“King-Size Homer” (season seven, episode seven; originally aired 11/5/1995)
In which Homer can—nay must—eat everything he’s always wanted…
There aren’t many positive portrayals of weight gain in pop culture. (Realistic portrayals of overweight people, however, is a different matter.) It’s a cultural thing: Fat is something you’re supposed to cut out; obesity is “epidemic.” Conforming to insane standards of weight and beauty requires strict discipline and tremendous exertion, but that state is sold as one of eternal bliss. On that count alone, “King-Size Homer” is unique: Homer Simpson is ecstatic about gaining an extra 61 pounds and keeping it on. As a comedic subject, tipping the scales is typically cause for alarm and/or exercise montages. “King-Size Homer” kills because it’s so giddy about going in the opposite direction.
Not that it wants to encourage this kind of behavior. The key to the episode’s point of view is in its title. In a DVD commentary, Bill Oakley recalls the debate over what “King-Size Homer” was going to be called. “We wanted to make him sound proud,” Oakley says, and so the episode’s protagonist shares a descriptor that calls to mind luxurious mattress dimensions and generous candy portions. It’s perfect for the character and the story: Only Homer Simpson would want to emulate the (lethal) lifestyle of Honda-riding Guinness Book Of World Records favorites Billy and Benny McCrary. His enthusiasm about bilking the system by indulging his most basic instincts—hunger, laziness—imbues “King-Size Homer.”
The quality of “King-Size Homer” is all the more remarkable for being a long-time Simpsons staffer’s initial crack at scripting the show. Recruited by Bill Oakley, Dan Greaney took first draft of the episode, any review of which threatens to devolve into a laundry list of out-of-context quotes. (A few, because I’m not a complete killjoy: “I wash ma-self with a rag on a stick!” “I don’t want to look like a weirdo—I’ll just go with the muumuu.” “‘To start, press any key.’ Where’s the ‘Any’ key?”) The episode rushes into a save-the-day finale that’s at odds with what comes before it, but Greaney’s first effort is still a Simpsons classic, with some evident assists from the veterans who’d brought him aboard: The “get fatter and work from home” concept came from co-showrunner Oakley, while the product names in the shopping montage (“TUBBB!”; “Uncle Jim’s Country Fillin’” with the instructions “Just squeeze ’n’ swallow!”) have the fingerprints of George Meyer (or a George Meyer-esque sensibility, at least) all over them. TUBBB! especially has the simple, surrealist spirit of Meyer’s Army Man magazine, for which the more concise a joke was, the better. By leaving the contents of TUBBB! a complete mystery, two seconds of screen time open a whole world of joyous gluttony.
“King-Size Homer” manages to pack a lot of action into a story that’s all about inaction. Look at it this way: The episode requires Homer to sit on his duff all day, working toward the goals of disability compensation and a minute-long commute. The whole episode could be characterized by sloth, but director Jim Reardon took care to keep the energy up, up, UP!, capturing the old-timey pep of Mr. Burns’ calisthenics classes and making Homer’s fat fantasy self (fat-assy self?) light on his feet. With the Simpsons’ backyard tango and Homer’s slide through the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, the whole episode has such a fantastic sense of motion that the climactic race to the power plant only feels out of place because it raises the stakes so drastically and suddenly. It comes across as if the writers felt they’d backed themselves into a corner, but the sight of Homer zooming by Otto’s bus (instantly contradicting Lisa’s argument that her father isn’t “some kind of food-crazed maniac”) fits the episode just right. It’s a supremely silly half-hour of The Simpsons, and the forward momentum that carries it to conclusion makes all that silliness worth it.
Because let’s not kid ourselves: If you love this episode, part of that love is grounded in seeing Homer in garish floral print and “fat guy hat.” It’s one of the series’ most distinctive one-off character designs, and it’s so keenly observed. Having entered the same weight class as Dom DeLuise and Paul Prudhomme, Homer adopts the same type of white, flat cap favored by both the actor and the celebrity chef. It’s a gag that nods toward the pop-culture junkies in the audience while also serving as a hilarious visual non sequitur for those not in the know. Once Homer’s weight gain is complete, “King-Size Homer” knows how to make a temporary transformation into a memorable punchline. When Homer dons a regal cape in order to catch a matinee screening of Honk If You’re Horny, his weight-gain scheme hits peak lunacy. He truly looks like the maniac his daughter swears he isn’t, and the desire at the core of his scheme (maximum laziness) puts all of Springfield in danger.
That’s the main reason I feel like the ending of “King-Size Homer” is a bit of a cheat. For most of its running length, the episode is a personal story, a “be careful what you wish for” scenario that’s fundamentally Homer. To throw the scope so wide undercuts what’s essentially a solo showcase for Dan Castellaneta and his signature character; the middle portions of the episode are practically nothing but Homer talking to himself, and that doesn’t hurt “King-Size Homer” a bit. Homer’s most important victories never involve saving Springfield from utter destruction (or fighting for the dignity of the overweight)—they involve the kind of realizations he has when he glances at Marge after Burns’ “potential Chernobyl into a mere Three Mile Island” commendation. “King-Size Homer” works because it never sits in direct judgment of the character’s selfish behavior. Bringing Homer to that realization without sacrificing any energy is more important that all that.
- Coincidentally, Dan Greaney’s first new Simpsons script in four years, “Diggs,” debuts the same day as this review. Spooky!
- This week in Simpsons signage: Homer tries to combat a shift in attitude toward hitchhikers, but doesn’t quite finish the job:
- Dr. Nick offers some sound dietary advice: “And remember, if you’re not sure about something, rub it against a piece of paper. If the paper turns clear, it’s your window to weight gain!”
- The farmer whose crops are ruined by the power plant’s radioactive gas teaches us that the Newman’s Own organization is powered by charity and intimidation: “Aw no, the corn! Paul Newman’s gonna have my legs broke.”
- Because the episode never goes for the obvious jokes about Homer’s weight, the disapproval of Joan “The Voice Of Voicemail” Kenley truly scores: “The fingers you have used to dial are too fat. To obtain a special dialing wand, please mash the keypad with your palm now.”
- We have some shakeups coming to the Simpsons (Classic) rotation, but I’ll be back next week for “Mother Simpson.” Until then: Bye-bye everybody!