Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
"Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" is the fifteenth episode of The Simpsons' second season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on February 21, 1991. In the episode, Grampa confesses that Homer has a half-brother, whom Homer immediately tries to track down. He eventually discovers that his brother is Herbert Powell, a car manufacturer. Herb immediately starts to bond with Bart and Lisa, and he invites Homer to design his own car. Homer's car design turns out to be a disaster, which causes Herb to become bankrupt.
The episode was written by Jeff Martin and directed by Wes Archer. American actor Danny DeVito provided the voice of Herb. The episode features cultural references to cars such as the Edsel, the Tucker Torpedo, the Ford Mustang, and the Lamborghini Cheetah. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 15.4, and was the highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired. Some fans were upset with the sad ending of the episode, and as a result the producers decided to write a sequel, "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?", in which Herb regains his fortune and forgives Homer.
After watching the latest McBain film, Grampa suffers a mild heart attack. Thinking he might die, he is prompted to confess a long-hidden secret: Homer has a half-brother. Grampa explains that he met a carnival prostitute before marrying Homer's mother, and they had a son that they left at the Shelbyville Orphanage. Determined to find his brother, Homer and his family go to the orphanage and find out that Grampa's love child was adopted by a Mr. and Mrs. Powell and named Herbert.
Herbert Powell, who looks just like Homer, except he is taller, slimmer and has more hair, is the head of the automobile manufacturer Powell Motors in Detroit, which is in need of new ideas. He is very rich, but is unhappy not knowing who he is and where he comes from. He is overjoyed upon hearing of his half-brother and invites the entire Simpson family to stay at his mansion. Bart, Lisa, and Maggie are enthralled by Herb's wealthy lifestyle and kind personality, although Marge constantly worries about spoiling her kids. Herb then decides that Homer, being an average American, is the perfect person to design a new car for his company.
Homer is given entirely free rein in the design, but is at first too timid to voice an opinion, as Herb's designers begin to design the car with their own ideas in mind. When Herb gets word of this, he gives Homer a pep talk that sends him back to the designers determined to build the car with all sorts of weird effects like bubble domes, tail fins and several horns that play "La Cucaracha". At the unveiling of the new car, Herb is horrified to find that the car is a badly-designed and hideously styled monstrosity that costs US$82,000, leaving Powell Motors bankrupt and out of business, while Herb's mansion is foreclosed and he loses everything he ever worked for. As he departs Detroit on a bus, he angrily remarks to Homer that he would have been better off if he never met him and that as far as he is concerned, he has no brother. While Marge tries to console Homer, Lisa agrees with Herb and laments on his life before he discovered he was a "Simpson". Grampa soon arrives and asks about Herb. Before Homer can even answer what happened, Grampa remarks to Homer that he knew "he'd blow it", and leaves in the cab he just arrived in, rather than getting in the car with the rest of the Simpson family.
While Homer drives the family home, Bart tells him that the car he built was great, and Homer becomes relieved to discover that at least one person liked it.
"Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" was written by Jeff Martin and directed by Wes Archer. Both Homer's mother Mona Simpson and Herb make their first appearances on The Simpsons in the episode. Some fans were upset with the sad ending of the episode, and as a result the producers decided to write a sequel in which Herb would be given a kinder fate. The resulting episode, "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?", aired at the end of the third season. In that episode, Herb briefly settled in the Simpson household, despite his intense continuing antipathy toward Homer. Homer loaned Herb US$2000, which Herb used to build an invention that translated infantile speech into comprehensible English, based on observations he made of Maggie. He proceeded to mass-produce his new product and regained his fortune. He then bought each member of the family gifts and paid Homer back with a vibrating chair, along with his forgiveness.
The episode was recorded on August 13, 1990. The voice of Herb was provided by guest star Danny DeVito, an American actor who was suggested for the role by Simpsons executive producer Sam Simon. Bart's voice actor, Nancy Cartwright, writes in her autobiography My Life as a 10-Year-Old Boy that DeVito had to record his lines quickly because he had another appointment, so the staff focused on recording his scenes only instead of the whole episode at once. Cartwright was a fan of DeVito's and recalls: "This morning, at the table read, I had just filled my plate with assorted fruits when Bonnie said to my backside, 'Nancy, I want to introduce you to...' and I turned and practically knocked over Danny DeVito, all four feet, eleven inches of him. How embarrassing!" While recording the scenes, Cartwright stood directly across the room from DeVito, which she appreciated since she got to see him in action. She thought DeVito "threw his body and soul" into his performance. While the recording took part, animation director Archer scribbled down some of DeVito's attitudes, gestures, and facial expressions on a piece of paper as he performed. In one scene of the episode, Herb tells Homer and the rest of the Simpson family to "[make] yourselves at home. We have a tennis court, a swimming pool, a screening room..." Cartwright said of it:
This was obviously written with Danny in mind as I have no doubt that he actually has the aforementioned amenities in real life. He has earned his right to stand tall, and it wouldn't have shocked me to see him spew attitude all over us if he wanted to. But he's a hard worker and he concentrated on the job [...] As the episode came to its climax, we discovered that all the material things in the world don't mean as much to Herb as being with family. Somehow I just get the feeling that this part was tailor-made with Danny, the family man, in mind.
The storyline of a controversially styled car causing the company to fail both echoes that of the Edsel and the Tucker Torpedo, as well as the later DMC 12. The Edsel was a controversially styled car that bore the name of Henry Ford's son, Edsel Ford, and is now considered one of the biggest car flops in history. Production of the Tucker Torpedo, which introduced many new features, was shut down amidst scandal and accusations of stock fraud in 1949. Homer wants the horns of the car he is designing to play the traditional Spanish folk corrido "La Cucaracha". The Pope shows up for the unveiling of Homer's new car. Herb berates his staff for suggesting that the company name a new car "Persephone" after the Greek goddess of fertility in Greek mythology. Herb tells the staff, "People don't want cars named after hungry old Greek broads! They want names like 'Mustang' and 'Cheetah'—vicious animal names," referencing the Ford Mustang and Lamborghini Cheetah cars.
The title of the episode is a reference the name of the fictional book "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" in the 1941 film Sullivan's Travels. Herb lives in a house that looks like American architect Frank Lloyd Wright's house in Oak Park, Illinois, works in a studio that looks like the Taliesin school of architecture in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and his factory resembles the Johnson Wax Headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin, all three buildings designed by Wright.
In its original broadcast, "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" finished twenty-sixth in the ratings for the week of February 18–24, 1991. With a Nielsen rating of 15.4, equivalent to approximately 14.1 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. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, wrote that although it is "inevitable" that Homer's car will be a disaster, the "joy of this episode is anticipating exactly what sort of disaster." A member of the IGN staff wrote in a season two review that "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" is one of the "real winners to be found in the second season." Dawn Taylor of The DVD Journal thought the most memorable line of the episode was Homer's idea of the perfect car, "You know that little ball you put on the aerial so you can find your car in a parking lot? That should be on every car! And some things are so snazzy they never go out of style — like tail fins! And bubble domes! And shag carpeting!"
DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson called the episode a solid episode and said that the introduction of Homer's brother "could have been gimmicky, especially with a big-name guest star like DeVito, but the concept fared nicely." Jacobson added that he thought DeVito "brought spark to his part and made Herb fun and lively. The parts in which Homer developed his car were also hilarious and offered some of the show’s best bits. The program even showed some great little moments, like the hallmark Simpson five o'clock shadow on infant Herb." Jeremy Kleinman of DVD Talk said the episode "features another great guest voice, this time by Danny DeVito as the voice of Homer's long lost brother Herb, who reenters Homer's life and solicits his 'common man' prospective in building a car. Once again, Homer's sentimentality comes through." Total Film's Nathan Ditum ranked DeVito's performance as the 10th best guest appearance in the show's history.
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- Cartwright, Nancy (2000). "Oh, Danny Boy...". My Life as a 10-Year-Old Boy. New York City: Hyperion Books. pp. 90–93. ISBN 0-7868-8600-5.
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- Lienert, Dan. "The Best, Worst & Weirdest Car Names". Forbes. Retrieved 2009-04-24.
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- "What we watch, what we don't...". Austin American-Statesman. March 3, 1991. p. 15.
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?". BBC. Retrieved 2009-04-12.
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- Kleinman, Jeremy (August 1, 2002). "The Simpsons - The Complete Second Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2009-03-23.
- Ditum, Nathan (March 29, 2009). "The 20 Best Simpsons Movie-Star Guest Spots". Total Film. Retrieved 2009-08-02.
- "The Homer - a 24 Hours of LeMons race car". 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-29.
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