Classic Simpsons Reviews: “Homer Defined” exposes how we teach kids to value authority over empathy.

3.5 Homer Defined

Homer becomes a hero after saving the nuclear power plant from a meltdown by chance, and is eventually exposed as a fraud. Millhouse’s mom decides Bart is a bad influence and forbids her son from playing with him.

The episode starts with some awesome satire on American print media. Homer is reading a knock-off of USA Today, and says the paper is “not afraid to tell the truth; that everything is just fine.”

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I used to read BC’s The Province every day when my parents were done with it. I’d say it and most Canadian newspapers deserve the same ‘praise.’

The scene on the bus with Bart finding out that Millhouse had a birthday party without him is really good. It’s sobering to see Bart genuinely hurt by something, particularly when he stays on the bus after it drops the kids off at school and he just sits there, depressed. This stuff is nuclear for a kid. The contrast between adulthood and childhood drama is similar in tone to “Three Men and a Comic Book,” if a bit more serious.

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GOOD THING WE’RE NEVER GONNA PUT A HOMER SIMPSON IN CHARGE OF THE NUCLEAR CODES AM I RIGHT??

The whole B story of Millhouse’s mom forbidding the kids from being friends has so much tragedy, if on an adolescent level. Bart’s terrible wrapping job on Millhouse’s birthday present is so adorable and sad (sexist birthday card notwithstanding). The way Millhouse slouches awkwardly on the bus indicates that his mom has enforced a harsh rule and left it at that instead of talking with him about how to deal with broaching the subject. It’s tragic that Millhouse is totally unable to stand up to his mom, and that it’s this dynamic, and not anything to do with Bart, that is the root Millhouse’s problems. Perhaps you’re reading this and are one of many parents who has failed to see this pattern, which, thanks for coming out.

Marge sticking up for Bart and talking to Luanne about their kids is a really touching moment, though it’s also tragic that no one (Marge included) has a conversation with Bart about why Luanne might have felt a need to set that boundary.

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Can we talk about how Luanne is every middle class parent in completely over their head?

When I was ten, I was at my best friend’s house and we were playing hide and seek. I hid in a closet so well that he and his mom got really worried, thinking I had run away. His mom called my mom, who showed up and shouted my name until I came out, in deep trouble. I was barred from my best friend’s house for a few months.

Which, yeah, probably a reasonable punishment. I needed to learn how much it messed up my best friend’s mom that she thought she’d lost me…and also when to stop something I think is hilarious that others aren’t exactly amused by. But no one ever mentioned that to me. They just made the rule and that was that, and so the net lesson became more about respecting authority than anything to do with seeing the effect my actions have on others. The message was “If you do wrong, you won’t get what you want.”

The fact I’m able to empathize with all parties now is purely coincidental/a result of better parenting moments (the way my mom handled my first breakup was A+ making empathy for the other person the whole point).

The A story is very much farce and pop culture references, with Homer managing to succeed despite his incompetence. The phrase, “pulling a Homer” becoming popular among the Simpsons characters is a nice sendup of how so much of the show has entered our cultural lexicon.

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Really nice touch on the back of the TV during the broadcast of the nuclear scare. I mean god damn that is some A+ storyboarding & animation.

The B story is better than the A story, though, which for me puts “Homer Defined” on the outside of season three’s best, even if the A story does get some laughs (In defence of this sacrilege, I’ve stated an opinion, not a fact). Magic Johnson’s cameo is hilarious, particularly when he “pulls a Homer” at the end of the episode. It’s also nice to see Homer visiting the Shelbyville plant, as it’s absurd that a neighbouring small town would also have a nuclear power facility, and it’s fun to have a parallel universe for the universe parallel to ours that is Springfield. “Lemon of Troy” has an even better exploration of that in season six.

Best Moment: Magic Johnson’s cameo.

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Simpsons celebrity cameos are at their best when they’re almost perfunctory; when there’s this air of “What the hell even is a celebrity cameo oh well let’s do something out of left field.” Later-season cameos fall flat because they take themselves a bit too seriously, which untethers the show from its own absurd reality (I’m thinking of Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger in season ten’s bore fest, When You Dish Upon a Star). Mark Hamill singing “Luke be a Jedi tonight” is fucking funny. Lucy Lawless electing not to undo her Xena breastplate in front of gross nerds even though it’d get her out of a trap is fucking funny. Mel Gibson just being…kinda there being Mel Gibson isn’t.

Best Quote: “Aw, that’s sweet. I used to follow my Dad to a lot of bars, too.” -Barney Gumble

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