The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase
Director: Neil Affleck
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.