Follow TV Tropes


Recap / The Simpsons S 2 E 15 Oh Brother Where Art Thou

Go To

Episode - 7F16
First Aired - 2/21/1991

Oh Brother Where Art Thou is the 15th episode of the second season of The Simpsons.

After suffering a heart attack at the movie theater, Grampa realizes his mortality and lets Homer in on a dark family secret: Homer has a half-brother named Herb (the product of a one-night stand Grampa had with a dunk-tank carny-cum-prostitute) that he gave up for adoption before Grampa married Mona. When Homer finally finds Herb's whereabouts, the Simpsons are off to Detroit, where Herb recruits Homer to create a car for his company.


This episode 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.
  • 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.
  • Blatant Lies: When Herb disowns Homer at the end, Marge tries to comfort him by saying "I'm sure he said it to make conversation".
  • Advertisement:
  • Both Sides Have a Point: What causes the detrimental Right Hand vs. 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.
  • 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's in shock. Homer thought he lost the connection.
  • Cool Uncle: Herb consistently spoils his nephew and nieces. He'd even rather be called "Unky Herb" since "Uncle Herb" sounds so formal.
  • 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 again (though 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).
  • 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.
  • 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 swore 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 bathroom is confused by his appearance. It turns out to be because Herb looks like Homer.
  • Gone Horribly Right: 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.
  • Identical Twins: The head of Shelbyville Orphanage looks like Dr. Hibbert and said he has a lost twin.
  • 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, their marketing is so idiotic that they name new cars after Genius Bonus 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 and lead engineers. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Loophole Abuse: Bart delights in being able to use the word "bastard" since that's technically the correct way to describe Herb.
  • 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. They apparently know not to give what people want.
  • Never My Fault: Herb blames Homer for ruining his company despite putting him in charge, shelving all other projects and outright ignoring his employees' warnings, who despite being 'privileged idiots' as he put it still know enough about business to be on the board of a car company.
  • 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.
  • Pet the Dog: Bart telling Homer that he actually thought his car was cool.
  • Remembered Too Late: During the flashback, after Homer was born, Abe promises his wife 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.
  • Right Hand vs. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


Example of: