Tuesday, September 2, 2014

When The Simpsons Was Mean

In reading reviews of more recent Simpsons episodes, I've noticed more than a few people pointing out the show’s darker turns as being out of synch with the golden years — and perhaps more similar to Family Guy humor. I’m not necessarily sure this is true. Those old episodes have some dark moments too, and I’m not talking about the “Treehouse of Horror” installments.

“Homer’s Enemy,” the Frank Grimes episode and probably the darkest ever of the show, aired back in the show’s eight season. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, but in general the dark humor doesn’t bother me. There’s even a seriously mean joke in “The Three Gays of the Condo” that I actually like. The family is putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle in the backyard, when Flanders looks over the fence.
Flanders: Nice puzzle, Homer, but aren’t you missing a piece?
Homer: Aren’t you missing a wife?
Flanders: Ho ho! Walked right into that one!
(Maude, by the way, has been a deceased character on The Simpsons for longer than she was a live character.)

There is one joke I’d pick out as the meanest-spirit one the show ever did. It’s one you have to know a little background info to appreciate, however, and it involves a little-known Simpsons character named Ricardo Bomba. A few years back, the show held a contest where viewers could invent a character, and the winning character would be featured on the show. In 2009, the winner was announced: Peggy Black, a Connecticut woman whose entry was Ricardo Bomba, a Latin lothario who would work with Homer at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.

In a New York Post article, executive producer Al Jean called the contest “a thank-you to loyal fans.” Black is quoted as feeling over-the-moon about the win. “It’s amazing to see how they captured what I imagined,” she said. “I’m going to be immortalized forever by making a Simpsons character.” The character was set to debut in a January 2010 episode, and to coincide with the airing, the show even posted a little behind-the-scenes video of Black discussing her creation with the show’s staff.

And then the episode aired. Here is Ricardo Bomba’s introduction to Springfield.

Yep, he instantly dies in a fiery automobile crash, never to be seen again. To be fair, Al Jean was quoted in that article as saying Bomba make a subsequent appearance, but based on the nature of his intro, I’m guessing he won’t.

There’s a part of me that feels bad about this. The contest winner seems like a nice person — she’s a radiation therapist at a cancer center — and I just have to wonder if they told her ahead of time, “By the way, we’re instantly killing off your character” or if she found out by watching the show. Then again, in the context of Jean calling it a thank-you to the longtime fans, it’s also a pretty good joke. It’s a seriously dick move, but not an unfunny one. Longtime fans, I suppose, are the very people who whine about the show online.


Ha. Ricardo Bomba didn’t even get to speak his whole catchphrase. That is funny.

The Simpsons, previously:

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