The Simpsons, Season Three, Episode Twenty, “Colonel Homer”

After having a few breezy episodes in a row, it’s nice to get back to something a bit heavier, and the fact that we’re dealing with Homer’s most sympathetic aspect is the icing on the cake. The overall effect we’re dealing with here is seeing everything wonderful and awful about Homer as a human being, starting with the worst of the latter and working our way to the best of the former. We open with the Simpsons going out to the movies, and Homer makes a complete ass of himself in public, and then is humiliated when Marge calls him on it, driving out to the middle of nowhere to drink his sorrows away.

It’s then that we get what makes Homer a good sitcom protagonist, someone compelling to watch: he stumbles upon Lurleen Lumpkin, a waitress in a skeevy bar who has a powerful talent for country music, and he’s so moved by her song that he helps her get her music on the radio, and eventually agrees to be her manager. From a technical standpoint, it shows just how well Homer works as a character – he is someone who follows a dumb whim he stumbles upon. And it’s a killer episode premise, with understandable and genuinely positive consequences – even through the parody lyrics, Lurleen is a believably talented singer we want to see succeed – and understandable and genuinely negative consequences – of course Marge isn’t going to be a fan of Homer spending all his time with a beautiful woman.

And this leads to a meaningful revelation of Homer’s character. It’s something of a cliche now to have the bumbling dad be both so dumb and so loyal to his wife that he misses the beautiful woman hitting on him (Malcolm In The Middle has a similar story beat, and in reverse one of the charming things about Firefly was how Wash could clearly be attracted to other women but definitely loyal to Zoe); I suspect The Simpsons was creating that cliche with this episode, and as a result it comes off more complex. Homer does come off both noble and blundering, but it’s more complicated than “he’s just that noble/dumb” – he genuinely is in this to Lurleen famous, and that’s enough to distract him from recognising that he’s endangering his marriage from two different directions. When he does, he immediately buys Lurleen her ticket to stardom at his own expense and quits being her manager. I don’t see a cliche here; I see meaningful character choices. It’s another example of the show’s subversive surface hiding a very old-fashioned, dare I say conservative attitude.

Outside of all of this are, again, elements of the series that have been there for so long, sometimes since the beginning. I went over the town being affected by the episode’s events last week, and that happens again here (the montage of people listening to the song is great, but I also love Lenny trying to sing to his ball after seeing Homer do it), and again moving Bart to the background only serves to make him funnier. I love his hamboning (“Stop that!”), and I really love him at the movies with Lisa, messing with her by tricking her into watching a scary bit, something I not only did as a kid, I do to my sister now.

Chalkboard Gag: I will not conduct my own fire drills.
Couch Gag: The family fall into the couch, legs up in the air.

This episode was written by Matt Groening and directed by Mark Kirkland, and this is the only episode ever written solely by Groening. The opening scene of Homer being annoying in the theater was based on an experience Groening had as a kid.

The episode as a whole is a riff on Coal Miner’s Daughter, including casting Beverly D’Angelo as Lurleen. Homer’s outfit and nickname that give the episode its name are based on Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presly’s manager. Homer passes by a reference to Deliverance. The bar Homer meets Lurleen in is a reference to Urban Cowboys. Homer comments that the last song that moved him the way Lurleen’s song did was “Funky Town”. The show Lurleen appears on is based on the show Hee Haw.

Beverly D’Angelo contributed much more than a typical Simpsons guest, including writing multiple songs, and pitching jokes.

First appearances: Lurleen Lumpkin. This is also Homer’s first job outside the plant, and hilariously Mike Reiss was originally skeptical of giving a Homer a job for an episode.
Biggest Laugh: