- The Magazine
Waylon Smithers is gay. Everybody knows that. Everybody, it seems, but the object of his long-suffering affection, Montgomery Burns.
What’s a lovelorn animated character to do?
The answer will be, at long last, revealed — if not out-and-out confirmed — this Sunday, April 3, on The Simpsons.
“There’s not really an Ellen-type moment,” says Rob LaZebnik, a 12-year veteran with the show, now it its 27th season, and writer of the episode, aptly titled “The Burns Cage.” “I don’t want to give too much away, but it is absolutely acknowledged.”
For years, LaZebnik, who has a 21-year-old gay son, had wanted to tackle the subject of Smithers’ feelings for his employer, Mr. Burns. He also wanted to give the character “a romance.” “I just want to show him as the great guy that he is,” says the 50-year-old writer, who got his start on Golden Girls spin-off Empty Nest, “and this is one part of his greatness.”
LaZebnik pitched the Smithers storyline at the staff’s annual story retreat. “People were really excited by the idea,” he says. “For us and the audience, for so many years, there’s been a kind of understanding that Smithers is gay. But now we’re shifting that in this episode to show that Homer and the other residents of Springfield just know it. There’s an awareness of it that Mr. Burns still doesn’t have.”
In the episode, Homer uses a gay dating app to help his friend find a man. Don’t expect the show to broach the topic of gay marriage, however, something last tackled prominently over a decade ago, when Marge’s sister Patty was outed as lesbian. “We kind of stayed clear of the issue because Smithers is just meeting someone for the first time in this,” says LaZebnik.
The Simpsons has never shied away from adult topics or jokes — it’s dealt with death, sex, infidelity, and more. “It’s not a children’s show by any means,” says LaZebnik. “But at the same time we know a lot of kids are watching. It’s always in the back of our minds while writing.” Still, he feels the episode is one of those watershed moments for the long-running series.
“Television can really make an impact in the world,” he says. “And when you see the episode, you’ll see that there’s this kind of big warm hug from everybody for the idea that Smithers is gay. I hope that, without sounding corny, it sends a great message of tolerance.”
“The Burns Cage” airs Sunday, April 3, at 8 p.m. (ET/PT) on Fox.
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