Smithers will finally come out!
Left, Smithers, whose sexuality has always been hinted at during The Simpsons’s 27-year history.
Tonight, Mr Burns’s long-suffering assistant Waylon Smithers will come out as gay in a special episode of The Simpsons.
The character, who is voiced by Harry Shearer, has always had an ambiguous sexuality, something that late Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon suggested during Smithers’s creation.
Although it’s been known since September that Smithers will finally come out of the closet, the writer behind the episode has told the personal story that inspired it: the coming out of his 21-year-old son.
Rob LaZebnik, who has been writing for The Simpsons since 1999, told The New York Post: “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?'”
LaZebnik’s son Johnny, a student, praised his father for being “unbelievably accepting” and said his parents were understanding when he told them he was gay in high school: “I was the gayest little kid, and my parents knew that. I told them I was interested in a boy. My parents were, like, ‘Yeah, we know’ ”
Smithers’s own revelation is similarly understated, the elder LaZebnik explained: “We didn’t really want to have that big moment of ‘I’m out,’ you know?”
“Instead, just have it be a big embrace — like everyone knows it.”
As Al Jean, executive producer of The Simpsons’ explained about the episode to TV Line in September, Smithers’ is mostly coming out to his boss and long-time unrequited love, Mr Burns. “In Springfield now, most people know he’s gay, but obviously Burns doesn’t.
“We deal with that in two episodes. We actually do a lot with Smithers this year. He gets fed up with Burns not appreciating him and considers his options.” Homer Simpson becomes the unlikely cupid to help Smithers’ find a new romance.
Viewers will be well aware of Smithers’ closeted nature by now. The character once dreamed about Mr Burns bursting naked out of a cake, and, in another episode, was shown rollerblading around Springfield’s gay district in rainbow-striped shorts.
Homer encounters Smithers outside the Sconewall Bakery in Springfield’s gay district. Mr Burns, however, remained unaware of his assistant’s sexuality, once commenting: “So, Smithers, what are you doing this weekend. Something gay, I expect?”
“What?” Smithers replies
“You know, light and fancy free. Mothers, lock up your daughters. Smithers is on the town,” Mr Burns explains.
LaZebnik had been working on an episode in which Smithers came out for “two or three years before he pitched it”, and showed Johnny an early version of the script for his approval. LaZebnik has sought insight from Johnny on the gay community, on issues including the machinations of Grindr, the dating app used by men.
LaZebnik stressed the importance of gay storylines in the media, saying “sometimes TV can have a real impact on people’s thinking, and I certainly hope it will have an impact on my son’s dating life — not that he needs help!”
The Simpsons has had a number of LGBT characters and storylines in the past. In Homer’s Phobia, Homer’s fear that Bart may be gay is challenged by the revelation that all of the employees of the Ajax Steel Mill are gay, and that the factory turns into a gay nightclub during breaks, broadening Homer’s mind in the process.