The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace
"The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" is the second episode of the tenth season of the American animated sitcom The Simpsons. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on September 20, 1998, and was watched in around 7.95 million households during the broadcast. In the episode, Homer has a midlife crisis realizing his life is half over and he has not accomplished anything. He begins to admire Thomas Edison and decides to create inventions to follow in Edison's footsteps and make his life worthwhile.
The idea behind "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" came from Dan Greaney, who assigned John Swartzwelder to write the episode. While directing the episode, Mark Kirkland visited the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey to receive inspiration for several scenes in the episode that take place in this museum. William Daniels made a guest appearance in the episode as the character KITT from the television series Knight Rider. In general, "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" received positive reviews from television critics, with many singling it out as a strong beginning to a season.
Homer is shocked to hear on the radio that the average life expectancy for men is now 76.2 years, which makes him realize that, at 38.1, his life is half over. Marge informs him that he is actually 39, which depresses him even more. Homer thinks he has not accomplished anything that will be considered worthwhile after he dies. His family tries to cheer him up by showing him a film of his accomplishments and a special appearance by the character KITT from the Knight Rider television series that Homer is a fan of. When the film projector stops working, Lisa mentions that Thomas Edison invented the projector as well as many other inventions. Homer decides to learn more about Edison and eventually idolizes him. He becomes so obsessed with him that he unknowingly begins to annoy people with stories about Edison's life and inventions. In an attempt to follow in Edison's footsteps, Homer quits his job at the power plant to become an inventor.
Homer gets to work and develops a few inventions, such as an alarm that beeps every three seconds when everything is okay, a shotgun which shoots make-up onto women's faces, an electric hammer, and a reclining chair which has a built-in toilet. None of these inventions are well received by his family and he feels disappointed over his failure to invent anything useful. However, he soon becomes encouraged when he discovers that the family likes one of his other inventions – a chair with two hinged legs on the back, making it impossible to tip over backwards. His hopes are destroyed when he notices his poster of Edison, which shows Edison sitting in the same type of chair, indicating that he has already invented Homer's untippable chair. Bart points out that the chair is not featured on a list of Edison's inventions, and that maybe no one knows he invented it.
Homer and Bart therefore set out to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey with his electric hammer to destroy the chair. Before he smashes the chair, Homer notices a poster of Edison's which shows he had fewer inventions than Leonardo da Vinci. This means that Edison compared himself to Leonardo, much like Homer compares himself to Edison. Feeling a renewed connection to Edison, Homer decides not to destroy the chair. Homer also suggests that they destroy some of Leonardo's creations, but when Bart points out those are in Italy, Homer settles for taking it out on Eli Whitney.
Homer and Bart return to Springfield, without knowing that they left Homer's electric hammer behind at the museum. Later when the family watches the news on television, Kent Brockman announces that the chair and the electric hammer have just been discovered at the Edison Museum and are expected to generate millions for Edison's already wealthy heirs. After Lisa complains that it should have been Homer's money, Homer angrily comments that it is a good thing he is sitting on his reclining toilet chair.
"The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" was written by John Swartzwelder, who had a deal with the producers of the show to write five scripts for season ten. Although he was the one who wrote the episode, Dan Greaney was the one who came up with the idea for it. Greaney based Homer's intense obsession with Edison on the fact that when he himself would have an obsession with something in life, he would badger and bore people with details of it. "Homer's relationship to Thomas Edison's achievements is a version of my own experience of trying to communicate the experience of things you love by driving people crazy," Greaney said in a DVD audio commentary for the episode. The untippable chair was also an idea of Greaney's; while working on the episode, he was leaning back in his chair and fell backwards. He casually said it would be great if there were legs on the back of the chair and someone in the writing room said that would be a great invention for Homer. Soon after coming up with the story, Greaney told it to Swartzwelder so that he could turn it into a script. Greaney said "it couldn't in my best dreams have turned out as good as it did if I had written it."
Mark Kirkland was the director of "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace". He recalls that when he attended the table-read for the episode, the staff thought it was "hilarious" and they could tell it was "going to be a good one." It was the last episode to be produced during the season nine production run and because it takes several months to complete the production of a single episode, it had to air as a hold-over in the upcoming tenth season. It was decided that "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" would be the premiere episode of season ten. As a result, the annual premiere party was held at the Museum of Science and Technology in Los Angeles – it was a tradition for the premiere party to be related to the premiere episode.
Kirkland cites his assistant director Matthew Nastuk as a big influence on the episode. He became heavily involved with the animation because he had grown up in New Jersey, where the Thomas Edison National Historical Park that Homer and Bart visit is located. To help make the museum look as authentic as possible, Kirkland and Nastuk visited it and took a large number of photographs that they brought back to the animation studio. At one point in the episode, Homer writes complex math formulas on a chalkboard. The producers wanted them to be actual formulas, so writer David X. Cohen got in contact with a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who were able to provide them.
The episode features a guest appearance by actor William Daniels as KITT, a character from the Knight Rider television series of which Homer is a fan. KITT is an artificially intelligent electronic computer module installed in an automobile. In the episode, after failing to cheer Homer up with a film reel of his life, the family shows him a video featuring KITT. The automobile, seen driving in the desert, tells Homer the following: "Hello Homer. It's me, KITT, from TV's Knight Rider. Your family has asked me to invite you to a very special ..."; the film reel breaks just before KITT finishes his sentence. This of course leads to Homer becoming even more depressed. Daniels' appearance in "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" was the first and only time that he voiced KITT outside of Knight Rider and the film Knight Rider 2000. He recalls that "when I told my son in New York that I was going to be on The Simpsons, I think that was the first time that he was really impressed with what I was doing! The Simpsons is a great show and I'm glad they thought of KITT in one of their jokes."
In its original American broadcast, "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" finished 25th in the ratings for the week of September 14–20, 1998, with a Nielsen rating of 8.0, equivalent to approximately 7.95 million viewing households. It tied with Beverly Hills, 90210 and Home Improvement for the 25th place. The episode was the third highest-rated show (tied with Beverly Hills, 90210) on the Fox network that week, following Ally McBeal and Party of Five.
"The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" has received generally positive reviews from critics. The Daily Mail cited as a "superb" and "hilarious" episode, and James Plath of DVD Town thought it had strong writing. 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 terrific episode, full of wit and sly digs at our expectations of Homer's abilities. The fact that he invents things that other people find useful (and steal the credit for) is both amusing and a little sad. Poor Homer." Writing for DVD Movie Guide, Colin Jacobson commented that "though 'Wizard' borders on 'Homer’s wacky scheme' territory, his attempts to come up with something significant offer amusement. At no point does 'Wizard' threaten to become a particularly strong episode, but it entertains to a reasonable degree. I do like the 'Everything’s Okay Alarm' and the makeup gun, though."
Although "Lard of the Dance" aired as a teaser episode a month earlier, "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" was the official season premiere of The Simpsons' tenth season. Don Aucoin of The Boston Globe wrote that "It is gratifying to report that, based on the season premiere, The Simpsons promises to remain the most reliable half-hour of laughs on television." Similarly, David Bianculli of The New York Daily News reported that "The Simpsons is one series that, year after year, remains fresh and funny and lively and surprising. Based on tonight's season premiere, that amazing streak is in no danger of ending." Lauri Githens of The Buffalo News gave the episode a 5/5 rating, commenting that it shows that "This cynical, bleak yet somehow still hopeful comedy is nowhere near midlife crisis with Season No. 10. It's still fall-down funny. Thank God." She cited Homer's line to Marge as he and Bart leave for the Edison Museum, "I'm-taking-Bart-over-state-lines-back-soon-I-have-your-wallet-bye!", as the best line of the episode.
Lexington Herald-Leader's Heather Svokos was not as pleased. She stated that "As always, the show is better written than most anything on TV, but for a 10th season premiere, it didn't blow me out of the water." In addition, Phil Kloer of The Atlanta Journal gave the episode a C grade, calling it an "off episode". He commented that it "doesn't have the zing that most Simpsons episodes do." Kloer did, however, enjoy Homer's inventions such as the hamburger earmuffs and the make-up gun, and Homer's line to Marge before he shoots her with it: "Try to keep your nostrils closed." Marge's response after being shot, "Homer! You’ve got it set on whore!", was commended by The Gazette, DVD Verdict, and Ian Jane of DVD Talk, who called the scene the highlight of the episode.
In his 2015 book The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets, Dr Simon Singh wrote that in the episode, Homer writes an equation on a chalkboard and “If you work it out, you get the mass of a Higgs boson that’s only a bit larger than the nano-mass of a Higgs boson actually is. It’s kind of amazing as Homer makes this prediction 14 years before it was discovered.” He stated that the mathematical backgrounds of many of the show's writers made it the "most mathematical TV show on prime-time television in history", and it could "encourage and nourish" young people with an interest in mathematics.
- Davis Walter; Dreibelbis Gary; Blythe Teresa; Scales Mark; Ashburn Donald; Winans Elizabeth (2001). "The Simpsons". Watching What We Watch. Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 38–63. ISBN 978-0-664-22696-1.
- Halpern, Paul (2007). "Do'hs ex Machina". What's Science Ever Done For Us?: What the Simpsons Can Teach Us About Physics, Robots, Life, and the Universe. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 71–78. ISBN 978-0-470-11460-5.
- Greaney, Dan (2007). The Simpsons The Complete tenth Season DVD commentary for the episode "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Scully, Mike (2007). The Simpsons The Complete tenth Season DVD commentary for the episode "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Kirkland, Mark (2007). The Simpsons The Complete tenth Season DVD commentary for the episode "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Levine, Richie F.; Huth, Joe F. (2004). "After the Sun Set". Knight Rider Legacy: The Unofficial Guide to the Knight Rider Universe. iUniverse. pp. 121–122. ISBN 978-0-595-29848-8. Retrieved 2010-07-06.
- Bauder, David. "Miss America and football lead ABC to rare ratings win". The Florida Times-Union. Associated Press. p. D–2.
- "Critic's Choice". Daily Mail. 2009-08-07.
- Plath, James (2007-08-17). "Simpsons, The: The Complete 10th Season [Special Edition]". DVD Town. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian. "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace". BBC. Retrieved 2010-07-03.
- Jacobson, Colin. "The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season (1998)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved 2010-07-04.
- Aucoin, Don (1998-09-19). "'Simpsons' Unsinkable". The Boston Globe. p. C6.
- Bianculli, David (1998-09-20). "Simpsons Still Fresh After A Decade". The New York Daily News. p. 2F. Retrieved 2010-07-04.
- Githens, Lauri (1998-09-29). "Stay Tuned What's Up With Your Favorite TV Shows". The Buffalo News.
- Svokos, Heather (1998-09-20). "Say Goodbye To Most Of Those Reruns". Lexington Herald-Leader. p. H1.
- Kloer, Phil (1998-09-18). "So-so 'Simpsons'". The Atlanta Journal. p. E04.
- "Top 10: Homer Simpson's jobs". The Gazette. 2007-07-26. Retrieved 2010-07-07.
- McEntire, Mac (2007-08-29). "The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 2010-07-07.
- Jane, Ian (2007-08-29). "The Simpsons - The Complete Tenth Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2010-07-07.
- Clark, Nick (2015-03-01). "How Homer Simpson discovered the Higgs boson over a decade before scientists". The Independent. Retrieved 2015-03-05.
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