Waylon J. Smithers, Jr., is gay, and if you’re a fan of The Simpsons (or were during its heyday), this has pretty much all but been confirmed since the character’s season three introduction. After 27 seasons on the air, The Simpsons proved it still has heart by treating Smithers’ coming out with respect, paired, of course, with screwball antics.
In the episode “The Burns Cage,” Smithers declares his long-time love for long-time boss Mr. Burns after the pair nearly die in a skydiving accident. The love is unreturned, naturally, given that Burns is the same cold-hearted meanie who blocked out the sun to force people to buy electricity from his nuclear power plant and plotted to make clothes from the skins of adorable puppies. After Smithers starts taking his frustration out on others, Homer and crew ultimately try to find Smithers a boyfriend.
This, of course, reflects an evolution in the character of Homer, who dealt with his own difficult perception of homosexuality in the forever-relevant 1997 episode “Homer’s Phobia”.
Television has evolved since 1997, which is the same year “The Puppy Episode” of Ellen struck up a national dialogue after Ellen DeGeneres’s title character came out (shortly before the actress herself did the same). In the nearly 20 years that have passed, coming out (in real life) has become more commonplace in the United States, which is an indicator of progress, though not a confirmation that coming out is universally accepted by families and communities everywhere. We still have some work to do.
The Simpsons treated the moment properly. Because while it’s been obvious to the viewer, it’s still an important moment for the character.
“We didn’t really want to have that big moment of ‘I’m out,’ you know?” episode writer Rob LaZebnik told the New York Post. “Instead, just have it be a big embrace — like everyone knows it.”
In fact, LaZebnik told Rolling Stone the inspiration for the episode was his own son coming out as a teen.
LAZEBNIK: “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?’”
Best. Way. To Tell Your Son You Love Him. Ever.