Zed’s Dead But ‘Pulp Fiction’ Is Still Very Much Alive In Pop Culture 20 Years Later

Just about every group of friends has that one guy who still quotes Pulp Fiction like it just hit theaters last week. Heading out for burgers? He’ll have the Royale with Cheese. Trip over your own words? “English, mother*cker! Do you speak it?” Respond, “What?” to one of his dumb questions and you’re bound to hear, “Say what again!” Did one of your friends have a disagreement with his significant other? “Does he look like a bitch?” Oh that guy, you’re everywhere in this world and you’re never going away, but we don’t really mind, because 20 years later, we all still love Pulp Fiction a lot. Need proof? Just turn on your damn TV.

Ever since Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece was released in theaters on this day 20 years ago, there has been no shortage of tributes to Pulp Fiction in popular culture. While the movie had an undeniable influence on at least a decade’s worth of Dawson Leerys, who would go on to write many of the sitcoms and movies we love and loathe today, the impact of Pulp Fiction was immediate. If anything, it changed the way that writers tried to tell their stories, with any movie that was presented “out of order” after 1994 was immediately compared to and critiqued against Pulp Fiction, whether it was inspired by Tarantino’s work or not. But most of all, Pulp Fiction gave us a variety of characters, scenes and lines that could forever be celebrated and worked in to everything from children’s comedies to CBS’s hit procedural dramas.

The legacy of Pulp Fiction has been so incredible that its stars have even made references to their roles or other seemingly obscure lines in other films and TV series. For example, when we weren’t laughing at his ridiculous bald head and goatee combo in the 2010 film From Paris with Love, we were mildly groaning when John Travolta’s super badass spy treated Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ mild and by-the-books operative to the thing that he claimed would eventually kill him – the Royale with Cheese.

Travolta isn’t alone with the shameless nostalgia plugging by a longshot. For example, Ving Rhames might have busted out a subtle nod to Fabienne’s choice of breakfast in The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard when Jibby said that “blueberry pancakes” is his safe word. Coincidence? Possibly. But instead of thinking long and hard about a Jeremy Piven movie, let’s just shine the light on Mr. Pulp Fiction reference himself – Samuel L. Jackson. Some people think that the diner that Vincent and Jules had breakfast at after their tense visit to Jimmy is the same diner that Agent Gibbons (Jackson) took Xander Cage to in xXx. After all, the Hawthorne Grill:

… certainly looks a lot like this:

Unfortunately, despite the great storytelling of the Internet, it’s not. Pulp Fiction’s classic robbery-turned-epiphany scene was filmed in the since-demolished Hawthorne Grill, while xXx’s fake diner scene was filmed at Pann’s Restaurant, which has become a go-to place for old-timey scenery. Nitpickery and debunking aside, Jackson did recreate his iconic “SAY WHAT AGAIN!” speech in a 2005 episode of The Boondocks.

For the 2013 animated feature Turbo, Jackson voiced Whiplash, the leader of a fast-talking gang of snails, and he delivered a much more PG-rated version of his “SAY WHAT AGAIN!” routine while inspiring Ryan Reynolds’ titular super-powered snail. Most recently, Jackson and directors Anthony and Joe Russo paid tribute to Pulp Fiction with Nick Fury’s tombstone at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This is more about inspiration and less about self-high-fives and Easter eggs, though, so let’s focus on the times that Pulp Fiction references were dropped in popular TV series and movies. One of my personal favorite references came in the 1996 classic Space Jam, as one of the Monstars got his big, ugly hands on Wile E. Coyote and Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam suited up to get medieval on his ass.

The 16th episode of Season 3 of Veronica Mars, “Un-American Graffiti,” featured the titular detective uncovering one punk’s “self-hate crime.” While nobody delivers that “SAY WHAT AGAIN!” routine like Jackson, Kristen Bell sure could make it seem way more adorable.

In 2006, the hit CBS series NCIS made two references in the same episode, “Ravenous,” as a country store in the park that Mr. Shoop and his team had to investigate was named Jackrabbit Slim’s, “just like the diner in Pulp Fiction.” But the big reference that has probably been made more times than I’d have the patience to even attempt to count came later in this episode, when Abby was bummed that Gibbs had forgotten her birthday, only to discover that he had, in fact, left her a present. The contents? We may never know, but boy did it glow, because… “This is so Pulp Fiction.”

The craptacular 2002 horror film Halloween: Resurrection, which is one of those classic “So bad it’s good” kind of “scary” movies, had two of the characters attend a Halloween (obviously) party dressed as Vincent and Jules, which was interesting because they were both white. Plenty of shows and movies have featured characters dressed as Pulp Fiction characters, but the obvious one that jumps out from recent memory is the 2011 episode of Community, “Critical Film Studies,” in which Jeff threw Abed a Pulp Fiction-themed party, while the guest of honor did a whole “I’m a normal person” routine. That episode not only featured zany costumes…

But also the actual glowing briefcase.

If this was a competition, though, Community’s effort would get an honorable mention ribbon compared to Gilmore Girls, which was a series that was apparently written by a pride of Pulp Fiction fans. The show’s first reference (that I’m aware of) came in the third episode of the second season, “Red Light on the Wedding Night,” as Michel Gerard wanted to “shake his thing” and was joined by a drag queen who was dressed as (Uma Thurman voice) Mia Wallace.

In Season 4’s “Tick, Tick, Tick, Boom!,” Kirk invoked the powerful threat of Marsellus Wallace in claiming that he’d get “medieval on your ass,” and in Season 5’s “Wedding Bell Blues,” Lorelai joked with Luke that they’d be doing the dance from Pulp Fiction (“Do you want to be Uma, or should I?”) at a wedding reception. Four episodes later, in the very appropriately-named “Pulp Friction,” Rory ended up as the best-dressed person at a Quentin Tarantino-themed party, at which Luke accompanied her as a bloodied Butch.

What’s interesting about these four specific episodes is that while “Red Light…” and “Tick, Tick…” were written by Daniel Palladino and “Wedding Bell Blues” was written by his wife and the show’s creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, “Pulp Friction” was written by James Berg and Stan Zimmerman. I guess that simply being a fan of Pulp Fiction was a requirement in order to join the Gilmore Girls writing staff. Works for me.

We could probably spend all day running down the list of TV show creators and writers that were influenced by Tarantino and Pulp Fiction, as well as the episodes that reflect that inspiration, so I’ll try to be a little more curt, because time is always a factor. A show that I loved for two seasons before it grew to be repetitive was NBC’s Chuck (but I kept watching because nobody likes a quitter), and it had, among many, many pop culture references, one particular nod to Pulp Fiction. In “Chuck Versus the First Bank of Evil,” Chuck and Sarah had to rob a pretty high tech bank with the help of Vivian and a terrible fake mustache, and Chuck referred to his love interest and spy partner as “Honey bunny.”

In the fourth season of USA’s Psych (another show that I really liked until it became repetitive and dull), Shawn made one of several Pulp Fiction references that he’d spit out during the show’s long run and love affair with pop culture gimmicks and all-around hijinks. In this specific episode, “Death is in the Air,” it was all about the Band-Aid on Marcellus Wallace’s neck and the contents of a box. Or, you know, a cooler.

In Season 3 of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Dee Reynolds tried her worst to deliver Christopher Walken’s wonderful watch monologue in preparation for the Paddy’s talent show in “The Gang Solves the North Korea Situation.” Of course, she was typically terrible and sounded nothing like Walken, but we certainly love her for trying. On the same network, Archer’s “Once Bitten” reminded us of a scene that doesn’t necessarily have to be a tribute to Pulp Fiction, but it’s almost always going to be viewed that way, because we’re never going to forget the image of Uma Thurman being brought back to life with a big honking needle filled with adrenaline.

Staying with the animated theme, another of our beloved hit comedies, Bob’s Burgers, didn’t pay tribute to Pulp Fiction as much as it gave a slight nod to it while slapping the porn industry’s ass with recognition to the wonderful genre of porn parodies. In “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?” we were treated to these wonderful fake porn parody titles.

I’ll be damned if Dong Day Afternoon doesn’t make me laugh every single time.

As far as South Park, the animated series that has always been the best at paying tribute to and/or destroying pop culture phenomena, I’m not sure if this specific instance was intended to pay tribute to Pulp Fiction, because of the fact that Cartman made a joke about how any girl that marries Kenny would end up eating Pop-Tarts for dinner. But when Kenny eventually died in “The List,” the toaster popped in a similar way to when Vincent Vega met his demise coming out of the bathroom. Whatever, it sparkles for me.

Even Seinfeld had its very own Pulp Fiction moment, as the 1997 episode “The Muffin Tops” had a heavy reliance on all things Wolf. Obviously, Jerry turned into the wolfman as he shaved his chest for Alex (No. 28 on my very scientific rankings), but when Elaine found herself overloaded with muffin stumps that the homeless shelter’s Rebecca DeMornay refused to accept, she had to call in Newman, the cleaner or the Wolf, to take care of her dilemma in a quick and specific fashion.

While a lot of shows and movies have always focused on that glowing briefcase for a sight gag or simple homage, my personal favorite is the weapon-choosing scene from the pawn shop. Of course, if there’s time to prepare, I’ll always take the Commando “shopping” scene above all else, but Butch picking his weapon of choice for revenge on Maynard and Zed is one of the best scenes of any movie that I’ve ever watched. The 2009 remake of the 1972 Wes Craven horror film The Last House on the Left has a similar scene, but the show that made me giggle with childish joy when it featured this gimmick was Breaking Bad, as Jesse Pinkman needed an instrument of damage in “Fly.”

We can’t mention Breaking Bad and Pulp Fiction without also skipping to Season 4’s “Box Cutter” and the diner scene that looked very similar to the aforementioned visit to the Hawthorne Grill.

Nothing tops off a brutal homicide and bloody cleaning session quite like a Moons Over My Hammy.

But above all of the glowing boxes, tough decisions between hammers and swords, and people shouting, “SAY WHAT AGAIN!”, there’s nothing more celebrated in TV and movies from Pulp Fiction than Travolta’s and Thurman’s wonderful dance moves. If a man or woman even puts two fingers over his or her eyes while a song is playing, someone will point at it and shout, “Pulp Fiction!” even if Adam West was doing it decades earlier in a tight Spandex suit. Travolta and Thurman won a trophy and our hearts with their heroin-and-hamburger-fueled fun, and it’s going to be a long time before people stop honoring this one.

The dancing has been copied in comedy features like Christmas with the Kranks, Bewitched and High School Musical 2, among plenty of others that I’ve never even heard of before, but for the sake of saving time and words, we’ll just focus on Matt Groening’s shows’ love for Tarantino’s most celebrated film. Always one of the greatest characters on any show in TV history, Zoidberg got his Vincent Vega on with his co-workers in the Season 7 episode “The Mutants are Revolting.”

Not good enough for you? Then let’s dip into The Simpsons, shall we? Homer’s sweet moves in The Simpsons Movie looked pretty familiar.

We could easily just chalk that one up to Zoidberg and Homer being two simple-minded dolts who love the same dance moves. Back in ’99, in the biker gang episode “Take My Wife, Sleaze,” Homer took his family to a restaurant named Greasers that invoked the same sense of nostalgia as Jackrabbit Slim’s, and he and Marge got to compete in a similar dance competition to win a motorcycle.

And if those are still simply too coincidental for you, I guess we can settle for that time in “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious” that Itchy and Scratchy decapitated Tarantino – who refused to take part in the episode when they asked him, according to show lore – and then danced over his corpse in “Reservoir Cats.”

I’m sure I missed a million, so let me have ‘em. In the meantime, fire up that DVD player for another run of Pulp Fiction tonight, and make someone who has never seen it before watch it. Especially if it’s your child. They should learn about double crosses and miracles at a young age anyway.