Three By Three: Simpsons Characters

Simpsons CharactersThe Category

It’s fall premiere season, so you’ll forgive us if we here at Pop Modern are extra TV-obsessed this week. We can’t help it, television is what’s on our collective minds at this point, with new shows strutting out to dazzle us and perennial favorites set to keep us entertained as they always do. That’s why we think it’s important to pay homage to one of those most stalwart members of this year’s fall line-up: The Simpsons. With its premiere on the 29th marking the beginning of the show’s 25th season, the longest-running scripted, primetime television program shows no signs of slowing. And sure, the show’s golden age has long since passed, but those years cast a hell of a yellow shadow, and we thought we’d honor that by talking about our personal favorite characters from the show’s decades-long run.

The Choices

Allen

Rainier Wolfcastle: Although he originally started as a simple Arnold Schwarzenegger stand-in, Wolfcastle came to be one of my favorite side characters on The Simpsons. He also has a pretty funny backstory, in which he advertised bratwurst in his home country of Austria before coming to America and making it big as his famous McBain character. Like so many actors whose success is based on their fitness, Wolfcastle dealt with weight issues throughout his life, which was always played off as “something he was doing for a role”. But my favorite Wolfcastle moment by far was when he played Radioactive Man in the Season Seven episode “Radioactive Man”. As the realistic sulfuric acid washes him away, he laments the fact that his protective eyewear has failed him, and Harry Shearer’s Wolfcastle voice still cracks me up to this day.

Here is Wolfcastle’s funniest scene on the show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juFZh92MUOY

Fat Tony: Yet another character that could have simply been a parody of a famous pop culture icon (in this case, Tony Soprano), Fat Tony doesn’t get enough credit for being legitimately hilarious between acts of violence. My favorite running gag of Fat Tony’s is his lines that start out as mafia-style threats, only to be revealed to be completely innocuous.  “We are going for a ride… By which I mean the carpool” and “”Now who’s ready to sleep with da fishes?… Because I brought this Finding Nemo comforter!” are just two of my favorite Fat Tony gags. And the episode “The Mook, The Chef, The Wife and Her Homer” where we meet his son Michael shows how far the writers of this show were willing to take their side characters’ backstories.

Here’s a short interview with the voice of Fat Tony: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egvzrsSFrnc

Ralph Wiggum: Ralph is the only Simpsons character who I consistently laugh out loud at. What works about Ralph comedically is that he isn’t based on any particular character or archetype; rather, he’s an amalagamation of naive children, the mentally challenged, and his own father. Ralph’s best lines come from his various failures and misunderstandings in school, like putting an ice cream cone on his head and shouting “I’m a unitard!” It’s moments like that that make me love The Simpsons. Even when there’s plenty of heart and good writing, you can always rely on characters like Ralph to bring pure, unabashed comedy to the show. Ralph, I choo-choo-choose you as my favorite Simpsons character.

This compilation of Ralph’s best moments is very well-edited, and it has just about all of my favorite scenes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yS2OuTV9YdA

James

Ned Flanders: High Diddly ho there neighborino! There is nothing that is simultaneously as annoying or as enjoyable as this neighbor. The family man that the show eschews in favor of Homer, the well-intentioned character is deliberately slighted at every possible turn. What’s more, the audience loves to hate Flanders and his good-natured ways, though Flanders shows the values that America professes to preach. Flanders is my favorite character because he reveals the most hypocritical nature of America, bringing out the satire within The Simpsons.

Here’s a compilation of some of Ned’s best moments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IakU3gHXbE

Mayor Quimby: Mayor Quimby is the best of the worst within the town of Springfield. Quimby is supposed to represent the quintessential corrupt bureaucrat, a womanizer with ties to the mob and the worst sort of vote pandering. While his actions are funny, the character gets even more hilarious when you realize that the character was based on the Kennedys, from the womanizing to the accent. He has some great moments, and his hypocrisy is refreshing within the subtle satire in the show.

One such great moment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5K4QKFOfUr8

Groundskeeper Willie: Willie is one of my favorite characters on the Simpsons. An angry Scotsman who keeps the grounds, strangely enough, Willie is an uncomplicated character, devoid of any sort of subtle metaphor for a real world problem. Instead, he is just a stock character of an angry Scotsman. The thing is, his nationality makes him a caricature for himself, a ridiculous effigy of foreignism.

My personal favorite sketch is where he teaches French for the day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUjGf2Grrus

Magellan

Troy McClure: You may remember him from such things as “A Fish Called Selma,” Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!and Fuzzy Bunny’s Guide to You-know-what. Without a doubt, Troy McClure has been part of some of the funniest moments from the golden years of The Simpsons. It didn’t hurt that he had the comedic genius of Phil Hartman behind him, either, as there’s nobody else that could have better captured McClure’s unique blend of hackish desperation and egotistical self-assurance. McClure is one of the few characters on this show that could dominate several consecutive minutes of screen time, without input from any other character, and be just as engaging and hilarious as a scene at the Simpsons’ household, or Moe’s, or wherever else.

All the things you may remember Troy McClure from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYNZ1PMdO1M

Itchy & Scratchy: It may be a bit of a cop-out to pick not only two characters in one entry, but on top of that two characters that function almost exclusively as a show within this show. Still, I feel like Itchy & Scratchy are an integral part of The Simpsons‘s universe, along with being an on-the-nose parody of violent children’s cartoons like Tom and Jerry. I also tend to enjoy episodes where Itchy & Scratchy spill into the main story of the episode, such as the one where the family goes on a trip to Itchy & Scratchyland, the one featuring the Itchy & Scratchy Movie, or the one where Homer plays the newest addition to the cartoon: Poochy.

Here’s a best-off compilation of The Itchy & Scratchy Showhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a76cFdO1btk

Duffman: There were so many characters that I could have put into this slot, and most of them, admittedly, are more nuanced and fleshed-out than Duffman, of all people. And I really wanted to throw in a major character like that. Moe, for example, or Barney. But thinking of denizens of Moe’s Tavern just made me think of Duff Beer, and in turn I couldn’t help cracking up at images of Duffman. I don’t know what it is, but in my opinion Duffman is the epitome of the one-note character. The talking in third-person, the “Oh yeah”s, the histrionic voice, all of it adds up to one of the most consistently hilarious characters on The Simpsons.

A fantastic, typical Duffman scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7JY2V_GEuE

The Conclusion

Plenty of great characters abound in Springfield, so many that it’s impossible to pay tribute to them all. Perturbed that your favorite wasn’t selected? Peeved that we didn’t even mention Apu, or Skinner, or Dr. Nick? Pick your favorite and post about him or her in the comments below. Pay homage to one of the most iconic and populous television shows of all time.

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Frames of Preference: Lost

LostI plan to do an Epitosodes on this episode at some point, but I feel like this site can’t go on without some mention of ABC’s Lost. My experience with the show was condensed immensely, and I caught up to the final season in just one month. There were plenty of episodes that I felt could be skipped or summarized in a few sentences, but I always come back to Season Four’s “The Constant.” Without spoiling anything, it’s a time travel story centered around mysterious island dweller Desmond Hume, and the path that led him to his present situation. In this climactic scene, the emotion on Hume’s face as he receives a fateful phone call from the love of his life encapsulates what was so amazing about this show. Pure emotion, fantastic acting, and a gripping narrative that ultimately came to be about the characters, it’s a show that, like Desmond, will stand the test of time.