10. Homer’s Night Out

Something

“It’s meaningless, Marge, don’t even attempt to try and find meaning in it.”

  • First broadcast: Sunday 25 March 1990, Fox Television
  • First shown on UK terrestrial television: Saturday 4 January 1997, BBC1
  • Showrunners: James L Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon
  • First draft: Jon Vitti
  • Writing staff: Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Jon Vitti, George Meyer
  • Storyboard: Bob Arkwright, Tim Burgard, Rich Moore, Steven Dean Moore
  • Animation director: Rich Moore

Homer had become the most famous man in Springfield by episode three of The Simpsons, been ridiculed in the local media by episode seven, and by episode eight gone from the town’s nemesis to hero in 20 minutes. Here he becomes famous yet again, and once more it’s for none too salubrious reasons. If viewers in 1990 still had any lingering misperceptions that this was a season of stories with a continuously developing narrative, Homer’s Night Out will have put pay to them once and for all.

Plot
Bart secretly photographs Homer dancing with a stripper at a stag party. The picture is shared around Springfield, and when Marge finds out she orders Homer to teach Bart a lesson about objectifying women. There’s the grain of something genuinely profound in this episode, but the plot unfolds in such an opaque way as to mask it almost entirely from view. It’s as if the writers took a really simple idea – Bart buying a miniature camera – and a universal theme – male perceptions of women – and bolted on as much else as they could manage, in case they were accused of not being original. The substance gets rather buried under the frippery, which includes Bart fooling around with squid at a seafood restaurant, Mr Burns asking Homer for tips on his love life, a night in Barney’s apartment and lots of scenes of photocopying. Plus we get this:

Fast forward

Fast forward

It’s the time it takes for Bart’s spy camera to arrive in the post, and it’s the kind of playful attitude towards chronology that the series executed a lot more nimbly in years to come. 4

Characters
Marge’s uncompromising response to Homer’s lewd behaviour seems a bit hypocritical coming one episode after her own dalliance with full-blown infidelity, especially when she throws him out of the house while shouting: “My suggestion is for you to sleep in the filth you created.” But later her reaction appears more tempered, and she implies she takes more offence at the example Homer has set to Bart rather than the deed itself. This at least rings true, particularly as the photo of the “deed” is hardly X-rated material:

Dancin' Homer

Dancin’ Homer

You have to wonder why Springfield is sent into such a frenzy by a picture that is more ludicrous than, as one of Bart’s classmates implausibly declares, “sensual”. Homer’s behaviour is thoughtless rather than stupid and cruel, which is definitely more in keeping with what we’ve already learned about him, as is the reaction of Bart and Lisa, whose concern about their parents’ marriage is a lot more plausible here than it was last week (a shame these two stories were sequenced one after the other). In general the characterisation of the family is strong and thoughtful, and is one of the best things about the episode. Even the scene at the beginning with Marge cleaning her teeth and Homer weighing himself rings true. Less appealing is this particular image:

Lisa is right: nobody wants to see this

“Ew, gross. Mum, Bart is taking a picture of his butt.”

The same goes for Mr Burns’ sudden interest in consulting Homer for relationship advice, though it appears to have worked, for at the end of the episode we see him on a date with a woman (plus Smithers who also has a lady in tow). In addition it’s good to see Barney developed a little more and his friendship with Homer start to be explored, while his drunkenness is shown to be more shambolic than fatalistic. 6

Location and design
Springfield evidently has a thriving bordello scene. We see Homer and Bart searching for the stripper Princess Kashmir in a string of burlesque houses: Florence of Arabia, Girlesque, Foxy Boxing, Mud City and finally (and successfully) The Sapphire Lounge. All are given a different design but all are united in tatty decadence:

"Foxy boxers" not pictured

“It is an honour to have Springfield’s number one swinger here tonight.”

Barney’s apartment, by contrast, is merely tatty. “This apartment complex caters to upscale young singles like me,” he announces, gesturing to the single shabbiest room we’ve seen in the series to date. The filth oozes off the screen:

"If you get hungry, there's an open beer in the fridge."

“If you get hungry in the middle of the night, there’s an open beer in the fridge.”

The location of Homer’s eponymous night out, and also the rest of the family’s seafood supper, is The Rusty Barnacle. The function room is made to look fantastically seedy, with the tables littered with glasses and thick smoke meandering through the air:

Dank for the memory

“Where am I – the planet cornball?”

Just how many themed restaurants does the town have? Not as many strip clubs, that’s for sure. 7

Pardon My Zinger
Intelligent humour was one of the key ingredients of Jon Vitti’s first script for The Simpsons, Bart the Genius, and he deploys it again here. In the Rusty Barnacle, Bart is seen taking great delight in rearranging the letters COD PLATTER on a sign to read:

One slice with not-so-much-rat-in-it later

One slice with not-so-much-rat-in-it later

In the school dark room, one of the nerds alludes to Bart’s snapshot being of the calibre of Diane Arbus: a reference to one of the most famous American photographers of the 20th century. Mr Burns gets one of the best jokes, when he accuses Homer of bringing the workplace into disrepute: “This is a family nuclear power plant. Our research indicates that over 50% of our power is used by women!” There’s also a nice switcheroo when Homer is moping around Barney’s flat and notes wistfully than he can see the light of his porch glinting on the horizon – at which Barney promptly rings up Marge and shouts: “You left your damn porch light on, Homer’s not made of money, y’know!” But that’s more or less the extent of the zingers. This is a character-driven tale, and as such is not rich with one-liners. 5

Special guests
Sam McMurray provides the voice of Gulliver Dark, the compere at The Sapphire Lounge. It’s an appropriately garish and slightly sordid performance, albeit one mixed rather low on the soundtrack, thereby losing some of its impact. The part is written rather thinly and mostly consists of an overwrought rendition of the song I Could Love a Million Girls. McMurray had made regular appearances on The Tracey Ullman Show and as such was familiar to many of The Simpsons’ cast and crew. He went on to play recurring characters in many US sitcoms including as Friends, Home Improvement and The King of Queens, but it’s fair to say remains largely unknown in the UK. 4

Gulliver unravels

Million girls not pictured

Music
The arrangement of I Could Love a Million Girls is well-judged for a tacky provincial cabaret – in other words, full of bombast and unsubtle flourishes with parping brass and swirling strings well to the fore. The song is from a 1906 American revue called Mam’zelle Champagne that ran for only 60 nights, but which made nationwide headlines when a member of the audience was shot dead right in the middle of this very song. The assassin was the husband of one of the showgirls, with whom the victim had been having an affair. Simpsons composer Richard Gibbs doesn’t have much else to do in this episode other than rustle up a few generic cues, although the way in which he scores the photocopying sequence does an effective job in creating a sense of escalating consequences. 5

Voices
Maggie Roswell makes her first appearance in The Simpsons, and immediately shows her skill at turning in memorable “normal” voices, from a fey Princess Kashmir to a truculent postwoman. Her excellent contributions are somewhat undermined by a number of other supporting characters who pipe up to remind you they are still some way off reaching a fully-formed and stable depiction by the cast: Barney, Mr Burns, Apu, Carl and Martin Prince. Barney is particularly wayward, and not in the sense of being a drunk. His voice actually changes as the episode goes on. And while Marge is at last starting to sound a bit more familiar, Homer has become a touch too gravelly again. 5

Animation direction
Rich Moore’s fondness for imaginative staging and unexpected camera angles made a real difference in The Telltale Head. The same qualities are in evidence here, and again it’s all to the good. There’s a lovely point-of-view shot from Bart’s piggy bank as it’s about to be smashed, which is also a nice reference back to Homer’s Odyssey, where it was originally destroyed. When Princess Kashmir emerges to do her turn at the Rusty Barnacle, she is shown entering from the restaurant kitchen, in the background of which Moore adds a nicely-aggrieved dishwasher:

Crockery meets cabaret

Crockery meets cabaret

During Homer’s meeting with Mr Burns, the camera moves imaginatively all over the place, including at one point outside the window:

"Animal magnetism"

“You have a way with women. A certain, how shall I put it, animal magnetism.”

Elsewhere Moore adds subtle touches to otherwise ordinary scenes that bring interest and character – for example, showing Bart hanging upside down on a climbing frame, or sitting upside down on the sofa. There’s no reason for Bart to be doing these things, but that’s kind of the point. It’s what children do – because they can. The busier scenes are less successfully realised. Characters move rather jerkily during the dancing at the Rusty Barnacle, the song-and-dance section looks too busy, and there are some very oddly-designed nobodies who turn up during the sequence where Bart’s photo is being spread around the town. Homer getting caught dangling from Princess Kashmir’s cage at The Sapphire Lounge is an utterly shameless device for precipitating the episode’s conclusion, but it’s drawn with aplomb:

This can only end one way

This can end only one way

It must also count as the first (of many) injuries Homer sustains that would quite frankly kill a real person. We’re a long way from getting your head caught in the middle of a bascule bridge, however. 6

Homages, spoofs, fantasies
There aren’t any, unless you count the song-and-dance number as a pastiche of a Broadway revue show, but that’s pushing it a bit. 1

Emotion and tone
This is an episode that starts off with Homer standing in his bathroom moaning at the scales and ends with Homer standing in a giant theatre lecturing hundreds of people on gender politics. We shouldn’t be surprised there is absolutely no consistency to the story’s tone. There’s an awful lot of contrivance to hurry events along, which means some very abrupt switches between farce, melodrama and preachiness. The party at which Homer dances with Princess Kashmir is obviously meant to feel very base and unsubtle, but it jars alongside the episode’s moments of genuine wit and insightfulness. The ending is, yet again, a botched job. After trawling the strip clubs in a sort of redemptive quest, Homer’s eventual meeting with Princess Kashmir starts low-key (“You’re more than just a belly”) but goes speedily over the top with his cage-dangling and gate-crashing of I Could Love a Million Girls. We then get a repeat of the end of Homer’s Odyssey, with Homer somehow redeeming himself in 60 seconds with a rambling speech to a crowd of people who all fall under his spell. For a story about the questionable depiction of women, the final scene of Marge in tears throwing herself upon her husband is plain daft. 3

Verdict: 46%
The amount of carry on (and Carry On) in this episode never quite falls into step with the rhythm established at the opening, and an interesting premise unwinds very disjointedly into a silly conclusion. Homer’s redemption ends up more flippant than sincere: a massive shame, as for much of the episode the characters have real depth and some of the writing is the most sophisticated of the season. Had this story been tried a couple of years later, it might have been a classic.

After transmission of Homer’s Night Out, The Simpsons got put on another three-week hiatus, returning on 15 April – which is when this blog will next be updated.

One thought on “10. Homer’s Night Out

  1. Sam McMurray also played Gulliver Dark on at least two episodes of “The Tracey Ullman Show” (the show’s other regular Joseph Malone is the only one who’s never been on “The Simpsons”).

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