Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Underrated Simpsons Moment: Dewey, Cheathem, Howe & Weissman

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 17, 2007

There are few, if any, TV shows whose classic moments have been canonized as thoroughly as The Simpsons’ have. That said, there still manage to be classic moments and gags that tend to slip under the radar. This is one of them.

From Season 7’s “Bart the Fink,” Episode 3F12.

This episode might have the best first set of any Simpsons to date. It was easily the most frenzied opening of any episode up to that point–the show somehow transitions from The Simpsons receiving an inheritance from the recently deceased Aunt Hortense (??) to Krusty getting arrested for tax fraud in about seven minutes. In between, we’re treated to some great fake-outs (the family entering a haunted house assuring themselves that there’s no such thing as ghosts, and emerging the next morning to conclude “best damn sleep I ever had”–“their tap water tasted better than ours!”) and some obscenely memorable quotes (The fat Cayman Islands banker’s “Oh Crap” monologue standing out as a highlight). By the time Bart gets told that he just accidentally ruined Krusty, you’ve completley forgotten how the episode started. Unfortunately, this would end up setting a dangerous precedent for the show, which would eventually get to a point where extended non-sequitorial openings became de rigeur, but at the time it was fairly fresh and utterly hilarious.

Still, one of the best gags in this episode is at the very beginning, and is one I didn’t even realize was a joke for at least a decade. The one thing The Simpsons’ creative staff really rammed home on the DVD commentaries for the first seven seasons was how much they loved to put jokes into The Simpsons that they knew full well would go over most of their audience’s heads, and this one definitely sailed clear over mine. For those of you who don’t know (as I didn’t until a few weeks ago), Dewey, Cheathem and Howe was a stock law joke that appeared in lots of very old school comedy bits–the Marx Brothers, Daffy Duck and the Three Stooges are all listed as users of the joke on its Wikipeida page, and it’s also apparently the firm that represents the dudes from Car Talk and is used as a regular hypothetical on law exams. If you still don’t get the joke, try saying it out loud.

Obviously, it’s not a great joke, and the Simpsons’ tweaking of it isn’t quite brilliant, but it proves how The Simpsons can be just as funny when they’re ruining an old joke as when they create a new one. What’s more, it shows that these kinds of clever, semi-subversive gags that were in such high stock at those times that you could watch an episode dozens of times before actually noticing that a gag was there, much less realizing how funny it was.

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