145. Homer the Smithers

(originally aired February 26, 1996)
One thing that makes this show great is that the personalities of its characters are malleable; they can be pushed to certain degrees, ramping up specific aspects of themselves, all depending on the episode. This show opens with a power plant trip to the speedway, and we see Smithers assist Burns in every which way, from holding up “bi-oculars” to feeding him teaspoons of booze (“This beer isn’t working. I don’t feel any younger or funkier.”) Look back to “Dancin’ Homer” when Burns downed buckets of Duff with Homer. Later he can barely drive his own caddy, whereas he was behind the wheel in “Bart Gets Hit By A Car.” These discrepancies aren’t bothersome since in both episodes, Burns is Burns, just two shades of him. Here he’s the enfeebled old man who has been waited on hand and foot his whole life, unable to cope with something as harmless as a brief encounter with a drunken Lenny.

Noting Smithers is running himself ragged, Burns demand he take a vacation. Smithers must find a temporary replacement, one who’s not very competent and won’t outshine him in the toadying department, and you’ll never guess who he picks: Homer Simpson! The second act is basically a series of goofy scenes of Burns’ ridiculous daily routine and demands, with Homer repeatedly fumbling and coming up short. We also get glimpses of Smithers as he repeatedly calls to check up on Burns, who appears to be at an all-male resort. Even when references about Smithers’ sexuality are incredibly overt, they’re still handled with an ultimately subtextual manner, like when Smithers tells Burns the resort forbids photography so he can’t show pictures. All the buffoonery with Burns and Homer reaches a tipping point when Homer can only take so much hostile retorts from Burns, eventually snapping and impulsively socking him in the face. I love how serious this sudden act of violence is taken, with Homer greatly worried and sorry for what he did. Burns, terrified of Homer, must now fend for himself, doing his basic everyday tasks, until eventually he becomes completely self-sufficient. Smithers returns and finds that he’s sorely out of a job.

Hearing Burns’ speech about how happy he is that he does things for himself, it makes me feel a little bad that the status quo must be attained at the end. Similar to Krusty at the end of “Bart the Fink,” these characters seem so happy with their recent turn of events, that it’s almost unfortunate to see them get knocked down to square one as they must. Here, feeling bad for inadvertently causing him his job, Homer agrees to help Smithers back in Burns’ good graces. When Homer screws it up (of course), the two have an all-out brawl (a wonderfully animated and arranged sequence), culminating in Burns getting knocked out the office window, becoming completely infirmed and wholly dependent on Smithers once more. This is another show that focuses on characters being happy just where they are. Regardless of someone else prepares and alphabetizes his breakfast, Burns is still most content in his position of power. More importantly is our view on Smithers. All the times we see his vacation, he’s never really actively participating in anything; a conga line forms behind him, he drives the motorboat instead of actually waterskiing, and so on. His entire world is Mr. Burns, and that’s where he belongs.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Wonderfully timed sequence of the dragracers after Smithers tells them to slow down so Burns can see. They keep it in first gear, and their parachutes simply unfurl and prattle along behind them. Burns’ “Excellent” is hilarious.
– Love how Burns complains about the over-sized novelty foam hand and asks for a smaller one. And that they even sell those that Smithers can buy. Drunk Lenny is hilarious too, with his face squished against the window, and that his thumbs up is what drives Burns over the edge.
– Great cavalier reaction from Burns when Smithers tries to drown himself in the water cooler, simply pressing the water lever to drain the tank until Smithers surfaces.
– Smithers’ search for a replacement is a classic bit, indicative to the viewers, who obviously know it’s going to be Homer. First he searches for employees under “incompetent” 714 matches found. He decides to expand the search a bit: “lazy”, “clumsy”, “dim-witted”, “monstrously ugly.” …714 matches. “Oh, nuts to this, I’ll just go get Homer Simpson.” And the great Homer line into the next scene just builds on it: “I think Smithers picked me because of my motivational skills. Everyone always says they have to work a lot harder when I’m around.”
– Smithers lays out the job description for being Burns’ assistant: answering Mr. Burns’ phone, preparing his tax return, moistening his eyeballs, assisting with his chewing and swallowing, lying to Congress, and some light typing.
– Nice that Burns’ mother is set up so early in the episode, and that the rift between them is Burns’ never forgave her for having an affair with President Taft (Homer comments, “Taft, you old dog.”) Mama Burns is 122 years old, and here we learn Burns is 104, at least according to Homer.
– Great bit where Homer blindly picks one duty to ask Smithers about out the door, what to do in case of fire, and of course that’s what happens. The shot of Burns’ office on fire with Burns blankly sitting at his desk is hilarious. Also great that it carries into the beginning of the second act as Homer frantically extinguishes it.
– Homer’s incompetence is pushed to its limits when he attempts to make breakfast. He skewers eggs and breakfast meats like a shiskabob and places it over the burner. It bursts into flames. Then he smashes open the microwave and sticks the kabob in there. Bursts into flames. He then pours cereal and milk in a bowl. Flames. In the end, he lands on Lard Lad donuts and Kwik-E-Mart coffee. Burns is not pleased (“Dough-nuts? I told you, I don’t like ethnic food!”) Then there’s a great bit where Burns asks about his stocks and what are his options (“Well, you can either get up or go back to sleep.” “I believe I’ll get up.”)
– Brilliant scene where Homer relays Burns’ messages (“You have 30 minutes to move your car”, “You have 10 minutes”, “Your car has been impounded”, “Your car has been crushed into a cube”, “You have 30 minutes to move your cube”) and great how Burns’ expression gets more and more annoyed after each message. And how when Homer answers the phone, Burns asks, “Is it about my cube?”
– The montage of scenes leading to Homer’s breakdown is fantastic, starting with something as small as Homer getting the wrong light bulbs (“60 watts? What do you think this is, a tanning salon?”) The scenes get shorter and shorter until they’re just shots of Burns throwing things at Homer and berating him, until Homer just loses it and punches the old man out. The tension is just so wonderful, with a aerial shot of the office and Homer whimpering until he dashes out and back home, huddling himself beside the door. Marge has to squeeze information out of him (“Is there something wrong, Homie?” “No.” “Except?” “Except… I killed Mr. Burns!!”)
– The POV shot of Homer coming back for Burns is hysterical, with Burns’ heavy breathing and him clearly hiding behind the potted plant. Also great is when he attempts to check if the coast is clear, sticking a mirror under the door. All clear… then Homer’s smiling face comes into view, complete with dramatic music sting.
– Excellent bit where Burns attempts to call Smithers (dialing S-M-I-T-H-E-R-S), getting Moe’s Tavern. But Moe’s been fooled one too many times to fall for this (“So you’re looking for a Mr. Smithers, eh? First name Waylon is it? Listen to me, you! When I catch you, I’m gonna pull out your eyes, and shove ’em down your pants, so you can watch kick the crap outta you, okay? Then I’m gonna use your tongue to paint my boat!”)
– This show’s a haven of old time Burns words, especially describing how to operate a motorcar (“I’m sure the manual will indicate which lever is the velocitator and which the deceleratrix.”) I also love his cockiness later when he becomes self-sufficient (“No, you have the wrong number. This is 4-2-4-6. I suspect you need more practice working your telephone machine.”)
– I like the montage of Smithers’ job searched, starting at AT&T… actually Neat & Tidy Piano Movers, where he seriously injures his spine in one day. Then he’s the announcer at the Speedway, where he’s chucked out for his incessant commentary about the ramping-up script (“The people are already here, we don’t need to keep hustling them like this, do we?”) His lowest point is almost working at Moe’s: keeping Barney away when the beer delivery comes. But the clock strikes and there’s no guard, leading to a hilarious off-screen encounter of Barney gleefully assaulting the delivery man and sucking down all the new supply, made even better by Moe’s look of shock and despondency.
– Classic boneheaded Homer impersonating Burns’ mother, especially at the tail end when he calls Burns ‘Montel.’
– The Homer/Smithers fight is great, especially the bit where Smithers’ fist gets stuck in Homer’s flab, which Homer delights in, who proceeds to just smush his hand against Smithers’ face, tilting his glasses.

And that’s my last review for 2011. I should be back sometime the first week of January, at a somewhat truncated schedule. But thanks everyone for reading, and have a lovely New Year’s.

6 thoughts on “145. Homer the Smithers

    1. “Always too busy stridin’ about his atom mill to call his own mother.”

      I feel like this creative, colorful language is something we really don’t hear in the show anymore.

  1. If it wasn’t for “22 Short Films,” this may have ended up being my favorite episode of the season. It is so god damn funny. The best part is hands down when Homer tries to ask Smithers are a fire but he can’t hear him and that is what is actually going on. I agree about the clever return from the break when Homer is finishing putting them out.

    Then we have another wonderful Clockwork Orange bit at the end when Smithers is feeding Burns, who chews his food and talks in the same manner that Alex did at the end of the film.

  2. Befitting a John Swartzwelder episode, this one is very hilarious. Not only that, but it’s a great examination of Smithers’s character, and that being Mr. Burns’s assistant is what he’s going to be, and that’s just how he likes it. Burns is also portrayed well here: he’s helpless without Burns, so he’s weak Burns, but they still remember to make him ruthless and bitter against Homer. Compare this to later on, when Burns would become extremely soft and therefore not as funny.

    As I said, it’s a Swartzwelder episode, so there’s bound to be tons of hilarious jokes. There’s the racers slowing down for Burns, Drunk Lenny, Burns nonchalantly preventing Smithers from drowning himself, 714 matches (“Nuts to this. I’ll just get Homer Simpson.”), the fire bit (the payoff is fantastic, as is the start of act 2 when he’s putting the fire out), Homer somehow setting cereal on fire, “Donuts! You know I don’t like ethnic food” (I quote this at work all the time), the messages about Burns’s car/cube (“Is it about my cube?”), Homer freaking out over punching Burns (“What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” “Except?”), Burns accidentally calling Moe’s, all of Smithers’s jobs (especially failing to prevent Barney from drinking all the beer), the fight scene… there’s a lot of hilarious bits, making this episode one of the all time greats.

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