This is a film website but this is not an article about The Simpsons Movie, rather an article about how The Simpsons is the ultimate television show for a lover of film. The legendary animation is arguably the greatest television show ever made and is completely and utterly obsessed with film, with hundreds, if not thousands, of references crammed into the show.
Watching That Hollywood Hogwash
The Simpsons is not the only show to reference films a lot. British sitcom Spaced was equally obsessed and perhaps even more subtle but not as prolific or as famous. Then there is Family Guy, which I would argue is very clumsy with their references, forcing them into any situation, whereas The Simpsons seamlessly weave them into the show, to give just one example in “Dog of Death” The family dog runs away and is taken in by Mr Burns and trained to be an attack dog, part of his training is being restrained and forced to watch violence against dogs, the scene referencing A Clockwork Orange but makes sense on its own. You don’t need to have seen the film but it’s adds something to it. This is a show with layers and I still watch episodes from twenty years and find new jokes and hidden references in it.
Won’t Somebody Please Think Of The Children!
I watched The Simpsons from an early age and so the references I got as a child were mainly around Star Wars or Indiana Jones but, thankfully, I never watched Stanley Kubrick films as a young child. The Simpsons is littered with references to Kubrick and some are frankly unsuitable for what was, in the beginning, a children’s television show. So we have Homer riding a vibrating chair that goes into the trippy ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Homer imitating Major Kong, riding an A-Bomb as in Dr. Strangelove, and after decorating Todd Flanders talking about the “red room, red room, over there” an impression of Danny from The Shining. At least six Simpsons characters have been portrayed as droogs, the vicious gang from A Clockwork Orange. Homer has been seen as both as a monkey from the beginning of 2001 and the galactic space baby from the end of 2001. There have been two Treehouse of Terror instalments solely focused on Kubrick, first the stupendously good “The Shinning” and then a replay of most of Kubrick’s career in “A Clockwork Yellow”.
You May Remember Me From…
The Simpsons isn’t just obsessed with watching films, they very like the world behind films. Springfield has at least two film stars – Rainier Wolfcastle, an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type action hero and Troy McClure, one of the greatest characters in television comedy. McClure is usually portrayed as a washed-up actor, with a bizarre personal life, who has appeared in a long list of ridiculous films with such brilliant titles as The Greatest Story Ever Hulu’d, Dial M for Murderousness and The President’s Neck Is Missing. Whilst incredibly funny in his own right, McClure is a way poking fun at Hollywood and the movie-making industry, such as his unscrupulous agent MacArthur Parker who suggests getting fake married to make him seem less weird.
Thank God We’re Back In Hollywood Where People Treat Each Other Right
The episodes “A Star Is Burns” and “Radioactive Man” both depict a less than flattering portrayal of the movie business. The first deals with the Springfield Film Festival in which Homer is chosen as a judge over Martin Scorsese and the latter with when the superhero film Radioactive Man is filmed in Springfield, the joke being it is the small-town Springfieldianites who swindle the Hollywood big-shots.
Stop Him! He’s Supposed To Die!
There are a number of standout episodes that basically steal their plots from films. There is “Rosebud”, the episode about Mr. Burns’ missing childhood teddy bear which is as blatant a Citizen Kane homage as you’re going to get from the title of the episode to the design of the gates of Mr Burns’ mansion. The episode “Cape Feare” is not surprisingly a riff on Cape Fear but also contained references to many other films including Edward Scissorhands and Night of the Hunter. And then there is “You Only Move Twice”, often cited as the best episode of the show, in which Homer goes to work for Hank Scorpio, an amalgamation of numerous James Bond villains.
The Simpsons made these references because Star Wars, James Bond, Spielberg are cultural touchstones. Just about everyone, even those who haven’t seen the film, will get a joke about E.T or Jurassic Park. So it’s very fitting that The Simpsons has become as big a cultural touchstone as any of these films. I would say that in the future it will be The Simpsons that will be referenced but that’s already happened.
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