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Helter Shelter (The Simpsons)

"Helter Shelter"
The Simpsons episode
Episode no.Season 14
Episode 5 (296th overall)
Directed byMark Kirkland
Written byBrian Pollack & Mert Rich
Production codeDABF21
Original air dateDecember 1, 2002
Guest appearance(s)

David Lander as Squiggy
Larry Holmes as himself

Episode features
Chalkboard gag"Milhouse did not test cootie positive."
Couch gagIn a parody of the MacIntosh paint program, Kid Pix, a mouse cursor drags Homer from the left side of the couch to the right, changes the wall color from pink to green, and replaces Marge's boat painting with the Mona Lisa.
CommentaryAl Jean
Dan Greaney
Carolyn Omine
Kevin Curran
Mark Kirkland
David Silverman
J. Stewart Burns
Allen Glazier
Steven Dean Moore
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Large Marge"
Next →
"The Great Louse Detective"
The Simpsons (season 14)
List of The Simpsons episodes

"Helter Shelter" is the fifth episode of the fourteenth season of the American animated television sitcom The Simpsons. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on December 1, 2002. In the episode, the Simpson family has to find temporary residence while their house is fumigated for termites. When they run out of options, they decide to become contestants on a reality show where families live in the manner that people did in 1895. The family is initially miserable, but slowly adapt to their new life, which causes the show to lose ratings. The producers decide to try to boost viewers by dumping the house in a river and forcing the family to survive in the wilderness. However, the Simpsons find a bunch of rejects from other reality shows and they attack the producers.


After Homer is hit by a falling girder at work and suffers a mild head injury, Mr. Burns decides to buy him off with tickets at a luxury box to a hockey game. Homer, Marge and Bart enjoy the show, while Lisa wanders off on her own. When she gives one of the players advice which leads to him scoring a goal, she receives his hockey stick as a gift. However, termites which were living in the stick end up eating away at the entire Simpson house. An exterminator says their house must be tented and fumigated, and they cannot return for six months. However, the family has no place to go as the only hotel they can afford is booked for months. At Moe's Tavern, Barney and Carl inform the Simpsons about a reality show, where a family is put in a Victorian house in which they must live as if it was 1895. Homer is reluctant at first, but the family decides to apply for the reality show.

At the studio, the executives screen many families and finally they settle on the Simpsons, after viewing Homer's overreactions over nothing. They are taken to the Victorian house and shown around by the network executive, who says that they will be filmed at all times. The only 21st century element of the house is a "Confessional Room", which is a small room with a video camera where they say what they feel about the lifestyle. The family struggles with all of the drastic changes in their daily life and are pretty miserable, much to the delight of the show's audience, who cannot wait to see which of them dies first. Homer tries to lighten up the family, saying they should be glad to be on television, and they begin to conform to their new lives cheerily. This is not deemed as entertaining, however, and viewership begins to drop. In an attempt to save the show, the executives decide to introduce Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley into the household, since he is the biggest 1970s television star whose phone has not been disconnected. But his presence does not boost the ratings, even when he zaps Homer with a taser. Finally, one of the executives comes up with an idea; the house is airlifted at night and put into a river.

The Simpsons are shocked to find what had happened the next morning (there is a blooper where Homer comes back into the house after falling into the river and he is shown talking to the camera with the producers of the show replying to him with no way for Homer to be able to hear them). The house hits three rocks, falls down a waterfall, washes up on shore and falls apart, with Squiggy in it. The network crew is filming it and loving the drama that unfolds. They then break for lunch, but deny the Simpsons any of it so they go to eat some bugs. Later on, the family is confronted by a bunch of savage-looking people, who turn out to be contestants who lost a final challenge on a Survivor-type show and were abandoned in the jungle. They decide to overpower the crew and return to civilization. Together with the Simpsons, they attack the crew, overpowering them. Finally at home, Homer decides to watch only scripted television shows, as he has had it with reality shows. However, unable to enjoy even these shows and after Lisa suggests books and Marge suggests starting a book club, the Simpsons watch heartily as Bart feeds Homer water through the garden hose and messes around with him by turning the water on and off.


Boxer Larry Holmes, seen here in 1979, guest starred in the episode as himself.

"Helter Shelter" was written by Brian Pollack and Mert Rich and directed by Mark Kirkland as part of the fourteenth season of The Simpsons (2002–03).[1] Actor David Lander, who portrayed Squiggy in Laverne & Shirley, guest starred in the episode as that character, while boxer Larry Holmes appeared as himself.[2] This is the last aired episode of The Simpsons to be animated using the traditional ink-and-paint technique. Since the following episode, "The Great Louse Detective", The Simpsons has been animated with digital ink and paint.[3] Digital animation had previously been used by the show on season 7's "Radioactive Man" and season 12's "Tennis the Menace", primarily to test the technique.[3]

Whilst the family look for places to stay. Lisa informs them they could stay at a youth hostel. Bart then responds: “I do not want another lecture from a German backpacker about how we don't appreciate the National Park System!." In "The Heartbroke Kid", the family actually convert 742 Evergreen Terrace into an youth hostel, owing to pay for Bart's weight loss camp bills.

Cultural references

The TV show that the Simpson family goes on is a parody of PBS TV show, entitled The 1900 House. The show had a family live in a Victorian house, and live as if it were the year 1900. The scene in which the Simpsons wait outside their house waiting for time to "fly by" is a parody of the opening sequence of King of the Hill. The poison bottle has a face of James Coburn on it.

This is the third time Bill Cosby has been parodied on The Simpsons. There is an extra gag in that the Cosby family are losing ratings on their reality show, so the producers decide on the Simpsons; in the early years, The Cosby Show was a ratings rival with The Simpsons.[4] "Squiggy" being sent to boost The 1895 Challenge ratings is another reference to The Cosby Show, whom sent "Smitty" (Adam Sandler) to the Cosby's house.[5]

The episode title is a reference to The Beatles song "Helter Skelter".

Bart laments having access only to Mutt and Jeff comic books and is quoted as saying, "This has been the worst week of my life. I miss my toys and my video games. Mutt and Jeff comics are NOT funny! They're gay, I get it!".[6] Although everything in the Victorian House is supposed to be from 1895 and before, Mutt and Jeff was not created until 1907.

The exterminators "A Bug's Death" is a parody (namely their logo) of the 1998 Disney/Pixar film A Bug's Life.


The episode originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on December 1, 2002.[1] It was viewed in approximately 8.75 million households that night. With a Nielsen rating of 8.2, the episode finished 22nd in the ratings for the week of November 25 – December 1, 2002. It was the highest-rated broadcast on Fox that week, beating shows such as Boston Public, King of the Hill, 24, and Malcolm in the Middle.[7] On December 6, 2011, "Helter Shelter" was released on Blu-ray and DVD as part of the box set The Simpsons – The Complete Fourteenth Season.[8] Staff members Al Jean, Dan Greaney, Carolyn Omine, Kevin Curran, Mark Kirkland, David Silverman, J. Stewart Burns, Allen Glazier, and Steven Dean Moore participated in the DVD audio commentary for the episode. Deleted scenes from the episode were also included in the box set.[9]

Since airing, "Helter Shelter" has received generally negative reviews from critics. DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson commented that the story of the episode is "not a terrible idea for an episode, but it's not a particularly exciting one, either. The show plods through its scenario without much life, mostly because parodies of reality TV just aren't very interesting; the programs they mock are already so absurd that there's not much room for satire."[9] Ryan Keefer of DVD Talk wrote that the episode is "a prime example of [the show's writers] trying to do something funny and falling flat."[10]


  1. ^ a b Simpsons World The Ultimate Episode Guide: Seasons 1–20. HarperCollins. 2010. pp. 667–711. ISBN 9780594045052.
  2. ^ Valdivia, Victor (2011-12-22). "The Simpsons: The Fourteenth Season". DVD Verdict. Archived from the original on 2012-08-22. Retrieved 2012-08-21.
  3. ^ a b Jean, Al (2009). The Simpsons – The Complete Twelfth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Tennis the Menace". 20th Century Fox.
  4. ^ Phipps, Keith (4 March 2013). "The Best Sitcom of the Past 30 Years, Round One: The Cosby Show vs. The Simpsons".
  5. ^ Witherspoon, Chris (12 July 2013). "Bill Cosby's advice to Adam Sandler: 'Keep it clean'".
  6. ^ accessed 7/22/09 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-05-04. Retrieved 2016-04-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Moore, Frazier (2002-12-04). "CBS wins week as Nielsen ratings for ABC's 'Dinotopia' practically extinct". Daily Breeze.
  8. ^ Lambert, David (2011-09-28). "The Simpsons - Finalized Box Art, Details and Extras for 'The Complete 14th Season' DVDs, Blu-rays". Archived from the original on 2012-08-22. Retrieved 2012-08-19.
  9. ^ a b Jacobson, Colin (2011-12-16). "The Simpsons: The Complete Fourteenth Season [Blu-Ray] (2002)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved 2012-08-02.
  10. ^ Keefer, Ryan (2011-12-15). "The Simpsons: The Fourteenth Season (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2012-08-22.

External links