Season 1: Episode 10. Original airdate: March 25, 1990.
Something isn’t right about “Homer’s Night Out,” but I can’t figure out what it is. As the second marriage-based story in a row, it pales in comparison to “Life on the Fast Lane,” but I’m not going to fault the episode merely for not living up to that gold standard. This is also the first episode in which Homer has truly been the one in trouble (there was the church incident in “Telltale Head,” but he didn’t really get sent to the doghouse for that one), so maybe I was expecting something more severe from him. That’s not to say I wanted something in the vein of Jerkass Homer like we’ll see in the later seasons, but tonight’s story felt like the show lost its characters for a bit.
Homer’s actions in the early scenes aren’t that hard to believe. His coworker is having a bachelor party, and he goes. Being a bachelor party, there’s a stripper, because of course there is. Homer dances near her, and has a tiny bit of fun while doing so. None of that is a stretch for the Homer we’ve come to know over the past 9 episodes. He gets himself in trouble when Bart takes a picture of the scene with his spy camera, because the Simpson clan is having dinner at the restaurant where the bachelor party is being held. The picture spreads across the town and becomes a phenomenon, but I never quite buy the frenzy.
Maybe I’m blind to it because of the drastic changes that have occurred in the past 20 years. My mind must be warped from the age of digital pornography being plentiful and easy-to-find, but the idea that an admittedly-not-that-racy photo would cause such a fervor seems silly. Sure, Homer is probably in the right to apologize to Marge, but it’s far from a massive transgression. She, along with all the nuclear plant workers’ wives, knew where the men were, what the occasion was, and would have to be unbelievably dumb to not know what was going on. Add to that the fact that the stripper in question is dressed like a chorus girl in a Broadway show set in the Far East, and I can’t really wrap my head around Marge’s frustration.
On an even more fundamental level, I can’t fathom Marge’s hypocrisy in this episode. Only one episode ago, she was on the verge of adultery—not just daydreaming about cheating, not just considering the idea in passing, but driving to another man’s house for sexual relations and only changing her mind at the last second. Even if she never consummated her affair with Jacques, her actions were enough to prove guilt of some sort. Homer just going out one night with some buddies, when a stripper happened to come? That’s small potatoes in comparison.
I guess I can see Marge’s reaction being another overcompensation, some form of lingering guilt from the Jacques crisis, but she’s still out of line in banishing Homer from the house. How often has that happened in the entire run of The Simpsons? Five, six times? This hardly ranks among Homer’s worst deeds as a husband and father. I also understand that The Simpsons isn’t a serialized show, even if I’m watching it that way, but I don’t believe that Marge’s character could be reset only one episode later in the production order.
Not only is “Homer’s Night Out” a problematic episode on a character level, it’s just not that funny. I let the show have a free pass with humor in some of its best Season 1 outings, but in an episode this troublesome, I expect a little bit of comic relief. Nothing really gels, though, especially the scenes of Homer dragging Bart across town to various strip clubs and dives. It seems way too skeezy for the Simpson parents, and it’s especially not something Marge would allow, let alone demand Homer do. Most of all, it isn’t funny. The only jokes that really land involve the fast-forward early on in the episode, when we learn a little more about Homer’s skill at his job.
If I’m being hard on this episode, it’s only because I know how much more this show is capable of. I know this episode probably shines compared to late-period ones, but this season has been so stellar across the board that this disappointment feels that much greater. Coming immediately after “Life on the Fast Lane” certainly didn’t help it either. That said, being the worst episode of The Simpsons Season 1 still puts it in good company. I’d take this episode, warts and all, over the majority of what’s on TV today, so once again, I can’t complain.