Last night’s episode of The Simpsons broke some huge news: Smithers is gay. I’ll pause and let you pick your jaw up off of the floor.
After 27 years of all but explicitly saying the put- upon lackey had feelings for his evil boss Mr. Burns, last night’s “The Burns Cage” (a play on the 1996 Robin Williams classic The Birdcage) finally confirmed Smithers’ romantic feelings.
The episode opens with the pair sky diving. When Burns immediately passes out and loses his parachute, Smithers saves him. Spurred by the near- death experience Smithers tries to declare his love for his decrepit boss when Burns cuts him off haphazardly and insults him. Smithers takes out his frustration on Homer, Lenny and Carl, so the three decide to set up their boss on Grindr.
It may have seemed like a fairly standard episode of the long running Fox cartoon- there’s no dramatic reveal or speech because, well, everyone already knew- but the origin of the episode is surprisingly sweet. Rob LaZebnik, who’s written for the show since 1999, told The New York Post that he wrote the episode as a love letter to his gay son, Johnny. “I am a Midwestern guy, so I don’t tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve, but I thought, ‘What better way to tell my son I love him than to write a cartoon about it?’ ” Fortunately, the act of affection was about as unsurprising as Smithers’ sexuality to LaZebnik’s son. “The revelation that my father loves me is not much of a revelation, thankfully. He’s unbelievably accepting,” Johnny said. Also credited to Johnny? The incorporation of the popular gay dating app in the plot line. “He once sent me an email, and the header was just ‘How does Grindr work?’ I screenshotted and Instagrammed it and sent it to all my gay friends because it made me laugh so much,” he said of his father’s research for the episode.
The low key reveal was deliberate on LaZebnik’s part. “We didn’t really want to have that big moment of ‘I’m out,’ you know?” he says. “Instead, just have it be a big embrace — like everyone knows it.”
“The Burns Cage” was the 17th episode of the possibly eternal Simpsons‘ 27th season. Given that in all of these decades the residents of Springfield have undergone remarkably few lasting changes (Barney getting sober, Apu’s marriage and children, Barney falling off the wagon) last night’s episode was notable. It also smoothly confirmed the equally unsurprising sexuality of Lisa’s music teacher Mr. Largo.
As for the episode’s conclusion? After Smithers hits it off with Julio (who’s previously appeared in The Simpsons) he realizes he can’t get over Mr. Burns. Burns similarly realizes that he’s lost without Smithers constant attention. The two reunite, and Burns gives Smithers a long awaited performance review. “It’s… Excellent.”
“Amazingly,” Smithers responds. “That’s enough.”