Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment
"Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment" is the thirteenth episode of The Simpsons' second season. The 26th episode overall, it originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on February 7, 1991. In the episode, Homer gets an illegal cable hook-up. Despite the family's enjoyment of the new channels, Lisa becomes suspicious that they are stealing cable. Her suspicions are confirmed by Reverend Lovejoy and she protests by no longer watching television. Meanwhile, Bart manages to tune into a sexually explicit adult movie channel, and Homer invites his friends over to watch a boxing match, but Lisa's protest gets to him. He decides not to watch the fight and cuts the cable.
The episode was written by freelance writer Steve Pepoon and directed by Rich Moore. It is based on the Eighth Commandment ("Thou shalt not steal"). The episode marks the debut of Troy McClure who was voiced by Phil Hartman and based on the typical "washed up" Hollywood actor. The character Drederick Tatum, one of the boxers in the boxing match Homer and his friends watch, also makes his first appearance on the show in this episode.
In its original broadcast, "Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment" received a Nielsen rating of 15.2, finishing 25th the week it aired. It received favorable reviews from critics and became the second episode of The Simpsons to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming less than One Hour).
The first scene is Homer dreaming on the hammock that he is a Hebrew in the time of Moses, breaking one of the Ten Commandments by stealing. When he wakes up he sees Ned Flanders angrily reject an offer from a dim-witted man to get an illegal cable hook-up for $50, Homer chases after the cable man, who agrees to hook up the Simpsons' television for free. Homer likes the new channels and spends a lot of time watching the television along with his family. Lisa, however, feels suspicious about the cable hook-up. Following a Sunday School lesson regarding the existence and nature of Hell, Lisa becomes terrified of violations of the Ten Commandments, the adherence to which she is assured will keep one's soul safe from Hell. She fears that because Homer violated the Eighth Commandment, he will go to Hell when he dies.
Lisa additionally opposes other examples of common thievery all around her. She even convinces Marge to pay the cost on two grapes she sampled in a grocery store. Lisa pays a visit to Reverend Lovejoy at church, where he suggests that Lisa cannot turn her father in to the police for the illegal hook-up, since she must continue to "Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother", according to the Fifth Commandment. He instead encourages Lisa to not watch anything on Homer's cable hook-up, setting a good example that he hopes others will follow. Marge pleads with Homer to either cut the cable or pay for it, but he refuses to do either, saying that the cable will stay as long as he desires. Meanwhile, Bart sets up posters on the back door for his showing of an adult channel for 50 cents, but he is caught a few seconds later by Homer, who then forbids him from doing it.
Homer sees a commercial for "The Bout to Knock the Other Guy Out!", a much-anticipated boxing match in which Drederick Tatum will fight for the World Heavyweight Championship. Homer decides to have a party and invites all of his friends to come over and watch the fight. Lisa tries to boycott the party, and this results in Homer making her stay outside on the lawn. Homer’s conscience eventually bothers him, more in the form of his daughter's distress than a moral objection to stealing cable due to a hallucination that he is in prison for stealing cable. He finally gives in to Lisa's protests, begrudgingly choosing not to watch the last minutes of the fight, and Marge and Maggie join them as well. Bart, on the other hand, does not care, wanting to see the fight, but Homer drags him outside by force. The family sits the fight out and when everyone has left, Homer hesitantly cuts his cable hook-up despite Bart's objection; he accidentally ends up cutting the power to the whole neighborhood which causes the screen to become static for a few seconds before cutting to credits.
"Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment" was written by freelance writer Steve Pepoon and directed by Rich Moore. It was originally going to be named "Homer vs. the 8th Commandment", but the writers decided to include Lisa in the title because they wanted the cast to feel as if all their characters were equally represented on the show. The episode is based on the Eighth Commandment ("thou shall not steal"), which is one of the Ten Commandments. The Simpsons writer Al Jean said that "whenever people come up to me and say that The Simpsons is just sort of this outrageous show that has no moral center, I always point them to this [episode], where Homer gets an illegal cable hook-up (which many people have done in real life) and suffers enormous consequences."
The Simpsons writer Mike Reiss feels that episodes such as "Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment" are his favorite episodes to write because they have a "solid theme or an issue" (in this case, religion and theft), that one can "discuss endlessly and just have it present itself in so many different ways." Producer Jeff Martin said that the writers tried to use a "very strict construction of the Eighth Commandment," considering cable theft to be "essentially a victimless crime." "Homer vs. the 8th Commandment" was produced at a time when illegal cable hookups were becoming commonplace in many homes. This episode later inspired the season four episode "Homer the Heretic", in which Homer stops going to church on Sundays. Based on the Fourth Commandment, "remember the Sabbath and keep it holy", that episode originated when Jean commented to Reiss, "We had a lot of luck with Homer stealing cable, so maybe we could look to other commandments?"
The episode marks the debut appearance of the character Troy McClure, voiced by Phil Hartman. McClure was based on the typical "washed up" Hollywood actor, and B movie actors Troy Donahue and Doug McClure served as inspiration for his name and certain character aspects. According to show creator Matt Groening, Hartman was cast in the role due to his ability to pull "the maximum amount of humor" out of any line he was given. McClure's visual appearance is similar to that of Hartman himself. McClure became a recurring character on the show after "Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment", but was retired in 1998 after Hartman's death. In addition to McClure, Hartman also provided the voice of the cable guy. The character Drederick Tatum, one of the boxers in the boxing match Homer and his friends watch, also makes his first appearance on the show in this episode. His physical appearance was based on the American boxer Mike Tyson, and he was named after a real boxer Simpsons writer George Meyer had seen.
The scene in which Homer stands in front of and is struck by the cable man's truck resembles a scene in Alfred Hitchcock's film North by Northwest. Drederick Tatum is based on Mike Tyson. In a joke about Mr. Burns' age, Burns recalls watching a bare-knuckle match between Gentleman Jim Corbett and "an Eskimo fellow." The films that are watched by the family on the new cable are Jaws, Die Hard, and Wall Street. One of the X-rated films Bart and his friends watch on cable is called Broadcast Nudes. The title parodies Broadcast News, which was written by Simpsons executive producer James L. Brooks.
In its original broadcast, "Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment" finished 25th in ratings for the week of February 4–10, 1991 with a Nielsen rating of 15.2, and was viewed in approximately 14 million homes. It did better than the show's season average rank of 32nd, and was the highest rated program on Fox that week. The episode finished second in its timeslot to The Cosby Show, which aired at the same time on NBC and had a Nielsen rating of 16.8.
In The Gospel According to The Simpsons, Mark I. Pinsky writes that the episode has "the structure of an exquisitely crafted twenty-two minute sermon." DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson felt that "[The episode] helped establish the show’s reputation as a master lampooner of pop culture. The introduction of cable into the home allowed [the writers] to mock many different movies and other media outlets, and this helped make the episode very entertaining. It also worked in many other ways and offered a fine show." Writing for MacLean's magazine, Jaime J. Weinman described "Homer vs. Lisa and the Eighth Commandment" as "the first truly great episode — the one that established The Simpsons as the funniest and most multi-layered sitcom around. The story of Homer stealing cable was an excuse for dozens of parodies of early 90s cable TV, but it was also a story about Homer and his daughter and an examination of how we rationalize little acts of theft in our daily lives."
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 the episode a "skilful demonstration of a moral dilemma that must have plagued millions since the inception of cable TV." Doug Pratt, a DVD reviewer and Rolling Stone contributor, wrote that "Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment" is "one of the many demonstrations that while [The Simpsons] may have pushed the censorship envelope for its day, it remained moral to its core. The running satire of cable programs is also quite amusing."
The episode won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming less than One Hour). It was the second episode of the show to win the award. It was also nominated in the "Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy Series or a Special" category.
- Richmond & Coffman 1997, p. 48.
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