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Recap / The Simpsons S2 E15 "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"

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Original air date: 2/21/1991

Production code: 7F16

Homer: Since I'm the one you kept, that must mean you really love me.
Abe: Hmm. Interesting theory...

Homer is told by Grampa about the existence of a half-brother (the product of a one-night stand Grampa had with a dunk-tank carny-cum-prostitute) called Herbert Powell (voiced by Danny DeVito), a Detroit car tycoon who recruits Homer to create a car "for the common man".

Episode Summary:

Abe Simpson and Jasper Beardley loudly complain to a theater employee about the excessive sex and violence on the McBain movie they saw. The employee taunts Grampa about him having a heart attack, which does actually happen. Meanwhile, at the Simpson home, the family attempts to have a peaceful dinner when they receive a call about Abe's predicament.

Realizing his mortality, Grampa decides to tell Homer about a dark family secret: Years ago, he went to a county fair, where he had a fling with a dunk-tank girl, who "loved for money". One year later, the girl returned... with a baby, who was sent to the Shelbyville orphanage. After marrying Mona and having Homer, the two of them resolve to never tell him the truth. The Simpsons then travel to Shelbyville where Homer finds out that the orphanage has long been torn down and replaced by a gas station... as well as relocated across the street. The orphanage director initially refuses to disclose confidential information to Homer, but then relents, telling him that the boy, Herbert, was adopted by the Powell family of Detroit.

Herbert Powell is the founder and owner of Powell Motors, but in spite of his riches, he's been unhappy about not knowing about his origins. He is then overjoyed by getting a call from his half-brother, and invites him to Detroit. Powell Motors are at the same time facing difficulties trying to keep up with Japanese imports, a competition the company's haughty management is oblivious about. Seeing Homer as an "average American", Herb gives him the task to design a new car for his company. Meanwhile, the Simpson kids have a good time with their rich and genial uncle, even though Marge thinks he might spoil them.

As the company expresses little support for Homer's crazy ideas, Herb gives him complete creative control over the product, which ends up becoming "The Homer", an extremely ugly and expensive car, with an $82,000 (nearly $184,000 in 2023 dollars) price tag (consider that, in 1991, few if any luxury cars sold for over $70-75,000). The ensuing PR chaos ends up with Powell Motors in bankruptcy (its assets being taken over by Komatsu Motors) and with Herbert losing everything he had, angrily telling Homer that his life was good until he knew he was a Simpson, an opinion shared by Lisa. Immediately after, Abe arrives in a taxi to see Herb, only to make a hasty retreat. On the way home, Bart compliments Homer for his car.

"Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Another strike for Homer: One of the items he proposes for the design of "The Homer" is seat restraints for kids (in the "Hannibal Lecter" style).
  • The Alleged Car: Evidently the entire Powell Motors lineup, if Herb's observation that they "Only have forty bucks' worth of steel in them" can be taken literally. "The Homer" is a design so laughable that it hits this territory.
  • Anti-Advice: Due to his contempt for his employees, Herb ignores the engineers' warnings that Homer is making bad ideas, openly telling them that he believes anything they disapprove of must be a progression.
  • Are We There Yet?: Bart and Lisa annoy Homer with that question during the car ride to Detroit. Marge tells them they'll turn around if they don't stop, Homer complains that he wants to see his brother, an annoyed Marge tells him it was an idle threat.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Abe and Jasper's complaints to the movie theater manager involve a small screen, a sticky floor, and a tacked-on romantic subplot. Obviously, the theater manager can't do anything about that third item and he doesn't seem to care about the other two.
  • Artistic License – Economics: It normally takes months or even years for a large corporation (even a failing one) to be bought out by another and have its assets liquidated so it would be highly unlikely that the Powell Motors offices would have had its sign taken down and replaced by Kumatsu Motors' sign the day after Homer's car bankrupted the company. The same can be said for Herb's house being foreclosed and his possessions sold off, a process that probably wouldn't have happened while the Simpsons were still in Detroit.
  • Blatant Lies: When Herb disowns Homer at the end, Marge tries to comfort him by saying "maybe he just said that to make conversation".
  • Both Sides Have a Point: What causes the detrimental Right Hand Versus Left Hand between Herb and his company. While Herb is right to believe they are insufferably pompous with no touch for their consumers and their desires, his design team know how to make functional and cost productive cars, and when he forces them to make a car without their own intuition, he is left with a disaster model that bankrupts his company.
  • Bowdlerization: Bart singing the word "bastard" after justifying his use of it was edited out when shown on UK TV.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: For their day out, Bart wants to go on a boat ride, and Lisa wants to go on a pony ride. Cut to Lisa riding a pony on Herb's yacht.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Herb tells the family that his personal cook will make anything they want any time of day, leading Homer to ask hypothetical questions about making pork chops even at 4 a.m. After some family bonding scenes, we cut to Homer in the middle of the night and calling the cook.
    • Abe gets a call from Homer about Herb being a millionaire CEO and specifically warns Homer not to touch anything or do anything involving money until Abe gets there. At the end of the episode, when Homer's actions have left Herb financially ruined, Abe shows up in a taxi, only to be informed that he's too late.
  • Call-Back: Just like he did two episodes ago, Bart swears in the car, insists he's using it in the correct context when he's told off for swearing, then chants the swear word incessantly as Homer and Marge fruitlessly try to get him to stop.
  • Cassandra Truth: The engineers try to warn Herb that Homer's decisions are counter productive and even harmful to company's well-being, though due to their own ineffectiveness at making profitable designs, their earlier petty unwillingness to work with Homer, and generally rude way of consulting Herb, he ignores them.
    Herb: Well you know what, I'm glad you're nervous, cause that means we're on the right track!
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • The man in charge of the orphanage who Homer meets looks like Dr. Hibbert and tells Homer about his own lost twin brother. Homer fails to notice a connection. He also fails to get the enormous repeated hints at where his brother is and has to be directly told he is in Detroit.
    • After Homer told Herb that they're brothers, he becomes silent, presumably in shock as he let it sink in. Homer thought he lost the connection and angrily starts beating the phone until Herb tells him he's still on the line.
  • Cool Uncle: Herb consistently spoils his nephew and nieces. He'd even rather be called "Unky Herb" since "Uncle Herb" sounds so formal.
  • Couch Gag: The family (sans Maggie) sit on the couch, and Maggie peeks out of Marge's hair, sucking her pacifier.
  • Could Say It, But...: The orphanage director tries to tell Homer where his brother is in this way. Unfortunately Homer is too dumb to realise.
  • Disappointing Heritage Reveal: The self-made car magnate Herbert Powell was given away at birth and grew up wanting to know who his birth family was. As such, he is delighted to learn that he has a half-brother and, in fact, an entire family, to the point that he readily puts his half-brother to work designing his company's new car. Unfortunately for him, that half-brother is Homer Simpson, and the resulting car is an unmarketable disaster that bankrupts his company.
    Lisa Simpson: Poor Herbert. His life was an unbridled success until he discovered that he was a Simpson.
  • Downer Ending: Homer is left heartbroken after a bankrupt Herb disowns him. Some fans were so upset by Herb's downfall that the producers would ultimately do "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes" to give Herb a happy ending (although a much later episode ["Changing of the Guardian"] reveals that Herb went broke again, and viewers don't get any information as to what happened).
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: This episode marked the first onscreen appearance of Homer's mom, Mona Simpson, who looked rather different from the character she was in "Mother Simpson", sporting lavender hair instead of brown.
  • Epic Fail: Herb asks Homer to help his company design a car for the "average American man". Homer instead designs an $82,000 note  Hummer Dinger that gets Herb laughed straight into bankruptcy. Herb didn't really make things easy on himself by 1) believing Homer, with his immense stupidity, could actually represent an "average American" and 2) Herb decided not to listen when the rest of the research team tried to warn him.
  • Exact Words:
    Herb: Before you say anything, say to yourself, "If I were ever sure of anything, I'm sure of this!" Do you understand?
    Homer: Sort of.
    Herb: Homer?
    Homer: What?
    Herb: Answer again with self-confidence!
    Homer: SORT OF!
  • The Everyman: Invoked and deconstructed. Invoked by Herb because he sees Homer is a dope with simple tastes and he thinks that this represents the average American, so he hopes that Homer will help create a car that will be liked by such people. The deconstruction is that Homer is not just dull, he is a full-blown Idiot Hero with all of the immense luck, unluck and (most importantly) eccentricities that characterize the label, and he creates something incredibly moronic once given unrestrained power over the project.
  • Flashback: A quick one explaining how Abe had Herb. Quickly followed by Abe marrying Mona and the birth of Homer. Also, Mona makes Abe swear to never mention anything about Herb so Homer would grow up respecting his father, which Abe has forgotten about. (Incidentally, this is the first time Mona ever appeared.)
  • Foreshadowing: A cop who pulled the family car over was suddenly nice to Homer. Later, a guy in the gas station bathroom is confused by his appearance. It turns out to be because Herb looks like Homer, and they thought Homer was Herb.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Desperate to save his company, Herb turned to Homer to design a car. He got a big, ridiculous, unwieldy machine whose production bankrupted him on the spot.
  • Hereditary Curse: Lisa observes that Herb was a big success, until he learned he was a Simpson.
  • Hummer Dinger: The "Homer". Everything about its design flies past Awesome, but Impractical and straight into the ridiculous (three horns? Domed windshields? Restraints for the kids?), and the price makes it only available to rich people.
  • Hypocrite Has a Point: Herb has as much part in the bankrupsy of his company as Homer, leaving him to build the car and failing to manage and overlook development. On the other hand, he is right to blame Homer for going mad with power and making absurdly unproductive and expensive creative decisions, draining well above his funding after Herb specifically asked him to make a car "for the common man". Herb is as much a Pointy-Haired Boss as Homer proved to be, but he at least has common sense to make cars that can market to working class, and on paper wasn't wrong to assume Homer, an actual working class man who constantly has money woes, should have worked on the same logic.
  • Identical Twins: The head of Shelbyville Orphanage looks like Dr. Hibbert and said he has a lost twin.
  • Ignored Expert: Herb's automotive engineers try and warn him Homer's ideas are no good but he disregards them.
  • I Have No Son!: Or in Herb's case, "I Have No Brother". It took the next season for Herb to forgive Homer.
  • Incompetence, Inc.: Powell Motors is shown to be this. The company's products don't appeal to consumers and are implied to be cheap and low quality, their marketing is so idiotic that they name new cars after very obscure (to the common man) Classical Mythology references, the board of directors are a bunch of clueless Upper Class Twits and Herb has an extremely bad relationship with them and with his lead engineers, especially due to being a Self-Made Man who loathes people born into success. Things are so bad that Powell Motors is losing more and more ground to its Japanese competitors every day. Homer's car is just the final nail in the company's coffin — Herb put all his hopes on Homer's new miracle product, and he ignored his engineers' and executives' warnings about the lemon Homer was designing, since he believed anything they hated must be an improvement.
  • Insufferable Genius: Herb's design team. They might have been taken seriously if they hadn't been so pompous or explained everything in a demeaning, "we-know-what's-good-for-you" attitude, such telling Homer "Americans don't want [X]" whenever he asked for something. The lead designer quickly calling Herb to complain and (from the context) making personal insults towards Homer didn't help.
  • Improbably Cool Car: Averted. "The Homer" is a car only Homer Simpson would deem "cool" in any way, shape or form, and it (and its absurd price tag) become the laughing stock of the motor industry and sinks Herb's company.
  • Irony: The Car Built for Homer, which was supposed to appeal to the average consumer, came with an absurdly high price tag and with really dumb accessories (one that is mentioned is restraints for unruly children). Once again demonstrating that Homer Simpson's tastes are simple but he is not "average" at all.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: It's mentioned at a board meeting that Herb and his executives went to Harvard and the shared alma mater is a reason why he hired them. Herb seems to resent them because they had their tuitions paid by their families while he had to work for his doing menial jobs for his peers.
    Herb: Why did I ever hire you Harvard dead-heads?
    Executive: Because you went there, sir.
    Herb: Yeah, but Mommy and Daddy didn't pay my way. I had to work my way through washing your dishes and scrubbing your toilets!
    Another executive: Oh yea, now I remember you.
  • Japan Takes Over the World: Powell Motors is losing ground to the Japanese. When Herb loses his fortune, his company is bought by a Japanese company.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • The design team makes some valid points about fuel efficiency and automobile designs, but how they express them ultimately demeans everything. The lead designer also correctly warns Herb that Homer's ideas will harm the company, though in what is heavily implied to be a pompous tirade full of cheap knocks at Homer's intelligence and personal hygiene, leading him to get ignored until it is too late.
    • Herb may be a Mean Boss who constantly berates and insults his staff, but he has some valid reasons for this. For starters, the executives show a pompous attitude towards Homer and (presumably) other customers by telling them what they think they want and acting like they know what is best. On the other hand, the other executives at the board meeting made a mistake of overestimating the customer's intelligence by naming cars after somewhat obscure mythology characters that a common person might not be familiar with. It was quite understandable that Herb would call the executives out on both mistakes as they were running away business by alienating and patronizing their customers.
  • Kid Has a Point: Granted, Bart was being his usual fool-mouthed, bratty self when he called Herb a bastard, but he correctly points out that Herb was born out of wedlock; even Homer reluctantly concurs to this, much to Marge's anger.
    Bart: So any idea where this bastard lives?
    Homer: (angrily) BART!!
    Bart: His parents aren't married, are they? It's a correct word, isn't it?
    Homer: (reluctantly) I guess he got us there.
  • Kick the Dog: A minor example happens on the way to meet Herb; when Homer accidentally hits a pothole while driving and he spills his drink all over himself, Bart and Lisa laugh at him.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The episode spends some time building up the Strong Family Resemblance between Homer and Herb, implying it through the way strangers react to Homer as they enter Detroit and only revealing Herb's face when he and Homer meet for the first time. Naturally, that moment is the thumbnail for the episode on Disney+.
  • Loophole Abuse: Bart delights in being able to use the word "bastard" since that's technically the correct way to describe Herb, much to Homer and Marge's anger.
  • Lowest Common Denominator: invoked Herb's idea regarding Homer is to make cars aiming for this population bracket and use Homer to determine what they want. The plan goes horribly wrong: Homer is too stupid and his tastes are too eccentric.
  • Mean Boss: Herb is extremely dismissive and temperamental to his employees, viewing them as privileged idiots (in stark contrast to his own upbringing). This ends up being his own undoing, as he refuses to take their warnings of Homer's incompetence seriously, and forces them to continue with his doomed project until it's too late.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Herb is horrified at the Homer car's sticker price. The fact that he entrusted his brother of the concept is what led to his company shutting down.
  • Never My Fault: Herb blames Homer for ruining his company despite putting him in charge, shelving all other projects, outright ignoring his employees' warnings, who despite being 'Havard dead-heads' as he put it still know enough about business to be on the board of a car company, and apparently living so far outside his means that the moment his company flops he becomes destitute.
  • Newhart Phonecall: Herb's staff calls up to complain about him; we only hear Herb's side of it. This leads to a great joke when he tells them to call back and say the exact opposite of what they said on the first call (with Bart and Lisa listening on speaker phone):
    "Homer Simpson is a... brilliant man with lots of well-thought-out, practical ideas. He's ensuring the financial security of this company. Oh, yes, and his personal hygiene is above reproach."
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Pope is apparently also present during the presentation of the new car.
  • No Kill like Overkill: In the McBain movie, McBain throws the villain out a window, landing on an oil tanker that explodes.
  • Not Helping Your Case: The engineers designing Homer's car attempt to inform Herb of his poor direction. Herb dismisses the team leader's phone call, which is heavily implied to be loaded with superfluous insults towards Homer.
  • Oblivious to Hints: Homer fails to pick up on the orphanage manager’s hints that his brother is in Detroit and only picks up the answer straight after paying the man 20 bucks.
  • "Oh, Crap!" Smile: Homer has one when his car was presented and the outrageous car cost was revealed, ruining Herb's company.
  • Pet the Dog: Bart telling Homer that he actually thought his car was cool.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Herb despite his heartbreak over becoming bankrupt, makes an attempt at a graceful goodbye to the family at first. When Homer laments that maybe he shouldn't have become part of his life, Herb snaps in exasperation, labelling him a "sponge head" and angrily disowns him.
  • Remembered Too Late: During the flashback, after Homer was born, Abe's wife made him promise not to tell Homer about the carnival incident. We then transition back to reality, where Abe, having just told everything to Homer, exclaims, "Whoops! Forget what I just told you."
  • Reveal Shot: Herb asked Homer and his family to visit him. We pull back to see his huge mansion.
  • Riches to Rags: Herb thanks to Homer.
  • Riddled and Rattled: Parodied in the McBain film. Mendoza's associates freeze up and twitch the moment McBain opens fire — before the bullets even hit them — and continue doing so after the bullets stop hitting.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: The failure of Homer's project. What isn't caused by Homer's horrible conceptions is exacerbated by this. Any attempts to halt the project or warn Herb of the damage Homer is causing fall on deaf ears, either due to Herb's dismissive attitude towards his employees, or their pompous and demeaning method of explanation.
  • Self-Made Man: Herb. It's established he put himself through business school and built his company from the ground up.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The McBain film that Grampa and Jasper watch has a couple to the James Bond films: his female partner says "Oh, McBain!" like the classic "Oh, James!" and the closing credits has a "Will Return" Caption.
    • The song in the video introducing the "Homer" car is a rewritten version of "Whatever Lola Wants" from the musical Damn Yankees, replacing Lola's name with Homer's.
  • Skyward Scream: Homer during the Title Drop.
  • Special Guest: Danny DeVito as Herb Powell
  • Take That!: The quality of the Powell Motors range (each car only having "forty bucks' worth of steel in them"), the out-of-touch nature of the executives and marketing team, and the threat of Japanese automakers are likely this, aimed at the Big Three US auto industry, which spent much of the '70s, '80s, and early '90s thoroughly Blessed with Suck. Case in point: the episode was aired less than a year after the remains of the American Motors Corporation had been fully absorbed into Chrysler.
  • Title Drop: Homer when he goes to the Shelbyville orphanage and thinks it's been replaced with a gas station. (Then he learns it just moved across the street.)
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: The only differences between the two brothers are that Homer's fatter and Herb still has his hair; otherwise, exactly alike. They lampshade it when they first meet.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: An In-Universe example occurs when Herb's design team suggests the name "Persephone" for a new car. A reference to a rather obscure Greek Mythology character might go over the heads of a typical, ordinary person who isn't familiar with the said mythology (and even for those who are familiar, Persephone is a bit of a stretch). Herb understandably and not-so-subtly calls them out on this.
    • Viewers Are Morons: Also, another In-Universe example regarding the Powell Motors executives. When Homer makes requests for a car (after Herb offers him a free one) the executives shoot him down by saying things like "Americans don't want X" or "Americans want Y, not X". Once again, Herb sternly calls out the executives.
    Herb: Homer, tell the nice man what country you come from.
    Homer: (indignant) America!
    Herb: (to the executives) DO YOU HEAR THAT, YA MORONS?! This is why we're getting killed in the marketplace! Instead of listening to what they want; you're telling them what they want!
  • Working-Class Hero: The entire episode can be read as a Deconstruction of this trope. Instead of producing a car that reflects the sensibilities of the common man, Homer's lack of automotive expertise and utterly epic amounts of stupidity simply creates an over-engineered mess that appeals to nobody but himself.
  • You, Get Me Coffee: After Herb puts him in charge of designing a car, Homer (innocently) bugs the technicians with a few questions about the car's blueprints. The head technician responds by calmly-but-condescendingly asking Homer to go get everyone coffee.


Video Example(s):


Bart's right use of "bastard"

Bart calls Herb a bastard, using the fact that he was born out of a wedlock as a valid point of saying the word. Even Homer can't disagree with that.

How well does it match the trope?

4.88 (42 votes)

Example of:

Main / KidHasAPoint

Media sources: