(originally aired May 4, 1997)
Oh man, is there a lot to say about this one. “Homer’s Enemy” has always been, and still remains one of my favorite episodes the show has ever done, but it’s incredibly unique, and an interesting prelude for a lot of the content and tone of the later episodes. Homer’s stupidity, dimwitted nature and bravado are ramped up to a ridiculous degree in this show, but within a specific context where it makes sense, but much of said behavior would bleed into his regular personality later on. But let’s set the stage first. The power plant has a new hire: self-made man Frank Grimes, a sort of normal, no-nonsense kind of guy. He’s instantly put off by Homer’s laziness, oafish demeanor, and disregard for reading labels on lunch bags. It isn’t long before he openly says to his face that he hates him and that they’re enemies. This deeply affects Homer, who does his best to try to get Grimey in his good graces, but all he does seems to aggravate him further. Grimes attempts to humiliate Homer by tricking him into entering a children’s modeling contest, but it completely backfires when he wins and is applauded for it. Past his breaking point, Grimes snaps and runs about the plant mimicking Homer’s careless behavior, ending with him grasping electrical cords without safety gloves, resulting in his demise.
The alleged idea of the episode is that Frank Grimes represents someone from the “real” world who finds himself in the bizarre town of Springfield. It totally makes sense, Grimes feels and sounds unlike any other character we’ve seen. Hank Azaria gives an absolutely stunning performance, the voice and design have shades of Michael Dougles from the great movie Falling Down, of just this regular guy who is moments from being pushed over the edge. He’s right up there with Hank Scorpio for best one-off character ever. So Homer is a man of unbelievable incompetence and stupidity, yet he’s the safety inspector at a nuclear power plant, a position where he could ultimately doom the entire town. That’s one of the overall running jokes of the series, but here it’s shone upon more, as it would with any one of us seeing this in action in real life. The point is for all his great qualities, at the workplace, we would be put off by a guy like Homer. A man who should have been killed dozens of times by now by his own ignorance should not be in that position.
So along with his slacking off at work, Homer is much more absent-mindedly annoying in this episode, stealing all of Grimes’ pencils, loitering at his workstation, and so forth. He’s almost like a caricature of himself, but in this episode it makes sense because that’s what he’s called on to be. It’s all the negative aspects of Homer all at the forefront from Grimes’ perspective to drive him absolutely bananas. The issue here, of course, is that I guess the writers loved this episode just as much as we did, but figured they could continue some of these traits into later episodes. And so, from here on out, slowly but surely we get more jokes of Homer being unabashedly dumb, thoughtless, careless, being pompous, and just being an overall cartoon of his previous self. Him talking to his photo of Lenny as if he were the genuine article really felt like a latter-day joke, amongst other similar bits. The good folks at Dead Homers also pointed out a particularly striking line: during his freakout, Grimes madly remarks, “I’m better than okay. I’m Homer Simpson!” To which Homer coyly responds, “You wish!” Homer may be a man comfortable with his lot in life, but he’s well aware that he’s just an average schmoe. His great achievements and accolades over the series’ run are contrasted with this, and that’s why they’re funny; Homer never acknowledges how amazing all these things are. But in later seasons, he seems almost aware of how great his life has been, thinking that he deserves things, and worst of all, thinking that he’s somebody. And worse off, when times call for it, he becomes a celebrated town hero (a la winning the model contest), instead of a barely-tolerated working schmuck. Former Homer was more thrilled over a tray of brownies than meeting George Harrison. Two seasons from now, he cozies up to Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger in a matter of seconds. I don’t know to what degree this episode was a specific catalyst, but it does feel like it.
But despite any and all visions of doom, “Homer’s Enemy” on its own is absolutely brilliant. The idea of a real man’s frustration over Homer’s relatively easy road through life is pretty sharp, and executed splendidly. The best scene is when Homer invites Grimes to the Simpson home to hope to smooth things over, which ultimately makes things worse when it only illuminates more wonderful things about his life. Again, Azaria is frigging amazing as Grimes, absolutely shocked and bewildered at what’s before him, which then transitions into anger. There’s plenty of other great gags about, like Lenny and Carl’s cavalier attitude toward Homer (“That’s the man who’s in charge of our safety? It boggles the mind!” “It’s best not to think about it,”) the new executive vice president… who’s a dog, and the other kids at the model contest. There’s also a side story involving Bart mistakenly getting an abandoned warehouse, and he and Milhouse using it as their extremely dangerous playhouse. It’s amusing if not disposable, but it actually does play into the main story in a good way. Everything about Homer’s life is seemingly perfect, but Bart is a bit of a gray area. So now, irrepressible hellion becomes young entrepreneurial factory owner in Grimes’ eyes. So, in summation, “Homer’s Enemy” is fucking amazing and an inventive, solid episode. It’s just what followed in its footsteps that I got issues with.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Grimes’ life could not have been worse. Abandoned by his parents as a child (who I suppose were shooting footage from the back of their car), he spent his youth delivering toys to more fortunate kids. Then as a young man, he was greatly injured in a silo explosion (as we see, he was just running by said silo, and just when he got into its general vicinity… BOOM). He studied science by mail in his spare minutes of each day, and eventually got his correspondent’s in nuclear physics, “with a minor in determination.”
– Great character bit of Frank wiping his hand on his pants before going to shake hands. A small thing like that tells a lot about a character instantly.
– Love how even Burns is swayed by television fluff pieces: one day he’s swayed by Grimes’ story, the next of a particularly heroic dog (“He pulled a toddler from the path of a speeding car, then pushed a criminal in front of it!”) The dog in fact becomes his “executive vice president,” getting a sash to that effect, is heard chewing out (or barking, rather) Grimes in Burns’ office, and also attends his funeral.
– Homer aggravates Grimes instantly, admiring one of his personally mongrammed pencils, knocking the coffee cup full of them over. I love how freaked out Grimes is over this.
– Always loved Homer claimed he had no idea what a “nuclear panner plant” was, then Grimes gives an unsure forced laugh, unable to determine if it was a joke or not.
– More great Hank Azaria as the fast-talking auctioneer.
– Grimes notices alarms at Homer’s workstation, informing him it’s a 513. Homer checks his watch. Grimes explains it’s a 513 procedural. Homer checks his watch again. When he finally registers there’s an issue, Homer returns to his workstation, pours a bucket of water on the console, frying it, “solving” the problem. Grimes watches from the window mouth agape.
– Grimes is bewildered at how cavalier Homer can act after almost just drinking a beaker of sulfuric acid. The blank, grinning look on his face is so hysterical, and that one shot so summarizing of the episode, that there was no question what the header picture for this review would be.
– Homer goes to Moe for advice on having an enemy and reveals his own enemies list, but Barney points out it’s just the same one as Richard Nixon’s. Moe suggests that Homer invite Grimes to dinner to sway his anger, and then, bam! Fork in the eye. Homer asks if it would work without that last part, to which Moe supposes it could.
– Everything about the almost dinner scene is fantastic: the dishelved Grimes at the door, his slow registration of Homer’s lavish living space, revealing he lives above a bowling alley and below another bowling alley, and the piling on of Homer’s accolades to further infuriate him (“I’ve had to work hard every day of my life, and what do I have to show for it? This briefcase and this haircut!”) Homer is nervous, but still clueless (“I’m saying you’re what’s wrong with America, Simpson. You coast through life, you do as little as possible, and you leech off of decent, hardworking people like me. If you lived in any other country in the world, you’d have starved to death long ago.”)
– I love Homer’s attempt to look professional, with his Mr. Good Employee poster and eating donuts with a fork and knife, and insistence that he continue his conversation with Grimes during the designated work period (“Sincerely, Homer Simpson.”) Grimes is not swayed.
– Excellent foreshadowing when Grimes claims he could die a happy man if he could prove to everyone that Homer is a moron. Guess that didn’t work out so well.
– The only great bit of note from the B-story is Milhouse’s interpretation of night watchman when Bart returns to find the warehouse collapsed (“I saw the whole thing. First it started falling over, then it fell over.”) Then all the rats flurry into Moe’s (“Okay, everybody tuck your pants into your sock!”)
– The modelling contest is a great scene. First up is Ralph with a Malibu Stacy dream house, which Smithers is of course impressed by, but Burns not so much (“Hot tub? Media room? It’s supposed to be a power plant, not Aunt Beaulah’s bordello!”) Martin provides an extremely impressive design, which happens to actually generate power, but Burns isn’t so receptive (“Too cold and sterile. Where’s the heart!”) Then we have Homer, with an extremely crude model. Grimes cries out about the ridiculousness of the scenario, but is shushed. Homer points out how he copied the existing plant, added fins to the cooling towers for “wind resistence,” and added a sharp racing stripe. Burns is sold: first prize. “But it was a contest for children!” “Yeah, and Homer beat their brains out!” Mass applause. It’s the perfect absurd catalyst for Grimes to go mad.
– Grimes’ freakout is astounding, and oh so quotable (“I’m peeing on the seat! Give me a raise!”) The animation, Azaria’s performance, everyone else just following Grimes silently, the uncomfortableness of it really plays, that this is a man who’s truly lost it (“Hello, Mr. Burns! I’m the worst worker in the world! Time to go home to my mansion and eat my lobster!”)
– I love not even in death can Grimes catch a break, that in the eulogy Lovejoy remarks that “Grimey” was a preferrable nickname.