunner for the episode, cut it because the word "prostitute" had already been uttered "at least a dozen times in the episode".[4] According to Scully, the Fox censors objected to showing Grampa giving Homer NyQuil in order to sleep. Scully compromised it by not showing the NyQuil label in the episode. The music that plays during the establishing shot of Springfield Hospital is based on the theme music from Ben Casey, an American medical drama series from the 1960s.[1]

The sequence involving the "Ship of lost souls" was also pitched by Meyer. It was the last part of the episode to be animated, and was completed in one week.[3] The Simpsons staff were split on whether to include the sequence in the episode at all, with series creator Matt Groening being notably hesitant. "I was very worried about that when I saw the script," he said in the DVD commentary for the episode.[5] Meyer was also unsure of the sequence: "You don't see it coming at least," he said, "I don't know if it was totally successful."[6] Scully thought fondly of it however, calling it "very inspired".[4] The English soldier, French man and the tuxedo-wearing man on the ship were both portrayed by main cast member Dan Castellaneta, who also plays Homer among other characters in the series. The woman on the ship was voiced by American voice actress Tress MacNeille. Honeybunch, the name of the sea captain's boat, was pitched by Scully's brother Brian Scully. The name came from Scully's father, who used to call his wife Honeybunch as a term of endearment.[4]

In a scene in the episode, the Simpsons, outside the Springfield Retirement Castle, try to turn on their car, while Grampa is slowly walking towards them. The scene parodies the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, with Grampa acting as a zombie from the film.[2] The dancing robots in the Western bar were based on English charity campaigner Heather Mills,[4] while the robot cowboy chasing the robot dancer around in a circle on the bar's balcony is a reference to a scene in the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, where the pirates chased women in a similar fashion.[7] The design and voice of the tuxedo-wearing man in the "Ship of lost souls" were based on Austrian-American actor Peter Lorre. Also, the bride is loosely based on Miss Havisham from Great Expectations.[5] The scene of Homer nearly getting hit by a car during his second escape from the hospital is a reference to a scene in the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film North by Northwest, in which Cary Grant's character is almost hit by an oncoming truck.[8] American actor Larry Hagman is also mentioned in the episode, when Dr. Hibbert says that Hagman took all the kidneys and livers needed for donors,[9] while Homer states his desire to watch the episode of Inside The Actor's Studio featuring F. Murray Abraham.[7][9] The hospital intercom calls for a "Doc Martens" and a "Dr. Bombay", referring to the British footwear brand and character from the sitcom Bewitched respectively.[7]


In its original American broadcast on December 6, 1998, "Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"" received a 7.2 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research, translating to approximately 7.2 million viewers. The episode finished in 54th place in the ratings for the week of November 22-December 6, 1998. It tied with a new episode of the ABC program Brother's Keeper.[10] On August 7, 2007, the episode was released as part of The Simpsons - The Complete Tenth Season DVD box set. Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Ron Hauge and Mike B. Anderson participated in the DVD's audio commentary of the episode.[11]

Following its home video release, "Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"" received mostly mixed reviews from critics. Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood of I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide called it "An odd episode [...] that goes on a bit too long and could probably have done with an entertaining B story."[9] They added that "Homer's running away is funny the first time, but by the second, it's lost its impact."[9] They concluded by writing that "The biggest joke comes from Grampa's need to go to the lavatory on the way back from the ghost town. Which isn't that funny at all, really."[9] DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson described the episode as a "snag".[12] He wrote: ""Kidney" offers all the components that should make it good, but it never quite achieves a level higher than average."[12] He added that "Despite a few funny moments, this one largely leaves me cold."[12] Digital Entertainment News' Jake MacNeill wrote that the episode "runs out of steam" after its first act, and considered it to be one of the season's worst episodes.[13] On the other hand, giving the episode a positive review, Peter Brown of If described "Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"" as one of the season's best episodes.[14] The episode's reference to North By Northwest was named the 24th greatest film reference in the history of the show by Total Film's Nathan Ditum.[8]


  1. ^ a b Hauge, Ron. (2007). Commentary for "Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"", in The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
  2. ^ a b Maxtone-Graham, Ian. (2007). Commentary for "Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"", in The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
  3. ^ a b Anderson, Mike B. (2007). Commentary for "Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"", in The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
  4. ^ a b c d Scully, Mike. (2007). Commentary for "Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"", in The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
  5. ^ a b Groening, Matt. (2007). Commentary for "Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"", in The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
  6. ^ Meyer, George. (2007). Commentary for "Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"", in The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
  7. ^ a b c Bates, James W.; Gimple, Scott M.; McCann, Jesse L.; Richmond, Ray; Seghers, Christine, eds. (2010). Simpsons World The Ultimate Episode Guide: Seasons 1–20 (1st ed.). Harper Collins Publishers. pp. 484–485. ISBN 978-0-00-738815-8. 
  8. ^ a b Ditum, Nathan (June 6, 2009). "The 50 Greatest Simpsons Movie References". Total Film (Future Publishing). Retrieved July 22, 2009. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Warren Martyn & Adrian Wood. "Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"". BBC. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
  10. ^ Bauder, David (December 9, 1998). "ABC finds life's a box of chocolates with first weekly ratings win". Daily Breeze. p. D8. 
  11. ^ "The Simpsons - The Complete 10th Season". Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
  12. ^ a b c Jacobson, Colin (August 20, 2007). "The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season (1998)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
  13. ^ MacNeill, Jake (September 25, 2007). "The Simpsons: Season 10". Digital Entertainment News. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
  14. ^ Brown, Peter (August 7, 2007). "The Simpsons: Season 10". If. Archived from the original on March 2, 2009. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 

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