Episode 3 - Homer the Heretic
23 February 2012
Synopsis: Homer decides to stay home from church on a particularly cold Sunday morning. While Marge, the children and the congregation freeze, Homer has the best day of his life. He vows never to go to church again and a visit from God (in a dream) affirms this decision. Marge is increasingly worried about Homer and the affect his behaviour is having on the children. The Flanders family also get involved in trying to win him back. Homer refuses to relent though and while snoozing the next Sunday he accidentally sets fire to the house.
The Good: This episode taps into a specific attitude to religion in the West with real skill. There are two sides to the episode: the plot and the wider exploration of the issue.
The plot is good and finds a really enjoyable comic tone as Homer suddenly benefits from not going to church. The contrast between his blissful carefree privacy and the freezing church service was amusingly drawn out. The writers abandon subtlety to good effect as Homer makes himself a disgusting breakfast and exclaims "Mmmm fattening." He then settles down in front of the television to receive this ludicrous announcement "We interrupt this public affairs programme to bring you...a football game." Meanwhile the church service is dull and Bart and Lisa are so cold that the description of hell's molten sulphur begins to sound appealing.
Homer's attitude to religion naturally causes problems for Marge because it sends the children conflicted messages. Bart underscores this danger by cheering on Homer's defence of his actions using evangelical cheers and waves of approval for good measure. Marge continues to argue with him, Reverend Lovejoy tries to persuade him and the Flanders family chase him around singing cheesy church songs.
Throughout this time Homer's behaviour, though understandable, is coated with selfishness. A particularly good bit of writing sees Marge having to clean gunk off of the waffle press while arguing with Homer. The point is clear - Homer is selfish and lazy and his stance has nothing to do with genuine belief. His dream about God was pretty funny and of course managed to support his agenda entirely. Homer's slovenly behaviour led to him setting the house on fire and it was left to the Christian kindness of Ned Flanders to save him (including a hilarious rescue scene where Homer managed to bounce back into the burning house after Ned had saved him). So Homer agrees that staying home isn't the right thing to do and returns to church. But true to who he is the final shot is off him sleeping through the service. He is no more devoted than he was but he accepts that it's something he should do for his own good.
The story is well told and neatly deals with Homer's attempt to get out of a boring obligation while ultimately restoring the status quo. However it's the specific exploration of Western attitudes to church and religion that make this episode stand out. Religion is of course a sensitive topic and it would be difficult for beloved non-animated characters to explore the issue as thoroughly as Homer can here. It's a situation which the writers admirably take advantage of and they outline the casual Christian's attitude to religion perfectly. Homer argues that going to church is a boring, formal waste of time. He argues that being a good person and family man is surely all that can be asked of him. He even throws in a bit of doubt about whether all the details of the Christian faith are necessarily accurate to help back up his argument about not attending church. The fact that God agrees with this informal view of the faith is the height of the satire. Homer manages to turn God himself into a laid back good guy who is relaxed about rules and regulations. He has managed to reinterpret Christianity to fit his circumstances in a way which allows him not to expend any effort on it.
As the story is told I think it manages to both agree with and mock Homer at the same time. By airing Homer's views there is undoubtedly a critique of the formal and dull aspects of church. Yet Homer is also surrogate for many people who have adapted the parts of religion that they like and ignored the parts which they don't. It's a very clever and simple story which accomplishes a lot.
The Bad: The one part of the episode which doesn't make a lot of sense is the volunteer fire fighters. Apu, Otto, Chief Wiggum, Barney and Krusty all turn out to put out the fire. Why on earth would Springfield have a volunteer fire service and not a professional one? Not to mention the unlikely collection of characters who make up this force. It was a ludicrous conceit to allow the writers to conclude with men of different religions working together to do the right thing. It felt like a needless attempt to de-Christianise the story.
Best Joke: It did however lead to the best joke of the episode as Reverend Lovejoy manages to patronise Apu in a brilliantly believable way:
RL: "He (God) was working in the hearts of your friends and neighbours when they went to your aid. Be they Christian (points to Ned), Jew (points to Krusty) or (points to Apu) miscellaneous."
A: "Hindu! There are seven hundred million of us."
RL: (Entirely genuine) "Oh that's super."
The Bottom Line: This is a really strong episode which mixes social satire and straightforward comedy with ease and skill.
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