Last Monday’s post about “Homer’s Enemy” attracted the notice of longtime Simpsons writer (Season 3 – Season 10) Bill Oakley, who sent us an e-mail. That e-mail is reprinted here; our response is below.
“He’s right, you know.” – Moe
“About the ox?” – Principal Skinner
“About everything, damn it!” – Moe
First of all, thanks to Mr. Oakley for taking notice of us, and deeming us to have our heads far enough up our asses to deserve correction, but not so far as to make it unworthy of his time to offer that correction. Furthermore, we hope he understands how much we and so many others appreciate all the work he did on The Simpsons. It is a testament to the power of that work that we’re still talking about it all these years later.
To dispense with the smaller point first, Oakley is absolutely correct that Homer needed to be amped up a little from his usual self to provide a better contrast with the sober and staid Frank Grimes. As he writes, having a character like Grimes cross paths with the Homer of “Lisa’s Pony” wouldn’t have worked.
He is further correct that we can’t reasonably hold the rest of the series against “Homer’s Enemy”. Calling it a “turning point”, as the title of our post did, implies that this was somehow deliberate when, of course, the writers of “Homer’s Enemy” had no way to know that the show was going to go on for another three hundred episodes (so far), and that most of those episodes would feature Homer as an “Absurdly-Gluttonous World-Famous Idiot with No Recognizable Human Traits or Emotions”. In the context of the show at the time, having Homer recite his accomplishments and produce his Grammy worked as “an intentional self-parody, a catalog of gleeful excesses past and present”. It is only the subsequent descent of the series into unintentional self-parody that makes “Homer’s Enemy” seem like an early symptom of terrible things instead of the one-off it was intended to be.
We hope that Mr. Oakley can appreciate that from an audience point of view, privy only to the finished episodes and not the backstage goings on, “Homer’s Enemy” does seem to presage the decline of the show. It is true that this episode did not seal the show’s fate, as it is true that the Homer of “Homer’s Enemy” is much more akin to Homer we love than the one we despise. But for much of the wretched horde of remote wielding tube jockeys, letting Homer enjoy his life felt like opening a Pandora’s Box that had no hope at the bottom.
Sadly, those three hundred plus episodes after “Homer’s Enemy” must be acknowledged. They happened; and they have cheapened The Simpsons. Homer has become malicious, though not in “Homer’s Enemy”, nor even in much of Season 9. While the writers of “Homer’s Enemy” – which is an excellent episode – are not to blame for the ongoing tragedy of later seasons, neither can we ignore this first gaze into the abyss. The world is full of monstrous things that had grand and innocuous beginnings. Had this one not escaped its cage, had the show wound to a conclusion a year or two later instead of staggering on like the undead, we would remember this as the aberration it was intended to be.