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Take Five: Celebs Only Remembered By Their Simpsons References

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 18, 2008

Smashing Pumpkins: Still technically too relevant to qualify

Long before Family Guy was noting their own obscure Karen Black references, The Simpsons was rejuvenating the careers of ancient celebs left and right with their tossed-off allusions. Given that The Simpsons is one of the few shows–maybe the only show–that just about anyone (any white males, certainly) currently between the ages of 20 and 35 can be expected to be able to quote just about every line from every episode, a mention in the show gives you a certain newfound cultural capital not experienced anywhere else outside of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Consequently, there are many pop culture figures of yesteryear remembered by a new generation not for their myriads of artistic accomplishments, but because they were mentioned once in a cartoon. So let’s take a look at what five of these lost souls were actually once famous for:


Rory Calhoun

A Hollywood Walk-of-Fame recipient for his decades of roles in Westerns and Musicals, as well as a notable story for his rags-to-riches rise (he was a juvenile thief, spending three years in prison before meeting Alan “Shane” Ladd and being introduced to film). He starred with Shirley Temple, dated Lana Turner, and was sold out by his agent to the press to help protect the career-wrecking secret of fellow client Rock Hudson. Yet for those of us not around for the 40s and 50s, we can only assume that Calhoun was famous solely for his standing and walking, a perception held by Mr. Burns and understood at least by Smithers in the episode Two Dozen and One Greyhounds. From what I can tell, Calhoun was not especially known as a celebrity who is “always standing up and walking,” but I guess he wasn’t particularly famous for sitting down, either, so who knows.


Joey Heatherton

Back in the 60s, Joey Heatherton appears to have been a legitimate star of sorts, hanging with both the Rat Pack and Bob Hope, starring in countless potboiler dramas and nearly getting cast as the title character in Lolita, and even earning a rep with Northern Soul collectors for her limited musical releases. Nonetheless, the only times I’ve ever heard of her are the triple whammy of references she gets on The Simpsons–losing out to an ironed shirt as Moe’s ultimate fantasy, being begged to put some pants on by a square Sgt. Skinner, and being compared to a recently buffed-out Marge by a dismayed Homer. To current hotties like Jessica Biel and Megan Fox, there’s a lesson to be learned here–if you don’t make at least one half-decent movie worth remembering, the only people who’ll remember you past your prime are nerdy, middle-aged cartoon writers.


Gabby Hayes

“That Milhouse is going to be big! Gabby Hayes big!” This one actually makes a little bit of sense, since as the Fallout Boy to Rainier Wolfcastle’s Radioactive Man, Milhouse was placing himself in the sidekick paradigm that Mr. hayes apparently owned for he first half of the 20th century. He was cast as John Wayne’s sidekick in 20 different movies, was Hopalong Cassidy’s second banana for five years, and did dozens of movies with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Perhaps even more strikingly, he has a Memorial Fishing Tournament named after and/or dedicated to him every year in Philadelphia. But when “Radioactive Man” appears in reruns from now until forever, that line is going to continue to inspire a whole lot of confused looks.


Bill “Ray J. Johnson” Saluga

Of all the outdated references on the show, this is probably the one I’m most glad I never really got–it sounds like Ray J. Johnson (alternate identity of Cosby regular Bill Saluga) really was just famous based on this one lousy, annoying “You can call me…” routine. Still, it apparently stuck in the craws of Simpsons writers enough for him to also join the exclusive Simpsons triple-reference club, with Krusty complaining about having him for a guest, Homer explaining his schtick to an unimpressed Lisa, and with Saluga himself appearing as a washed-up performer in Branson. Nonetheless, this time at least the Simpsons aren’t alone in this department–a singer/songwriter you might’ve heard of named Bob Dylan included a reference to RJJ in “Gotta Serve Somebody,” the only well-remembered song from Zimmy’s ill-fated gospel period.


Eudora Welty

An esteemed photographer for the Works Progress Administration, an acclaimed short story writer, and of course, a Nobel Prize winner for her novel The Optimist’s Daughter, I can’t help but wonder what Eudora Welty thought of the fact that in the last few years of her life, most people probably knew her just for her legendary belching abilities. At the ripe age of 86 when “A Star is Burns” first aired, Welty probably had at least six years to enjoy people coming up to her on the street and asking her to confirm Jay Sherman’s proclomations about her burping superiority. She doesn’t really look like a person who’d have a sense of humor about these things–in fact, maybe it’s a long-belated revenge from one of the Simpsons writers for having to read one of her books in American Lit II or something. Or maybe “Why I Live at the P.O.” just has some gas-passing subplot that’s not mentioned on her Wiki page.

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Listeria / Underappreciated Simpsons Moment(s): The Ten Most 90s-Appropos Quotes in “Homerpalooza” (1996)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 11, 2007

“I used to be with it. Then they changed what it was! Now what I’m with, isn’t it! And what’s it seems weird and strange! IT’LL HAPPEN TO YOOOUUUU!!!”

10. Radio Announcer: “Fossil 103. Classic hits from Abba to Zeppelin…comma, Led.

9. Mr. Burns: “And to think, Smithers, you laughed when I bought TicketMaster! ‘Nobody’s going to pay a 100% service charge!‘”

8. Homer, to Hullabalooza Crowd: “Thank you! And remember, don’t trust anyone over 30! And now, Peter Frampton!”

7. B-Real: “Before we start, we have a lost child here. If she’s not claimed within the next hour, she will become property of Blockbuster Entertainment.”

6. Record Store Sign: (“Suicide Notes. Formerly, Good Vibrations.”)

5. DJ Muggs: “Uh, do you know ‘Insane in the Brain’?”
Symphony Orchestra Conductor: “Well, we mostly know classical…but, we could give it a shot.”

4. Billy Corgan: “We envy you, Homer. All we have is our music, our legions of fans, our millions of dollars, and our youth. [Thinks for a second.] WOO-HOO!
James Iha: “Let’s all get fur coats!”
Jimmy Chamberlain: “I want a walk-in humidor!”

3. Kim Gordon: “Hey, Hullabalooza isn’t about freaks. It’s about music, and advertisement, and youth-oriented product positioning.”
Sen-Dog: “That, and getting toasted. Nicely toasted.”

2. Homer, to Billy Corgan: “You know, my kids think you’re the greatest. And thanks to your gloomy music, they’ve stopped dreaming of a future that I can’t possibly provide.”

2. Teen 1: “Oh, here comes the cannonball guy. He’s cool.”
Teen 2: “Dude, are you like, being sarcastic?”
Teen 1: “…I don’t even know anymore!
1. Homer: “So, I realized that being with my family is more important than being cool.”
Bart: “Dad, what you just said is profoundly uncool.”
Homer: “You know what the song says. It’s hip to be square!
Lisa: “That song is so lame.”
Homer: “So lame that it’s…cool?
Lisa & Bart: “No.
Marge: “Am I cool, kids?”
Lisa & Bart: “No.
Marge: “Good. I’m glad. And that’s what makes me cool, not caring, right?”
Lisa & Bart: “No.
Marge: “Well, how the hell do you be cool? I feel like we’ve tried everything here.”
Homer: “Wait, Marge. Maybe if you’re truly cool, you don’t need to be told you’re cool.”
Bart: “Well, sure you do!”
Lisa: “…How else would you know?”

Posted in Listeria, Underrated Simpsons Moment | 5 Comments »

Underrated Simpsons Moment: The Sweet Taste of Victory

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 27, 2007

When the hell is Rocky VII: Adrian’s Revenge gonna come out?

Everyone’s writing about The Simpsons today, and I see no reason why I should be the exception. Even though my expectations couldn’t really be too much lower–even with all the glowing press and reccomendations from otherwise trustworthy people–yeah, I’m still gonna see The Simpsons Movie. I’m not going to see ittonight, but that’s just because I actually won some free passes to it at a Simpsons trivia contest last night, and I can’t use ’em until Monday. In the meantime, I’m not gonna reflect on how The Simpsons is the greatest TV show of all-time, or talk about my favorite episodes, lines, scenes, characters, whatever. I’m just gonna talk about a moment that I didn’t really appreciate the genius of until I saw it again a week or so ago–one of the literally thousands of moments that provide a more convincing case for The Simpsons‘ genius than I ever could.

“Lemon of Troy,” the 6th season episode where the Springfield kids cross into Shelbyville to try to get back the town’s beloved lemontree, has been a fan favorite episode for some time now, and I’d agree, though I still have some misgivings. It’s too disjointed, too unlikely and fantastical a story–most of my favorite Simpsons episodes are ones that work as well as televised storytelling as they do a cavalcade of hilarity-inducing moments, but “Lemon of Troy” is one of the first Simpsons eps to function mostly as just a series of rapid-fire gags and profile-worthy quotes.

But while it, along with “A Star is Burns,” would set a dangerous precedent for the show to follow in its later seasons, goddamn does it have some funny fucking moments. Let’s just a couple of the more obvious classics out of the way:

  • “This town is a part of us all. A part of us all. A part of us all! Sorry to repeat myself, but it’ll help you remember it.”
  • “Now, Marge, you can’t blame all of Bart’s problems on your one little speech. If anything turned him bad, it’s that time you let him wear a bathing suit instead of underwear. And let’s not forget your little speech!”
  • “People, our search is over! On this site we shall build a new town where we can worship freely, govern justly, and grow vast fields of hemp for making rope and blankets!”
    “Yes, and marry our cousins!”
    “I was–what are you talking about, Shelbyville?? Why would we want to marry our cousins??”
    “Because they’re so attractive. I..thought that was the whole point of this journey.”
  • “I’m never going to find that tree. This whole raid was as useless as that lemon-shaped rock over there. Hey, wait a minute…ther’es a lemon behind that rock!
  • “And with that, a mighty cheer went up from the heroes of Shelbyville. They had banished the awful lemon tree forever…because it was haunted. Now let’s all celebrate with a cool glass of turnip juice.”

And that’s just a fraction of ’em. But my current favorite part of the episode is entirely non-verbal. It’s after Homer and the rest of the Springfield adults realize what the kids are up to, and Homer confronts his Shelbyville equivalent through the gates of an impound lot. After they have one of the episode’s least funny exchanges (containing Homer’s far-overquoted response to the insult “you must be even stupider than you look,” “Stupider like a fox!”), the ShelbyHomer gleefully takes a bite out one of the tree’s lemons to taunt the adults of Springfield for their defeat.

I wish I could find a frambegrab of the seconds that follow the moment pictured above, but after a half-hour of scouring the ineternet, it appears no such freeze frame exists. However, one mere frame couldn’t possibly do justice to the way ShelbyHomer’s face just quietly wilts after taking a bite out of the lemon–which, as anyone who’s ever let their curiosity get the better of them with a lemon and no other food around knows, is one of the least pleasurable experiences known to man. Luckily, there’s a YouTube of it, so you can watch SH’s face transformation in its entirety. Needless to say, it undercuts SH’s moment of triumph just a little bit, and it remains one of my all-time favorite Simpsons visual gags.

Does turnip juice actually exist, by the way? For some reason, I’m kind of craving some right now.

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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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