TV

‘The Simpsons’ Predicted The Future Of TV Fandom 20 Years Ago Today

There is no Best. Episode. Ever of The Simpsons.

How do you possibly pick between “Last Exit to Springfield,” “Marge vs. the Monorail,” “A Star Is Burns,” and about three dozen others? You don’t, so you watch them all, over and over and over again, marveling at how the “Dental plan… Lisa needs braces” scene gets funnier every time. But there is one “Worst. Episode. Ever.” (There’s also a worst episode ever — for me, it’s either “Lisa Goes Gaga” or “Moe Goes from Rags to Riches” — but don’t go there.)

Seasons 9-12 of the greatest show of all-time are underrated, but the last truly perfect season in The Simpsons‘ Golden Era is season eight, which gave us such classics as “You Only Move Twice,” “A Milhouse Divided,” and “Homer’s Enemy.” But the episode I think about, and endlessly reference, the most is “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show,” which premiered 20 years ago today. As the title implies, fighting-and-biting cat-and-mouse rivals Itchy and Scratchy get a dog sidekick, Poochie, voiced by Homer. Not just any dog, though — he’s the original dog from Hell (Cerebus?). Poochie doesn’t get busy; he gets biz-zay, consistently and throughly… TO THE EXTREME.

Poochie was inspired by executives at Fox telling The Simpsons to add a new character to the show. Ratings were still strong — the season averaged 14.5 million viewers, compared to 3.999 million viewers in season 28 — but they were on the decline. The writers naturally found this suggestion ridiculous, but they still listened to the Powers That Be, sort of. (If you’re getting a strong Great Gazoo vibe, that’s not unintentional — this episode is when The Simpsons surpassed The Flintstones as TV’s longest-running animated primetime series.) “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” wasn’t just the introduction of Poochie. It was also the debut of Roy, a college-aged slacker who lives with the Simpsons until he moves out to live in his own apartment with two sexy ladies. He was never heard from again (unlike Poochie, who, despite Krusty’s sworn affidavit, actually reappeared in a season 29 episode).

Following an overhyped rollout on the Itchy & Scratchy Show, where he raps about being “half-Joe Camel and a third Fonzarelli,” Poochie is written off without Homer’s knowledge. “Note: Poochie died on the way back to his home planet,” a title card reads, much to everyone’s delight except Homer. “Well, I guess I learned my lesson,” Mr. S says. “The thing is, I lost creative control of the project. And I forgot to ask for any money. Well, live and learn.”

That’s just one of many quotes from “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” that I use in everyday conversation. In fact, I’d argue this is the most quotable episode of The Simpsons. David S. Cohen’s uproarious script is stuffed with helpful advice (“Please refrain from tasting the knob”), nonsense words (“blingwads”), and behind-the-scene knowledge (“Very few cartoons are broadcast live, it’s a terrible strain on the animators’ wrists”). It also inspired Rick and Morty (“a realistic, down-to-earth show… that’s completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots”), and TV recaps as we know them.

Comic Book Guy complaining that “last night’s Itchy & Scratchy was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever” is probably the episode’s greatest legacy, and why “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” supersedes other quotable episodes. It’s a Simpsons reference that’s spread to non-Simpsons fans because of its elasticity; replace “episode” with any noun, and it still works. (It’s also the name of an excellent Simpsons podcast.)

“Magic xylophone,” meanwhile, never caught on the same way, but it’s still a useful catch-all term for plot holes and, perhaps more accurately, mocking nerds in Genius at Work shirts who nitpick plot holes. “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” was written at a time when websites like alt.tv.simpsons were popular, but only among the Superfriends of the world. Now, instantaneous criticism (and occasional praise) is everywhere, on Facebook, on Twitter, on websites like the very one you’re reading (hi). And don’t think the writers aren’t reading it. As pointed out by The A.V. Club‘s Erik Adams, “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” is one of the first instances of the “people behind your favorite TV show [acknowledging] that you exist, and they’re willing to mock you as if you were a cultural figure as towering as Richard Nixon or the Denver Broncos.” They’re also willing to give you what they think you want, whether that’s an endless parade of remakes or an outrageous dog.

It’s our responsibility to not turn into Comic Book Guy, to appreciate and experience a television event so extraordinary, it becomes part of our shared heritage. That’s “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show.”

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