The Simpsons, Season Five, Episode Nine, “The Last Temptation Of Homer”Homer’s most sympathetic trait is his passionate love for his family, and this episode is one of his best expressions of that by throwing in a challenge to it. Obviously, he’s gonna stay with Marge, but the crew, from writer to animator to Dan Castellanetta sell us on Homer’s genuine torment over his attraction to Mindy, the new woman at work. It’s a surprisingly internal plot for a Simpsons episode, especially in this particular wackier era, looking at Homer’s problem entirely from his perspective (Mindy is an elaborate plot device, not a character, though she’s a pretty funny one and occasionally a delightfully whimsical weirdo pokes out from behind her plot necessity). This is more about Homer, and once again, he is a creature ruled by his feelings.
I’m actually charmed by the maturity and wisdom of Homer’s decision-making throughout the story – perhaps, a minor side effect of the show’s bitter-with-conservatism attitude, genuinely believing in some level of the idea of the nuclear family, and so even Homer, selfish and irresponsible as he is, will not impulsively throw away his marriage with even a conversation? Whatever the reason, while Homer will not actively work to keep his marriage together, he’ll also not actively flout it, and is happy to recognise that his attraction to Mindy is purely physical and not based on a shared worldview, which is a step above your average Nice Guy mentality (which often projects a shared worldview onto superficial attraction).
(I often worry about bringing up gender relations and cultural expectations of them because I genuinely find it interesting – as I do cultural expectations of platonic male/female relationships, and male/male and female/female relationships – but there’s the fear of being simultaneously Too Progressive for some people and Not Going Too Far Progressive Enough for others. I follow the show’s example and go with my heart – I genuinely find the show’s treatment of the subject interesting)
I think that’s what makes me love this episode so much – Homer keeps making the right choice every step of the way, only to have it all go wrong. It’s that old theme of the show popping up again: what seems like the clear moral path is also often the hardest. Homer makes the right decision over and over – approaching Mindy to dispel his romanticised image of her, trying to focus on his family – only to find it keeps not working, until Homer breaking down in the hotel room makes perfect sense because it really feels like Homer cheating on his wife is an inevitability. It’s a feeling that’s bigger than Homer and Marge’s relationship, or even the relationships between men and women – the feeling that we’re slaves to our emotions, even when they lead us down a path we know is wrong.
But those same feelings are what saves the day. Mindy asks Homer to look into his heart, and he does, and he chooses Marge. A more weakly plotted episode could have made this feel like an obvious cheat, but the episode worked so hard to sell us on Homer’s torment that this feels like a genuine choice on Homer’s part, as if he really could have chosen Mindy but chose Marge instead. However much he wanted Mindy, it wasn’t as much as he wanted Marge. Once again, I have to question the judgement of people who thought this show was immoral; I can’t imagine a more moral choice.
Next to this, the story of Bart feels either slight or like a welcome reprieve. It’s not so much a plot as it is the generation of absurdity, vaguely waving at the idea of fixing Bart’s school troubles before leaning into turning him into a nerd. I enjoy that most of the nerdy hobbies are now, if not mainstream, at least not consigned to hidden dungeons, as if we can use this episode as a capsule for the transformation of geek culture from caves in 1993 to geek chic in 2018. I also love the final twist that no, the bullies just love beating on someone.
Chalkboard Gag: All work and no play makes Bart a dull boy.
Couch Gag: The family sit in the set of Dave Letterman’s show
This episode was written by Frank Mula and directed by Carlos Baeza. The episode did not get as many laughs as usual at the test screening, which showrunner David Mirkin believed was because the episode required subtle animation to get laughs. I complain about Mindy not really being a character, but in the initial storyboards, Mindy came off as much flirtier, which Mirkin worked to downplay because he wanted to keep the characters sympathetic – that Mindy isn’t a homewrecker, but someone as conflicted as Homer.
Michelle Pfeiffer guest stars as Mindy, and she and Mirkin were equally intimidated. She ended up a good sport about the whole thing, clicking straight into their vibe, and the final scene was done with very little direction. Werner Klemperer guested as an angel taking the form of Colonel Klink, and having not played the character in twenty years, needed coaching from Mirkin to remember him. It was actually his last television role!
I remember as a teenager having a huge crush on a girl but choosing not to act on it because I had never spoken to her and had no reason to believe we shared interests or goals in life. Was I influenced by this episode? Interesting to consider, impossible to say. I do, however, think this show directly influenced my expectation that the world would be wackier than it generally is (“Kids, did anyone pray for giant shoes?” is the kind of joke that wormed its way into my brain).
Homer hallucinates Mindy as the painting The Birth Of Venus. Burns apparently tried to make flying monkeys a la The Wizard Of Oz. Homer’s vision of life without Marge references Hogan’s Heroes, It’s A Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Carol. For some reason, part of Homer’s attempt to think unsexy thoughts includes Barney singing the theme from I Dream Of Jeannie. When Homer realises his hand is smudged, he ends up reading out a Japanese Buddhist chant, which is a reference to a strip from Life Is Hell. He quips he’s ‘sweating like Roger Ebert’. Homer sings a version of “Mandy” as “Mindy”. Homer references newspaper strip Ziggy. “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love” by Barry Manilow comes back.
Iconic Moments: 2 “I got this friend, named… uh… Joey… JoJo… Junior… Shabadoo?” | “All I’m gonna use this bed for is sleeping, eating, and maybe building a little fort!” | “Continue the research,” is another one of those lines that isn’t iconic but I always felt really should be.