"Team Homer" is the twelfth episode of The Simpsons' seventh season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 7, 1996. In the episode, Homer starts a bowling team with Moe, Apu, and Otto. When Mr. Burns discovers the team was funded with his money, he insists on joining. Meanwhile, Bart's "Down with homework" T-shirt incites a student riot that leads to the implementation of a uniform dress code.
The episode was written by Mike Scully and directed by Mark Kirkland. Scully came up with the idea for it when he went bowling one day. The episode features cultural references to Mad magazine and the film Caddyshack. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from fans and television critics. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 9.4, and was the third highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.
Unable to afford the $500 registration fee to join a bowling league, Homer and his friends (Moe, Apu, and Otto) go to Mr. Burns for a sponsorship. Homer sneaks into Burns office, where he finds an anesthetized Burns (who mistakes him for the Pillsbury Doughboy). Homer takes this opportunity to get Burns to sign the check. Meanwhile, at school, Bart's "Down with homework" T-shirt incites a student riot, and as a result, Principal Skinner forces all students to wear uniforms in order to prevent it from happening again.
Back at the bowling alley, Homer and his friends enter the bowling league competition, calling themselves the Pin Pals. They beat three teams before moving up into second place in their league. Meanwhile, Burns recovers from his stupor and discovers the check he wrote to Homer. Burns surprises everyone when he reveals he not only isn't mad but also wants to join the team (replacing Otto in the team), but since Burns is a horrible bowler, the team is convinced they will lose the championship.
Back at school, Skinner's dress code demoralizes the students until a rainstorm soaks through the uniforms, causing the grey color to be washed out, revealing tie-dye colors that make the playful spirit of the children return. At the bowling alley, before the championship game begin, Burns gives the team new shirts. Two pins away from victory, Burns takes his turn. Otto tips over a vending machine and the vibrations help the Pin Pals win by knocking down the pins. As the team celebrates their win, Burns takes the trophy and keeps it for himself. Cheered on by his teammates, Homer attempts to break into the mansion and recover the trophy; however, this ends disastrously when the hounds are released and catch Homer a few feet from the gate, mauling him severely.
The episode was written by Mike Scully. He was bowling "a lot" at the time and one day on when he was bowling he came up with the idea for "Team Homer". The idea for the school plot came later in production when the school that Scully's children went to was thinking of "switching over" to school uniforms. Both Scully and his children were against it so he decided to put it in the episode.
Former show runner of The Simpsons David Mirkin thought the episode was "really fun" because there were "lots of characters" in it and it featured "lots of terrific animation". Mirkin liked that viewers could see the different characters "team up" and how they pair off. "It's kind of cool to see them hang around like this. Particularly Homer's group which has some nice emotion and they really comes together as a group," Mirkin commented.
The episode was directed by Mark Kirkland. When he first read the script, he thought the challenge of this episode was that the bowling theme had already been covered in the season one episode "Life on the Fast Lane". Since it had been done before, Kirkland felt pressure to make the bowling alley look "really good". Kirkland and his team of The Simpsons animators at Film Roman all went over to a local bowling alley and had lunch. They checked out the whole alley for inspiration and drew sketches. "Life on the Fast Lane" deals with Marge becoming infatuated with Jacques, a French bowling instructor. Mirkin points out that Jacques makes a brief appearance in this episode, but without a speaking role. Also appearing with non-speaking roles are Mindy Simmons, Lurleen Lumpkin and Princess Kashmir, the three women who almost broke up Marge and Homer's marriage.
Mirkin remembered the episode "very fondly" because when it was finished, the staff got customized Simpsons bowling balls, bowling bags, and Pin Pal shirts as gifts. Scully said the bowling balls were "really cool" because they were yellow and had the Simpsons logo on them.
Doris Grau, script supervisor for the show and voice of Lunchlady Doris, died on December 30, 1995, from respiratory failure at a hospital in Los Angeles, California. "Team Homer" was one of the last episodes to feature her voice, and included a dedication to her.
In one scene, Homer tells Marge: "We were so close to winning the championship. Now, thanks to Burns, it's never going to happen. And I spent so much time building that trophy case." The scene then cuts to the trophy case with an Academy Award in it that Homer has stolen. In the original Fox broadcast, the name in the inscription on the Academy Award was Haing S. Ngor. In American syndication and the season seven DVD, the name was changed to Don Ameche (who had won for Cocoon). Ngor, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the 1984 film The Killing Fields, was murdered on February 25, 1996, between the original and the syndicated broadcast. Producers were concerned the syndicated episode would imply Homer had murdered Ngor to steal the statue.
Bart and Milhouse buy an issue of Mad magazine. Bart also puts a Mad iron-on reading "Down with Homework" on one of his T-shirts, which causes controversy at school. Milhouse is shocked to see the new school uniforms, and his jaw drops, a "Woody Allen-esque" type of joke. The final bowling scene is similar to the final golfing scene in the 1980 film Caddyshack. Homer references the song "Mr. Roboto" by Styx. Moe's unsuccessful attempt to sideline Mr. Burns by hitting his leg with a crowbar is done in a similar manner to Shane Stant's attempt in 1994 to sideline figure skater Nancy Kerrigan by physical assault. When Martin and Lisa are modeling the new grey uniforms, the song playing in the background is "Spanish Flea", by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass., which had previously appeared in the third season episode "The Otto Show".
In its original American broadcast, "Team Homer" finished 58th in the ratings for the week of January 1–7, 1996, with a Nielsen rating of 9.4. The episode was the fourth highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following The X-Files, Beverly Hills, 90210, and Married... With Children.
Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from fans and television critics. It was named the fifth best episode of the show by MSNBC. They praised how the episode utilized Burns's physical weaknesses for laughs, and Homer's line; "I guess some people never change. Or, they quickly change and then quickly change back." DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson said that to his surprise, "the dress code plot works the best". He liked the mockery of Mad magazine and the "overemphasis on the way it disrupts the educational process". Jacobson thought the bowling plot had plenty of "nice moments" too, "and these add up to a solid show." Jennifer Malkowski of DVD Verdict considered the best part of the episode to be when Homer ends a phone conversation with the "highly quotable" line, "I gotta go. My damn wiener kids are listening." The website concluded its review by giving the episode a grade of A−. Mirkin described the episode as "excellent", and praised Scully's "great" script.
The episode received criticism from the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, who said that "Team Homer" is one of their least favorite episodes. They thought the school uniform plot was "a lot more satisfying than the bowling story" They added that the scene where Martin and Lisa model the new uniforms is the highlight of the episode.
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- Scully, Mike (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Team Homer" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Mirkin, David (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Team Homer" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Kirkland, Mark (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Team Homer" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
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- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Team Homer". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
- Groening, Matt (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Team Homer" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- "Nielsen Ratings". The Tampa Tribune. January 10, 1996. p. F02. Retrieved on January 4, 2009.
- Enwright, Patrick (2007-07-31). "D'Oh! The top 10 'Simpsons' episodes ever". MSNBC. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
- 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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