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Recap / The Simpsons S5 E1 "Homer's Barbershop Quartet"

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Original air date: 9/30/1993

Production code: 9F21

This episode tells the rise and fall of The Be Sharps, a barbershop quartet fronted by Homer whose career mirrored that of The Beatles, with the Fab Four's George Harrison guesting.

Plot Summary

At the annual Springfield Swap Meet, Moe tries to sell "Lucille Ball clams", Flanders offers trading cards of biblical figures, Lisa finds an early Malibu Stacy doll and Skinner comes across his Vietnam POW helmet. Homer finds no apparent value in famous antiques, Marge unsuccessfully attempts to sell some crafts, and in Jeff Albertson (the Comic Book Guy)'s stand, Bart and Lisa find Meet the Be Sharps, an LP album whose cover features Homer. He then proceeds to tell how, back in the summer of 1985, he sang in a barbershop quartet alongside Chief Wiggum, Apu and Skinner, performing at "Moe's Cavern" as well as other places, including the state jail. One night at Moe's, a talent agent called Nigel shows interest in the group, but asks for Wiggum to be removed, as he sounds too outdated in his opinion. After Homer drops Wiggum in the middle of nowhere like a dog, the quartet attempts to hold auditions for a replacement, but the applicants, including a poorly-disguised Wiggum, are just no good. About to give up, they happen to listen Barney Gumble singing an Irish lullaby while looking for his keys at the stalls. At first, people don't seem willing to take Wiggum's replacement, but then go wild for Barney as soon as he sings, much to Wiggum's embarrassment. After the show, the quartet takes on the name of "The Be Sharps".

Back in the present, Homer seems to be the only one to have sold anything at the swap meet... the back-up tires. As the car has a blow-out and Marge is forced to walk 10 miles to the nearest gas station, Homer tells the kids about the Be Sharps' rise to stardom. While Homer attempts to write a song about the Capone vault hoax, Marge shows him a "baby on board" sticker for the car. The result: The song "Baby on Board", which becomes a big hit and makes the Be Sharps internationally famous. In May 1986, the group arrives in New York, where they perform at the Statue of Liberty Centennial in front of President Reagan, while Chief Wiggum becomes a national laughingstock. At the Grammys, David Crosby presents the Be Sharps with an award. Here, Homer experiences the biggest thrill of his life: a plate of pound cakes with George Harrison present. But, in spite of his success, Homer begins to feel homesick and Marge attempts to fill his void at home with very little success.

Back home, the family finds some Be Sharps merchandise that had been hidden in the attic, including a second album entitled Bigger than Jesus (just after Bart wondered if the group screwed it up by doing the same as The Beatles). After seeing the LP, Homer tells how it came all apart. By this time, the quartet has become artistically stagnant and conflicts arise, with Barney bringing in his new girlfriend, a Japanese artist whose idea for the group is looping her saying "Number eight" and Barney's belches ad nauseam. Then Homer tells how it all ended: the group's members find out in US Weekly they're no longer "hot" on the "Hot or Not" list and return to their normal lives. As Homer ends his story, Bart and Lisa ask him how they never knew about his musical career. He tells them he'll answer that another day. Feeling nostalgic, Homer reunites with Skinner, Apu and Barney at Moe's rooftop (not having performed together since a Dame Edna special one year earlier), where they sing "Baby on Board" to the surprise of the townspeople, the indifference of George Harrison, and much to the chagrin of a "fly man" who's in the middle of a stunt, and Chief Wiggum, who calls in the riot squad.

"Homer's Barbershop Quartet" features examples of:

  • A Cappella: Like all barbershop quartets a lot is sung a cappella.
  • Abbey Road Crossing: The cover of Bigger Than Jesus is a direct parody.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of the career of The Beatles in the form of Homer's 1980s barbershop quartet, the Be Sharps, that takes the world by storm in a similar fashion to the way the Beatles did. The career of the Be Sharps mirrors that of the Beatles in almost every way, including similar controversies, the complete hysteria surrounding them and band meltdowns. The producers even persuaded George Harrison to play along, giving him the perfect closing line; as he watches the Be Sharps imitate the famous last gig on the rooftop of Apple Corps that the Beatles played, he acerbically mutters, "It's Been Done," and drives off.
    Bart: What'd you do? Screw up like the Beatles and say you were Bigger Than Jesus?
    Homer: All the time! It was the title of our second album. (Holds up record album that looks like "Abbey Road", except the band is walking on water.)
  • Alliterative Title: The song "Baby on Board".
  • Anti-Love Song: "Baby on Board," the Be Sharps's first hit. At a casual listen it seems like a pretty standard Silly Love Song inspired by the catchy slogan of Marge's "Baby on Board" sticker ("I'm telling you, it's mighty nice / Each trip's a trip to paradise / With my baby on board"). However, the lyrics are literally about how much Homer loves the sticker because it allows him to use the carpool lane.
  • Anyone Remember Pogs?: Homer wins a Grammy thanks to inspiration from Marge's purchase of a then-trendy "Baby on Board" sign for the family car ("Now people will stop intentionally ramming our car!")note .
  • As Himself: David Crosby and George Harrison.
  • Author Appeal: Writer Jeff Martin and director Mark Kirkland were huge Beatles fans, so they had a blast with this episode.
  • Backstory of the Day: As per usual with many flashback episodes, with Homer revealing his short time as a superstar, that was seemingly forgotten about and never mentioned prior to this episode (with the kids even Lampshading this heavily at the end of the episode). This likely counts as an Ass Pull, though it may reference John Lennon's own attempts to hide his stardom from his eldest son Julian until he came across some merchandise.
  • Band Episode: Homer was a member of the Grammy winning barbershop quartet, The Be Sharps, with Barney, Apu, and Seymour. Initially riding on the success of their song "Baby on Board", the band experiences creative differences, most notably Barney dating a Japanese conceptual artist. After their second album, titled Bigger than Jesus flops, they go their separate ways. They reunite at the end of the episode to perform a concert on the roof of Moe's tavern, with guest star George Harrison snarkily commenting "it's been done".
  • The Band Minus the Face: The Be-Sharps' career trajectory mirrors that of The Beatles, including the popular Chief Wiggum's replacement by the far more talented Barney Gumble and the group's rise to pop stardom with Barney in the lineup.
  • Barbershop Quartets Are Funny: Obviously.
  • Bigger Than Jesus: Discussed:
    Bart: What'd you do? Screw up like the Beatles and say you were bigger than Jesus?
    Homer: All the time. That was the title of our second album.
  • Big Eater: After George Harrison shows Homer where the stack of brownies are, Homer eats at least 41 brownies in one sitting.
  • Big "NO!": Done by Chief Wiggum when he gets kicked out of the group.
  • Bill... Bill... Junk... Bill...: Homer is at a swap meet, sifting through a treasure trove of extremely valuable items on sale for a pittance: "Junk... junk... the airplane's upside down..., Stradi-who-vius?"
  • Borrowing the Beatles: The Be Sharps' career mirrors The Beatles'. This is lampshaded repeatedly throughout the episode, once by an actual Beatle.
    • Homer would be the group's equivalent of John Lennon (although he is also the focus of a "Paul is Dead" parody and dresses like Ringo Starr at the rooftop concert), Skinner would be Paul McCartney (even though he somehow has Starr's reputation of being the group's clown), Apu would be George Harrison (although like Starr, he'd use a stage name), and Barney would be Ringo Starr (even though he wore Lennon's outfit at the rooftop concert, and dated a Yoko Oh No). Of course, Wiggum and Nigel are stand-ins for Pete Best and Brian Epstein respectively.
    • A very minor Beatles reference occurs in the first few minutes of the episode. One of the things Marge is trying to sell is her painting of Ringo Starr from "Brush Of Greatness".
    • Moe's bar is named "Moe's Cavern" instead of tavern in this episode, in reference to the bar "The Cavern", where the Beatles were discovered by their manager Brian Epstein.
    • The cover of "Meet The B Sharps" is similar to The Beatles' American cover of With the Beatles.
    • The band arriving at the John F. Kennedy Airport and being screamed at by fans is also an obvious example.
    • Principal Skinner's unfunny answer that nevertheless is perceived as funny by reporters references the witty answers that the Beatles gave to the uninspired questions of the press at the time.
    • While the Be Sharps listen to Barney's new song "Number 8" they strike a similar pose as The Beatles and Yoko Ono did on a famous photograph. [1] The "Number 8" song itself is a reference to "Revolution #9" on The White Album.
    • The Rooftop Concert is an obvious reference to the Beatles' rooftop concert in the concert film Let It Be. Homer's comment "... and I hope we passed the audition" is the final line in both the album Let It Be and the documentary.
  • Butt-Monkey: Wiggum. He's kicked out of the band and all of his attempts to get back in blow up in his face.
  • Caligula's Horse: Homer briefly quit his job. When he returned to the plant, he found he had been replaced with a chicken. Which he later ate.
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: Shortly after winning a Grammy, Homer grows despondent after being separated from his family for so long.
  • Clamshells as Mouths: At the beginning of the episode, Moe is selling oyster shells that are hand-painted to resemble Lucille Ball at the Springfield Swap Meet. Said oyster shells have lipstick on both shells and Moe even flaps the shells when he has it talking like a puppet.
  • Collector of the Strange: At the swap meet, Ned is giving away trading cards of Biblical figures. Milhouse picks up a card for Joseph of Arimatheanote , turning it over to see the big stat: 26 conversions in A.D. 46. Perhaps the funniest part of this scene is the photo on the front, as if Joseph posed for it himself. Nelson then picks up a Methuselah rookie card. What's even funnier is that both cards have signatures printed on them, as if autographed. Makes one wonder what Jesus's signature looks like.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • When Homer meets George Harrison. "Oh my God! Oh my God...where did you get the brownie?"
    • One particularly high-strung individual misinterprets Homer's dedication to the Statue of Liberty during a performance in New York Harbor.
      Homer: We'd like to dedicate this next number to a very special woman. She's a hundred years old and she weighs over two hundred...tons.
      Panicky Audience Member: This enormous woman will devour us all! AAAGGGHHHH! [Jumps off the boat.]
      Homer: Uh, I meant the Statue.
  • The Comically Serious: Despite being the most straight-laced member of the quartet, Skinner is labeled as "the funny one."
  • Continuity Nod: Some of the paintings Marge made in "Brush With Greatness" are on display at her stand in the swap-meet. Barney's Japanese girlfriend would later reappear in the episode Mom and Pop Art.
  • Couch Gag: A director does three takes of the Couch Gag.
    • Take one: The family runs into each other and shatter like glass, with Santa's Little Helper walking in to look at the mess on the floor.
    • Take two: The family run into each other and coalesce into a multicolored five-headed blob.
    • Take three: The family run in and explode on contact, with Maggie's pacifier falling onto the blackened crater.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Homer's consoling of Marge after he told her that he had to keep his marriage a secret because women would want to have sex with him and it would increase the band's appeal if they thought they could (according to his manager):
    Don't worry, honey. It's just until we finish our tour of Sweden.
  • Epic Fail: Marge's attempt to compensate for Homer's absence doesn't go well. First, her recording of Homer's voice stops working, terrifying Bart and Lisa, and then the junk Homer she made starts falling apart, terrifying them even further.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: It ends up Homer, Principal Skinner, Apu, Chief Wiggum, and Barney had a working relationship around the time Lisa was a toddler, despite not showing any familiarity with each other on the show (besides Homer and Barney) up to that point.
  • Expy Coexistence: The Be Sharps are a parody of the Beatles, but the actual Beatles are not only mentioned, one of them guest stars as himself.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: A paperboy announces the Be Sharps singing on a roof. A man buys a newspaper and finds out it has no mention of the Be Sharps.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The Be Sharps' rise and fall takes place over the course of five weeks.
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: What happened to Willie during the Be Sharps' tour.
    Principal Skinner: Well, Willie, I'm back. And how did you spend your summer?
    Groundskeeper Willie: I made millions in software, and then lost it at the track!
  • Funetik Aksent: Groundskeeper Willie during his audition with a Petula Clark song, "Win yer aloan an' laif iz gittin' ya loanlee, yeh kin alwoys goooooo (ach!) doontoon!"
    Apu: Next!
  • Funny Background Event: In the middle of his story, the Simpsons' car gets a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Homer continues narrating to the kids as if nothing's happened, while Marge has to walk 12 miles to the nearest gas station alone and replace it herself.
  • Grail in the Garbage: Homer finds a copy of the Declaration of Independence, Action Comics No. 1, a sheet of Inverted Jenny stamps and a Stradivarius violin in a 5¢ item box. He dismisses it as junk and tosses everything aside.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Barney, of all people, turns out to have an astounding Irish tenor.
    • Homer has more than a little song-writing talent (except for his songs about Mr. T and C. Everett Koop.)
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: After "Baby On Board" is released, Homer insists he won't let fame change him and that he'll still be the same loving father he always has been. Marge then asks if he's seen Bart and Homer remarks he stuck Bart somewhere. Cut to the basement, where Bart is trapped under a laundry basket weighed down with rocks, forlornly rapping a cup against the bars.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: Apu swears "by the many arms of Vishnu" that he is not an Indian.
  • It's Been Done: The Trope Namer. George Harrison says this on seeing the B-Sharps singing on a roof-top.
  • Jerkass: Major Quimby begins the episode muttering about how much he hates everyone at the swap-meet, and after giving his introduction marches off in need of a drink and a shower.
  • Loophole Abuse: After getting kicked out of the Be Sharps, Wiggum attempts to get back in by disguising himself as Dr. Dolittle. Unfortunately, it doesn't work.
  • More Popular Replacement: In-Universe: Barney is initially hated by the quartet's fans for taking Wiggum's place... until everyone hears him sing.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Homer and The Be-Sharps sing a song about Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. Annoyed, Apu then gripes to him, "This is worse than your song about Mr. T!"
      Homer: I pity the fool who don't like...he.
    • The reasons why the Be-Sharps' meteoric success has been so utterly forgotten just eight years later, not to mention just how it happened in the first place ("Since when can you write a song?") are all brought up at the end of the episode, and Homer brushes them all off with a comment that yes, there is an explanation, but he'll tell them some other time.
    • When Skinner says he can't remember the last time the band was all together, Apu reminds him that the previous year they appeared on "that stupid Dame Edna special".
  • Nothing Personal: There's one scene with the Sea Captain fighting a giant squid. The captain explains it's not personal and he's just interested on the gold in the squid's belly.
  • The Pete Best: In-Universe: Chief Wiggum, kicked out for being "too Village People."
  • Police Brutality: The final gag of the episode is Wiggum ordering his men to use tear gas on the Be-Sharps as they are singing on the rooftop of Moe's Bar.
  • Product Placement: An in-universe example; Apu chimes in "Shop Kwik-e-Mart and save!" during one of the Be Sharps' early numbers.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: The episode ends with the Be Sharps getting back together for a Rooftop Concert.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: Parodied when the Be Sharps win the Grammy Award for Outstanding Soul, Spoken Word, or Barbershop Album of the Year.
  • Recognition Failure: Homer meets George Harrison. At first he appears to recognize him, but then he cries out, "Where did you get that brownie?!" It's not entirely clear whether Homer failed to recognise Harrison or knew exactly who he was but just thought the brownie was more important.
  • The Resenter: Even many years after the band split, Wiggum is still pretty upset about being kicked out, to the point that the final gag of the episode is ordering his men to use tear gas on their impromptu reunion concert (and he seems eagerly ready to beat them up with a baton as well).
  • Riddle for the Ages: The many logistical questions the plot of the episode raises are actually asked by Bart and Lisa, and go unanswered by Homer, at the end.
    Lisa: ...There are still a few things I don't get. Like, how come we never heard about this until today?
    Bart: Yeah, and what happened to the money you made?
    Lisa: Why haven't you hung up your gold record?
    Bart: Since when could you write a song?
    Homer: [laughs] There are perfectly good answers to those questions. But they'll have to wait for another night! Now off to bed.
  • Rooftop Concert: In a parody of Let It Be the Be Sharps perform on a roof.
    George Harrison: It’s been done.
  • Rule of Three: The Couch Gag, which had three different takes (though the free-to-air TV version that used to air on FOX cut it down to just one take).
  • Series Continuity Error: Santa's Little Helper buries the junk Homer's head in the yard during Homer's story, even though he wouldn't be adopted by the Simpson family until "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire".
  • Sgt. Pepper's Shout-Out: The back cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is spoofed when Homer looks at the Bigger Than Jesus album. We see three of the band members in frontal view, while Homer turns his back to the camera, just like Paul does amidst the Beatles on the Sgt. Peppers backside cover.
  • Shoot the Television: After seeing Johnny Carson mock him on The Tonight Show for being kicked out of the Be Sharps, a furious Wiggum shoots his TV four times. Subverted in that not only does he miss them all, but it turns out he thought he was holding the remote (which was in his gun holster) and wanted to change the channel. When it further becomes clear that his TV hates him, he throws his gun at it and shatters the screen.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The "Melvin and the Squirrels" record is a reference to Alvin and the Chipmunks.
      Bart: What the hell is this?
      Comic Book Guy: Melvin and the Squirrels, part of the "Rodent Invasion" of the early '60s.
      [plays record]
      Sped-up voices: Stuck a feather in his cap and called it...
      Solo sped-up voice: Rice-a-Roni!
      [Bart and Lisa shrug]
    • During the audition Jasper sings "Theme From A Summer Place" and a poorly-disguised Chief Wiggum does "Talk To The Animals" from Doctor Dolittle.
    • Homer's first attempt at a song "There was nothing in Al Capone's vault, but it wasn't Geraldo's fault" is a reference to TV presenter Geraldo Rivera, who in 1986 hosted a nationally-broadcast special entitled "The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault". He built up a lot of suspense and curiosity on what might be found in Al Capone's vault once it was opened, but it turned out to be nothing but dirt and one beer bottle.
    • Homer gives Grampa a brand-new pink car just like Elvis Presley gave one to his mother.
    • Barney's accidental audition by singing "Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral (That's an Irish Lullaby)" is one to Can't Stop the Music. Ironic, since he was replacing Chief Wiggum, who was "too Village People".
    • Skinner’s prisoner number in Vietnam was 24601, a reference to Les Misérables.
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: "Baby on board, something something Burt Ward..."
    Homer: This thing writes itself!
  • Special Guest: Disneyland's barbershop quartet, the Dapper Dans as the singing voices of "The Be Sharps" and also wrote "Baby on Board". George Harrison and David Crosby also appear as themselves.
  • Take That!:
    • Wiggum gets kicked out of the group for being "too Village People".
    • The Grammy Awards.
      Homer: Here. (hands bellhop his statue)
      Bellhop: Wow, an awards statue! Oh, it's a Grammy. (throws it down the balcony)
      Man: Hey, don't throw your garbage down here! (throws it back up at Homer and knocks him out)
    • When the Barbershop Quartet performs near the Statue Of Liberty Ronald Reagan is attending the ceremony. He says: "Damn ceremonies. This is a time I could be working, Mommy", poking fun at the fact that Reagan, due to his old age, didn't do much difficult or hard work in the White House. Most of it was left to his administration, while he just signed papers and gave speeches. It also references his well-publicized habit of calling his wife "mommy".
    • Yoko Ono naturally comes in for this, with her counterpart having a "song" that's nothing but her saying "Number 8" and Barney belching.
    • The marquee outside of the church reads "What A F iend We Have In Jesus".
    • The last time the Be Sharps appeared together was the year prior on a special hosted by Dame Edna, which Apu does not take kindly to.
  • Terrible Interviewees Montage: After dropping Wiggum, the rest of the band go through one of these looking for his replacement. The Hopeless Auditionees include Abe Simpson covering Frank Sinatra's jazzed-up version of "Old MacDonald", Willie butchering "Downtown" with his Scottish accent, Jasper singing "Theme from A Summer Place" with blatantly wrong lyrics note , and Dr. Dolittle;
    Skinner: Good lord! Dr. Dolittle is Chief Wiggum!
    Wiggum: This bird's gonna fly! (Jumps out window)
  • This Is Going to Be Huge: Homer says of Dexys Midnight Runners, "We haven't seen the last of them!" (While DMR had more success in the UK than the US, Homer, as an American, is unlikely to have gone on to hear a single song of theirs besides "Come on Eileen"). The Italian dubbing for the episode substitutes Duran Duran to DMR, making the joke pointless since the original line-up came back together in early '00s.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Be Sharps had marketed a funny foam that was recalled for being poisonous if ingested. Homer then says if anyone was dumb enough to eat it, they deserve to die. Cut to Bart doing just that (eating the foam, not dying from it).
    Homer: BART!!
    Bart: What?
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight:
    • A man dresses up as a fly and climbs a building to the interest of no one who are all paying attention to the Be-Sharps singing on the rooftop of Moe's.
    • Sarah Wiggum's reaction to her husband's attempt to Shoot the Television is to tell him, in a mildly irritated voice, to just use the remote.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Bart and Lisa wonder aloud several things (mostly about Homer's hidden musical abilities); of course these things are never explained in the episode.
  • Wild Take: Bart and Lisa's reaction to the malfunctioning fake Homer that Marge created in his absence.
  • Yoko Oh No: Barney hooks up with one who disrupts the band's chemistry.
  • Your Television Hates You: Sitting at home, Wiggum turns on the TV to see Johnny Carson badmouthing him. After changing the channel, he finds Joan Rivers also badmouthing him.

Homer: I'd like to thank you on behalf of the group, and I hope we passed the audition.
[crowd laughs]
Barney: AH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!! AH HA HA HA HA HA HA!!! AH HA HA Haaaaaaaaaaa...................... I don't get it.