Despite being the heroic everyman at the center of The Simpsons Homer Simpson is one of the most famously dumb characters in TV history, but the character’s intellect is actually a detail the series has changed numerous times over the years. Beginning with the cynical Christmas special “Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire” way back in 1989, The Simpsons has spent over seven hundred episodes upending sitcom conventions to create one of the most anarchic and subversive slices of comedy on TV. Inspiring everything from Family Guy to South Park, The Simpsons has spent 30 seasons twisting TV conventions for comedic effect.
Turning the stern but morally upright father figures of Father Knows Best or Leave It To Beaver into a bumbling buffoon was one of the show’s earliest deconstructions, but nowadays The Simpsons‘ most beloved character is Homer himself, the well-meaning but dim patriarch of the eponymous Springfield family. According to one famous episode Homer, as a male Simpson, is afflicted with the so-called “Simpson Gene” and genetically predestined to be unintelligent. Indeed, the character is historically far from sharp, with many of his most misadventures stem from dumb decisions.
However, while The Simpsons has shown plenty of proof that Homer isn’t the brightest spark, the opposite has often been true too. The series has changed Homer’s level of intelligence so many times throughout its run that some viewers have suggested the inconsistency makes for a hard-to-ignore plot hole.
According to Homer’s relatives, Homer and Bart are supposedly far less intelligent than Lisa due to a gene that affects the male members of the Simpson’s clan. This episode explains why Lisa is so smart but doesn’t account for Homer’s moments of genius either. Bart is also known to have some smart moments from time to time, something that this installment plays down to explain away Lisa’s super smarts – not that the question of her intelligence really needed a canonical answer. But Homer has many moments of impressive smartness throughout The Simpsons, most of which could be written off as throwaway gags but some of which straight-up contravene the show’s explanation for his supposedly limited intelligence.
A handful of one-off gags and plots from The Simpsons have exposed Homer as a secretly super-intelligent character who is either being lazy or simply unaware of his gifts. One episode sees him eloquently define the difference between envy and jealousy off-the-cuff, with his distinction being so rapid even Lisa is left scrambling to check the dictionary and confirm he’s correct. Meanwhile, Homer’s tenure as the Beer Baron proved he could easily outsmart driven Treasury Agent Rex Banner, while his prediction that Springfield’s toxic atmosphere would render Bart’s comet harmless was shockingly prescient and one the rest of the townspeople missed.
The extended Flowers For Algernon riff “HomR” saw shocked doctors explain that a crayon lodged in Homer’s brain during childhood led to his impaired intelligence. With the episode ignoring The Simpsons‘ canon explanation for Homer’s impaired cognition, in this adventure the crayon’s removal proves he has the potential to be a very sharp individual, even alienating some friends with his pedantic but undeniably vast intelligence. As a result, it is clear viewers are not supposed to take the original “Simpsons gene” explanation seriously. Meanwhile, the act of “pulling a Homer’ proves that even when he doesn’t mean to, Homer can make some smart snap decisions. This is reinforced with his ingenious but simple plan to retrieve his house from Jim Varney’s carnie Cooder in the classic episode “Bart Carny,” with Homer establishing an elaborate contest solely so he can pull a quick grift on Cooder and his son Spud. These examples show that, before and after the crayon’s removal, Homer always had a quick-thinking streak, as does his witty pun on former neighbor George Bush’s name – although Homer does concede the gag was “the smartest thing (he) ever said” in that instance.
The most striking example of Homer’s intelligence comes at the close of 2007’s The Simpsons Movie, wherein he manages to save Springfield and destroy the dome enclosing the town thanks to quick thinking, staggering spatial awareness, and a canny callback to earlier in the movie. The timing required for Homer to throw the bomb through the dome’s only opening at just the right moment, in addition to riding the motorcycle around the collapsing dome in time to land unharmed, is the sort of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence few possess and that is rarely accounted for in evaluations of an individual’s intellectual potential. This Simpsons Movie scene works both as an over-the-top example of cartoon psychics in action, and proof that Homer is only as intelligent or dumb as a given plot point on The Simpsons requires him to be.
The inconsistencies in Homer’s intelligence may seem like plot holes, but two possible explanations can make sense of how the character is bouncing between extremes of intellect. On the one hand, it’s purely for comedic effect, since the writers know there’s nothing funnier than subverting expectations by having a famously dim-witted character come out with something smart or profound. The Simpsons has historically been willing to sacrifice everything from plot and character consistency to geography or Chief Wiggum’s humanity for the sake of a laugh, so it’s fitting the anarchic show would take the same lax attitude toward Homer’s fluctuating intelligence.
On the other hand, the inconsistent intelligence Homer exhibits throughout The Simpsons could also be seen to argue a more substantial point about the type of individual valorized and idealized in both movies and television. The fact that Homer Simpson – loving father, devoted husband, and occasionally even valuable community member – is a decent everyman proves that his worth isn’t necessarily measured by his intelligence, and as a result, The Simpsons might be trying to prove it’s a character’s heart that matters rather than their (crayon-containing) brain.