Homer’s Enemy: Widely Acknowledge Turning Point

Homer's Enemy5

“Would you like to see my Grammy award?” – Homer Simpson

Last summer, when Dave, Mad Jon and I were going through Season 8, we deliberately held “Homer’s Enemy” until the end.  It was a turning point in the series, when Homer started to realize how awesome he was.  By coincidence, I recently came across two different takes in the same vein.

The first is an A.V. Club review of Futurama’s return.  It contains a long digression about Frank Grimes:

To put it another way: I love The Simpsons, like any reasonable person should, and I can’t stand what the show has become. I blame Frank Grimes. Season 8 is the last full season I own, and while I’ve seen later episodes, and enjoyed many of them (and yeah, I liked the movie), "Homer’s Enemy" is where I mark the beginning of the end. Not because it’s a terrible episode, but because it fundamentally and permanently undermines the series’ core.

It goes on to talk about how in the long run the show couldn’t support something that “dark”.  Writer Sam Downing replied (Handlen is the one who wrote the A.V. piece):

I disagree (though I do agree with Handlen’s other point, that the episode is “a clever piece of meta-commentary on certain basic elements that have been with the show since the beginning”), because The Simpsons has always had dark elements, particularly concerning Homer’s behaviour – consider ‘A Streetcar Named Marge’, in which he flat-out tells Marge he doesn’t care about her interests, or ‘Lisa’s Substitute’, where he says pretty much the same thing to his eight-year-old daughter. Both stories are wrapped up tidily, though in neither does Homer really earn his redemption (I remember being shocked by his selfishness in ‘Streetcar’ even as a small child)1.

Note that both these episodes are from early on in The Simpsons‘ run (seasons four and two, respectively); Homer was a much darker, more selfish character before he morphed into the loveable idiot we’re familar with. ‘Homer’s Enemy’ really just combines those two sides of his character  in a single episode.

I basically agree with the first paragraph here, and disagree with the second.  Homer was always an extremely bad father (“Homer, I couldn’t help overhear you warp Bart’s mind.”/”And?”, “Here’s your turtle, alive and well.”, etcetera), but the show made it funny.

One of the big reasons such a selfish and destructive person could be so funny and so likable was that, with the occasional exception for Bart or Flanders, Homer was never malicious.  Homer’s life is one defeat after another, punctuated by a few, brief moments of happiness, almost all of which involve either Marge or Lisa.  He can’t be malicious because if there’s one thing life has taught him, it’s that he’s not going to get away with anything.

Time was, the horrible things Homer did were unintentional.  Consider “Colonel Homer”, Homer simply can’t conceive that Lurleen is trying to seduce him; cheating on Marge hasn’t even occurred to him.  (“Oh, that’s hot.  There isn’t a man alive who wouldn’t get turned on by that . . . well, goodbye.”)  When she makes it explicit, he stops after one chaste little kiss because he remembers that every aspect of his romantic life except for Marge has been a complete and humiliating failure.  (He can’t even get his dollar back at the kissing booth.)  Or “The War of the Simpsons”, Homer’s battle against General Sherman is accidental; he left his fishing gear in the cabin because he was trying to be a good husband and do what Marge asked him to do.  Or “Homer Badman”, when his perversion isn’t a lust for grad student booty, but a lust for candy.

In Season 5, when Homer does think about cheating on Marge, he only considers it after everyone from his guardian angel, to teevee, to his dessert has basically told him to.  Homer is a decent guy who gets into trouble not because he’s some zany character, but because he makes a lot of poor decisions on account of he’s just not that bright.  He’s selfish, yes, but never knowingly so.  As soon as he gets called on his selfishness, he backs off because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, especially Marge.

We can see this perfectly in the exchange Downing refers to from “A Streetcar Named Marge”:

Marge: Why can’t you be a little more supportive?
Homer: Because I don’t care, okay?  I can’t fake an interest in this, and I’m an expert at faking an interest in your kooky projects.
Marge: What kooky projects?
Homer: You know, the painting class, the first aid course, the whole Lamaze thing.
Marge: Why didn’t you tell me you felt this way?
Homer: You know I would never do anything to hurt your feelings.

Homer’s not being mean intentionally, if he knew that what he was doing was hurting Marge he never would have done it.  At the end, Marge forgives him for all that because he genuinely appreciated her performance in the play, even if he’s not good at expressing it.  The close is them laughing about his similarity to Stanley.

In “Lisa’s Substitute”, Homer knows he’s an inadequate father, he just doesn’t know what he can do about it.  (“She looks around and sees everybody else’s dad with a good education, youthful looks, and a clean credit record, and thinks ‘Why me?’”.)  His argument with Lisa is resolved not because he becomes a better father, but because he’s able to explain his inadequacies to her.  (“You’ll have lots of special people in your life, Lisa.  There’s probably some place where they all get together and the food is real good and guys like me are serving drinks.”)  The very last thing Homer thinks is that he’s better than anyone else.

Which brings us back to Frank Grimes and “Homer’s Enemy”.  Grimes is unwilling to forgive Homer the same way everyone else does, and it drives him mad.  It works extremely well in that one episode, but it allows Homer to be aware of how great his life is, and it’s all downhill from there.  In the very next season, Homer’s telling Lisa that taking crazy risks is a fundamental part of his life.  Shortly after that he’s unselfconsciously hanging out with movie stars, escaping from jail at the Super Bowl, and gleefully taking up grifting.

When Frank Grimes declares that he’s Homer Simpson and Homer’s response is to say “You wish”, something very fundamental is broken.  Homer isn’t supposed to like his life.  In “Bart Gets Famous” Homer despairingly wails “It just gets worse and worse!” after his horoscope says “Today will be a day like every other day”.  In “Dancin’ Homer”, Homer openly admits that he’s just a loser sitting in a bar.  In “Homer Defined”, Homer cracks under the pressure of people thinking highly of him because he knows he doesn’t deserve his success.

Grimes’ death at the end of “Homer’s Enemy” gives things a dark tint before the credits roll, but the fundamental problem isn’t the death, it’s Homer bragging about his life.  The show has never been the same.

19 Responses to “Homer’s Enemy: Widely Acknowledge Turning Point”

  1. 19 July 2010 at 10:06 pm

    See, this made sense. Thanks to Frank Grimes pointing out how great his life is, Homer seems to have become self-ware as the main character in a long-running cartoon show. He subconsciously realized that he’s invincible and can do pretty much anything he wants. Cue the grifting (I hate that episode), the reckless job changing, pointing out that life is about risks (never liked that plot point, myself), and surviving everything from getting a drawbridge closed on his head to escaping the fortress of the moles.

  2. 2 Sam
    20 July 2010 at 6:32 am

    This is the Sam who wrote the post you linked to, and: damned if you didn’t make me disagree with myself. I never considered that the episode is a turning point because it’s where Homer starts to see his life as awesome, but you’re right. It marks Homer’s transformation from everyman to outright buffoon. No wonder the episode is so divisive.

    PS, great post.

  3. 20 July 2010 at 6:39 am

    I think this episode would have been, and in a way may even have been intended to be, the perfect finale for the show. There’s no continuing story to The Simpsons, so the only way to end would be a subtle character change similar to the one Homer undergoes here. He realises his life not so bad after all, even after a Grimey-reality attempts to point out how illogical the show is. Homer accepts his life, and reality is forced to accept the show. I mean, the episode even ends with the “change the channel Marge” and cheesy-sitcomy-ending “That’s our Homer!”

    Now this is just mindless BS speculating, but Bill and Josh have said (I think on their NHC chat) that by the end of season 8 they had basically run out of ideas. Maybe Fox just wanted to carry on. Business beat out art. Who knows, probably just clutching at straws…

    • 4 Cassidy
      20 July 2010 at 4:26 pm

      “that by the end of season 8 they had basically run out of ideas.”

      I’m not sure I’d agree that this would’ve been the perfect finale for the series but I think season 8 probably should’ve been the last season produced. Season 9 *does* have some great stuff but you really see the change in the show’s tone and the inevitable slide into Zombie-ness.

      I’m a bit a torn on this episode – it’s rewatchable and it’s an interesting idea (putting a “real” person in the Simpsons Universe) but Homer’s characterization and the ending are really off-putting. In a way it’s even more of a “one-off” episode than deliberate ones such as 22 Short Films, the Spin-Off Showcase, etc.

  4. 5 Derp
    20 July 2010 at 9:59 am

    I found this article shocking because it’s so true. I don’t believe the writers of season 9 and onwards simply started writing Homer based on this episode, but I do believe it changed their perspective on him. He’s simply a broken character now.
    This episode pushed his stupidity to the limits while ignoring his more human characteristics. Homer is no longer the well-meaning, goof who loves his family. He’s just an idiot who does wacky things, always coming out on top.

  5. 6 Ben
    20 July 2010 at 4:42 pm

    It’s almost as if Homer started becoming an ass who was also a jerk. A sort of jerkass, if you will.

  6. 7 Stan
    20 July 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Let’s face it, the Simpsons were never so ‘dark’ afterall. When you say ‘dark’, you’re prone to think about shows like South Park, or Family Guy. For me ‘dark’ means unnecessary, unfunny violence, blood and gore. In the Simpsons, the dark side was explored by sarcastic morbidity, kinda like when a guy has everything, but is too stupid to understand it, and ends up losing it all at the end. It’s this sarcastic twist that, kind of, ha-haws right into ya.
    Now the Grimes episode is not ‘dark’ in that kind of way. It’s darkness is the death of a guy who never did any bad to anyone, and it’s kinda sad the way he suffered from Homer’s simple-mindedness and stupidity. But I find it to be a turning point because the Simpsons decide to go with the fact that Grimes dies. The episode could’ve well ended with him being incapacitated in a hospital, and Homer taking care of him, which would’ve hinted at the fact that Homer may be stupid, but is definitely a caring person. Heck, it could’ve even ended like a Sideshow Bob episode. But just the simple thought that of all the possible endings, producers had to go with the ‘darkest’ one, I think that this alone, was indeed a turning point for the show.
    I would appreciate standing corrected if I’m wrong, but up to this point as far as I can remember, the only plots wherein a person dies some horrible, absolutely ridiculous death were the Treehouse ones. Even when Bleeding Gums Murphy dies, the whole episode takes on a sad blues.

    • 8 Derp
      21 July 2010 at 10:39 am

      That’s an excellent point. The ending just emphasizes Homer’s idiotic actions and lack of caring, rather than taking the opportunity to turn it around and show another side of him.

  7. 9 D.N.
    21 July 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Stan: “Heck, it could’ve even ended like a Sideshow Bob episode.”

    That actually makes a lot of sense, considering that, some seasons later, Frank Grimes’ hitherto-unmentioned son showed up with a vendetta against Homer (in an episode that featured Sideshow Bob, no less). Seeing as how Grimes Jr looked and sounded just like his father, it’s almost like the producers wished they’d kept the original Grimes alive to be a recurring nemesis for Homer.

    • 10 Stan
      21 July 2010 at 9:00 pm

      It’s funny, because I’ve always found that episode to be a narrow excuse for bringing back the ol’ Grimey. It’s almost as if, five years later, then decide to correct themselves and do a convict-detective story. But what they really wind up doing, is giving the by then well forgotten Grimes episode an encore for even more booing.

      …suprisingly, this passes quite well with Zombie Simpsons. But… what doesn’t? ^_^

  8. 11 RJ
    9 August 2010 at 7:36 pm


    Just got linked to this. Very interesting article, but personally I love the Grimes episode, just as I despite “zombie Simpsons” and the stuff that started (even in this season) and in Season 10 onward.

    However, I thought this episode worked because it seemed like a clear parody of Homer’s character from the perspective of those who know him — you’re right that he’s a bad father, but at the same time he’s ended up doing some amazing things, even if he did bumble into them. The idea that there is somebody that works hard and can’t get into those situations, that Homer gets into because of dumb luck, is funny. But you can also tell the episode is something of a one-off because we’re really identifying with Grimes more than Homer during the episode. When he’s gone, you know things are supposed to return to normal — much like they comment on with the “Flanders and Dad are friends now?” concern that flashes to next week — no, Homer’s character didn’t really change. It just got emphasized in one way for this particular episode.

    I actually view a different moment, and the one you mention in your post, as the turning point: When Homer is telling Lisa that taking stupid risks is part of his life, and the “Feeling stupid? I know I am!” I remember watching that episode when it aired and actually muttering “Oh no,” to myself. To me, that was the turning point, when Homer was aware of his own recklessness and embraced it, and instead of being worried, just ran with it and became above his own insecurities. He became inhuman, unafraid of risk and stature, unable for us to relate to.

    So in short — I agree with you on just about everything, especially what happened to his character, but not about this episode.

    Anyway, great site! My favorites have been the (depressing) animation comparisons. The nude Burns comparison is pretty damning and I that that post wraps the visuals argument up in a neat little package.

    Really, I mean that. Sorry if it sounded sarcastic.

  9. 12 Jordan
    31 May 2011 at 6:43 pm

    I disagree with your views on the fundamentals being broken when Homer says, “You wish.” I do not believe that it was meant in a meaningful way.

    Homer isn’t the brightest guy and he knows that of course, how could he not? But, being quite a happy-go-lucky kinda person, he likes to think that he is someone special. Who doesn’t? So when he says, “You wish!”, I think that it was meant, not as a joke made by Homer deliberately, but as a joke for the audience and also just because the fact that someone – in this case, Frank Grimes – is acting like he wants to be Homer, makes Homer feel a bit important and he’ll milk that as much as he can.

    His comment was not meant in a deep way; you have to remember that The Simpsons is a comedy programme and it does have heart and is able to make you cry and melt but some of the jokes and things that happen, you have to disregard because it’s a cartoon and it’s not meant to be entirely realistic. If The Simpsons were realistic, they wouldn’t have lives as interesting and hilarious and moving as they do in the show.

    I think you’re reading too much into that one tiny comment in a very random comedy show.

  10. 13 V
    13 July 2011 at 12:03 am

    Great post! Completely agree with everything you’ve said. I watched this episode today on syndication and it was very disheartening to see it again. I couldn’t figure out the reason, but I think what you have pinpointed is exactly what caused me to cringe at the ending. Homer isn’t the same Homer we see in the previous episodes.

  11. 19 May 2012 at 2:35 am

    Where is “Homer, I couldn’t help overhear you warp Bart’s mind.” from? Because that’s an awesome quote. I can’t seem to place it in an episode and google searches just bring me back here.

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