Thursday, March 29, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Five - “Homer Simpson!”

Season 6, Episode 25 AND Season 7, Episode 1
“Who Shot Mr Burns?” (Parts 1 and 2.  Yes, I’m cheating.  No, I don’t care)
First Broadcast: May 21, 1995 and September 17, 1995

Special double-length entry!

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

There’s oil in them thar hills, as Skinner and Willie strike a gusher on school grounds after the unfortunate passing of the school gerbil.  As the school plans to bring itself up to code with the income, Mr Burns starts planning to get his hands on the oil, which he eventually manages through some sneaky slant drilling.  Meanwhile Homer is annoyed at Burns’ inability to remember his name, after years of loyal service, which winds up in a violent confrontation.

Burns’ actions have a knock on effect on many of the towns’ inhabitants, with the school losing the money, Moe’s Tavern forced to close due to oil fumes, the Retirement Castle being destroyed leaving the senior citizens homeless, and Santa’s Little Helper injured.  When Burns decides to take things a step further by building a Sunblocker, plunging Springfield into eternal darkness and forcing them to pay for their lighting all day long, even Smithers has had enough and attempts to pull him back from the brink – but Burns fires him for his insolence.

A town meeting is held to discuss the situation, during which Burns confronts his many aggressors (including, but not limited to, Skinner, Barney, Moe, Homer, Bart, Tito Puente, Grampa and Smithers), but produces a gun with which to defend himself and activates the Sunblocker.  Leaving the meeting, Burns has the world at his feet – but an off-screen scuffle ends in him being shot, and he collapses onto the town sundial, critically wounded and surrounded by slack-jawed gawkers…


…Luckily, it was all a dream!  Mr Burns hasn’t been shot, and is found in the shower by Smithers alive and well.  The year is 1965, and Burns and Smithers are undercover detectives on the hot rod circuit.  Now let's burn rubber, baby!...

No, wait; THAT was the dream.  On waking to find himself a drunken wreck, Smithers turns himself in after remembering shooting an old man – though that turns out to be Jasper Beardly, shot in a bitter dispute about what the sidewalk is for.

As a bunch of hot-heads tear down the Sunblocker, crushing Shelbyville in the process, Springfield Police are making a right pig’s ear of the whole thing, up to and including releasing a would-be supervillain back into society, until Chief Wiggum has a backwards-talking dream brought on by expired cream, urging him to check Burns’ suit for DNA – which turns up evidence which matches the Simpsons.  At that moment, Burns awakens and says two words: “Homer Simpson”.

Homer is arrested but escapes when the police transport is rammed by Jasper Beardly, in a bitter dispute about what the drive-through is for, leading Smithers to put a bounty on his head.  Meanwhile it becomes clear that Burns can now say nothing but “Homer Simpson”, throwing the accusation into doubt.

Lisa puts two and two together and rushes to the hospital, pursuing Homer and pursued by an angry mob, eager to present at least 51% of Homer’s corpse to Smithers and claim the reward.  Burns snaps out of his trance and announces that the shooter was none other than…  Does this count as a spoiler after 22 years?  You know what, I’m going to err on the side of caution here just in case.  Anyway, everything goes back to normal.


"You know those guitars that are, like, double guitars, you know?"...

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Smithers attempting to subdue Skinner with a stapler, from range.

Mr Burns’ moment of triumph, as he fairly dances through the town square before his comeuppance.

"Speedway Squad!  In Color", the best spin-off we never got.

Dr Colossus, we hardly knew ye:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
"I've had it up to here with these damn rickets!"


Tito Puente And His Latin Ensemble's "Senor Burns" is one of the series' musical high water marks.  But it's all based on a misunderstanding: Matt Groening suggested using Puente, of whom he is a big fan.  However, the episode's writers had never heard of him and assumed he was a singer rather than a percussionist, leading to a hasty search for a singer when this sequence was set in stone...


The story heavily showcases beloved side character Jasper Beardly, or Homer’s Dad’s Friend as TV Clangers expert Tim Worthington assures me he is actually called, is probably best known as Frostilicus, the frozen man and Moon Pie enthusiast in the Freak-E-Mart in "Lisa The Simpson".  To say he is very stuck in his ways is perhaps an understatement, and one which will doubtlessly lead to a-paddlin’.

And of course, the whole concept of the story is an obvious parody of one of the most popular and deeply penetrating televisual events of all times – Dallas’ “Who Shot J.R.?” arc.  Ewing patriarch J.R. was shot at the end of the show's third season, broadcast on 21 March 1980, with the culprit…  Does this count as a spoiler after 38 years?  You know what, I’m going to err on the side of caution here just in case...

Anyway, whoever it was, not being revealed until 21 November 1980.  The appropriately-titled episode "Who Done It?" was the highest rated television programme of all time, until the finale of M*A*S*H aired in 1983.  No wonder other shows have wanted a slice of that success!


Still to this day the only two-part story in Simpsons history (although there was more recently a single, hour-long episode, fact fans!), held up by many as the show’s crowning achievement and imbued with a level of hype almost approaching that of “Who Shot J.R.?”, this is the story that cemented The Simpsons’ status as a worldwide pop culture phenomenon.

It really helps that both parts are absolutely jammed with must-see scenes - and not just jokes either, but Burns' gradual fall into cartoonish supervillainy in part one is deftly handled, and works well to make you hate a character who, whilst definitely an antagonist in the first few seasons of the show, wasn't ever depicted as a directly threatening character, over the space of just over twenty minutes.

Critics have noted that the outcome is a bit odd and unbelievable - that's unbelievable in a universe where an evil billionaire blocked out the sun, mind - and that as such the payoff takes the shine off the build up.  It's an assessment to which I have to blow a raspberry; suspension of disbelief is key in enjoying pretty much any scripted entertainment, and for a product of this much quality, I'm more than happy to make the extra leap.

Join us next time in the blog that's going to get you...  Some ice cream at the store, since we're saving so much money on Diet Cola!

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