Tuesday, July 24, 2007

14 Days of Simpsons

Note: I understand that I am several days behind in this series, which I can only imagine is devastating to our regular readers... It has been a busy past fews days, and the Harry Potter book may have occupied some of my time that might otherwise go towards entertainment, such as writing this series. Nonetheless, I intend to get caught up, starting now.

#8: Homer’s Enemy
Season 8
Kent Brockman does a human interest story about Frank Grimes. Frank Grimes is a man who has had a VERY difficult life and Burns sees the report and tells Smithers to hire him. When Grimes comes to work at the plant, he meets Lenny, Carl, and Homer. All three of them are very stupid in this episode, but no one more so than Homer. Grimes can't stand any of them, especially after Homer starts calling him "Grimey". He is very concerned that Homer is an unsafe employee, after Homer nearly drinks acid and "Grimey" saves his life. Then Burns yells at Grimes about it and Frank Grimes decides to get even. He gets Homer to enter a nuclear plant design contest, but doesn't tell him that it is for kids only. Although he is an idiot, Homer works hard at it and wins the contest. Everyone is impressed with Homer and this sends Frank Grimes over the edge. He has a breakdown and accidentally electrocutes himself. At his funeral, Homer once again steals the show. Meanwhile, Bart makes the winning bid ($1) on an abandoned factory at an auction and hires Milhouse as his night watchman. They do a lot of dangerous things in the building until one day, it tips over and crumbles.

When The Simpsons began, Bart was clearly the star of the show. As has been well documented, the best decision the creators ever made was to subtly shift the emphasis of the show from Bart and his inherit “Dennis the Menace” qualities to Homer and the broader and more adult humor that his character would allow. For several seasons, they rode Homer to the comedy promised land in a rather straight-forward way. As best as I can tell, this is the first episode that addresses Homer’s character from a meta-analysis point of view. Certainly all Simpson’s episodes contain their own meta-humor and varying degrees of self-reflection, but this episode, if not the first, was certainly the first at this level to introduce meta-analysis of Simpsons’ characters.

This episode illustrates in perfect detail the sides of Homer that round out his character. The first side is the side personified by Frank Grimes. This is the side of Homer that is railed against by critics of The Simpsons. Homer is dumb, Homer is irresponsible, Homer is bad at his job, Homer is an alcoholic, Homer is a bad influence on those around him, etc… Frankly, all of these accusations are, in varying degrees, true. Despite all of these truths about his character, Homer has other sides, such as:
  • being beloved by everyone who knows him, as represented by Lenny & Carl;
  • having a loving and talented family, as represented by Lisa’s 156 IQ and Bart owning a factory;
  • desiring success and frequently achieving it, as represented by the pictures on his wall detailing several of his many adventures;
  • longing to please others and do the right thing, as represented by the following speech:
(To Frank Grimes) “Good morning, fellow employee. You’ll notice that I am now a model worker. We should continue this conversation later, during the designated break periods. Sincerely, Homer Simpson.” This leads us to…
  • Homer’s redemptive side. Despite Homer’s many flaws, he always redeems himself to those he cares about. In the end, Homer always does right by his wife, by his children, by his friends and by his community. This is a universal truth in all Simpsons episodes with one and only one exception: this one. Homer makes an earnest effort to set things right with Frank Grimes, as evidenced by the above speech, but is rebuffed. Grimes does not accept Homer’s apology or his new found ways. In fact it is this very act of rejecting Homer and everything that he stands for that eventually leads to Frank Grimes’ death. As if this was not enough to drive home the point, Grimes’ funeral becomes a celebration of Homer, particularly his flaws. In this way Homer is NOT redeemed yet is still celebrated. Stepping back, we can see this episode as a sharp slap in that face at critics of The Simpsons. Critics of the show are generally those who don’t know it (this is unfortunately true of much media criticism. How many times have we been told to not read a book or see a movie by people who have not read the book or seen the movie themselves and are thus not properly informed to make such a recommendation?). But among those who have taken the time to truly get to know the show, it is beloved by all, has given birth to other talented shows, has been successful beyond belief, and always tries to do the right thing. Above all, it always redeems itself.




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