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Recap / The Simpsons S7 E17 "Homer the Smithers"

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"Doughnuts? I told you, I don't like ethnic food!"

Original air date: 2/25/1996 (produced in 1995)

Production code: 3F14

Smithers goes on vacation after having a mental breakdown over not being able to save Burns from being harassed by a drunken Lenny. Homer takes Smithers' place as Mr. Burns' assistant, but all the abuse Homer takes from Mr. Burns causes him to snap and punch the old man in the face, which drives Mr. Burns to be more self-reliant.


  • Achievements in Ignorance: Homer manages to light a bowl of cereal on fire by pouring milk on it.
  • The Alcoholic: Barney is this to the point where distracting him while Moe accepts the next shipment has become a paying job. Without a distraction, Barney will accept and drink the entire shipment in just a few seconds, and the delivery guy reacts to Barney's presence with abject terror.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Smithers goes on vacation to a resort that seems to have only men and doesn't allow pictures to be taken.
  • And I Must Scream: A more mild example of this trope happens near the end; Mr. Burns ends up in a full body cast and is bedridden, unable to move any part of his body except his face. Granted, he only seems mildly annoyed by his predicament, but given his pronounced frailty, he'd probably be stuck like that for a pretty long time...
  • Antagonistic Offspring: Mr. Burns does not get along with his 122-year-old mother. She apparently had an affair with President Taft, for which he's never forgiven her, and he tried to pull her life support. Surprisingly, she not only pulled through, she's lived for five decades.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Smithers explains his 2800 small jobs to Homer, who is filling in for him while he goes on vacation: "Your new duties will include answering Mr. Burns' phone, preparing his tax return, moistening his eyeballs, assisting with his chewing and swallowing, lying to Congress, and some light typing."
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • After Lisa comments that Smithers would probably get a job anywhere, the scene cuts to a sign reading AT&T. A zoom out reveals that the full sign reads "Neat & Tidy Piano Movers".
    • Smithers tries to look up incompetent employees to take over his job as Mr. Burns' servant. He gets 714 results, so he adds additional parameters ("lazy, clumsy, dimwitted, monstrously ugly") as if building up to the computer recommending Homer. Instead, the number of results don't actually change, so Smithers gives up on this and just selects Homer at the spur of the moment.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: When their plan is botched, Smithers attacks Homer in a rage and goads him to fight back. Bad idea.
    Smithers: Stop fighting like a girl, Simpson!
    Homer: Okay... [Slugs Smithers in the face hard]
  • Beleaguered Assistant: The episode has Homer take Smithers' place as this while he's on vacation.
  • Berserk Button: Mr. Burns may not like his mother, but he's still furious at Homer's attempted impersonation of her.
  • Bungled Suicide: Convinced he's a failure, Smithers tries to drown himself in the office water cooler. Burns just holds down the pump until it's empty of water.
  • Captain Oblivious: Lenny comes up to Burns' car to cheerfully thank his boss for sponsoring a night at the ballpark, unwittingly terrifying the rich old man with a thumbs-up.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • Homer's theory on why he was chosen as Smithers' substitute was that he has "motivational skills", and that everybody has to work harder when he's around. The truth is, people have to work harder to make up for Homer's failings, not because he motivates them.
    • While impersonating Mr. Burns' mother, Homer is under the impression even she calls him "Mr. Burns."
  • Continuity Nod:
    • When mentioning Homer to Mr. Burns, Smithers states that "all the recent events in your life have revolved around him in some way."
    • Bobo, Mr. Burns' teddy bear from "Rosebud", appears near the end of the episode.
    • This is the second time Homer snapped and viciously attacked Mr. Burns.
  • Continuity Snarl: According to this episode, Mr. Burns has never driven himself, despite the fact we've seen him drive himself on several occasions, including in "Scenes From The Class Struggle In Springfield" only three episodes earlier.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Homer tries to ask Smithers about what he should do in case of fire in Mr. Burns' office, but Smithers can't hear him as he leaves. No sooner than that, a fire starts.
      Homer: Aw, just my luck...
    • Apparently, Moe's Tavern's phone number spells out "Smithers" (7-648-4377).
  • Couch Gag: The family drives around the room in go-karts while wearing Shriner fezzes. They line up in front of the couch and honk their horns simultaneously.
  • A Day in the Limelight: For Smithers.
  • Defeat Equals Friendship:
    • After Homer punches him, Burns is initially scared of Homer. However over time when he becomes self-reliant, he thanks Homer and even puts him back to work at his old job.
    • This happens again between Homer and Smithers. After the fight between Smithers and Homer leads Homer to knock Burns out the window accidentally and put him in traction, Burns orders Smithers to make sure that Homer gets "exactly what he deserves." Smithers, who is now back to waiting on Burns hand and foot, does so by sending the Simpsons a large basket of fruit with the words "Thank You."
  • Destination Defenestration: During his (very) brief stint as an announcer at Springfield Dragway, Smithers gets thrown out the window of the announcer's booth for repeatedly questioning why he has to keep saying the last word of each sentence three times.
    Smithers: Hey, let go of me! WHERE ARE YOU THROWING ME?! (Offscreen Crash)
  • Depending Upon the Undependable: Smithers makes Homer his substitute as Mr. Burns's assistant and caretaker while he went on vacation, expecting him to screw up so badly that Mr. Burns would become more dependent on him. While Homer does indeed live up to expectations, this backfires on Smithers, as it causes Mr. Burns to become more independent out of necessity and he fires Smithers.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Moe follows up on his end of the Running Gag of giving Bart a death threat in response to a prank call. ...Except it was Burns sincerely calling for Smithers.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Mr. Burns' attempts at driving by himself are pretty hazardous.
    Chief Wiggum: That's some nice reckless driving, Mr. B!
  • Easily Forgiven: After their fight winds up putting Mr. Burns in a full body cast (thus making him need Smithers again,) Smithers responds by sending Homer a fruit basket.
  • Epic Fail:
    • Homer somehow setting fire to Mr. Burns' bowl of cereal—after pouring milk and cereal into a bowl like any of us would normally do. It's the present image for the show's Epic Fail page.
    • Smithers' attempted suicide: dunking his head inside of the reservoir of a water cooler to drown himself. All Burns needs to do to stop it is press the water dispenser button until it drains.
    • Smithers' entire plan of picking Homer as a substitute so that he wouldn't be outshined as Burns' assistant. Instead of making Smithers seem indispensable, Homer's incompetence (and later violence) forces Mr. Burns to take care of himself for a change. When Smithers returns, Homer just returns to his previous job at the plant while Smithers is fired because he's not needed any more at all.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Burns learns to respect his underlings after getting punched in the face. He also stops Smithers' attempted suicide and insists he takes a vacation.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Burns panics when he gets approached by Lenny, believing that he came with ill intent, missing all the obvious cues that Lenny only showed up to personally thank him for the fun evening.
  • Exact Words:
    • While at a public phone at the resort where he's vacationing, Smithers tells Mr. Burns he has to end the call because there's a line behind him. It's a conga line, and he joins it immediately after hanging up.
    • Burns orders Smithers to give Homer "what's coming to him." For Smithers, this means sending Homer a giant basket of fruit thanking him for leaving Burns dependent on him again.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: Smithers' bungled attempt at suicide. Burns spends the few seconds he takes to stop it with a "what the hell is wrong with you, man?" look on his face.
  • Failure Montage: Homer tries to make Mr. Burns' breakfast, and screws up every single time. All meals catch fire, even a simple bowl of cereal. Later, Smithers fails to keep any new job he gets.
  • Faux Horrific: While Smithers steps out for a moment, leaving Mr. Burns alone in his car, a drunken but friendly Lenny comes to thank him. To Burns, Lenny looks like an attacker, and even talks about "the glint of murder in his eye" on the ride home.
  • Flanderization: In this episode, Mr. Burns's frailty and detachment from the modern world are heavily exaggerated, as are Smithers's Hypercompetent Sidekick tendencies. The result is Mr. Burns cannot complete a sentence that ends in his own name without assistance.
  • Foreshadowing: The opening has Mr. Burns relying on Smithers for everything, even moreso than usual.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Smithers chooses Homer to be his temporary replacement based on the theory that he'll prove so monstrously incompetent that he won't take Smithers' job permanently. It works; Homer proves to be such a terrible assistant that Mr. Burns has no choice but to become self-sufficient, resulting in him not needing Smithers anymore.
  • Hand Wave: Smithers needs to find a temporary replacement who won't outperform him. When he searches the employee database using keywords such as "incompetent," "lazy," and "monstrously ugly," and the search turns up 714 names:
    "Ahh, nuts to this, I'll just go get Homer Simpson."
  • Hypocritical Humor: At one point, Homer is so sleep-deprived that Bart tries to take advantage of it by making him do his math homework. Lisa tells him to "leave Simpson alone"... before telling Homer that she needs a ride to the library.
  • Impossible Task: Mr. Burns asks Homer to prepare him a Dodo egg for him to eat. Homer correctly points out that Dodos are extinct.
  • Incompetence, Inc.: Looking through the personnel computer files for incompetent employees gets 714 results. Looking through the computer files again, adding very precise search details like "monstrously ugly", still gets 714 results. Smithers, fed up, decides to just get Homer.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Mr. Burns is right, Homer is utterly useless as an assistant. Though this was the reason Smithers gave him the position in the first place.
  • Kevlard: Smithers' fist gets stuck in Homer's stomach, which prompts Homer to laugh and push Smithers' head. Until he gets angry and bites, at which point they both separate.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Smithers' attempt to find an inferior replacement hits a brick wall when he gets 714 results even after narrowing the search down as much as he can. Realising he's not getting anywhere with this, he gives up and selects Homer.
  • Made of Incendium: Homer tries to make breakfast for Burns only to repeatedly set it on fire. Even when he pours a bowl of corn flakes and milk.
  • Mean Boss: Mr. Burns, only this time, Homer gives him a black eye for it. However, instead of firing him, Burns thanks him for forcing him to be self-sufficient.
  • Mistaken for Prank Call: Mr. Burns tries to call Smithers but doesn't know how telephones work and mistakenly calls Moe's Tavern. Moe, having been tormented for years by Bart's prank calls, thinks Mr. Burns is pranking him.
  • Mood Whiplash: Homer humorously struggles to keep up while substituting as Mr. Burns' personal assistant, until he punches Burns in a fit of rage.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Homer is absolutely horrified when he punches Mr. Burns out in a fit of rage, and runs home immediately believing he actually killed the old man.
  • Never My Fault: When Homer and Smithers are caught by Burns, who chews them out, Homer just tells Smithers he "blew it". This is the last straw for Smithers.
  • Noodle Incident: Smithers explains to Homer that Mr. Burns' relationship with his mother is strained, explaining that he hasn't forgiven her since her affair with President Taft. Also, there's this exchange he has while having a phone conversation with "her":
    Mr. Burns: Oh, hello, Mater. Sorry about pulling the plug on you. Who knew that you would pull through and... live for another five decades. Boy, is my face red!
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Homer when he punched out Mr. Burns.
    • Also Moe's reaction when he realizes Barney's escaped to get at the midnight beer delivery. And the delivery men when they finally notice that the man who approached them is Barney.
      Delivery Man: Beer delivery, sign here... Oh no! IT'S YOU!
  • One-Hit Kill: "One-Hit Knockout" variant. Because Burns is canonically absurdly weak, Homer's single punch the moment he can't take Burns' insults anymore knocks him out flat for a long while and actually makes Homer believe for a moment that he had killed him.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: Smithers attempts to do this to obtain an incredibly incompetent employee by searching through the plant's files using several keywords, yet it still manages to bring up the files for every employee in the plant. In his exasperation, he just goes for Homer.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • The episode begins with Mr. Burns hosting an event at the race track for his employees, and everything is on his dime, no less!
    • After Smithers has a mental breakdown, Burns insists that he take a vacation. When Smithers calls him, Burns insists that Smithers stop worrying and just enjoy vacation- and shows interest in his activities.
  • "Psycho" Strings: When Homer realizes he knocked out Mr. Burns.
  • Rage Breaking Point:
    • Burns' endless barrage of requests and belittling make Homer mad enough to punch his lights out (and actually believe for a moment that he killed him). The resulting fear of Homer forces Burns to become self-sufficient, and because of this he decides to fire Smithers (who put Homer on the secretary position hoping it would force Burns to ask for his return faster).
    • Following getting fired and a long list of failed attempts at new jobs, Smithers is willing to go along with wacky scheme with Homer to get his job back. When Homer bungles it and gets him chewed out by Burns, Homer adds salt to the wound by telling a gutted Smithers how bad he blew it this time. Smithers snaps upon this and attacks Homer for repeatedly ruining his livelihood. Given the aforementioned crap Homer suffered because of Smithers earlier however, he's more than willing to fight back.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Burns has been in dependent on Smithers for so long that, once Homer has fled his office, he struggles to do the most basic things for himself.
    • Attempting to dial up Smithers on the telephone, all he can think to do is to enter his last name on the keypad, resulting in what Moe's Tavern thinks is another crank call from Bart.
    • When Homer pokes his head back in, Burns assures him he's fine, and he's even made his own coffee - and there's a half-empty hundred-pound sack of beans on the floor in front of his desk to prove it.
  • Self-Punishment Over Failure: Waylon Smithers (who had already showcased himself to be absurdly loyal to Mr. Burns) takes his failure to protect Burns from a drunk (but very friendly) Lenny and accidentally not letting Mr. Burns be able to do a Junior Jumble (because he laminated the newspaper) so badly that he tries to drown himself in a water cooler. Mr. Burns then demands Smithers take a vacation, which makes things worse for both of them.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Out of fear his place as Mr. Burns' assistant would be taken by someone who'd eclipse him, Smithers gives Homer the job. Homer is so incompetent (and violent) that Mr. Burns decides to do things by himself. By the time Smithers returns from his vacation, Mr. Burns has decided he no longer needs an assistant.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Mrs. Burns looks like an older and more decrepit version of her son, complete with a very similarly-shaped nose.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: When Smithers goes through the power plant's employee records, he finds that all of its employees match the bad criteria he inputs. He finally just chooses Homer on a whim.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Mr. Burns avoids talking to his mother because he never forgave her for having an affair with William Howard Taft.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Lenny, Smithers and Homer do this in sequence:
    • Lenny's drunken antics kick off the entire plot when he inadvertently scares Mr. Burns, causing Smithers to suffer a mental breakdown over his failure to protect his boss. Smithers tries to commit suicide, but Burns forces him to take a vacation instead.
    • When Smithers chooses Homer to take his place as Burns's lackey, Homer's incompetence leads to Burns pushing Homer to his Rage Breaking Point.
    • Homer punching Burns after he reaches his Rage Breaking Point leads Burns to become so self-sufficient he doesn't need Smithers to wait on him anymore.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Moe's Tavern's phone number spells out "Smithers" (7-648-4377). Since there's the country calling code of 7, that would mean Springfield is either in Russia or Kazakhstan.
  • Wrong Line of Work: After getting fired, Smithers briefly works as the announcer at the Springfield Dragway. However, his stern nature is so incompatible that he gets thrown out of the announcer's booth off-camera.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Smithers thinks about accepting Moe's "Barney Blocker" job when Homer intervenes.
    Homer: You can't let yourself end up in a place like this. You can give up on yourself and take the Barney-guarding job, like so many of us have contemplated in our darkest moments, or you can admit to yourself there's only one person that can make you happy and do whatever it takes to get them back!
  • "You!" Exclamation: The guy delivering Moe's new beer supply reacts this way when Barney confronts him.


Video Example(s):


Burning Cereal

When Homer tries to make breakfast for Mr. Burns, he's such a terrible cook that he ends up burning everything, even CEREAL.

How well does it match the trope?

4.97 (34 votes)

Example of:

Main / EpicFail

Media sources: