“Hey, you okay, Grimey?” – Homer Simpson
“I’m better than okay. I’m Homer Simpson!” – Frank Grimes
“Heh, you wish.” – Homer Simpson
Happy birthday Hank Azaria!
“I’m saying: you’re what’s wrong with America, Simpson. You coast through life, you do as little as possible, and you leech off decent, hardworking people, like me. If you lived in any other country in the world, you’d have starved to death long ago.” – Frank Grimes
“He’s got you there, Dad.” – Bart Simpson
“Why don’t you invite him over for dinner? Turn him from an enemy into a friend. Then, when he’s not expecting it – bam! – the old fork in the eye.” – Moe
“Do you think it might work without the fork in the eye?” – Homer Simpson
“There’s always a first time.” – Moe
Hank Azaria is starring in a new sitcom called Free Agents. He plays a depressed PR man who, if the poster image is anything to go by, sleeps with his partner. Wackiness and sexy results no doubt ensue. (It premiers tonight at 10:30 on NBC.) More importantly, he did a promotional interview with Vulture, and said some interesting things:
How much of a drain on your career is The Simpsons at this point?
It’s about four hours a week.
Do you have any new characters in you?
Really, no. A few years ago, I kind of … ran out. I’ve done literally 100, 150 different characters. Some of them have only appeared for a line or three. But the point is, every sound I can make has been harvested for the show at this point. It used to be — like in year ten — there were a couple of new ones a week. Now, one or two or year. I have no new voices — they’ve all been used.
So, according to Hank Azaria, voice of Moe, Wiggum, and Comic Book Guy himself, the show has been less interesting since Season 10. He’d be a fool to walk away from all that cash – for just four hours a week, no less – so he keeps doing the same old things over and over again, but he’s willing to admit in public that he has no new voices. The kicker comes at the end though:
Are there parallels to any Simpsons character?
Do you remember the episode that has Frank Grimes in it? Remember that show? Kind of a one-off character. This guy comes to the Springfield the nuclear power plant, works for Homer and gets really jealous that everything works out for Homer even though Homer is an idiot. There’s a lot of Frank Grimes in Alex — nothing works out for him and he’s tremendously sad and yet somehow, hopefully, it’s funny.
Even one of the main voice actors has to reach all the way back to Season 8 to plug his new show. Truly, nobody cares about Zombie Simpsons. Sincere good luck with Free Agents, Hank.
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.
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 below, with permission and in its entirety. You can read our response here.
You do realize that the Homer depicted in “Homer’s Enemy” is a satirical take on certain elements of Homer’s character and history that we (meaning, the writers at the time) always found excessive, right? At least that’s what it was intended to be, and I realize the distinction may well be so subtle as to be meaningless to many, if not most, fans.
But, that said:
Anything that may have happened after that episode and that season should not be extrapolated from the content of the Grimes story.
On the continuum between Homer the Misguided but Essentially Well-Meaning Oaf Next Door and Homer the Absurdly-Gluttonous World-Famous Idiot with No Recognizable Human Traits or Emotions, we usually tried to to stay to the left. Not always, but usually.
But for this episode, as a counterpoint to Grimes, we intentionally threw in a lot of stuff that was ridiculously over-the-top (or so we thought) like Homer snoring at the funeral, for Pete’s sakes, and hauled out of the closet all his most unrealistic (though hilarious) past adventures (he went into outer space! he won a Grammy! President Ford moved in and invited him over for nachos!).
If Frank Grimes had crossed paths with the fairly normal Homer (of “Lisa’s Pony” for instance) it simply would not have been as funny or as clear, satirically, as it was to have him cross paths with the ridiculously-boorish world-famous glutton that we depicted in “Homer’s Enemy”.
Basically, the Homer depicted in that episode was an intentional self-parody, a catalog of gleeful excesses past and present.
If it didn’t come off as such to even the most devoted fans, it was certainly our mistake.
Didn’t somebody say all this on the DVD commentary?
“Would you like to see my Grammy award?” – Homer Simpson
Last summer, when Dave, Mad Jon and I were going through Season 8, we deliberately held “Homer’s Enemy” until the end. It was a turning point in the series, when Homer started to realize how awesome he was. By coincidence, I recently came across two different takes in the same vein.
The first is an A.V. Club review of Futurama’s return. It contains a long digression about Frank Grimes:
To put it another way: I love The Simpsons, like any reasonable person should, and I can’t stand what the show has become. I blame Frank Grimes. Season 8 is the last full season I own, and while I’ve seen later episodes, and enjoyed many of them (and yeah, I liked the movie), "Homer’s Enemy" is where I mark the beginning of the end. Not because it’s a terrible episode, but because it fundamentally and permanently undermines the series’ core.
It goes on to talk about how in the long run the show couldn’t support something that “dark”. Writer Sam Downing replied (Handlen is the one who wrote the A.V. piece):
I disagree (though I do agree with Handlen’s other point, that the episode is “a clever piece of meta-commentary on certain basic elements that have been with the show since the beginning”), because The Simpsons has always had dark elements, particularly concerning Homer’s behaviour – consider ‘A Streetcar Named Marge’, in which he flat-out tells Marge he doesn’t care about her interests, or ‘Lisa’s Substitute’, where he says pretty much the same thing to his eight-year-old daughter. Both stories are wrapped up tidily, though in neither does Homer really earn his redemption (I remember being shocked by his selfishness in ‘Streetcar’ even as a small child)1.
Note that both these episodes are from early on in The Simpsons‘ run (seasons four and two, respectively); Homer was a much darker, more selfish character before he morphed into the loveable idiot we’re familar with. ‘Homer’s Enemy’ really just combines those two sides of his character in a single episode.
I basically agree with the first paragraph here, and disagree with the second. Homer was always an extremely bad father (“Homer, I couldn’t help overhear you warp Bart’s mind.”/”And?”, “Here’s your turtle, alive and well.”, etcetera), but the show made it funny.
One of the big reasons such a selfish and destructive person could be so funny and so likable was that, with the occasional exception for Bart or Flanders, Homer was never malicious. Homer’s life is one defeat after another, punctuated by a few, brief moments of happiness, almost all of which involve either Marge or Lisa. He can’t be malicious because if there’s one thing life has taught him, it’s that he’s not going to get away with anything.
Time was, the horrible things Homer did were unintentional. Consider “Colonel Homer”, Homer simply can’t conceive that Lurleen is trying to seduce him; cheating on Marge hasn’t even occurred to him. (“Oh, that’s hot. There isn’t a man alive who wouldn’t get turned on by that . . . well, goodbye.”) When she makes it explicit, he stops after one chaste little kiss because he remembers that every aspect of his romantic life except for Marge has been a complete and humiliating failure. (He can’t even get his dollar back at the kissing booth.) Or “The War of the Simpsons”, Homer’s battle against General Sherman is accidental; he left his fishing gear in the cabin because he was trying to be a good husband and do what Marge asked him to do. Or “Homer Badman”, when his perversion isn’t a lust for grad student booty, but a lust for candy.
In Season 5, when Homer does think about cheating on Marge, he only considers it after everyone from his guardian angel, to teevee, to his dessert has basically told him to. Homer is a decent guy who gets into trouble not because he’s some zany character, but because he makes a lot of poor decisions on account of he’s just not that bright. He’s selfish, yes, but never knowingly so. As soon as he gets called on his selfishness, he backs off because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, especially Marge.
We can see this perfectly in the exchange Downing refers to from “A Streetcar Named Marge”:
Marge: Why can’t you be a little more supportive?
Homer: Because I don’t care, okay? I can’t fake an interest in this, and I’m an expert at faking an interest in your kooky projects.
Marge: What kooky projects?
Homer: You know, the painting class, the first aid course, the whole Lamaze thing.
Marge: Why didn’t you tell me you felt this way?
Homer: You know I would never do anything to hurt your feelings.
Homer’s not being mean intentionally, if he knew that what he was doing was hurting Marge he never would have done it. At the end, Marge forgives him for all that because he genuinely appreciated her performance in the play, even if he’s not good at expressing it. The close is them laughing about his similarity to Stanley.
In “Lisa’s Substitute”, Homer knows he’s an inadequate father, he just doesn’t know what he can do about it. (“She looks around and sees everybody else’s dad with a good education, youthful looks, and a clean credit record, and thinks ‘Why me?’”.) His argument with Lisa is resolved not because he becomes a better father, but because he’s able to explain his inadequacies to her. (“You’ll have lots of special people in your life, Lisa. There’s probably some place where they all get together and the food is real good and guys like me are serving drinks.”) The very last thing Homer thinks is that he’s better than anyone else.
Which brings us back to Frank Grimes and “Homer’s Enemy”. Grimes is unwilling to forgive Homer the same way everyone else does, and it drives him mad. It works extremely well in that one episode, but it allows Homer to be aware of how great his life is, and it’s all downhill from there. In the very next season, Homer’s telling Lisa that taking crazy risks is a fundamental part of his life. Shortly after that he’s unselfconsciously hanging out with movie stars, escaping from jail at the Super Bowl, and gleefully taking up grifting.
When Frank Grimes declares that he’s Homer Simpson and Homer’s response is to say “You wish”, something very fundamental is broken. Homer isn’t supposed to like his life. In “Bart Gets Famous” Homer despairingly wails “It just gets worse and worse!” after his horoscope says “Today will be a day like every other day”. In “Dancin’ Homer”, Homer openly admits that he’s just a loser sitting in a bar. In “Homer Defined”, Homer cracks under the pressure of people thinking highly of him because he knows he doesn’t deserve his success.
Grimes’ death at the end of “Homer’s Enemy” gives things a dark tint before the credits roll, but the fundamental problem isn’t the death, it’s Homer bragging about his life. The show has never been the same.
“I’m better than okay, I’m Homer Simpson!” – Frank Grimes
“You wish.” – Homer Simpson
In an attempt to fill the summer with love, hate and pointless Simpsons commentary we at the Dead Homer Society are going to spend some time overthinking Season 8. Why Season 8? Because Season 8 is when The Simpsons really began to deteriorate into Zombie Simpsons. That’s why. Because we’re cutting edge and ultra-modern we’re using a newfangled, information-superhighway fad called a “chatroom” to conduct our conversation. This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (though not on “mitochondrial”).
Note: This is going to be the final entry in our Season 8 Crazy Noises series and the choice to end with Frank Grimes is deliberate. We consider “Homer’s Enemy” to be a watershed for the show, an episode that departs from much of what made The Simpsons great, but still manages to be hilarious. It was a feat rarely, if ever, to be repeated.
Mad Jon: As far as I am concerned this episode is the mitochondrial DNA of all Zombie Simpsons. That being said it worked out in this one.
Dave: I love this episode to bits. But it isn’t an episode of “The Simpsons,” really.
Mad Jon: Exactly.
Charlie Sweatpants: Not to get ahead of things, but I think this episode encapsulates everything that was both great about this show and at the same time showed how awful it was going to be.
Mad Jon: This is the episode where they figured out how Homer can be funny without being Homer. But it really only worked this time.
Charlie Sweatpants: Well put, Dave.
Dave: That’s a diplomatic way of putting it, Charlie.
Charlie Sweatpants: Well put, Jon.
Dave: It is, simply the Finest Zombie Simpsons Episode Ever.
Charlie Sweatpants: I always find that it boils down to the scene where Homer has Grimes over to the house and brags about all he’s done. It’s funny, yeah, but at the same time it’s an admission that Homer isn’t the loser that made him Homer.
Well put, Dave (x2).
Dave: Explain that a bit, Charlie.
Mad Jon: The problem is that this episode was funny enough that it didn’t have any natural predators. And later on when the writers ran out of ideas (I would like to point out the McFarland post from earlier this week) or they just got lazy, there was no proof that this type of comedy would end up as crappy as it has.
Charlie Sweatpants: Homer, at his core, was an all-American loser. He’s got a job he hates and kids who don’t appreciate him, everything he does goes wrong, etcetera. But all the adventures he got in, all the things he did, they’re the opposite of that and that was a big part of what made them funny.
Now he expects to “win”, he expects to get away with things, and that rips the heart out of it.
Mad Jon: Homer drink acid? He’ll sure try. Compete in a contest for children? Even he can’t lose that one.
Charlie Sweatpants: Exactly.
Mad Jon: Good thing Hank Azaria is as funny as he is with his actual voice and disdain for Zombie Homer.
Dave: That is a brilliant summary of Homer as he was and as he was doomed to be.
Mad Jon: Simply put, I hate that which Grimey hates.
Charlie Sweatpants: Thanks?
Well Grimes is part of the problem.
Dave: You’re welcome.
Mad Jon: I know, I was just making a statement about my hatred for the Homer of the last ten years.
Charlie Sweatpants: He’s too sympathetic. I understand and support the fact that the basis for a lot of the Simpsons humor is outrageous cruelty, but when it’s happening to Grimes it doesn’t land as well as when it’s happening to Homer.
What makes this episode so funny though, is the fact that it’s still pulled off with a great sense of style.
The dog barking when Burns is chewing out Grimes, Carl and Lenny’s descriptions of Homer, and the B plot with Bart and Milhouse works well too.
Mad Jon: I guess, but still I feel that if someone had been paying attention they never would have Homer’s actions proceed similarly in future episodes without another Grimes, which, of course, would be improbable if not impossible.
Dave: Yeah, there’s a lot to like about the subtle extras.
Mad Jon: the B plot is pretty good…
“I saw the whole thing..”
Dave: Milhouse takes on the role of dejected security guard pretty quickly, with hilarious results
Charlie Sweatpants: Well that’s the big rub with this episode, right? If it had come in the last or second to last season, it would be great. But you can’t watch it without watching the horrible architecture of Zombie Simpsons rise before your very eyes.
Dave – yes.
Mad Jon: That should have been even more proof.
Charlie Sweatpants: Especially since his dad just got divorced like 15 episodes beforehand.
Mad Jon: …for the writers that is..
Dave: It is a terrifying vision of things to come
But as I said, it’s the best out of all of them. The writers couldn’t even be bothered to improve on the “formula”
I guess in some ways that makes this episode a fluke. We should hate the shit out of it, but we don’t
Charlie Sweatpants: But that’s just it, this formula only works once or twice.
Mad Jon: Exactly
After this episode Homer should have returned to his life of self loathing and alcoholic coping mechanisms. He shouldn’t have become a fucking punching bag..
But when in Rome..
Dave: Something like that…
Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t know if this is interesting or not, but I looked up the old usenet reviews on the SNPP page for this one. Only one guy gave it a C, everything else was either full of praise (A/B) or hate filled (D/F).
I, for one, straight fucking hated this episode when it came out.
Mad Jon: And that little boy grew up to be…. Roy Cone..
Charlie Sweatpants: Cohn.
Mad Jon: Eat me rummy
Sorry, drunk too.
Charlie Sweatpants: But it grew on me because once I know the ending, after I don’t care how weird the story is, I can enjoy the jokes.
Mad Jon: Let this be a lesson kids, drink too much and you’ll hate the Simpsons and tease your best friends.
Charlie Sweatpants: But like we said, it’s a formula that can’t hold up repeatedly and this was the best way it was ever done. It was all downhill from here.
Mad Jon: Agreed.
Charlie Sweatpants: There’s a lot of the horns of suspense for Grimes’ plan, and then the horns of danger for his freakout at the end, which sucks a lot of the fun out of the whole thing.
Mad Jon: yeah, the horns have never been a good thing.
I think we’ve harped on that before.
Dave: Horns bad? I’m sure we have
Charlie Sweatpants: Even in my drunken and loquacious state (notwithstanding all of the above), this one leaves me at a loss for words.
“Marge Be Not Proud” was the first miss, yeah, but this one broke the mold, it is unique.
Mad Jon: Its like a lung fish. It’s pretty funny, it’s a change from the predecessor, but it didn’t lead to anything worthwhile.
Dave: Thank you, Captain Science.
Charlie Sweatpants: Damn man, you’ve got biology on the brain.
Mad Jon: Sorry
Charlie Sweatpants: Just ask this scientician . . .
Okay, I’m getting depressed and it has very little to do with the booze. Any final thoughts?
Mad Jon: I hate the fact I love this episode. There I said it.
Dave: That pretty well sums it up.
Charlie Sweatpants: Shall we close with the opening then? Because Brockman’s line, with no lead in whatsoever, of “Which if true, means death for us all.” is as good a thing as he ever said.
Mad Jon: Ha ha ha