On Feb. 24, 1994, a master of bittersweet folk-rock appeared on The Simpsons to croon a few tunes to one of America’s least-likely astronauts.
The 15th episode of The Simpsons’ fifth season, “Deep Space Homer” is frequently cited as one of the best episodes in the history of the series, and not just because it features the oft-quoted Kent Brockman line, “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords!” No, the predominant reason is because of not one but two high-profile guest stars: real-life astronaut Buzz Aldrin and singer-songwriter James Taylor.
The premise of the episode, in case you’ve forgotten, kicks off with Homer’s increasing frustration over being constantly passed over for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant’s Worker of the Week Award...and to be fair, he’s right to be disgruntled: it’s a union requirement that every employee gets the prize at some point or another, and he remains the only one who hasn’t yet won it. Of course, as with most Simpsons episodes, this initial plot line suddenly becomes almost completely forgotten when Homer – having shifted his annoyance over to the TV's insistence on broadcasting Space Shuttle launches – prank calls NASA, which spurs the agency to try and raise their launch ratings by sending an average Joe to space.
Initially, there’s a competition between Homer and his brother in booze, Barney Gumble, and Barney – giving up alcohol during training – actually gets the gig, but when he slips off the wagon and subsequently flies away on a jet pack, Homer becomes the winner by default, joining the aforementioned Aldrin on the mission.
While they’re in space, that’s when Taylor joins the proceedings, performing for the astronauts. Unfortunately, Homer has no idea who he is (“Wow, former president James Taylor...”), and no one else is particularly interest, since they’re busy dealing with a bit of a potato chip mishap at the time. As it happens, however, Taylor doesn’t really care what they think, snapping, “I’m not as laid back as you think. Now here’s the deal: I’m gonna play, and you’re gonna float there and like it.”
And they do.