This episode is known as the season one episode where Homer attempts suicide because he’s been fired from the plant, absurd both because it becomes out of character for Homer, and for how dark it is. In context, it’s still quite silly – Homer writes his suicide note on a notepad marked ‘dumb stuff I gotta do today’ and his attempt involves carrying a rock down the street – but it’s shocking and horrifying today, let alone in 1990.
It actually takes a while to get to Homer. The entire first act follows Bart on a field trip to the power plant, with Homer only coming in right at the end when he causes an accident and gets fired. This extra breathing room lets the show sketch out more satire, as the plant shows hilariously violent indifference to the children and bombards them with propaganda disguised as education (parodying 50s educational short films). But this comes at the cost of narrative propulsion – in time, the show could make the same points much quicker.
Act two explores Homer’s depression in the face of being fired, and speaking as someone who’s not only faced suicidal depression in the face of unemployment but also was fired barely a week ago, the emotions feel very real. We get an early taste of Homer’s alcoholism, and when his desperation for a beer leads him to break Bart’s piggy bank, he realises he’s hit rock bottom and makes his infamous suicide attempt.
In the process, he’s nearly hit by a car, and has a revelation that gives him renewed purpose: that bridge needs a stop sign! This leads into the final act, in which Homer has become a safety advocate and he protests the nuclear power plant. Burns, in response, offers Homer a job as safety technician, which he reluctantly accepts for the sake of providing for his family.
This episode is definitely a weak blueprint for the show’s later greatness. The anti-corporate satire of act one would find full bloom, and act three feels like a dry run for “Last Exit To Springfield”. The comedy is starting to pick up the pace, the performances are picking up, and the character of our favourite family is starting to gel; it just needs to iron out the plot.
Chalkboard gag: I will not skateboard in the halls
Couch gag: The Simpsons sit on the couch, only for it to fall apart.
First appearances: Otto, Wendell, the Tyre Yard, Sherri and Terri, Krusty (on a tv in the background), Smithers (with brown skin), Chief Wiggum, Bart crank-calling Moe (I.P. Freely), Duff beer.
Bart’s crank calls to Moe aren’t directly inspired by the Tube Bar prank call tapes, but Groening was definitely a fan of them.
The first job Homer hears about after getting fired is at the fireworks factory. Sadly, they never get there.