As anticipated, Waylon Smithers Jr. — voiced by Harry Shearer — came out as gay to Mr. Burns on a episode of The Simpsons.
The episode also features Homer trying to find Smithers a boyfriend on Grindr. Later, Marge and Homer host a party full of gay men in the hopes that Smithers will find a significant other.
George Takei makes an animated cameo, and Smithers winds up leaving the party with a Cuban bartender. As one does.
However, Smithers never expressly says “I’m gay” — not in so many words. This fact led Slate’s June Thomas to criticize the show as disappointing and “a little sad:”
It seems odd and a little sad…that Smithers wasn’t really allowed to come out. It’s great that so many of Smithers’ friends and neighbors understand that he’s gay and want to help him find a boyfriend. It’s just too bad the show’s writers don’t seem to realize the psychological cost of forcing him to stay silent about an important part of his identity. Look again at the video above. There’s real pain in Smithers’ eyes when Mr. Burns prevents him from telling him something important that he really wants to share. It’s all very well to outfit Smithers in the symbols of gayness—cute rainbow parachute!—but it’s cruel of The Simpsons’ writers not to let Waylon Smithers control his own narrative.
TIME’s Daniel D’Addario was equally critical, saying the episode was an example of “how toothless the show has become.”
The episode of The Simpsons sought to win citizenship points for expressing a good and laudable point-of-view: If more people believed that gay people deserve to be treated as equal to the rest of humanity, the world would be a lovely place! But there was little tension in this saggy, baggy episode of television, and less humor. Homer and Marge, opening their home to a gay mixer for Smithers’s benefit, had no opinion of anything that happened in the episode other than that it was all wonderful. None of the guests get anything to say; the show’s take on as easy a target as the gay-dating app Grindr is to acknowledge that it exists.
And the episode’s fundamental lack of imagination about ways to portray gay life onscreen can be summed up with one detail: The guy Smithers ends up with is a fiery, lispy Latin bartender cut from the same cloth as Simpsons star Hank Azaria’s character in the 1996 movie The Birdcage. If you’re in need of a second, George Takei was a guest star, playing himself.”
How did you feel his coming out was handled?