OTH- The Simpsons: "Homer's Night Out"/"The Crepes of Wrath"

Sorry buddy, you got me confused with Fred Flintstone

Aired March 25, 1990

Directed by Rich Moore

Written by Jon Vitti

In my previous review, I asked what Marge saw in Homer. This week, I want to ask the reverse. Why Marge? Why Homer? Why anything?

Granted, I’m sure some of you will wonder why I’m asking, when Marge appears to be so far above Homer’s league, and that is fair. But she may be too far above his league is the thing, and we haven’t seen them share much in common beyond shared affection.

But really, why not Marge? She’s loving and considerate, but doesn’t think of herself above Homer in any way. That lack of pretention is what makes the difference, and what helps to make what seems like a confusing relationship on paper work into a sincere case of opposites attracting.

Many see Homer as a bloated, unbearable blimp of an oaf, but to Marge, he’s her considerate, cuddly teddy bear, and nothing short of jeopardizing her child’s innocence will take that away from her. For the record, I think he’s a little of column A, a little of column B.

There are two things to consider about “Homer’s Night Out” when watching it in 2021. One, this episode was made well before the widespread availability of the internet, primarily of internet porn, so it’s relatively reasonable that a bunch of young boys would be excited by seeing a scantily clad dancer’s photograph, even with a lug like Homer literally in the picture. The adult townfolk of Springfield, who are easily able to buy their own dirty magazines, though? That’s a little sus.

To be fair, in the commentary, Groening, along with director Rich Moore and writer Jon Vitti, seem to mostly agree. This is a bit of an excessive outcry by any standards of the past 50 years. But at the same time, we’re already learning that Springfield is a small town, and word spreads fast. If a schmuck like Homer can be seen having fun with a dancer like Princess Kashmir, that’s probably the most exciting news to appear all week.

The other point worth noting, and what brings me back to my earlier point, is how by now, the show’s dynamic is well known, even to those with minimal first-hand experience with The Simpsons. The family clearly loves each other with no reservations, even when it seems like otherwise. Homer and Marge may seem like a mismatched pair, but their love is strong and genuine. Bart and Lisa may seem confused as to how they’re related to everyone in their household, but they will always come back around in their corner.

But I have a hard time buying the idea of Bart looking up to Homer in any meaning other than the most literal. Bart loves his father, sure, but we’ve already seen that while he knows when to take things a step back, like if his familial obligations are on the line, he will, there isn’t much about Homer to idolize him. There isn’t even a real attempt to show this being the case in the episode. A cute little moment between the two would have helped to push this up a little. But before the party, the only time the two appear together is when Bart is taking a “secret” photo of Homer in his underwear. They’re not even in the same angle.

I do buy that Marge wants Homer to set a better example, at least, and not let Bart think it’s okay to consider women as sexual objects. I can see how this borders on slut shaming and nagging on Marge’s end, but I think she has a valid point and good intentions here, so it gets a pass from me.

“Homer’s Night Out” allows for some fun moments abound, including a disturbing look into Barney’s home life and a touch of gross-out humor at the Rusty Barnacle. I don’t think it totally cracks the code as to why this family work, Homer and Marge in particular, but that’s fine if it allows for a fun enough episode.

Aired April 15, 1990

Directed by Wes Archer, Milton Gray

Written by George Meyer, Sam Simon, John Swartzwelder and Jon Vitti

Is this really the 17th greatest television episode of all time? In 1997, TV Guide thought so, and you can see the full list here. This is a good episode, but I don’t think it’s even my favorite of the season (on a side note, I’m more surprised to see more recent episodes rank higher, from ER, Seinfeld, and The X-Files. Although I’d say two of those three are fairly deserving.)

But anyway, they wanted Bart to have a humbling experience in France, which he got. Sort of.

In the commentary, it is suggested that if this episode was made at a later point, it would be a little less slow moving, which I can definitely agree with, and I think that’s where my tough time coming around to it comes from. There’s plenty of good here, but the pacing is mostly dry throughout, lingering on scenes for too long and not cutting at the right moment.

But what I do like about “The Crepes of Wrath” is how absurd the general concept is, and how it mostly delivers on that promise. Not many other shows of this vintage would suggest that its trouble-making lead be deported and have them learn a new language at the last minute to stop illegal activity while back on their homefront, their replacement is trading nuclear secrets. Well, maybe Married… With Children would, and it would arguably turn out even more cartoony than this. Not that it’d be a bad thing, though.

It should go without saying that Bart’s delinquency has shown itself as a problem over what we’ve seen of the series thus far. We’ve seen that there’s a good kid in that heart of his, but that’s usually only compared towards even worse kids like Nelson and Jimbo. The sweet side is there, but it takes genuine effort to show it. I don’t think literal deportation was necessary, is what I’m saying.

But really, I don’t think there’s enough of a bad streak in Bart to justify the cruelty placed upon him in this episode, which therein lies my problem with pacing. For most of the time we spend with Bart in France, it’s miserable, as he keeps getting the brunt of things from his “caretakers”. It’s impactful misery- seeing Bart’s general set of clothing in tatters as he reads about how well his family is doing with his replacement is heartbreaking- but this just doesn’t result in much of a fun or pleasant experience to watch, despite this being a comedy.

Although again, the ending does come together nicely. As mentioned earlier, I like the last minute reveal that Bart learned French during his time in the vineyard, which is sold thanks to a great combination of excellent timing and Nancy Cartwright’s impeccable performance as Bart. That, on top of his newly found hero status despite his minimal lack of heroic duties helps to show that The Simpsons isn’t very interested in analyzing or fixing Bart’s rebellious tendencies, which is frankly just fine. We know that he’s not the worst kid, and it’s fine if he isn’t the best, either.

I frankly tend to prefer Adil’s material better, as I like the dynamic he has with the rest of the Simpsons, and particularly enjoy how absurd his story goes. Researching it now, Albania was still ruled as a socialist republic at the time this episode was made, and not much longer afterwards. Granted, my information of Albania is slim, but to be fair, that was true of the writers, who primarily picked the country as Adil’s homebase due to John Belushi’s roots from there. It does make for a good bit of Cold War tension circa the late 80’s-early 90’s, without having to awkwardly tie itself to Russia.

And Adil does tend to be fun when we see him. His debate with Lisa about America’s hypocritical thesis of freedom in a capitalist society is to die for. That, and seeing him bond with Homer in a way that he struggles to do with Bart is noteworthy.

Based on production numbers, “The Crepes of Wrath” was meant to be the season finale before “Some Enchanted Evening” had to be pushed all the way back. I can see why this would have been a good way to wrap up the first season, with the writing for the characters becoming a little more confident and defined. Although I do balk at it being the highest-ranked example of the show’s quality, even at this point, we’re getting closer to hitting that classic Simpsons groove that has people keep coming back years on. If Bart’s time in France had a little more humor, I’d be all for it.

Stray Observations:

  • Chalkboard Gag Wars- “I will not call my teacher “hot cakes”” vs “Garlic gum is not funny.” Well, clearly garlic gum IS funny, so take that, Edna.

  • Couch Gag Wars- The couch collapsing on the family vs Homer edging off the couch. They’re both fine, but I’m looking forward to when the couch gags become more creative.

  • FYI, Homer weighs 239 pounds… this week.

  • There’s a good nod to “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” with Bart’s piggy bank taped together… only for him to smash it this time.

  • Homer’s assistant becoming his supervisor is a terrific gag.

  • Where’s my spy camera?

  • The hottest ladies night in months is just one random woman drinking by herself at Moe’s.

  • In terms of ranking Bart’s delinquency, I’d say that forgetting to pick up his toys is a 2 out of 5 at best, while dropping a cherry bomb in a boy’s room toilet is a solid 4. While it’s unfortunate that Homer hurt himself from Bart’s mess, it’s not that far off for kids to forgo their responsibilities like he did there. The latter is a little harder to defend though, for obvious reasons. I saw that Nancy Cartwright considers Bart’s actions to be tame compared to Cartman and Beavis and Butthead, and while the former is a fair point- Bart would never feed someone their parents in a bowl of chili- this seems like something BnB would do for sure.

  • I’m sorry that Spanky Skinner didn’t stick. That’s a terrific nickname, right next to Kevin “Ug” Lee.

  • “Wait a minute Skinner. How do we know some principal in France isn’t pulling the same scam you are?” “For one thing, you wouldn’t be getting a French boy. You’d be getting an Albanian.” “You mean all white with pink eyes?”

  • I do like Homer and Skinner’s lack of chemistry together. They should be paired together more.

  • The recreations of classical French paintings is a great use of the show continuing to brilliantly use the animation medium towards its advantage. I’m looking forward to more nods like this as we progress.

  • Have you noticed that they keep switching between the kitchen and dining room for the family dinner meals?

  • And of course Homer only recognizes Sector 12 by its candy machine.

  • Welcome to 1990- I discussed why Bart’s photo of Homer would resonate better with children of his time as opposed to ours, as well as Cold War paranoia in the primary reviews. But besides those, I mean, you won’t see that much smoke in an open business like this nowadays. Good. Additionally, you wouldn’t be pulled into an airplane right in the loading dock in a post-9/11 world. Also good.

  • New Character Column- We met Lenny last week, now Carl shows up, and he’s not really sounding like himself yet, being voiced by Harry Shearer instead of Hank Azaria. Neither character really have a whole lot to offer, but they’re fun in doses, Lenny especially. In the second episode, we meet Principal Skinner’s mother, Agnes, who is a fun little curmudgeon, even if she is... Nope, I’ll save that cherry bomb for another day. Anyway, Tress MacNeille’s take is a little gentler than the Agnes we’ll know later, but her delivery still rocks even on this first try.