11. Homer the Heretic
Season Four, Episode Three
Premiere Date: October 8, 1992
Writers’ Room: George Meyer, who at this point had already written stellar episodes like “Blood Feud” and “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington”, wrote Homer’s spiritually hedonistic chapter, but like most episodes of The Simpsons, it didn’t exactly start with him. Showrunner Al Jean came up with the idea while talking to his co-captain Mike Reiss, suggesting: “We had a lot of luck with Homer stealing cable, which was based on the eighth commandment, so maybe we could look to other commandments. So we thought, ‘Honor the Sabbath’ would be a good one. So the ‘Homer doesn’t go to church’ storyline was given to George Meyer.” Why Meyer? Well, he was a lapsed Catholic and Jean thought he could “bring the proper degree of rage.”
Essential Quote: “Boy, everyone is stupid except me,” Homer says shortly before burning down the house with a cigar. Classic moment, iconic line, Papa John’s.
D’oh! Moment: Right after Flanders heroically saves his life, Homer still tries to defend his church-less position by adding: “Flanders is a regular Charlie Church, and god didn’t save his house.” Immediately after saying this, a little rain cloud extinguishes the flames, leaving a cute, friendly rainbow. “D’oh!”, indeed.
Best Visual Gag: Oh, where to begin? There’s Homer’s “space-age, out-of-this-world moon waffles,” the random polar bear digging through the Simpson trash during the blizzard, the portly Risky Business nod, the entire ’70s cops and robbers car chase between Homer and Flanders that leads to Garbage Island, Apu’s shotgun-toting nephew Jamshed, and yes, those baby ducks that are so cute. But really, the most iconic visual gag here is Homer’s ensuing (albeit dreamy) conversations with God. Now, it should be noted that “Homer the Heretic” marks the first episode where the series worked with animation house Film Roman, who has remained on board ever since, and their work during these sequences, especially when married with the Alf Clausen’s Herrmann-esque score, is simply gorgeous. It’s also downright funny, especially when God says he’ll give Lovejoy a canker sore (and another one from Homer) and insists he has to go and “appear in a tortilla in Mexico.” What a guy!
Welcome to Springfield: What makes “Homer the Heretic” feel so timeless is how it’s so self-contained. There aren’t any special guests, there aren’t any new locations, it’s just a simple story that wrestles with simple ideas. As such, the only person who could be construed as “new” to Springfield here is … well, God himself. The Almighty (voiced by Harry Shearer) appears to Homer twice in this episode, and only through his dreams, which was something Meyer was very particular about in the writers’ room. He didn’t want to suggest that Homer was actually seeing visions from God, which probably explains why God is more or less a balmy, glowing version of our Sunday morning slacker. Hell, he even prefers a great game of football to a maudlin, snore-y sermon. Over the years, God has occasionally returned to “bless” The Simpsons — specifically, in episodes “Thank God, It’s Doomsday” and “Pray Anything” — and despite Meyer’s claims, Jean has gone on record saying, “The Simpsons is one of the few shows on TV where God is not only very real, but he’s a kind of vengeful Old Testament God.” Who knows what to believe!
Episode as a GIF: “We interrupt this public affairs program to bring you a football game.”
Analysis: Part of what makes “Homer the Heretic” so good is how it’s so relatable. Everyone has unanswered questions about the Big Man (or Big Woman) above and that extends to every kind of vocation, something Meyer subtly suggests by touching upon left-field oddities like Krusty’s humorously tragic Brotherhood of Jewish Clowns or Moe Szyslak’s dangerous devotion to snake handling. At the end of the day, though, you just have to be a good person and look out for your friends, family, and neighbors, which is about as timely of a message as you can get. Sacred themes and Hallmark feelings aside, “Homer the Heretic” is also just a smart and funny episode, leaning solely on the strengths of the show’s most basic fundamentals and allowing them to carry the entire weight of the story from beginning to end. It’s a divine slice of primetime television.