So today’s a pretty momentous occasion for the Simpsons. This is a really big shift in the show, which up until this point was more or less pretty grounded in reality. Yeah, there was stuff that wasn’t too realistic, or that couldn’t have been done in a live action show, but at its core the Simpsons was a show set in a reality similar to ours. Besides the ‘Treehouse of Horror’ episode, nothing too crazy happened. And now Homer Simpson, a man who has previously been portrayed as too dumb to deal Blackjack, has been to space. Which isn’t a bad thing! The show still has some golden years ahead of it, but there’s a serious shift after this episode that will lead the show down some zany paths.
The episode starts off in a very different direction than it turns up at, with everyone at the Nuclear Plant heading to a mandatory employee of the week ceremony. And thankfully the security for this meeting is top notch, and we only see them let two people with guns and two children stacked on top of each other through the x-ray. We see that Lenny and Carl are pretty sick of this ceremony, since everyone has to win at least once according to the bylaws in the union, and they know it’s just a farce. However one person is excited, because he’s the last person in the whole Plant to win it. Of course it’s Homer. He’s very confident with his chances, and the whole group prepares to listen to Mr. Burns’ announcement. However before getting to the employee of the week announcement, he does one of my favorite Mr. Burns gags, talking about some crazy thing that he apparently has going on in the side. So Burns comes out on a balcony like he’s the Pope, and tells the crowd:
“Compadres, it is imperative that we crush the freedom fighters before the start of the rainy season! And remember: a shiny new donkey for whoever brings me the head of Colonel Montoya. [Smithers whispers to him] Hmm?… What?… Oh, and by that I mean, of course, it’s time for the “Worker of the Week Award”.
So great. Anyway, Burns gets to the worker of the week award and it turns out there’s a loophole to the bylines, and the award doesn’t go to Homer, it goes to an inanimate carbon rod. Which makes Homer pretty pissed.
So Homer comes home to tell the family all about his problems at work and his feelings of being unappreciated, and they just mock him while Bart writes “Insert Brain Here,” on the back of Homer’s head with a Sharpie. Homer’s mad and starts to watch TV to distract himself, unfortunately the only thing on is a NASA space launch, which is apparently the worst thing in the world to watch. Bart and Homer scramble to change the channel, but end up having to just unplug the TV. We then cut over to NASA headquarters where some officials are concerned about the American people’s complete lack of interest in the space program, as evidence by their not watching the launch. They need to find something to spark public interest, and since they’re not willing to let us know that all the apes they sent to space came back super-intelligent, they decide that they need to reinvent the idea of astronauts. They think that it’s time that astronauts became blue-collar average folks. So they turn on a TV and find that people love Homer Improvement and Married With Children, and decide they need a slob.
And just in time their conference room gets a call from Homer and Moe’s, who starts yelling at them for putting boring rocket launches on his precious TV. I love that the NASA official just asks Homer how he got their number, to which Homer yells at him to “shut up!” Homer then rants about being a blue-collar slob, and they decide he’s the right candidate. So they head off to Springfield and track his call to Moe’s. The NASA officials show up as Homer is prank calling President Clinton, and fearing he’s in trouble, Homer denies having made that earlier call, saying Barney did it. But when the officials then offer Barney a chance at being an astronaut, Homer admits he did it, and they end up taking both of them, after cracking them over the heads with a blackjack.
But before training the two men, NASA holds a press conference to announce their terrible idea. They explain they want to send the common man to space while having Homer dressed up as a BBQ chef and Barney as a golfer. And things don’t go off to a good start. Homer realizes that Planet of the Apes was set on Earth and loses his mind while Barney chugs Duffs and passes out drunk. So now that the important part is over, Homer and Barney actually start training. However they’re pretty concerned when they announce that they aren’t allowed to drink alcohol during the whole training period. We then cut over to the hotel that the Simpsons are staying in while Homer trains and we get a fun scene where Bart admits that he’s confused by his feelings about Homer being an astronaut. It’s like the opposite of shame, but not as far as pride. They settle on Less Shame.
Homer then shows up for training, confident that he has a leg up on Barney, but is shocked to see that even with just 24 hours of sobriety, Barney has become a very different man. He’s regained his intelligence, diction, and physical capabilities, and he’s taking the training very seriously. We then get a wonderful montage of Homer and Barney getting classic space training things, like the centrifuge, the lung capacity test, and the recreation of that crazy Star Trek fight complete with crazy music and a NASA worker saying the wonderful line “400 quatloo on the newcomer.” They also find out that whoever wins the contest will be going to space with Buzz Aldrin and a fake astronaut named Race Banyon. I love that Buzz Aldrin is super weird about being the second man on the moon, even though I know the commentary said he’s not like that in real life at all. Although it’s pretty clear from his other television appearances that Buzz Aldrin has a great sense of humor about himself. Anyway, turns out that Barney has won the contest, and they celebrate with some non-alcoholic champagne, which is still enough to cause Barney to revert back to his usual self before stealing a jetpack. He flies off in the air before smashing into the roof of a pillow factory, and being run over by a marshmallow truck. So with Barney…Dead? Whatever, with Barney gone, Homer gets to go to space!
But Homer starts to get pretty nervous about his space trip, which is understandable, especially when he sees an Itchy and Scratchy episode with the kids that’s space themed. It’s then time for him to board the shuttle, and he completely wigs out and runs off, but gets convinced to do it by Marge in a really touching scene. So Homer goes to space and the launch receives the highest ratings in years, since that’s all NASA really cares about. And things start going wrong almost immediately when Homer reveals he smuggled a bag of potato chips on the ship and opens them in zero gravity. So the chips starts floating around while Homer eats them in mid-air while the Blue Danube song from 2001 plays. But while Homer is soaring around stuffing his face, he accidently smashes into an ant-farm, releasing all the little insects into the ship.
The crew members freak out, trying to fix the ant problem when NASA brings James Taylor in to sing for them, which they don’t really have the time for, but it turns out James Taylor isn’t as laid back as you’d think, and he bullies them into listening to him. I love that he forgets some of the lyrics to ‘Fire and Rain.” Anyway, while all this ant nonsense is happening, Kent Brockman also calls the shuttle, ready for a video interview, but is shocked to see what appear to be giant ants crawling around before the footage cut out. This leads Brockman to assume they’re alien ants who are going to take over the world, and he quickly betrays humanity and swears fealty to the ants, complete with a graphic that pops up. But up in space things are getting even worse, because the ants are beginning to short out the computers, dooming the astronauts. James Taylor then suggest creating a vacuum, which they decide to do by opening the door of the shuttle. It works pretty well, but Homer wasn’t belted in and goes rocketing out of the shuttle. He saves himself by grabbing the handle to the door, breaking it. Buzz and Race drag him back into the ship, but they realize that they’ll die on re-entry with no door. But as Homer tries to beat up Banyon, he accidently seals the door with an inanimate carbon rod, and they’re able to safely get back to Earth. But as they land and the press is there to interview them, they decide the rod is the hero, and give it all the praise that should be Homers. So Homer heads back to Springfield to be a regular guy again, content in knowing that the family is proud of him, as shown by Bart writing “Hero” on the back of his head. The episode then ends with a wonderful reference of Bart throwing his marker in the air as it turns into the end of 2001 with a Homer Starchild.
This episode is bonkers. This was really the Simpsons first big jump into the deep end of being a crazy show. They’d tipped their toes in before, usually with silly little cut-away jokes like Mr. Burns having flying monkeys. But this was an episode where the entire plot revolved around Homer going to space. There wasn’t a grounded B-Plot, and it wasn’t a dream or anything. Homer Simpson literally went to space. It’s a pretty groundbreaking episode for the series and really changed its trajectory. There were certainly still more grounded, family oriented episodes in the seasons to come, but they also had to get crazier than sending Homer to space in some places. Going to space is a pretty dangerous prospect for a piece of fiction, it’s usually a sign of jumping the shark and reserved for Slasher villains and Roger Moore. But it works for the Simpsons, and thankfully wasn’t a foreboding sign of the end of quality for the show, just a sign that things are going to change a bit.
Take Away: It’s super easy to go to space, and prank calling people can sometimes really pay off.
“Deep Space Homer” was written by David Mirkin and directed by Carlos Baeza, 1994.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons