(originally aired October 18, 1990)
Episodes like these are the reason I’m doing this massive re-watch. There are plenty of classic Simpsons episodes that I vaguely remember parts of, but definitely warrant another refresher. Last season we got a good sense of Homer as a family man, but here we get a look at Homer the man, and his feelings concerning his job and his station in life. For a man of 36 (!), baldness is a mighty sting for Homer, but he is in shock of a new “miracle breakthrough” being advertised on TV: a hair-growth product Dimoxinil’ Unfortunately, it carries a heavy price tag of a thousand bucks. However, figuring how to slip it under the radar of the power plant’s health insurance plan, he gets himself a kit, and after one day of caressing and primping his scalp, he awakens with a full head of bushy, unkempt hair. It’s Homer’s unabashed, child-like enthusiasm that really make you completely invested in the character. He runs out of the house and throughout the town bidding one and all a good morning, Jimmy Stewart-style. He even encounters a fellow newly saved soul doing the very same thing: one look at each others’ new hair growth leads them to cry out “Dimoxinil!” and they have a warm embrace.
This episode also features the first look at the dynamic between Mr. Burns and Smithers. Burns may be a cruel, heartless bureaucrat, but he’s also easily dissuaded. I wouldn’t say naive, but at times he sees what he wants to see, projecting his own views on others even if they’re not there. In this case, Burns lays down an arbitrary promotion to Homer, purely based on his new luscious locks. Later in a staff meeting, he calls upon Homer for his ideas, and out of Homer’s nervous ramblings about tartar sauce portions, he surmises that “a happy worker is a busy worker” and that keeping the mindless drones well fed will make them more productive. In one of the best Burns lines ever, he concludes with a dark undertone, “Let the fools have their tar-tar sauce.” Smithers is, as we’ve seen, Burns’ doting boot-licker, but we start getting hints of his deeper affections to his boss as he becomes frustrated at Burns’ growing liking toward Homer. He may be demeaned and under appreciated in his line of work, but it’s where he belongs, it’s who he is.
With his new job title, Homer finds himself an assistant, the sage-like Karl voiced by a gravely Harvey Fierstein. Karl’s character may be somewhat dubious, as his only purpose in life seems to be pep-talking middle-aged men less qualified than him, but he works because his actions and affections toward Homer feel so sincere. Some of his lines are funny just by the level of intensity Fierstein brings to them. Smithers uncovers Homer’s Dimoxinil purchase under the plant’s insurance (Homer’s brilliant cover for the expense was “to keep brain from freezing”), but Karl ends up taking the fall. When Smithers asks him what he cares if Homer is bald, he responds, “My reasons… are my own.” It may be the best line in the whole show; Karl is such an enigmatic character, a Magical Negro-type, except of questionable sexuality. When he returns to help a newly bald Homer one last time, he attempts to instill confidence back in Homer, claiming “my mother told me never to kiss a fool!” right before laying a big one onto a stunned Homer. That may be the first real gay kiss ever seen in animation, or even in primetime (outside a crossdressing Bugs smooching Elmer Fudd, of course). It’s a real nice, ballsy moment, wonderfully concluded with the equally subtly pat on the ass Karl gives Homer on his way out.
In typical Simpsons fashion, we follow an emotional realization to a backhanded climax. Even with his bravado restored, and with Karl’s flashcards that have some actually well-thought out and valid proposals for the plant, no one will give Homer the time of day due to his newly recovered baldness. Burns is incised, but in a great, true-to-character bit, his rage is softened by his connection to Homer’s plight of male-pattern baldness, thus he gives him his old job back. It’s a great, rollicking road right back where we started, ending with a Homer and Marge moment that would be cliche and corny in any other show, but thanks to the strength of the characters and the performances, feels like such a sweet and real end to a great episode.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The Dimoxinil commercial is a great and quick parody of these kind of miracle remedy commercials, with the balding man walking on the beach with a pensive look on his face. “Today, I’m gonna do it.”
– I love the Dimoxinil salesman’s alternate option for Homer: Hair in a Drum (“I must assure you that any hair growth you experience while using it will be purely coincidental.”)
– We’ve seen Lenny and Carl, Homer’s work buddies, in the first season, but here’s where they first start to take shape and resemble their modern-day selves. Lenny’s defense of Homer using the plant’s insurance plan is pretty great: “Why should you get nothing, while some guy who loses a finger hits the jackpot?” Homer muses that $1000 is a lot to bilk the company out of, to which Lenny scoffs that Burns won’t be able to afford another ivory back-scratcher. This leads to a great callback when Smithers alerts Burns to the purchase, to which Burns angrily murmurs about wanting to have purchased said item.
– Homer’s ever-changing hairstyles throughout the episode are really fun; the progression of 80s and 90s hairdos is like a timeline through the show, but also like Homer trying out all the styles he missed out on during his life of baldness.
– I love the executive washroom juxtaposed with the shitty, uncleaned normal bathroom, a great parallel between the two classes.
– There’s a great transition from the tiled floor of the washroom panning and dissolving to the paneled windows outside the plant, building Smithers’ frustration and finding Homer’s secret. Between stuff like this and what we saw last episode, I’d forgotten how creatively directed this show used to be. In more recent years, we’d only get interesting stuff like this if the show was doing a parody, in which case it would just be straight mimicry of the source material.
– So many great Karl lines… but aside from “my reasons are my own,” I love his speech to Homer on why he took the fall: “Have I done something extraordinary here today? No. I did what I was born to do, what any good soldier would have done if a live grenade threatened his commander: I threw myself upon it, and bore its terrible brunt!” Such intensity.
– Great stuff with Homer’s rage against Bart after spilling his Dimoxinil: his strangling is cut short by Bart telling his father he loves him (“Dirty trick.”) Collecting himself, Homer tells his son three things he hopes will harm him more than his hands around his throat: “You’ve ruined your father, you’ve crippled your family, and baldness is hereditary!” Following this is a truly high moment for Homer as he kneels over on the floor trying to sop up the spilled formula in his hair, sobbing uncontrollably (says Lisa, “Dad is taking this in a less than heroic fashion.”)