#248: “Homer’s Odyssey” (1990)

Homer becomes depressed after getting fired from his job at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, but finds meaning in a safety crusade that ultimately leads to a showdown against his former employer, who tempts him with the position of Safety Inspector at the Plant.

Homer's OdysseyFor me, “Homer’s Odyssey” has always been the only episode worthy of Comic Book Guy’s trademark Worst Episode Ever honor. Does a lot of it have to do with the fact that Smithers is — very randomly — black in this episode (and only this episode)? Well, yeah. But “Homer’s Odyssey” is boring and lame, too, with a silly plot, and its sensibility is (in places) much darker than that of later episodes, which adds to its already severely dated look and feel. “Homer’s Odyssey” has always occupied the bottom slot, in my mind, and, since I don’t plan to extend this list past season 11, it likely always will.

Take a look at the suicide note Homer leaves:

Dear Family,

I am an utter failure, and you’ll be better off without me. By the time you read this, I will be in my watery grave. I can only leave you with the words my father gave me: “Stand tall, have courage and never give up.” I only hope I can provide a better model in death than I did in life. Warmest regards.

Love,
Homer J. Simpson

Homer's OdysseyThis is played curiously straight, though since suicide is a sensitive subject, I guess there wasn’t any other way to do it. Although this note really is too dark to add much entertainment or comedic value, it does show the original writers’ commitment to producing a show grounded in reality, which is something the later writers would abandon rather freely. Careful observers will have no doubt noted during their viewings of “Homer’s Odyssey” that Homer writes this letter on “Dumb Stuff I Gotta Do Today” stationary, so the writers did actually have some fun with this. Still, only the most attentive fans will notice that detail. The emphasis is clearly on the wording, and the music during the scene is clearly tragic, not ironic, in character. And again, the stationary joke is really quite dark, much darker than any jokes found in subsequent episodes, in fact. (At least, not concerning the show’s central character.)

Homer's OdysseyAnd that’s largely because Homer’s actions — and the wording of his note — are played so straight. In fact, one of the reasons why this sequence is vaguely, if not completely, unsatisfying is that Homer never acts like this again. Rather, when Homer becomes suicidal in later episodes, such as the season 11 dud “Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder,” the sensibility is completely different; we know Homer isn’t going to kill himself because his suicidal tendencies are being explored (poorly) for comedic effect. In “Homer’s Odyssey,” this sensibility is entirely absent. The jokes made during this suicide sequence are of the dark — more like pitch-black — humor variety, and instead of lightening the mood, they actually add to the gravity of the scene. The way Homer is defined over the course of the next 500+ episodes has rendered the version of Homer we see in “Homer’s Odyssey” obsolete. We never see this Homer again. Ever.

Homer's OdysseyTellingly, at the end of this episode, Homer becomes the Safety Inspector of Sector 7G; it’s the job he holds for the rest of the series. What’s more, The Simpsons is, for all intents and purposes, a “drop-in” show. Although there are a few notable exceptions, every episode, for the most part, “resets” at its conclusion, so to speak, and there aren’t any multi-episode story arcs like on some sitcoms. (Except for the “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” two-parter, of course.) Unsurprisingly, the formative arc that comprises the tale of “Homer’s Odyssey” now, in retrospect, feels oddly out of place, even when laid side-by-side with other first-season episodes; watching “Homer’s Odyssey” from the beginning takes us to a place in The Simpsons‘ world set before the events of just about every other episode.

Homer's OdysseyLooking past those questionable plot mechanics, the episode’s dark tone, meanwhile, is nearly unrecognizable, which is unfortunate — this isn’t The Simpsons we know and love. (Furthermore, there’s a downright uncomfortable tension between the triviality of Homer’s safety crusade and the seriousness of Homer’s suicide letter.) In other words, this episode is ultimately a waste of time; it’s what I like to call a “sub-Simpsons episode,” because that’s what it is: Less than a fully realized Simpsons episode. Black Smithers is an eyesore, the episode’s conclusion wastes time merely “setting up” the show instead of pushing out into new territory, and the tone doesn’t fit with series’ eventual style.

(To those who object to my assessment of “Homer’s Odyssey”‘s conclusion, who believe this episode was necessary in setting up the show, my response is this: Why not just have Homer be the Safety Inspector at the plant to begin with? Why bother with a dull episode with an odd tone? Begin the episode with Homer as the Safety Inspector and push out from there, I say.)


The Funny Stuff

As you’ll see below, there isn’t much to feast on from this episode, though there are some good lines in there. Also, Bart’s first crank call to Moe’s is in “Homer’s Odyssey.”

One-liners

OTTO: Sorry, little dudes. Party-Hardy was tardy.

Homer's OdysseySMILIN’ JOE FISSION: Uh oh. Whoops. Looks like there’s a little leftover nuclear waste. No problem. I’ll just put it where nobody will find it for a million years.

TV ANNOUNCER: Loaftime, the cable network for the unemployed, will be back with more tips on how to win the lottery right after this.

HOMER: Beer. Now there’s a temporary solution.

HOMER (to crowd): Unlike most of you, I am not a nut.

Funny Exchanges

Homer's OdysseyBART: All he does is lie there like an unemployed whale.
LISA: I don’t know what else to do.
BART: There’s only one thing we can do: Take advantage of the old guy. You gotta sign my report card, Dad.

OLD LADY: Oh, looks like young Simpson is going to kill himself.
OLD MAN: Well, maybe not. Maybe he’s just taking his boulder for a walk.
(both burst out laughing as Homer continues on past their house)

COUNCILMAN: Next on the agenda. Police Chief Wiggum will give us an update on our graffiti problem.
WIGGUM: Well, it’s no secret our city is under siege by a graffiti vandal known as “El Barto.” Police artists have a composite sketch of the culprit. If anyone has any information, please contact us immediately.
The sketch is of an older, scruffier version of Bart.
BART: Cool, man.
HOMER: Ooh, wouldn’t want to run into him in a dark alley.

Homer's OdysseyHOMER: Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed councilmen, boys and girls, retired people with nothing better to do. Danger comes in many, many forms, from the dinosaurs that tormented our cavemen ancestors, to the —
COUNCILMAN: Simpson, get to the point!
HOMER: I think we should put a stop sign at “D” Street and 12th. The other —
COUNCILMAN: All in favor?
COUNCILMEN: Aye.
COUNCILMAN: Approved. Meeting adjourned. Coffee and maple logs in the lobby.
HOMER: Wow. They listened to me.

Homer's OdysseyBurns and Smithers watch Homer address the crowd.
BURNS: Look at that man. He has the crowd in the palm of his hand. Ah, haven’t seen anything like it since Jolson. Who is he?
SMITHERS: That’s Homer Simpson, sir. He used to work here in the plant, but we fired him for gross incompetence.
BURNS: Oh, so that’s his little game. Get this Simpson character up here right now.
BURNS: Hear me out, Simpson! I don’t want you to come back as a technical supervisor or supervising technician, or whatever the hell you used to do. I want you to be in charge of safety here at the plant.

Homer's OdysseyHOMER: Safety? But, sir, if truth be known, I actually caused more accidents around here than any other employee. There are even a few doozies no one ever found out about.

HOMER: I can’t do it, Mr. Burns.
BURNS: You mean, you’re willing to give up a good job and a raise just for your principles?
HOMER: Mmm. When you put it that way, it does sound a little farfetched, but that’s the lug you’re looking at! And I vow to continue spending every free minute I have crusading for safety! Of course, I’d have a lot less of those free minutes if you gave me the job.
BURNS: Mmm. You’re not as stupid as you look or sound or our best testing indicates. You’ve got the job. Now get to work!

Crank Call

Homer's OdysseyMOE: Moe’s Tavern.
BART: Is Mr. Freely there?
MOE: Who?
BART: Freely. First initials I.P.
MOE: Hold on, I’ll check. (calls out) Is I.P. Freely here? Hey, everybody, I.P. Freely! (realizes) Wait a minute. (into phone) Listen to me, ya lousy bum. When I get a hold of you, you’re dead. I swear I’m going to slice your heart in half. (hangs up)
HOMER: You’ll get that punk someday, Moe.
MOE: I don’t know. He’s tough to catch. He keeps changing his name.


Odds and Ends

I have put all of the non-dialogue jokes here. Below you’ll find lots of sight humor and a few other things.

First Appearances

  • Wendell
  • Smilin’ Joe Fission
  • Otto

Bart’s Report Card

  • Homer's OdysseyScience: U
  • Social Studies: F
  • Reading: U
  • Math: F
  • Writing: U
  • Physical Ed: D

(I have no idea what “U” stands for.)

Names of Some of Homer’s Safety Signs

  • Dip
  • Please Drive Friendly
  • Speed Bump
  • Sign Ahead

Newspaper Headlines (in order)

  • Simpson Says Safe!
  • Dozens Cheer Homer Simpson
  • Homer Simpson Strikes Again!
  • Watch Out, Here Comes Homer
  • Enough Already, Homer Simpson!

What’s Written on the Three Doors Smithers Opens to Let the Kids Into the Plant (in order)

  • Danger: Severe Radiation
  • Enter at Your Own Risk
  • Enjoy Your Visit

Final Tidbits

  • Homer's OdysseyOtto tells Bart he can’t get a tattoo until he’s 14.
  • A three-eyed fish surfaces in a pond at the Plant.
  • Homer, while carrying a huge boulder, goes back for oil to put on the hinges of the gate in the backyard to not make any noise. (Where does he get a giant boulder, anyway? Does he keep one in the garage? Does he buy one at Sears? What gives?)
  • Homer sees a boulder at the bridge he’s about to jump off of and mutters, “Well, live and learn.”
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