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plow-back

Mr. Plow

"Mr. Plow" is the ninth episode of The Simpsons' fourth season, which originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on November 19, 1992. In the episode, Homer buys a snow plow and starts a business plowing driveways. It is a huge success, and inspired by Homer's success, Barney Gumble starts a rival company and quickly puts Homer out of business. The episode was written by Jon Vitti and directed by Jim Reardon. In 1993, Dan Castellaneta won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Voice-Over Performance" for this episode. The episode was also submitted in the "Outstanding Comedy Series" category although ultimately it was not nominated.

Plot

It is snowing badly in Springfield, so Marge calls Homer at Moe's Tavern and tells him to come home. Homer drives through a snowstorm, but on the way he crashes into another car, which turns out to be the family's other car, still parked in the driveway. Now without transportation, Homer begins looking for a new car. After several unsuccessful attempts, the family go to a car show. After an unsettling encounter with Adam West, a salesman talks Homer into getting a snowplow. Homer agrees on the basis that he can make the payments by plowing people’s driveways. Homer starts his snow plow business, titled "Mr. Plow", however he has trouble finding any customers. His advertising campaigns are unsuccessful until Lisa suggests an ad on public television. The resulting commercial and jingle attracts lots of customers and the business is a booming success. Homer is given the key to the city in recognition of his service to the community. Barney Gumble, envious of Homer’s achievements, asks how he can be a success as well. Homer advises him go out and be the best Barney he can be. The next day it is revealed that Barney has purchased an even bigger plow, and has started a rival company under the title of "Plow King". Barney creates his own commercial, which defames and slanders Homer (Barney hires Linda Ronstadt to sing the lyrics). Homer loses all of his customers and Mayor Quimby revokes the key to the city from Homer and gives it to Barney.

To get revenge and regain his customers, Homer tricks Barney into plowing a driveway on Widow’s Peak, a large treacherous mountain outside of town. Homer begins to plow driveways again, but sees a news report showing that Barney has been trapped in an avalanche. Homer immediately drives to the mountain and rescues Barney. The friends resolve their differences and agree to work together in the plow business, claiming that "When two best friends work together not even God himself can stop them!". This angers God, who retaliates by causing a heat wave that melts all the snow in Springfield, effectively putting them both out of business. Since Homer can no longer make the snow plow payments his plow is soon repossessed, and things return to normal.

Production

When the episode was being written, many writers' contracts had just expired, so there was a very small number of writers at the annual story retreat. Al Jean was very nervous about how they could write a whole new season with such a small crew. In addition, there were several scenes added after the animatic, making the schedule even tighter. However, Jon Vitti was very committed to this episode and pitched almost the entire plot by himself. Vitti's inspiration for the episode was when he noticed that very few TV shows portray snow outside of Thanksgiving or Christmas, so he wanted to do an episode with snow involved. From this idea he developed the "friends in competition with each other" plot, which led to Homer getting the plow from a car show. From this came Vitti's plan; have Adam West be at the car show, so then they could hire him for the voice acting and Vitti could finally meet Adam West. The other writers agreed because they were all big fans of Batman when they were children and wanted to meet Adam West. Matt Groening said that West was one of the most popular people to ever come to the studio. Some of the writers were actually giddy with nervousness and happiness. Linda Ronstadt was also quite a popular guest star, although she didn’t actually visit the studio and was recorded in San Francisco. Jon Vitti was tasked with recording Linda and he enjoyed it immensely. He still thinks that the most beautiful thing he has ever heard is Linda Ronstadt singing the Spanish Plow King jingle.

Two more script changes that put extra pressure on the episode were a post-animatic rewrite and a complete character change. In the original script for the episode Lenny was going to be Homer’s rival as the Plow King. The idea was quickly dropped because it didn’t seem to fit in. Jon Vitti commented, "It’s sort of like trying to picture Buddy Ebsen as the Tin Man." The post-animatic rewrite was to include the now famous joke in which Homer uses the radio dial to tip the precariously balanced plow back onto the road. This joke was created by Conan O' Brien, and the writers liked it so much that they included it in the episode. It has since become a favourite joke among fans of the episode.

The Simpsons team encountered trouble with the censors in the scene where Homer answers the phone and pretends to be Tony Dow from Leave it to Beaver. After a brief pause Homer replies to an inquiry by the person on the phone with "Yeah, they were gay." The censors refused to allow the line to be aired fearing legal recourse for libel. The Simpsons crew protested, arguing that no one in particular was being implied, and that the "they" could be anybody. After numerous phone calls and arguments, the censors allowed the joke to air. Reflecting on the issue, Al Jean wonders why they wasted so much time just to get that one joke aired.

Cultural references

This episode contains several references that Al Jean referred to as "Very obscure." Examples of this include the scene where Homer drives through the treacherous mountain roads, a slight parody of a scene in The Wages of Fear, and the scene where Kent Brockman (wearing glasses) reads the off-screen report and looks up in shock, which is a parody of Walter Cronkite hearing about Kennedy’s assassination.

The revamped "Mr. Plow commercial" is a parody of a similar perfume commercial which aired at the time of the episode's production. The fast moving clouds were taken from Koyaanisqatsi, a documentary film. The music that was used in the commercial was from "Casta Diva" from Vincenzo Bellini's Norma because the Simpsons crew wouldn’t have to pay for it. At the time the episode was made, Russia did not abide by American copyright laws. In return, America didn’t respect Russia’s copyright laws. So TV studios could get the best opera in the world as long as it was a Russian opera.

Also, Homer's original jingle, "Call Mr. Plow, that's my name, that name again is Mr. Plow!", is based on a long-running radio jingle for the Roto-Rooter, which had a similar tune, "Call Roto-Rooter, that's the name, and away go troubles down the drain."

When Homer meets Adam West, West refers to the new Batman movies and Catwoman actresses Michelle Pfeiffer, Lee Merriwether and Eartha Kitt. He also refers to how Batman used to dance.

The promo that FOX shoots for their show The Search for Bigfoot resembles the famous Patterson-Gimlin film.

Some other references include the "Carnival of the Stars" television show seen at the start of the episode. This is a parody of Circus of the Stars, the annual specials that aired on CBS from 1976-1994, featuring celebrities performing circus acts. The scene where Barney gradually degrades into a drunk is a parody of the transformation sequence in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The scene where Bart is "killed" with snowballs is a reference to the famous Sonny Corleone tollbooth shooting scene in the film The Godfather. The snowmen melting during the heatwave is a reference to the melting Nazi soldiers in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Reception

In 2003, the episode was placed sixth on Entertainment Weekly's top 25 The Simpsons episode list. Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, enjoyed the episode. They said that it is "A good one. The highlights; the TV show Carnival of Stars, featuring Angela Lansbury walking on hot coals ('Excitement, she wrote!'), Homer's flashback to all he's done for Barney, and best of all, the McMahon & Tate ad agency's arty commercial for Mr. Plow." When asked to pick his favorite season out of The Simpsons seasons one through twenty, Paul Lane of the Niagara Gazette picked season four and highlighted "Brother from the Same Planet" and "Mr. Plow" which he called "excellent", along with "the sweetly funny" "Lisa's First Word", and "Homer the Heretic".

Awards

In 1993, Dan Castellaneta won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Voice-Over Performance" for his performance as Homer in this episode. It was his second Emmy, as he had also won in the same category the previous year. In 1993, "Mr. Plow" and "A Streetcar Named Marge" were submitted for the Primetime Emmy Award for "Outstanding Comedy Series". The Simpsons' staff had previously submitted episodes for "Outstanding Animated Program", winning twice, but that season they took a chance with the main comedy category. However, the Emmy voters were hesitant to pit cartoons against live action programs, and The Simpsons did not receive a nomination. The Simpsons' crew submitted episodes for Outstanding Comedy Series the next season, but again these were not nominated. Since then, the show has submitted episodes in the animation category and has won seven times.

References

External links

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