"Colonel Homer"(Season 3, Episode 20, originally aired March 26, 1992)
The Simpsons debuted as a working-class sitcom but after a certain point work became something of a hobby for Homer, something he could take or leave as he saw fit. Oh sure, Homer has that gig over at the Springfield Power Plant, but that hasn’t kept him from pursuing an endless string of unconventional jobs that run the gamut from astronaut to clown to mayoral bodyguard.
“Colonel Homer” represents one of the first times, if not thefirst time, Homer has pursued a profession outside nuclear power plant safety inspector. The show was inching slowly but surely out of its working-class milieu and into a more flexible mindset where Springfield and The Simpsons were whatever a specific gag called for at a given time.
The notion that Homer could evolve instantly into a Colonel Tom Parker figure via the right pristine white Nudie-style suit and cowboy hat is more than a little far-fetched but “Colonel Homer” traffics in very real emotions. The episode begins with a satirical trip to the multiplex where Homer subjects Marge to a dispiriting gauntlet of annoying movie-going behavior. He shakes his cup in an attempt to snag some errant ice. He gets confused, points out the obvious and impatiently inquires about pertinent plot points he wouldn’t miss if he’d paid attention and generally behaves like every moviegoer’s worst nightmare.
In this early setpiece, the show ratchets up the mundane irritations of the movie-going experience to comic effect. Finally Homer is so unbelievably irritating that Marge explodes in rage and essentially tells him to shut the fuck up. For all his oafishness, Homer is not a man devoid of pride. Nobody wants to be singled out for being an idiot, not even Homer.
An uncharacteristically restrained and thoughtful Homer tells Marge, “Marge, I have always carried myself with a certain quiet dignity. Tonight you robbed me of it” before heading out into the night to clear his head and work through his rage. Some killer sign gags ensue before Homer ends up at the kind of honky tonk where the featured attraction considers a gig a success if he leaves it with the same number of fingers and teeth he began it with.
Homer is instantly smitten by a waitress-turned-singer with the singularly unsexy name of Lurleen Lumpkin and a tear-in-your-beer voice and style that resonates so strongly with Homer that at the end of the night he tells her, “Your song touched me in a way nothing has before.” With considerably less drama, he then inquires, “And which way to the can?”
As you might imagine, the writers, particularly credited scribe Matt Groening, have a lot of fun at the expense of good honest god-fearing country folk, whether Lurleen is rattling off the titles of some of her songs (you most assuredly do not know her from such unrecorded ditties as “Don’t Look Down My Dress Unless You Mean It”, “I’m Basting a Turkey With My Tears” and “I’m Sick of Your Lying Lips and False Teeth”) or the writers are taxing their vivid imaginations thinking up an endless series of hillbilly-tastic players for a Hee Haw-style show that features Lurleen in her national television debut.
But if the show is predictably irreverent in its treatment of country music and especially the culture around it, it’s also refreshingly respectful towards country’s power to move people and stir people. Lurlene’s other-woman anthem “Your Wife Don’t Understand You” may be a parody but it also works as a straight-up country song, as do the other songs in the episode, some of which were written by Groening and the writers and some of which were written by Beverly D’Angelo, who doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the best and most memorable guest voice artists.
D’Angelo has to embody a tricky set of contradictions. She’s at once innocent and wicked, the girl-next-door and the tawdry honky tonk temptress. D’Angelo is more than up to the task. I never thought “dried bloody teeth” could sound so sweet. Lurleen also has to convincingly lust over Homer’s body; that’s a pretty tall order but D’Angelo pulls it off, just as she succeeds in making the character sympathetic against long odds.
For Lurleen desperately wants to sleep with her unlikely star-maker, much to Marge’s very public frustration. Thankfully Homer is too oblivious to Lurleen’s advances for her to be a threat. As the writers acknowledge, having Homer contemplate infidelity would render him fatally unsympathetic; Homer may not know much, but he knows he has a good thing going with Marge. That makes sense within the context of the show as a whole but I suspect that “Colonel Homer” would be even more moving if Lurleen represented more of an actual threat. Nevertheless that is a small complaint on what is otherwise a hilarious and poignant show. Toe-tapping, too.
In its own strange way, “Colonel Homer” respects the traditions and themes of country. Like the best country music, it’s all about love, marriage, fidelity, temptation and making the right choice between good and evil. It’s funny as hell while containing more than a little heartache.
- D’Angelo played Patsy Cline in Coal Miner’s Daughter. That’s what got her the gig here
- Lurleen ranks high in the list of sexiest Simpsons guest characters. Hummina, hummina. Aooga, aooga
- For someone who professes not to care for country music, Bart sure lays down a mean hambone solo
- “Marge, I have always carried myself with a certain quiet dignity. Tonight you robbed me of it”—such a great line
- “I guess that executive stress ball we got him for Christmas isn’t working.”
- “They don’t call me 'Colonel Homer' because I’m some dumb-ass army guy”
- “As much as I hate that man right now you’ve got to love that suit.” Who doesn’t love a Nudie suit? Again, for a boy who professes to hate country, Bart has a surprisingly nuanced appreciation of its history.
- I am a fan of the Yahoo Recovering Alcoholic Band
- “Buddy Holly stood on this very spot and said, 'There’s no way I’m going to record in this dump.'"
- On the audio commentary, the writers helpfully identify country legends “that jerk in the cowboy hat” and “that dead lady” as Garth Brooks and Patsy Cline respectively
- “My personal hygiene has been described as…”
- “Sweat actually cleans this suit.” If only all technology was developed specifically for Elvis
- “I thought they took that off the market after all those hillbillies went blind.”
- “Hey you, let’s fight!” “Them’s fighting words!”