Remembering The Irreplaceable Marcia Wallace

A few days ago we lost Marcia Wallace, one of the finest voice actors of any era and a simply tremendous, Emmy-winning comedian. She was what no good sitcom could do without: a supporting talent who brought the world of the show to life in vivid detail. From acidic, man-crazed receptionist Carol Kester at Dr. Hartley’s office in The Bob Newhart Show (a part written just for her) to lonely, soulful elementary school teacher Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons, she delighted each generation of TV viewers anew.

What you may not know is that Wallace also made appearances on almost every series of note from the early 1970s on, including BewitchedThe Brady Bunch, Columbo, The Love Boat, Magnum, P.I., Murder, She Wrote, and ALF. As a sassy White House maid, she was the saving grace of short-lived Trey Parker and Matt Stone show That’s My Bush!—unfortunately, there’s no YouTube evidence of it. But this Simpsons montage of Mrs. Krabappel’s signature, tart, one-note laugh is a fitting tribute to her sense of character and killer timing.

Perhaps the only thing as wonderful as her performances was Wallace herself, a long-time survivor of and activist against breast cancer, and a warm person who nonetheless didn’t mince words. Check out this short interview in which she rolls her eyes at the concept of so-called “reality” TV at a time when that’s all anyone seems able to talk about. We hope scripts come back into fashion, too, Marcia.

Five Reasons We Already Can’t Wait For The Next Season Of ‘Bob’s Burgers’

This past run of episodes should cement the consensus: Bob’s Burgers is the best animated show on the air, probably the best sitcom, and a comedy that in its best moments has all the heart and savage satire of a classic scene from The Simpsons. Last night’s Season Three finale, “The Unnatural,” reminded us that it would be a long, painful wait for Season Four, and here’s why.

1. Tina’s elaborate fantasy world. Only the tragically canceled Enlightened could get us so deeply into a character’s conscious (and sub-conscious, and sub-sub-conscious) so gracefully. But cartoons have the advantage of outlandish visuals, and Tina’s trippy journey through the world of espresso addiction was one of the best so far. (See also: her first kiss with Jimmy Pesto Jr.)
2. Linda’s annoying songs. This was one of those character choices that at first was as odd and irritating as it was to the rest of the people on the show. But as the writers doubled down on the tic it has come to seem an integral and hilarious part of the entire family dynamic. "Thank you for loving me! Thank you for being there!"
3. The music overall. Going back to Lucy, Daughter of the Devil and Home Movies and even Dr. Katz, the cartoons of Loren Bouchard have universally included some of the sharpest, catchiest, most patently tuneful but funny songs, and Bob’s Burgers is turning out to be no exception. The bit of Broadway pop that Gene orchestrates in “Topsy” is actually so good that Bob remarks with impressed surprise: “Gene wrote this?”
4. The budding sociopathy of Louise. Bob and Linda Belcher are always too busy to really take into account just what is going on with their children, and with Louise that means overlooking some troubling (and amazing) behavior. Witness season highlight “Boyz 4 Now,” in which she funnels an undesired crush on a boy band superstar into the bewildering desire to slap him across the face, hard. Which she does.
5. His majesty H. Jon Benjamin. While I hated to see the offbeat Jon Benjamin Has a Van get canceled a while back, one has to admit that voiceover work seems to be his calling. And while he’s a fantastic one-liner delivery system in Archer, this show lets him indulge a looser, more improvisational style that imparts a wonderful naturalism to the haywire plots. Even his concerned little ums and ahs are flawlessly deployed. Truly, a master among baritones.

Grease Bandits Prove Somewhat Slippery

New York restaurants have a new scourge to worry about, on top of all those rats displaced by Hurricane Sandy: a crew of small-time crooks that has hit paydirt in the form of “rancid cooking sludge.” This appetizing goo is in demand as a recycled ingredient in biofuels, which I guess there is a black market for already? Okay then.

In a case of life imitating that one episode of The Simpsons, grease thieves arrive at eateries’ kitchens to suck up all the excess oil with “souped-up vacuum or lawnmower engine[s].” Often they posed as employees of the companies actually hired to do this. Amazing how far the right uniform will get you.

Apparently there’s no end in sight: these operations are quick and professional. Even some guys who got caught in an lard heist in January were able to plead their way down from burglary to criminal trespassing. Now that’s greasy.

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Important Bonus Material From ‘The Simpsons’

Bill Oakley has offered no shortage of laughs in his work on The Simpsons. Together with Josh Weinstein he penned some of the standout episodes from seasons five and six, including “Bart vs. Australia” and the one where Springfield legalizes gambling. Remember that one? So good. But today Oakley tweeted something marvelous from his days as showrunner of seasons seven and eight.

It’s an audio file from the making of “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer),” perhaps better known as the episode in which Homer consumes hallucinogenic hot peppers during a chili cook-off and takes a peyote-tinged psychedelic journey of self-discovery, with a cameo from Johnny Cash. As Homer begins to trip, the voices of his friends and neighbors become distorted and unreal.

In particular, Ned Flanders’s usual friendly gibberish is heightened to an absurd degree and pitch-shifted. What we didn’t know is that Harry Shearer, who voices Flanders, had to record this nonsense very carefully, as though it were a real line, and not improvise one whit. You can now hear the original take used for the sequence, which is somehow even funnier.



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Mitt Romney Gets The All-Important Cartoon Billionaire Endorsement

Barack Obama may have gotten an endorsement from a real billionaire yesterday—New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who cited the destruction of Hurricane Sandy and the highly unnerving real threat of climate change as swaying his decision—but not to be outdone, Mitt Romney countered with another well-recognized American billionaire. Yesterday, shocking no one, Fox released a video in which The Simpsons‘ C. Montgomery Burns, the eccentric, insanely wealthy, sort-of-evil tycoon owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, endorses Romney from the dark and stormy headquarters of the Springfield Republican Party. 

Although Mr. Burns’ lackey Smithers begins listing off all the headlines that could cost Romney the election, Burns is still preoccupied with one in particular—that of him strapping the family dog, Seamus, to the roof of the car while on a road trip—and decides to "release the hound" to prove his point. The poor pup is subjected to a Pavlovian test, having to choose between "Meat Romney" and "Broccoli Obama." This is all incredibly fitting, especially since earlier this year when Mad did their "Who Said It: Mitt Romney or Mr. Burns?" quiz. 

Watch, and be sure to look for the strategically-placed reading materials on the nightstand next to Burnsie’s armchair. As Homer would say, "Mmm… aging meme."

Farewell Andy Williams, Nelson Muntz’s Favorite singer

Legendary crooner Andy Williams—the man whose rendition of Mancini’s "Moon River" could soften even the hardest of hearts, the cornerstone of the neon streets of Branson, Missouri—passed away today after a battle with bladder cancer. He was 84. 

Williams’ talent, hard work and commitment to his fans—he was still performing prior to his cancer diagnosis, and planned to return to the stage after treatment, are among the legacies he leaves. In terms of a cultural legacy, he left us with a number of classic television and entertainment moments. Here are just a few of them. 

Williams’ TV variety show, appropriately named The Andy Williams Show, lasted nearly a decade and featured a variety of performers, including actor and comedian Dick Van Dyke, Bobby Darin and comedian Jonathan Winters, along with comedian Janos Prohaska as "The Cookie Bear," which was perhaps a spiritual precursor to SNL‘s Land Shark. Williams would be part of the action as well as host, kicking out the (slow) jams like "Can’t Take My Eyes Off You."

When variety shows began to fade out, Williams found a way to adapt—instead of the regular shows, he went the route of the Christmas special.

Other than "Moon River," "Born Free" is probably the song most strongly associated with Williams. Although his version of the Oscar-winning ballad from the heartwarming 1966 film about the adventures of Elsa the lioness did not fare as well as Roger Williams’ piano and choir arrangement heard on the film’s soundtrack, Williams’ version has appeared in a number of places, including the soundtrack to Showtime drama Dexter, a rather tongue-in-cheek replaying on America’s crazy uncle Rush Limbaugh’s "Animal Rights Report," followed by gunfire (the record label later put a stop to that) and various montages of majestic animals on YouTube. 

Over the course of his career, Williams had a number of collaborators and wasn’t afraid to share the stage, so of course he had to have at least one night singing for Kermit and Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show

But perhaps one of Williams’ most indelible cultural moments came in a classic episode from the seventh season of The Simpsons. In "Bart on the Road," Bart, Milhouse, geeky Martin Prince and school bully Nelson Muntz go on a road trip to Knoxville, Tennessee for the World’s Fair. On their way, they stop in Branson ("My dad says it’s like Las Vegas if it were run by Ned Flanders," Bart explains.) and, preparing to drive through, stop at the demands of Nelson, who wants to see Andy Williams and threatens harm if his demands are not met. The other three boys sleep through the concert, but the normally brutish Nelson is wide-eyed and grinning. Truly, Williams touched us all. 

Ten Late-Era ‘Simpsons’ Episodes That Should Be Canonized

Practically any Simpsons snob will pinpoint where, how, and why the show stopped being good, whether you’re listening to them or not. And while there’s no denying a steep drop in average quality somewhere around the turn of the millennium, those who refuse to watch past the tenth season (or even the eighth, as some diehard purists claim) are cheating themselves out of a few diamonds in the rough. As it can be irritating to wade through that rough, we’ve rounded up some episodes that deserve recognition, if not stone-cold classic status.

“The Cartridge Family” (Season 9, Episode 2): This one harkens back to the old days with its wildly simple, all-American premise—Homer buys a gun. As spot-on a satire about firearm laws as you can hope for.

“Realty Bites” (Season 9, Episode 9): Too many episodes revolve around Homer getting a ridiculous job (with ridiculous consequences), but this down-to-earth entry features Marge getting into the home realty business in a Glengarry Glen Ross-type office, complete with the late Phil Hartman’s sleazy Lionel Hutz as manager.

“Viva Ned Flanders” (Season 10, Episode 10): Ned Flanders, realizing he’s barely lived out of an overactive sense of caution, recruits Homer to teach him how to live in the moment. The ensuing bender in Sin City was long overdue and flawlessly done—“Las Vegas doesn’t care for out-of-towners,” the pair is told when they’re dumped at the border afterward.

“Brother’s Little Helper” (Season 11, Episode 2): Bart’s trademark disruptive, capering ways lead him to a role as guinea pig for Focusyn, an Adderall-like behavior modification drug. A scathing look at the pharmaceutical industry and overmedication of children, with a fantastic last-act twist.

“A Tale of Two Springfields” (Season 12, Episode 2): Springfield is riven with class warfare when a new area code is forced on the “poor” half of town, ultimately giving rise to a Berlin-type wall of garbage in the middle. As ever, angry mobs provide some of the show’s best moments.

“The Computer Wore Menace Shoes” (Season 12, Episode 6): Early-era loyalists will insist that the end of this episode leans on the exact kind of absurdity that derailed the series. Everyone else will enjoy a wonderful parody of The Prisoner, preceded by Homer’s successful tenure as muckraking blogger.

“New Kids on the Blecch” (Season 12, Episode 14): Bart, Nelson, Milhouse, and Ralph are handpicked by a record label exec who wants to make them the next ’N Sync (who are great sports about their cameo). But an even weirder agenda is afoot.

“Weekend at Burnsie’s” (Season 13, Episode 16): Look, if you can’t see the merit in a plot where Homer adopts a flock of crows and eventually becomes hooked on pot—which only propels him into an upper-level position at the nuclear power plant—just don’t talk to me.

“I’m Spelling As Fast As I Can” (Season 14, Episode 12): Many of the old classics deal with Lisa’s moral quandaries, and that plot is expertly resurrected here, when she must decide whether to throw a national spelling bee for material gain. Egging her on is a crooked George Plimpton in perhaps the best as-themselves voiceover part ever.

“Bart-Mangled Banner” (Season 15, Episode 21): Aired in 2004, it’s the only episode to directly engage the George W. Bush administration, and does it ever. Bart accidentally moons the American flag at school, sparking a chain of events that land the entire Simpson family in permanent detention for treason. 

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Tom Waits To Guest Star On ‘The Simpsons’

In one of the weirder casting updates of the fall 2012 TV seasons, singer Tom Waits will appear on The Simpsons. But not to sing!

NME reports the gravelly-voiced musician will introduce Homer Simpson to the survivalism movement, called "preppers," who prepare for Earthly disasters such as the impending apocalypse. Preppers stock up on canned goods like the Coupon Queen, learn how to build shelters, and perfect skills to fend off zombies/packs of wild dogs.A half-assed Google search suggested that Tom Waits is not actually a survivalist and that The Simpsons writers are just taking creative liberties.

It’s also probably just as well he is not singing. I would hate to have to hear Homer explain Pasties And A G-String to Lisa Simpson.

‘Weeds’ Celebrates 100th Episode

It’s not every day that a cable show reaches the ripe old age of 100 episodes, but ever since I first laid eyes on the polished, pristine lawns of Agrestic and their pot-loving, MILF-appreciating inhabitants, I knew was hooked. The cast and crew of the 8-year series celebrated with cake and champagne after an on-location shoot in Los Angeles. Actress Mary-Louise Parker, the show’s protagonist, grew a bit emotional as they toasted the series’ new centennial status. Sure, Weeds is in its final season with only two more episodes remaining, it’s still quite the accomplishment

Here is a roundup of shows that have truly stood up to the test of time… 100+ times!

If there were ever a contest for longest-running animated TV show, then The Simpsons would win, 4-fingered yellow hands down. The 23-year-old show has been supplying America with “D’ohs!” and “Ay Carumbas!” for a colossal 508 episodes, and counting. Since its debut in 1989, the series has gone on to inspire and define the style of countless other shows (ahem, Family Guy, we are looking squarely at you), has its own full-length movie, video game franchise, action figures and even it’s own goddamn rollercoaster ride. Not bad for a donut-loving, minimum-wage, nuclear power-plant employee, huh?

Clocking in at an impressive 456 episodes, Law and Order has been around for 20 years. Since it’s debut in 1990, the much-loved courtroom drama has been adapted to a TV film, video games and crossovers. Its also inspired multiple spin-offs: Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury, and LA. Looks like people just couldn’t get enough of that criminal justice system!

Be honest: if you were a child of the ’90s, you were most certainly tuning in to the many idiotic teenage antics of Brenda Walsh and the rest of the gang on Beverly Hills 90210. The often imitated, never duplicated 296-episode series defined what it meant to be an American teen and covered numerous issues like abortion, date rape, alcoholism, domestic violence, gay rights, and eating disorders, making it both entertaining and relatable for viewers. Its 10-year reign ended on May 17, 2000, but multiple spin-offs, including the current CWTV remake and Melrose Place, confirms the original impact of the acclaimed series. Beverly Hills forevs!

What other show begins with a self-deprecating disclaimer, contains a record number of penis, shit and vagina references and even has its own dedicated snackfood product (mmm, Cheesy Poofs)? The 15-year-old South Park has had 230 episodes and is wildly successful phenomenon that is slated to keep on thundering on till 2016. Never one to be a shrinking violet, the series often unabashedly discusses touchy issues like racism, homophobia, politics, religion, and poverty (and always finds new ways to send Kenny into the afterlife). All hail Mr. Hanky!

Often referred to as the greatest television program of all time,” Seinfeld followed the antics of four close friends, Jerry, George, Kramer, and Eliane, as they discussed immensely important topics such as fake nose-picking, Festivus, being spongeworthy and regifting (I still have yet to decide between a Bro or a Mansiere). The much-loved show is still in syndication and has spawned the spin-off Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is still running. I can also say without shame that I do own a Seinfeld Monopoly board game set. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…