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Posts tagged ‘Phil Hartman’

You’re all nuts

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Realty Bites

There was no Roman god named “Fartacus”

Couch gag: The family sit on the couch and a hand spins the scene, leaving the picture blurred.

Director: Swinton O. Scott III

Guest voice:
Phil Hartman as Lionel Hutz

First appearance of:
Gil Gunderson
Cookie Kwan

Synopsis: Marge is bored with being a housewife and embarks on a new career as a real estate agent. Meanwhile, Homer has bought Snake’s car, Lil Bandit, from a police auction and Snake wants it back. 

Discussion: There are so many points to make about this episode… Firstly, Homer has the best lines. I take notes on each episode, including lines potentially used as the post title. Every single line today was uttered by Homer. Despite the ep being centred on Marge, Homer is the standout in the ep. 

Secondly, poor Marge. She’s had jobs before: policewoman, pretzel queen… but she really thinks she can make a difference in realty. Trouble is, her conscience gets in the way and she winds up telling the absolute truth about each house she’s trying to sell. Whoops. 

Third, Homer’s subplot of buying a car which Snake wants back is inspired. He’s driving like a hoon, using the wrong petrol (or gas, depending which country you’re from) and generally not taking care of the car. Snake, still imprisoned, escapes through a gate labelled “No escaping please” and tries to kill Homer to get Lil Bandit back. Continuity doesn’t count for much in this show; Kirk van Houten’s arm is cut off but I guess he had it reattached because he has full use of it in subsequent episodes. Still, the scenes between Homer and Snake are some of the best in the episode, as is the final scene in the murder house. (Homework: go and watch The Shining). 

Last but not least: this is the final episode to feature Lionel Hutz in a speaking role. Phil Hartman was murdered just five months after this episode aired. Fifteen years later and it’s still so tragic and sad. Somewhat ironic that the house Lionel’s been trying to sell is nicknamed the “murder house”. 

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These rubber pants are hot

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The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase

Director: Neil Affleck

Guest voices:
Phil Hartman as Troy McClure
Gailard Sartain as Big Daddy
Tim Conway as himself

Synopsis: Troy introduces three possible spin-off ideas. Chief Wiggum becomes a PI in New Orleans, Grampa dies and his ghost haunts Moe’s Love-matic machine to give love advice and the Simpsons appear in a variety hour.

Discussion: Even looking past the intentionally bad script, I can’t love this episode. It’s lame… and meant to be.

Spin-offs are a way of furthering a franchise for more money. They’re like breaking The Hobbit into three parts: you don’t need it, it’s pretty pointless and it makes more money than just one show. Plus it fills a few gaps in the line-up, which Troy mentions at the top of the episode.

Done well, spin-offs can take a life of their own and become as popular as their seminal show. Done badly, and you get a parody 25 years later. Happy Days has a number of spin-offs, although none were quite as popular or long-lived as the original show. Happy Days spin-offs include: Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy and Joanie Loves Chachi (what’s a Chachi?) Mork and Mindy gave us Robin Williams and Laverne and Shirley gave us years of “what are they saying in the opening credits before ‘incorporated’?” On a side note, I can’t believe the writers didn’t include any of those shows in their wall of famous spin-offs that Troy walks past.

OK, onto the segments themselves. Chief Wiggum P.I. is a parody of cop shows like Starsky & Hutch  and Miami Vice. Wiggum, Ralph and Principal Skinner move to New Orleans and chase a guy named Big Daddy. It’s lame… but meant to be.

The Love-matic Grampa is also lame and supposed to be. Grampa’s dead and his ghost inhabits Moe’s love tester machine, first seen in Flaming Moe’s from season 3. Moe is awkward on dates and receives dodgy love advice. It’s lame… but in a good way.

Finally, the Simpsons Family Smile-Time Variety Hour. Oh my freaking God. It’s a parody of all those variety shows from the 1970s featuring the Brady bunch, Partridge family, Sonny and Cher and even the Smothers Brothers. The Brady Bunch Variety Hour was so camp and ridiculous that Eve Plumb (Jan), refused to participate, parodied in this segment by Lisa being replaced with an older, tall, blonder girl. Similarly, this segment is also camp and, dare I say it, gay that Waylon Smithers cracking a licorice whip is just so funny and stupid that it works.

History lesson: The baby boomers were the first generation to grow up with TV. In the 1960s, television catered to these new teenagers by creating shows especially for them (much like Hollywood’s 1950s era of rebellious teen movies catering specifically for a new generation). One of these shows was The Monkees, another was The Smothers Brothers. In many ways (and I’ve written an essay about this), The Simpsons are the epitome of 1990s television also catering to youth culture. The show’s themes of realism and self-reflexive paradigms mirror those of 1960s television culture. Looking beyond the lameness of these spin-offs, we see a clever parody of genres from television’s attempts to cash in on particular trends of the times.

You can cram it with walnuts, ugly

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The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show

couch gag: The Simpsons pardoy the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Director: Steven Dean Moore

Guest voices:
Alex Rocco as Roger Meyers Jr
Phil Hartman as Troy McClure

Synopsis: With ratings falling for the Itchy & Scratchy Show, the creative team introduce a new character, voiced by Homer. 

Discussion: Ooooooooooooh spooky! This episode is a dark foreshadowing of what the show has sadly become… but not quite this early. This is episode number 167, which was the ep that surpassed The Flintstones as the longest running animated show ever. The writers tried to deal with issues that writers/shows face when they’ve been running for a long time. One such issue is the introduction of new characters which don’t bode well with the audience- who remembers cousin Oliver (Robbie Rist, who is now a popular voice actor himself) from The Brady Bunch

The “Impy & Chimpy” show has flagging ratings and is rejuvenated with Poochie, voiced by Homer. The character goes down like a lead balloon with the audience and is soon killed off, much to Homer’s dismay. 

The overarching message of the episode wasn’t intentional, but anyone who has watched the show since about oh, season 16 will probably tell you it’s jumped the shark. One of the aims of this blog is to analyse when and how that happened, but we’ll get to that later. 

The scene of the kids in the focus group, where Lisa tells Roger Meyers Jr that there’s nothing wrong with the show, people are just tired of it, cuts too close to home when one considers that the viewership of early episodes was regularly 8-10 million people, whereas season 24 barely hit 4 million viewers. 

Apart from that, this isn’t a fantastic episode, however Poochie lives on in various forms in episodes to come. 

But my mom says I’m cool

Burns’ Heir

The pledge of allegiance does not end with Hail Satan

Couch gag: The family bounce in as basketballs

Director: Mark Kirkland

Guest voice:
Phil Hartman as Lionel Hutz

Synopsis: Mr Burns comes close to death and decides he needs an heir.

Discussion: The plotline is a good one: give Mr Burns an heir and make him be Bart. The rest of it, well, I’m not loving. It just doesn’t seem to quite gel together even though all the pieces are there. Homer and Marge explore their options to get Bart back while Mr Burns tries every trick in the book to get Bart to stay. Maybe if Bart snuck out to see for himself what the family were doing, the emotional punch would kick-start the episode. But for me, it falls a bit flat.

Phil Hartman is, as always, a very welcome addition to the voice cast. Here he’s Lionel Hutz, attorney at law and also show repairer. When he loses the case to get Bart back from Burns, Marge remarks that they really should stop hiring him. Let’s hope he’s better at shoe repair than he is at law…

We asked you not to spit over the side

Bart Gets Hit By A Car

I will not sell school property

Couch gag: Everyone is squeezed off except for Homer

Director: Mark Kirkland

First appearance of:
Lionel Hutz
Dr Nick RivieraUn-named blue-haired lawyer

Guest Voice:Phil Hartman as Lionel Hutz

Synopsis: While skateboarding, Bart is hit by Mr Burns’ car. Bart dies, however the devil says Bart is not due to return for almost a century, so Bart wakes up in hospital. While Dr Hibberd says Bart will be fine, Lionel Hutz asks for the opinion of Dr Nick Riviera, who claims Bart is quite unwell. The Simpsons take Mr Burns to court but the case falls apart when Mr Burns, attempting an out-of-court settlement, overhears Marge speak the truth and Mr Burns’ lawyer calls upon her to testify under oath. Homer now sees Marge as the woman who lost him a million dollars but realises that he loves her more than ever.

Discussion: Classic Simpsons! It seems whenever a Simpson is injured, they die for brief moments but just like a cat with nine lives, they always bounce back. There really are some great scenes in this episode, such as Bart and Mr Burns’ differing accounts of the accident, Bart’s escalator ride to Heaven, the introduction of Lionel Hutz and Dr Nick Riviera and the make up scene in Moe’s Tavern right at the end. Both Lionel and Dr Nick become semi-regular characters, although Lionel is never seen again after Phil Hartman’s tragic death.

The major theme of this episode is greed. To Homer, a million dollars (even shared with Lionel Hutz) is the largest amount of money he’s ever seen. To Mr Burns, a million dollars is a drop in the ocean, but that doesn’t mean he wants to give it up. Marge’s morals are the downfall, money is worthless if you have to lie to get it. Lisa, of course, is also on the money when she asks Mr Hutz if he’s a shyster. For the most part, Bart seems indifferent to the proceedings. Sure, a million bucks would be nice but when it doesn’t eventuate, he’s cool with that too.

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