Homer’s Odyssey

By Gabriel, 28 Jul 17, 2

My recollection

This section is sort of pointless given that I never watch these early episodes. Now that I’m doing it, I see why. The basic plot is Homer becoming the plant safety inspector after getting fired as whatever he was before that. Bart causes this accident while on a field trip at the plant. Not a lot sticks out besides maybe Black Smithers and other cruddy animation quirks of the early days.

The Episode

We open on the beginnings of a field trip to the nuclear plant and an actual joke, reference to Bart’s class’s “infamous” trip to the state prison. Bart professes his innocence, claiming he, “didn’t unlock that door”. After how he was treated in the last episode, I’m inclined to believe him this time.

EDUCATOR TIP: Krabapple singles Bart out when stating to the whole class that she expects good behaviour. Don’t do this. Calling them out in front of the class frames their change of behaviour as a public yielding to an authority they’ve built a personality around resisting. This makes further resistance both a necessity to preserve their sense of self, and an easy way of “beating” the teacher with the punishment serving as a kind of trophy. You are making behavioural modification a high-status challenge and it’s one they can easily win. Human social instincts will obstruct reason, best to talk to them separately. The behavioural change can appear to be one of the student’s own will rather than a public act of submission.

Hey! It’s Otto Mann, which is his actual name, in his first appearance as a probably still fucked up from last night bus driver. Bart chats with him about wanting a tattoo, a continuity error because he got one 2 episodes ago, and is late getting on the bus which forces him to sit next to the motion-sick Wendell.

This scene is fascinating from an animation perspective because it highlights the distinction between a cartoon, which The Simpsons was here, and an animated sitcom like King of the Hill. It’s another matter of how realistically the creators want to present their world. King of the Hill may as well be live action, as can be seen in this single page of a very long animation guide, shortcuts that animators routinely use, like the simplified hands, are forbidden.

I’ve mentioned before how “safe surprise” is the basis of most entertainment, things that defy expectation but not by too much. Animation has the opposite problem of live action in that it has to put a lot of work in for realism. King of the Hill has to have these strict rules because their chosen level of realism can be broken by a lot of standard animation tropes which breaks from safe surprise into the unpleasantly unpredictable. The Simpsons is largely like this too, although its established comedic style utilises overt references to animation tropes as a means of making jokes. Things like the repeated background in The Front, the second Homer in the window in Boy-Scoutz ‘n the Hood, or Homer’s disappearing in a cloud of Homer shaped dust in Radioactive Man, are acceptably within Groening’s idea of “rubber band reality” (a level of realism distinct from King of the Hill’s natural realism) when used deliberately for a joke.

The Simpsons at this point in time was animated by Klasky Csupo, which you may recognize as being the weird words at the end of a lot of old Nickelodeon shows. This background in children’s cartoons shows in this scene as there’s a similar thing to Homer’s vanishing gag from Radioactive Man done but it’s not done as a winking joke to the audience, but simply because the show is a cartoon. Bart’s cartoon scoot into the bus is prototypical of these early episode’s approach to their reality, coming from a period when the rules of western adult animation were far less firm than today. It really does jar awkwardly with the rest of the show’s tone. The show is a cartoon, and can make jokes about being one, but if they don’t stand as overt jokes then they pollute the straight-man core of realism the family sitcom serves as.

Bart takes his seat beside Wendell, all the other seats were filled, and continues to make jokes. Krabapple tells him to sit down or face further shame-based punishments while Otto takes the class of a looping route to the nuclear plant. We’re properly introduced to the twins, Sherri and Terri Mackleberry, who are mysteriously white in a world where the Simpson yellow is stated as their “white”. The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire briefly depicted them as the standard yellow and with brown hair. Odds are this was just a result of the animators playing Wheel of Ethnicity with the characters but it’s always stuck out as odd. They kiss Bart on the cheek to make him scream specifically to get him punished.

EDUCATOR TIP: Krabapple’s punishment is the exact opposite of how you punish an attention seeker. Having Bart publicly sing only fuels his desire to be the focus of attention and this is painfully obvious when he completely leans into the punishment and even refuses to stop singing when told to.

There’s a shade of future absurdity in the joke of the children bailing out of the bus when Wendell Queasly finally pukes, and then walking passed the security station undetected, before they move inside the plant.

So Klasky Csupo actually randomly assigned ethnicity and this is why early Smithers is black. Here’s the thing, Smither’s character is one of an absolute toady bootlick. You can do this with most ethnicities but, as having a black character toady a white industrialist in the US skews heavily into “house nigger” territory so they amended his ethnicity in later episodes and never bothered to explain the discrepancy. Fun Fact: The Law of Conservation of Minority states that Minority cannot be created or destroyed, only change form. So when they siphoned the African American out of Smithers, the writers had to replace it with Gay in order to maintain a stable state change.

Maybe he was like that Dolezal woman.

Homer, after some interacting with minor characters who feel like they may have been long term in any other show but vanished quickly in this one, decides to look like he is working. While doing this, Bart distracts him causing homer to crash into some pipes and then be publicly fired. I feel like there’d be a union or something in the way of this in any sane reality but oh-well. The man firing him is Sherri and Terri’s father and this is the only time we see him (he may be seen in very later episodes but anything past about season 12 has to fight to be considered canon as far as I’m concerned). He’s also either black or absurdly tan which, when combined with the twin’s alien whiteness, bothers the shit out of me.


Mr Mackleberry is a Bizarro Cuckold who enjoys watching his wife get gangbanged by huge Finnish men.

Eight minutes in and the episode has hit an act change but also what feels like, and in later episodes is, the narrative proper: Homer being unemployed. Hey, here’s some of that grimness the prior episodes had prepared me for. We’d almost gone a whole episode without being reminded of the cruel twists of fate that can break the cosmically unprepared. Homer’s time unemployed is basically a gag about being rejected for various jobs, a better look at Moes, Marge returning to her old job as a roller-waitress (never mentioned again), a continuity error that suggests the family has cable (when later episodes were built on the fact that they don’t), and finally Homer attempting suicide. Firstly, what the fuck is with how Homer holds a fucking pen? Seriously, look at that, even the 4 finger thing doesn’t explain that. Secondly, the suicide attempt is meant to be a cartoony gag but they fuck that up.

Hold a pen with your ring and pinky fingers under the pen, this is basically what Homer is doing.

There’s a weirdly long list of cartoon characters attempting suicide. It’s always done as a joke but it pops up a lot. Drowning and firearms are the typical choices. Homer’s choice of drowning, coupled with the image of him leaving the house with a big rock tied around his waist, signals that this is the kind of absurd cartoon suicide attempt that is more a comic narrative device than the serious event it would be in anything more realistic. Like Bart’s cartoony zip into the bus, however, it doesn’t work because it’s cartoony where it shouldn’t be. This is mostly because the family find out and follow him after Homer’s 8 year old daughter FINDS HIS SUICIDE NOTE. Had the whole thing been out of their sight, it would have been a cartoony gag but their acknowledgement of it as real engages the real, and we’re left with a dad trying to kill himself for failing as a provider. Imagine the bit where Bart zips into the bus and there’s 2 minutes of Krabapple dumbfounded because Bart can move like The Flash. This is that.

As the family try to stop Homer from killing himself, they’re almost hit by a car which brings us to the second act break and a second shift in narrative direction: Homer is now a safety crusader. This is the shittiest part of the episode because it’s 7 minutes long, is shown mostly in headline gags, ignores any resolution to the family’s financial situation, and wraps up in a baffling way. Homer decides to tackle the most dangerous thing in town, his former place of employment, and leads a protest outside the plant. We get a proper meeting with Mr Burns here, one if the 3 times he’s not voiced by Harry Shearer, who decides to nullify the threat by hiring Homer as the plant safety inspector (a role he has to this day). I’ve actually struggled to work out what the fucking point of resolution is here and it’s driving me nuts, here’s the sequence of events:

  • Homer is offered a good job with solid money if he tells the crowd the plant is safe
  • Homer knows the plant isn’t but needs the job, creating an internal conflict
  • Burns wants Homer to say it’s safe, and will basically keep Homer on to ensure that status (which also kind of explains how Homer stays employed)
  • Homer takes the job and steps out onto the balcony to tell the crowd
  • He can’t tell the crowd and comes back in to announce his principled stance to Burns
  • He realises that his job with the plant will give him less free time to crusade for safety
  • Burns acknowledges that Homer has figured out the nefarious aspect of his job offer
  • Burns says, “You’ve got the job, now get to work”
  • Homer now has the job with not a single resolution to any of the conflicts or any explanation whatsoever.

Remember that bit in Kung Pow where he’d ask someone for help, they’d say no, he’d ask again and they’d comically go, “Okaaaaaaay”? This literally happens here and it drives me nuts.

The previous episode did this neat thing where it’s opening scene related to the rest of the episode in a way that made sense. It was a family playing Scrabble as it’s a game that develops language skills and Bart has an aptitude test the next day. It is not a long scene because it shouldn’t be. It’s a lead-in to the primary story. Later Simpsons is very sloppy with this, notably highlighted in Tennis the Menace when Marge complains that everything they just went through was all so they could wind up with a tennis court. It’s something that I’d set as a late development but there’s a serious sense of it in this episode. The narrative beat that sees Homer become obsessed with safety doesn’t happen until the last seven minutes of the episode, making the whole front end feel like a long lead-in into a second long lead-in.

A basic 23 minute show is three 7 minute acts with breaks in between, and there’s a real basic formula for narrative pacing that you’ll see in nearly every show of this format. Having the narrative focus shift after each act break is like going to a play, there being an intermission, and then a whole different play starts when you sit back down. I judge later seasons less harshly because the writers are stuck in the unenviable position of having to eke vaguely new material out of a universe that never ages or changes, meaning the character focuses you’d normally use to fill a first or second act of a single story may not be available. This is the first season so there’s no goddamn excuse for each act being a separate narrative. Homer as the safety crusader to plant inspector would be a two act story itself, it’s truncated presentation here not only jars unpleasantly with the prior two acts but it doesn’t give the writers the time, or maybe even the inclination, to RESOLVE THE ONE FUCKING CONFLICT THEY FUCKING CREATED.






Fuck you, season one, nobody likes you for a reason.


Jokes, lines and stray thoughts.

Homer’s job was Technical Supervisor

There’s an actually really good line when Burns confesses his plan to Homer, an oasis of quality in a narrative desert, where he says, “You’re not as stupid as you look… or sound… or our best testing indicates”. It’s a lovely 3 hit combo that ends on a wonderful exaggeration given bonus mileage by the spurious rigour of the official-sounding “best testing indicates”.

Marge was a fucking roller waitress! Glad that has never ever been explored again because it’s fucking stupid and now largely out of her established youthful character.

The Simpson family yellow is canonically that universe’s “white”, it’s said numerous times. If you try to say “buh dey yewwow” at me I want you to throw yourself down the Up escalator.

Christopher Collins did the voice of Mr Burns and Moe in a few early episodes but didn’t get along with Sam Simon so he left. He was also Starscream and Cobra Commander.

Yours in regretting this decision, Gabriel.




2 replies to Homer’s Odyssey

Leo on 14 Sep 17 said:

Please don't stop with the "Educator Tip" asides, they're interesting.

Gabriel on 17 Sep 17 said:

They'll come up as they go. It's kind of weird the amount of genuine bullshit that happens to Bart in the early series.

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