Homer the Smithers
"Homer the Smithers" is the 17th episode of The Simpsons' seventh season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on February 25, 1996. In this episode, Smithers takes a vacation and hires Homer to take over as Mr. Burns' assistant.
The episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Steven Dean Moore. The story came from another writer on the show, Mike Scully. The episode features cultural references to The Little Rascals, a series of comedy short films from the 1930s, and the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from fans and television critics. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 8.8, and was the fifth highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.
After a company night out to the Springfield drag races, Smithers fails to protect Mr. Burns from being pestered by a drunken Lenny. Though he tries to make amends the next day, Smithers again bungles his duties and attempts to drown himself in the water cooler out of guilt, so Burns suggests he take a vacation. Seeking a replacement who will not outshine him, Smithers purposely selects Homer for the job. Assisting Burns proves too demanding for Homer, and Burns continually berates him for his incompetence. Homer finally snaps and punches Burns in the face and runs home in panic.
Homer returns to apologize but is turned away by a fearful Burns. With no one around, Burns learns to do things himself, such as making coffee and operating the telephone. Burns soon becomes completely self-reliant and thanks Homer for making him learn that he can fend for himself. Burns then fires Smithers when he returns from his vacation. Smithers tries to find other employment but eventually decides he can only be happy working for Mr. Burns. He enlists Homer in a scheme to get his job back by handling a call from Burns' mother (the one task that Burns still cannot do), but it backfires when Homer hangs up the phone by accident and then attempts to impersonate Burns' mother. Smithers and Homer engage in a fight within Burns' office which ends when Burns is accidentally knocked out of the window. Burns is badly injured and becomes dependent on Smithers once again. In gratitude, Smithers sends Homer a fruit basket.
The episode was written by John Swartzwelder, who got the story from another member of the writing staff, Mike Scully. When the show runners of this season, Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, took over the job from David Mirkin, they wanted to "take the show back" to the Simpson family. Their goal was to have at least 15 episodes per season that revolved around the family or a member of the family, but they still wanted to do the annual Halloween episode, a Sideshow Bob episode, an Itchy and Scratchy episode, and a "format bending" episode, which in this season was "22 Short Films About Springfield". They wanted the family episodes to be realistic, and Oakley thought "Homer the Smithers" was a good example. When Scully pitched the idea to the writers, Oakley was surprised that it had not been done earlier on the show. He thought the story sounded like something that would have been done by the third season because it was "simple" and "organic".
Weinstein said that this episode was an opportunity for him, Oakley, and Swartzwelder to "go nuts" with the "Burns-ism". He said that they enjoy to write for characters such as Burns and Abe Simpson because of their "out-datedness", and because they get to use thesauruses for looking up "old time slang". Burns answers the phone by saying "Ahoy, hoy!", for example, which was suggested by Alexander Graham Bell to be used as the proper telephone answer when the telephone was first invented. Burns' kitchen is full of "crazy old-time" devices and contraptions. For inspiration, Weinstein brought in "a bunch" of old books with designs of old kitchen devices. Oakley commented that the stuffed polar bear had always been in Burns' office, and they were excited to "finally" have a use for it.
Matt Groening has noted the challenges of sound mixing with this episode, the results of which influenced future episodes of the show and Groening's other series Futurama. When the animation for the episode returned, the production staff found the scene of Homer fighting Smithers "horrifying", as the sounds of character exertion made it seem too violent. After experimenting with the sound, they were eventually able to make the scene humorous by only leaving in sounds of the characters' agony.
When Homer gets up early to make Mr. Burns breakfast, he wakes up Marge in bed. She says: "Homie, it's 4:30 in the morning. Little Rascals isn't until 6", referencing The Little Rascals, a series of comedy short films from the 1930s. Smithers uses a Macintosh computer with the Mac OS operating system to search for his replacement. Burns tells Homer to make him Postum for breakfast, a hot drink designed to rival tea and coffee. At the end of the episode, Burns is lying in bed in a body cast, chewing loudly and pausing his speech for Smithers to spoon-feed him, as in A Clockwork Orange when a bedridden Alex is spoonfed steak. The manner in which Burns becomes injured is also similar to Alex: they both take a potentially life-threatening fall from a top story window.
In its original American broadcast, "Homer the Smithers" finished 60th in the ratings for the week of February 19 to February 25, 1996, with a Nielsen rating of 8.8. The episode was the fifth highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following The X-Files, Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place and Married... With Children.
Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. Dave Foster of DVD Times said that in "Homer the Smithers" we see "just how dependent upon Smithers Mr. Burns is". He added that the staging and animation of the scene in which Homer tries to apologize to Burns "will remain engraved in your memory in the same way as some of the series finest dialogue can." DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson enjoyed the episode and commented that "any doubts about Smithers' sexuality will not last long when we see his vacation." Jacobson would have liked to see more scenes from Smithers' vacation, but he still thought the episode offered "nice exposition" for the character. He added: "It’s fun to see more about his pampering of Burns, and it’s amusing to watch Homer take over for him." Jennifer Malkowski of DVD Verdict considered the best part of the episode to be the scenes of Smithers on vacation. She concluded her review by giving the episode a grade of A−. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, called it a "very good episode, and an unusually straightforward one for this surreal season."
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Homer the Smithers". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family. Created by Matt Groening; edited by Ray Richmond and Antonia Coffman. (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. ASIN 0060952520. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M. ISBN 0-06-095252-0, 978-0-06-095252-5. p. 198.
- Oakley, Bill (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Homer the Smithers" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Weinstein, Josh (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Homer the Smithers" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Futurama Volume 6 "Professor Farnsworth's Science of a Scene (DVD/BluRay Disc). 20th Century Fox. 2011. "David X. Cohen: Matt Groening really laid the foundation of the sound of Futurama. I remember a classic lesson he taught me was when people are having a fight you emphasise the sounds of the person who is getting hurt, rather than the person who is grunting and attacking the other person. He's worked out a lot of the comedy theory of the sound mix."
- Futurama Volume 6 "Professor Farnsworth's Science of a Scene (DVD/BluRay Disc). 20th Century Fox. 2011. "Matt Groening: This goes back to an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer was in a big fistfight— with Smithers of all people— and when we got the animation back it was just horrifying. Because there was all this sound of exertion, and then we took out all the sounds of exertion after many different kinds of experiments, and when we just left in sounds of pain and misery— agony— people started laughing."
- "Nielsen Ratings". The Tampa Tribune. March 1, 1996. p. 4. Retrieved on January 4, 2009.
- Foster, Dave (2006-02-25). "The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season". DVD Times. Retrieved 2008-12-01.
- Jacobson, Colin (2006-01-05). "The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season (1995)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved 2008-12-01.
- Malkowski, Judge (2006-01-16). "The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 2008-12-01.
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- "Homer the Smithers" at The Simpsons.com
- "Homer the Smithers" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive
- "Homer the Smithers" at TV.com
- "Homer the Smithers" at the Internet Movie Database