The Big Picture
- Disney+ excludes “Stark Raving Dad,” an iconic episode of The Simpsons, due to Michael Jackson’s controversial reputation following allegations of sexual abuse.
- The decision to remove the episode could be seen as a publicity move, considering the presence of other problematic content on Disney+.
- Despite its exclusion, the episode remains well-regarded for its creative storytelling, humor, and catchy original song. Fans can still enjoy the other 747 episodes on the streaming platform.
In its thirty-four season run, The Simpsons has made its fair share of mistakes. From the now-retired stereotype character of Apu (Hank Azaria) to the infamously homophobic episode “Homer’s Phobia,” the animated comedy has more than a few moments and elements that have aged poorly. Nevertheless, when Disney+ launched in 2019, the streaming platform still elected to make every episode of the show available on the new streaming site — except for one.
The longest-running scripted primetime television series, The Simpsons has been airing since 1989. However, it only became a Disney property in March of 2019, when the company bought 20th Century Fox and thus acquired its television division. Not long after, Disney announced that their forthcoming streaming site would include the show’s entire library of 500-plus episodes, much to the delight of lifelong fans. If they were planning to binge-watch the entire show, though, they would only get so far before realizing a conspicuous gap in the series’ beloved canon.
The satiric adventures of a working-class family in the misfit city of Springfield.
- Release Date
- December 17, 1989
- Main Genre
‘The Simpsons’ Season 3, Episode 1 Is Missing From Disney+
“Stark Raving Dad” is the first episode of The Simpsons‘ third season. Kicking off the season on September 19, 1991, it is a widely cherished entry from the show’s early years, an episode that fans will recognize, reference, and quote without mistake. Likewise, they will recognize when the episode is missing, as it isn’t on Disney’s streaming site for a very specific reason.
In the episode, Homer (Dan Castellaneta) finds his white shirt turned pink after it’s gone through the wash with Bart’s (Nancy Cartwright) red hat. To his own chagrin, Homer wears the pink shirt to work, where Mr. Burns (Harry Shearer) immediately labels him as a “free-thinking anarchist” and demands he take a psychiatric exam. Too lazy to fill out the exam himself, Homer has Bart do it for him. Bart, however, paints an inaccurately poor image of his father, so when the results come back, Homer is sent to a mental institution.
Though the show is known for its perfectly cromulent writers, there’s nothing particularly prognostic about the wacky events in Springfield.
While the gendered stereotypes and exaggerated portrayals of mental health are executed with the expected levels of winking humor for The Simpsons, it is neither of these elements that make “Stark Raving Dad” taboo. Instead, it is the guest star who plays Homer’s roommate in the mental hospital that has rendered the episode so controversial.
This Celebrity Cameo Made “Stark Raving Dad” a Controversial ‘Simpsons’ Episode
When Homer arrives at the asylum, he is thrown in a room with a man who introduces himself as Michael Jackson. However, the character is not the famous singer, but a large white man who believes himself to be the King of Pop. His only real resemblance to Jackson comes in the form of his falsetto voice, which the real Michael Jackson provided in an uncredited cameo.
When the episode debuted in 1991, Michael Jackson was an esteemed celebrity. This makes it all the funnier when Homer doesn’t recognize the name and takes his roommate’s assumed identity for granted. Come 2019, however, Jackson’s posthumous reputation had shifted drastically, taking a stark turn for the worse just a few months before Disney+’s launch.
A 2019 Documentary Made Michael Jackson’s Already Ruined Reputation Even Worse
Michael Jackson faced numerous allegations of pedophilia during his lifetime, mostly throughout the mid-nineties and early-2000s. All of these cases were settled out of court, though Jackson’s reputation was forever tarnished due to the controversy. In January of 2019, HBO released the documentary Leaving Neverland, where main subjects Wade Robson and James Safechuck once more accused Jackson of sexually abusing them when they were child actors. Although the allegations had already caused his general demise in the public eye decades prior, Leaving Neverland was the cherry on top of Jackson’s already ruined reputation.
The documentary met immense acclaim, winning a Primetime Emmy-Award for Outstanding Documentary amongst other accolades. At the same time, the film also reintroduced the world to the dark side of Jackson’s life. While the Jackson estate condemned the doc for supposed inaccuracies, as well as incongruities with the subjects’ original testimonies under oath, many others became even more adverse to the singer’s music and celebrity status after seeing the film. Among Jackson’s new adversaries was Simpsons showrunner Al Jean, who told The Daily Beast that Jackson could have used his “Stark Raving Dad” cameo to capture a younger generation and “groom boys.” Shortly thereafter, Simpsons co-creator James L. Brooks announced that the episode would be pulled from syndicated television, FXX’s “Simpsons World” on-demand site, and future DVD sales of Season 3. Evidently, the programmers at Disney followed suit, and when the show found its new streaming home on Disney+, “Stark Raving Dad” was nowhere to be found.
Is ‘The Simpsons’ “Stark Raving Dad” Really Worse Than Other Programs on Disney+?
Disney’s rationale for excluding “Stark Raving Dad” from the streaming service is sound. After all, Disney+ is primarily targeted at children, and The Simpsons already presses a few boundaries when it comes to age appropriateness. That being noted, it does seem like somewhat of a timely P.R. move to leave out “Stark Raving Dad” when one considers some of the other episodes still available on the site. As aforementioned, much of the early Simpsons has aged dubiously, and yet, all of the Apu episodes are featured on Disney+, as is “Homer’s Phobia,” Meanwhile, Jackson is far from the only Simpsons celebrity guest star to have garnered a controversial reputation since appearing on the show. Other episodes feature voices from Mel Gibson, Elon Musk, and Rupert Murdoch, all portraying their now-contentious selves.
This is not even to mention the hoards of problematic content in Disney+’s library as a whole. Going all the way back to the 1920s, the Walt Disney Company has produced numerous shows, films, and shorts depicting racist stereotypes. Disney+ at least has the decency to leave out the worst of these, like Song of the South and Donald Duck’s anti-Japanese World War II propaganda reels. However, the site still includes classics like Dumbo, Peter Pan, The Three Caballeros, and The Lady and the Tramp, despite them containing offensive representations of Black, Native American, Latinx, and Asian people, respectively. Even more contemporary movies like Pocahontas and Aladdin have aged dubiously through a lens of diversity and representation, and one could fill a book with the outdated gender roles depicted in practically every Disney princess movie from Snow White to The Little Mermaid. These are all available to stream, albeit with disclaimers noting that they were products of their time and may contain offensive content.
All of this is not to suggest that “Stark Raving Dad” should be put on Disney+, but rather to explain that the decision to exclude it could be multifold, and perhaps born of publicity just as well as morality. The episode seems like far from the most upsetting thing Disney, or even just The Simpsons, has created. Opinions on Jackson aside, the episode is a strong one. It was one of the show’s first major guest appearances, and they used Jackson’s character in a creative, narratively purposeful, and (at the time) funny way. The episode’s climax even features Jackson and Bart performing a heartfelt original birthday song for Lisa — an admittedly catchy one that has been stuck in some fans’ heads for the past thirty-two years. Still, it’s highly unlikely that “Stark Raving Dad” will ever join The Simpsons library on Disney+. But fret not, because even though there are 748 episodes of the show, subscribers will still have access to 747.
The Simpsons is available to stream on Disney+ in the U.S.
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