Beyond its genius writing, clever jokes and unique characters, The Simpsons has another trait that makes it stand out among other sitcoms – it’s pop culture references. I grew up on The Simpsons, which also means when I watched the show as a child, I missed every third or fourth clever joke. It was only in later life that I’d pick up on what the writers were referring to.
This posed a bit of a problem. For while the cult references are fun for those that get them the downside is there are several classic films that have been slightly, if not entirely spoiled for me by Simpsons episodes.
Damn you Groening!
Here’s a few. Obviously, Beware Spoliers!
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
As soon as I was introduced to Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest I thought he seemed vaguely familiar. Then when Jack Nicholson’s character tried to lift the water fountain my suspicions were confirmed. I had seen the Chief in ‘The Old Man and the ‘C’ Student’ where Bart takes over the retirement home. In the parody scene Chief Bromden throws a water cooler through the window to gain access both in and out of a room. Once I made the connection I knew that the Chief would ultimately use the water cooler to escape from the hospital. ENDING RUINED!
Right, it’s pretty hard to live a media saturated life without picking up some references to Reservoir Dogs. However, if you had seen the Itchy and Scratchy Parody ‘Reservoir Cats’ before Quentin Tarantino’s classic, then you would watch the original film with the knowledge that sooner or later someone is going to get their ear cut off while ‘Stuck In the Middle with You’ plays on the radio. What should be an absolute shocker of a scene becomes tame in a way that QT wouldn’t be happy about.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I learnt to stop loving and love the bomb.
Although not a strong enough spoiler to ruin Stanley Kubrick’s classic, the dream sequence in ‘Homer the Vigilant’ in which Homer rides a nuclear bomb still gives away a huge plot point in Dr. Strangelove. In fact, as soon as I saw Major Kong put on his cowboy hat in Act One, I instantly knew that he would be waving that same hat in the air while riding a bomb to the ground in Act Three.
This spoiler was particularly disappointing because throughout the entire film the characters are trying to prevent a nuclear explosion and the knowledge that one definitely occurs diminishes that overall suspense.
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
As with most Simpson Halloween specials, ‘Terror at 5½ Feet’ is a parody of a former horror narrative. The classic Twilight Zone episode features William Shatner going nuts over a gremlin on the wing of the plane and the plot of both stories is almost identical.
However this case stands amongst the others as I think the Simpsons writers actually improve on the story when they show the return of the gremlin on the back of the ambulance that drive Bart away in the end. The Twilight Zone Episode on the other hand cuts away when the technicians find claw marks on the engine of the plane without the additional twist.
Planet of the Apes
Granted, you would have to be part of one of those lost South American tribes that still haven’t been introduced to Western civilisation to not know the twist of the Planet of the Apes. It’s on par with Bruce Willis revealed as a dead guy at the end of the Sixth Sense and Darth Vader fathering Luke Skywalker’s Star Wars. However, The Simpsons chose not only to reference the twist, but to make sure you will never forget it by instilling it into your brain through a rhyming jingle during Troy McClure’s musical ‘Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!’
By the way, it was the Earth all along, if you didn’t know.
Okay. So there you are. If anything it proves I should be getting my fix of classic movies sooner but with so many it’s almost impossible to get there first. These are just personal examples from my experience and I’m obviously missing out on thousands of more references that are saturated within The Simpsons writing. That is after all, what makes it one of the cleverest sitcoms in television history.