So far in this list of the ten most fascinating original characters in animation history, we have seen a little boy, Norman from ParaNorman, animated using very advanced, gorgeous, stop-motion animation and a far-out space ranger, Buzz Lightyear, a character from the first fully computer animated feature whose design and overall character appeal continues to dazzle audiences twenty years later. However, number 8 on the list did not enter the spotlight in such an aesthetically appealing fashion. D’oh!
NUMBER 8: Homer Simpson
(The Tracy Ullman Show, The Simpsons, The Simpsons Movie, 1987 – Current)
The Simpsons, which began as a short segment on The Tracy Ullman show in 1987, has gone on to become the longest running American sitcom, longest running animated series and longest running scripted television series. It is currently in its 26th season and there is certainly no denying the fascination audiences have with this show. How much of that intrigue belongs to the patriarch of the Simpsons family? In his own words, “Simpson! Homer Simpson! He’s the greatest guy in history. From the town of Springfield, he’s about to hit a chestnut tree!”
Forgive what I know is going to be a lot of Homer quotes because he is one of the most quotable people in all of history. He is right up there with Churchill and Shakespeare (but, truthfully, their similarities end there.) So, what do I, and millions of viewers, over the last several decades find so fascinating about Homer Simpson? Especially since he was purposely designed to be generic in many ways: overweight, low intellect, not motivated by any serious desires or dreams. And yet he draws us in.
Homer is like a paradox—he is an everyman. We don’t want to be Homer, but we see ourselves in him. As he says, “It’s funny cause it’s true.” We see ourselves in his flaws—his laziness, overindulgence, incompetence. Then we are surprised and delighted to see things work out for him. At this point, I should admit that I watched The Simpsons religiously for 10 seasons, but really checked out after the disturbing death of Maude Flanders. (It’s not that, that moment was particularly incendiary, it just stands as a marker for me of a pretty significant shift in Simpsons writing. I can quote pretty much every episode before that and almost none after it.) For those first 10 seasons, however, the writers of this fantastic show gave the audience a hilarious, meaningful script week-in-and-week-out that balanced the tightrope of ridiculous and realistic with Homer being the ringleader of the circus.
In one of my favorite episodes, Homer’s Enemy, from season 8, Frank Grimes becomes incensed by Homer’s long list of accomplishments—going to space, touring with the Smashing Pumpkins, befriending President Ford—despite his obvious ineptitude. It was certainly the writers’ and creators’ way of commenting on their own absurdity in having such a seemingly uninspiring character achieve so much. The darkness of that episode only further illustrates the fascinating reality of Homer Simpson: he is an enigma—you can not sum his character up into a basic list of personality traits and motivations.
Homer’s fascinating nature emanates from him as a real person. He was designed, written and acted as someone whom you learn to empathize with and then…love. He may say things like, “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try,” or “Don’t eat me. I have a wife and kids. Eat them,” but we love him anyway. Or maybe we love him because he says stuff like that! Yes, that’s it. But, what sense does that make? To me, it makes all the sense in the world.
Without The Simpsons, my sense of humor—nay, my sense of self—would not be what it is today. That sounds hyperbolic, but I really did draw such a large amount of influence from the lessons of that show that it is not a stretch to deem them as my adolescent role models. That is precisely why I was so over-it when the writing shifted to a more predictably lowest-common-denominator kind of show. In Seasons 1-10, The Simpsons, and Homer Simpson personally, seemed idiotic on the surface, but anyone who watched as I did (or knew Homer personally in the show) recognized such depth and heart that the initial appearance only added to the irony of the profundity of the episodes and character.
In some ways, it doesn’t seem fair to compare a character from a show that has run for so many years to animated films that are 90 minutes long, but I argue that from the go, Homer was one of the most fascinating characters. He embodies the average Joe in a more entertaining and endearing way than any other sitcom dad in history. I could watch a video of him just sitting there, blinking and staring for probably twenty minutes because I can imagine what hysterical things are going on in his head (“All right, brain. You don’t like me and I don’t like you, but let’s just do this and I can get back to killing you with beer”).
Homer has been an astronaut, an actor, a bartender, a blackjack dealer, a bodyguard, a bowling alley employee, a boxer, a clown, a football coach, a food critic, a car designer, a chauffeur, a snow plow driver, a farmer, a fisherman, a fast-food worker, a garbage commissioner, a grease collector, an inventor, a mascot, a monorail conductor, a musician, a personal assistant, a police officer, a principal, a sailor, a smuggler, a soldier, a town crier, a voice actor, a webmaster, and a whole lot more. Yet, as Frank Grimes (may he rest in peace) could not wrap his electrocuted head around, Homer is not defined by the long list of career opportunities he has stumbled into, but by the likable, indefinably fascinating character that he is. “Ohhhh! Look at me Marge, I’m making people Happy! I’m the magical man, from Happy Land, who lives in a gumdrop house on Lolly Pop Lane!!!!…… By the way I was being sarcastic…”
A few HS quotes for the road:
- “Homer no function beer well without.”
- “Fame was like a drug, but what was even more like a drug were the drugs.”
- “Awww, twenty dollars? I wanted a peanut.”
- “Back you robots! Nobody ruins my family vacation except me…and maybe the boy!”
- “But, Marge, what if we picked the wrong religion? Each week, we just make God madder and madder.”
- “Extended warranty! How can I lose?”
- “Do you want to change your name to Homer Junior? The kids can call you Hoju.”
- “Then I figured out we could just stick them in front of the TV. That’s how I was raised, and I turned out TV.”
I could go on and on and on, but let’s just leave it at if you haven’t watched the first 10 seasons of The Simpsons and gotten to know the unexplainably intriguing character voiced by the exceedingly talented Dan Castellaneta, Homer Simpson, get on it. He is awesome and he unquestionably belongs on this list.
Stay tuned for number 7, coming soon to an internet near you!