The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson
"The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson" is the first episode of The Simpsons' ninth season. The 179th episode of the series overall, it was originally broadcast on the Fox network in the United States on September 21, 1997. The episode features the Simpson family traveling to Manhattan to recover the family car, which was taken by Barney Gumble and abandoned outside the World Trade Center, therefore gaining numerous parking tickets and a parking boot.
Writer Ian Maxtone-Graham was interested in making an episode where the Simpson family travels to New York to retrieve their lost car. Executive producers Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein suggested that the car be found in Austin J. Tobin Plaza at the World Trade Center, as they wanted a location that would be widely known. Great lengths were taken to make a detailed replica of the borough of Manhattan. The episode received generally positive reviews, and has since been on accolade lists of The Simpsons episodes. The "I'm Checkin' In" musical sequence won two awards. Because of the World Trade Center's main role, the episode was taken off syndication in many areas following the September 11 attacks, but has come back into syndication in recent years.
At Moe's Tavern, Moe informs Homer and his friends that one of them must be a designated driver, and Barney loses the choosing draw. After Barney drives the drunken men home in Homer's car, Homer allows him to use it to drive himself home, expecting Barney to return it the following morning. In his distressed state, Barney disappears with the car. Two months later, Barney returns to Moe's Tavern, unable to recall where he left the car. Homer later receives a letter from the New York City government, which informs him that his car has been found parked in the World Trade Center plaza. Homer reveals to the family that he had once been to New York before when he was 17 years old and had a horrible experience. Marge and the children persuade Homer to go retrieve the car and he reluctantly agrees.
When the family arrives in Manhattan, they decide to split up. Upon arrival at his car, Homer discovers it has been issued many parking tickets and has been wheel clamped. While waiting for a parking officer to come remove the clamp, Homer drinks an excessive amount of crab juice from a food vendor and needs to urinate, but is afraid to leave his car behind. After several hours of holding it in, he finally goes to the restroom at the South Tower's indoor observation deck, but discovers that it is out of order and must use the one at the top of the North Tower. While he is doing that, the officer arrives at the car and finding no one present, issues another ticket and leaves; Homer's subsequent "D'oh!" echoes across the city. Meanwhile, the rest of the family tours the Statue of Liberty, Little Italy, Chinatown, and the Empire State Building. Bart leaves the group to visit the offices of Mad magazine, and is in awe when he sees Alfred E. Neuman. The family attends a Broadway musical about the Betty Ford Clinic, and then take a carriage through Central Park to where they are planning to meet Homer.
Upon returning to the car, Homer realizes he must make it to Central Park to find his family and leave before it gets dark. Ignoring the wheel clamp, he tries to accelerate and in the process destroys the car's fender. Homer stops by a road construction crew and steals a jackhammer so he can use it to remove the clamp. The car is free from the clamp, but further damaged as a result. Homer races to Central Park and reunites with his family. While driving back to Springfield, the family reflects on their wonderful time, while Homer's hatred for New York remains.
Writer Ian Maxtone-Graham, a former resident of New York, had conceived the idea of having the family travel to the city to locate their missing car and believed it to be "a classic Manhattan problem". Bill Oakley, who had visited the World Trade Center when the construction of the towers was completed in 1973, suggested parking the car in the plaza of the buildings. Josh Weinstein observed that, "When we realized that there was a plaza between the two towers, we knew it was a perfect spot to have Homer's car."
The animators were told to make a detailed replica of the city. David Silverman was sent to Manhattan to take hundreds of pictures of the city and areas around the World Trade Center. When he returned, Lance Wilder and his team spent time creating new scenes and backgrounds, incorporating small details such as signs and hundreds of extras that would correctly illustrate the city. Oakley and Weinstein were pleased with the final results, and both noted that the buildings, streets, and even elevator cabins were detailed closely to their real life counterparts. In the final scene, as the family is seen driving away from New York on the George Washington Bridge, the credits roll with the "camera" gradually pulling back from a view of the car, to a view of the side, and then on to a panorama view of the city; as if the whole sequence was being shot from a helicopter. To achieve this effect, a computer model of the bridge pulling out was made and then printed out. With the print outs, photocopies were made traced onto the animation cels. The process took a long time and was expensive, as the use of computer animation was not widespread when the episode was produced. Director Jim Reardon wanted to replicate films that ended in a similar way, and commented, "I remembered that every movie located in New York would pull back if you were leaving town on a bridge." Shortly before the episode aired, the production staff contacted Fox to make sure they would not run commercials during the credits.
Ken Keeler, who wrote the lyrics for the "You're Checkin' In" musical number, spent two hours in a room alone to write the song. Upon sharing the lyrics with the rest of the production staff, some revisions were made, although little was changed. Bill Oakley was unsatisfied with the part of the musical where the actor claims, "Hey, that's just my Aspirin!", claiming that a better line could have been written.
The song used during Duffman's first and subsequent appearances is "Oh Yeah" by Yello, popularized in the final scene of the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The Original Famous Ray's Pizza shop Homer sees is a parody of independently owned pizza stores that carry the name "Ray" in their name. The musical sequence played during the Flushing Meadows segment is a stylistic parody of the piece Flower Duet from the opera Lakmé by Leo Delibes. When the traveling bus passes by Hasidic Jews, Bart mistakes them for ZZ Top, and when Bart visits Mad magazine's offices, he sees Alfred E. Neuman, the Spy vs. Spy characters, and cartoonist Dave Berg. The actor in the musical number "You're Checkin' In" was based on Robert Downey, Jr., who was battling a cocaine addiction during the time of the episode creation, just as the character in the musical was. The sequence where Homer races alongside the carriage in Central Park was a reference to a similar scene in the film Ben-Hur. The final scene when the family is crossing the George Washington Bridge uses a version of the song "Theme from New York, New York", which continues to play throughout the credits.
Several cultural references are made during Homer's flashback to his previous visit to New York City. During the entire flashback, "The Entertainer", a piece made famous by the film The Sting, is played. Writer Ian Maxtone-Graham had brought the piece to the attention of director Jim Reardon and asked him to try to fit the piece into the flashback. Maxtone-Graham later commented, "It turned out that the music and the visual gags fit each other perfectly." In the beginning of the scene, Homer passes by three pornographic film theaters, which are playing "The Godfather's Parts, II", "Jeremiah's Johnson", and "Five Sleazy Pieces", plays on the names of The Godfather Part II, Jeremiah Johnson, and Five Easy Pieces. Woody Allen can be seen during the flashback, pouring trash out of his window onto Homer.
Sample of the musical "You're Checkin' In", which won awards for its music and lyrics.
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In its original broadcast, "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson" finished 18th in ratings for the week of September 15–21, 1997, with a Nielsen rating of 10.7, equivalent to approximately 10.5 million viewing households. It was the highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, beating King of the Hill's season two opener "How to Fire a Rifle Without Really Trying".
The episode was mostly well received. The song "You're Checkin' In" won a 1998 Primetime Emmy Award for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Music and Lyrics", and an Annie Award for "Outstanding Music in an Animated Television Production" in the same year. In honor of The Simpsons' 300th episode milestone in 2003, Entertainment Weekly ranked the episode at number 13 on the list of their 25 favorite episodes, and AskMen.com ranked the episode at number seven on their top ten; in both cases it was the second-most-recent installment chosen to co-inhabit the lists. IGN named the episode the best of the ninth season, claiming "this is a very funny episode that started season nine off on a strong note". Since the release of the season nine DVD box set, the episode has been highlighted by newspaper reviewers to show excellence of the season.
Ian Jones and Steve Williams, writers for British review website Off the Telly, claimed that the episode "ditched all pretence of a plot and went flat out for individual, unconnected sight gags and vignettes". The two noted that it was their least favorite debut episode for a season of The Simpsons. In a separate article in Off the Telly, Jones and Williams write that the episode "... wasn't shown for reasons of taste and has never appeared on terrestrial television in Britain", referring to a BBC Two schedule of the ninth season, which began October 2001.
Due to the prominence of the World Trade Center in the plot, the episode was removed from syndication after the September 11 attacks. By 2006, the episode had come back into syndication in some areas; however, parts of the episode were often edited out. One previously such edited item is a scene of two men arguing across Tower 1 and Tower 2, where a man from Tower 2 claims, "They stick all the jerks in Tower One". Co-executive producer Bill Oakley commented in retrospect that the line was "regrettable".
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