First up on Simpsons Saturdays is one of the all-time greatest episodes, from my personal favourite season of the show. This episode works so well thanks to the conflict between Frank Grimes – one of the show’s best-ever one-off characters – and Homer, and provides plenty of great laughs, and there’s a really solid side-plot here as well.

Make sure to watch the episode beforehand as there’s some spoilers in this review.

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(C) Disney, Fox

The first thing to note is how refreshingly different Frank Grimes is as a Simpsons character. He’s not really like any other Springfield resident – he’s had plenty of struggles to get to where he is, he’s hard-working, and he’s not in the same state of benevolent nonchalance as the rest of the town – particularly embodied by Lenny and Carl, whose ambivalence to Frank’s sheer hatred towards Homer sets up some great laughs. The way writer John Swartzwelder goes with this character is pretty interesting: killing him on-screen is a pretty dark turn for The Simpsons, but it’s a really well-executed sequence that highlights Homer’s untouchable nature. His stupidity is beyond criticism, his failures without consequence, and that becomes a pseudo-comment about the culture around the show – we love Homer for his lax attitude, as do the residents of Springfield, so when a ‘real-life’ critic emerges, they rarely get a look in.

Yet more than just a clever comment on how detached Springfield and Simpsons culture in general is from real-life expectations and situations, ‘Homer’s Enemy’ is just a relentlessly funny episode. The conflict between Homer and Frank is clearly the main cause of this – the episode’s best gags comes from Homer’s unwittingly closed responses to Frank’s anger, with Dan Castellaneta giving a great performance here.

From constantly calling him ‘Grimey’ – even getting it in at his funeral – to chewing his pencils and sticking them in his ears, there’s some great comedy here. Homer attempting to be professional is a really funny scene, and there’s a sense of justice around the humour as Frank becomes increasingly bitter towards Homer – as he becomes nastier and nastier, Homer’s ability to offset his anger just gets funnier, embodied by a truly laugh-out-loud exchange: ‘From now on, we’re enemies,’ to which Homer downtroddenly replies ‘Okay… do I have to do anything?’ – it’s the kind of unexpected humour that The Simpsons thrives off, and it’s handled brilliantly here.

We increasingly lose touch with the veracity of Frank’s arguments, as his outbursts become more and more mean-spirited, and the tide turns back to Homer, despite us knowing his oafishness is a problem to the level-headed Grimes. It’s a fascinating contrast and something we’ve rarely seen the show do before – an insular look into how its characters could be perceived, yet a clever comment on how this shouldn’t really matter, and won’t ever stop the show gaining traction.

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(C) Disney, Fox

The B-plot is also brilliant, and one of my childhood favourites, as Bart purchases an abandoned factory for a dollar and hires Milhouse as his sole worker. It’s such a great comment on the childhood imagination, as we get many scenes of them letting loose in this factory, from examining the toxic waste to swinging on a dangerously crooked scaffold. It’s a shorter subplot that I remembered, but as an insight into Bart and Milhouse’s friendship – with Bart relegating Milhouse to night watch and forcing him to drink rat-infested coffee – it’s a really simple but wonderful plot.

Overall, this is a brilliant episode from peak Simpsons – a truly one-of-a-kind guest character that adds a new dimension to Springfield, albeit fleetingly, and sets up some brilliant laughs and character dimensions we’d rarely seen before. Homer’s never had an adversary as bitter and grounded in reality as Frank Grimes – and it makes for brilliant watching.

★★★★½

Favourite quote: ‘Simpson, you’ve got a five-thirteen.’ Homer looks at his watch.

The Simpsons – Season 8 [DVD]

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