Everything I Needed to Know About Life I Learned from Homer SimpsonBy Ken Carriere
© TV Guide (Canada), v24n33, August 12, 2000.
A few months ago, after another badly played hockey game, my teammates and I were in the dressing room getting changed. It was late and we were tired. Maybe it was the cheap beer or the minor head injuries, but we all started talking about Homer Simpson.
Ah, Homer. He eases the pain.
Despite our different backgrounds and different jobs, we discovered that Homer appeals to us all. Each of us repeated favorite quotes and discussed favorite episodes. Some guys even tried to prove that they were Homer, or claimed that the producers watch them to get new ideas for the show.
Even after 11 seasons, The Simpsons are as popular as ever, especially in Canada, where the series is regularly listed in the Top 10. It has even more viewers than Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, something which has never happenned in the U.S. where The Simpsons sit in the Top 30. One of only two non-Canadian series that airs on the CBC (the other is Coronation Street), in some parts of the country you can catch the series five times each weekday.
Let's face it, Homer is where the heart is. He's fat, bald and dim-witted, and many men aspire to his greatness. How many TV personalities can get every guy in a hockey dressing room talking excitedly? Other than some actresses, only Homer has that power.
Thankfully, some of Homer's biggest fans work on the series. Mike Scully, who joined the show in 1993, has written seven episodes and is currently an executive producer. Scully has no qualms admitting that he adores Homer.
"Homer Simpson represents the kid that exists in every adult male that we're always being told to leave behind," Scully explains. "I think that's why men in particular enjoy watching him. Kids enjoy watching him because they love watching adults who are idiots."
When The Simpsons debuted in 1989, Homer was a secondary character who existed only to react angrily to little Bart, who as the star of the show was an underachiever and proud of it. In fact, in the first season or two, Homer was written as a responsible grown-up, a husband and a parent, and at times even hinted at intelligence.
"The general feeling was that he was coming across as too mean and too insensitive," Scully says, "so we made him a little softer and a little more loving towards his family."
As Homer morphed into the lunatic we know and love, he also became the star. Every episode featured him on a new adventure. Any chapter with another character in the lead was surely meant to cleanse the palate. We could rest assured that Homer would be back next week in fine foolish form. Bart moved with the other characters - Marge, Lisa and Maggie Simpson, plus the other Springfield citizens - into the background.
"That was never a conscious change," Scully says. "I think the show was so focused on Bart in the beginning that a lot of Bart stories were burned up in the first two seasons." He adds: "An adult doesn't have the limitations that a kid has. You don't have to stretch believability as much to get him into certain situations."
Since then, Homer has gotten himself into all sorts of trouble. He became an astronaut (and had a fist fight on the space shuttle); he drove his multimillionaire half-brother into bankruptcy; and he joined a travelling show after agreeing to take a cannon ball in the gut. (Marge: "Just because you were invited to join a freak show doesn't mean you have to." Homer, staring blankly: "You know, in some ways you and I are very different people.")
As Scully says, Homer represents the inner child that every man tries (unsuccessfully) not to reveal. As sad as it may be, we men live vicariously through this beloved yellow blob. He's our Holden Caulfield! Holden ditches school, Homer ditches work, but they both do what they want. As the Great One so wisely protested to Marge in a 1998 episode: "I don't think anything I've ever done is wrong."
In some episodes, this misplaced confidence has led Homer into strange territory. Does Scully think that the writers ever took Homer too far?
"As a moron?" he laughs. "I'm sure we've crossed the line with Homer a few times in terms of how stupid he might be in a given situation. I think whenever you're doing a character like Homer, and you're walking that line of idiocy, you can't but help cross it here and there.
Fortunately, the Simpsons writers have some rules about how to deal with the Big Guy. "My basic rule is that he should at least know his name," Scully admits. "John Swartzwelder, who has written for the show since the first season, says that he writes Homer like a dog that can talk. In one scene, Homer can go through seven or eight different emotions, just like a dog. He can go from sleeping to eating in a matter of seconds." So there you have it. The Simpsons writers think about a talking dog when they write for Homer, and then Canadian men strive to measure up.
Next season is sure to offer more classic Homer episodes. In the Nov. 5 première (the series's 250th episode), Homer becomes enraged when the phone company splits Springfield into two area codes.
"What infuriates Homer," Scully says, "is that he has to memorize three new numbers." So he incites a civic civil war. To the rescue, come British rockers The Who - with the exception of Keith - "as they have done for so many cities," Scully points out.
Although Homer is crazy, stupid, selfish, inconsiderate and drunk most of the time, he's still a nice guy. That's why we really love him. "I think it's well established now that Homer really does love his family," says Scully. "No matter what he says or what he does, you know where his heart is."
For bona fide Homerphiles, check out Homer's Guide to Being a Man (HarperCollins) which will be released in April, It will include quotes from the series as well as new material. NOTES
Last updated on September 9, 2000 by Jouni Paakkinen (firstname.lastname@example.org)