Compare & Contrast: Famously Smart Guest Stars

They Saved Lisa's Brain8

“I wanted to see your utopia, but now I see it is more of a Fruitopia.” – Stephen Hawking
“I’m sure what Dr. Hawking means is-” – Principal Skinner
“Silence!  I don’t need anyone to talk for me, except this voice box.” – Stephen Hawking

Celebrities voicing themselves has long been one of the most widely acknowledged hallmarks of Zombie Simpsons.  In truth, of course, the show had been using self voiced celebrities almost since the beginning.  What changed was the way those voices were used.  In Season 2, Ringo Starr voices himself, but responding to decades old fan mail, not arriving on the Simpsons’ doorstep.  In Season 3, an entire baseball team of Major League players voiced themselves, but that’s because they were all getting paid by Burns, not because they all suddenly decided to go to Springfield.  Self-voiced celebrities themselves aren’t inherently a problem, how they’re used is more important.

On The Simpsons, not only was there always a reason for some famous person to be there, but what they were doing was always a takeoff on who they were and/or why they were famous.  On Zombie Simpsons (in addition to being used far more often), the self voiced celebrities usually appear out of nowhere.  And once they are on screen, frequently don’t do much more than be their normal selves.  This is how famous street artists repeat their names and do nothing else and the entire cast of American Idol pops up just because.  It’s straightforwardly uncreative and almost always looks and feels like nothing more than a plea for attention.

All of those negatives apply to Elon Musk’s episode.  He literally drops out of the sky at random, and (like Lady Gaga) once he’s in Springfield he just kinda acts like an even more exaggerated version of himself.  Look, there’s drones and electric cars and friggin’ hyperloops!  Aren’t they funny?


Too bad Kang and Kodos weren’t in there.

Even the episode’s attempts to show how his crazy ideas backfire falls apart.  Everything he does works, and Springfield becomes a futuristic utopia right up until Burns fires everyone.  Does Musk react to this?  Nope.  He disappears entirely as Springfield falls apart, showing up only at the end to act hurt that Homer doesn’t want to be his friend anymore.

They could’ve shown Musk as Shary Bobbins, a noble creature whose best efforts are eventually overwhelmed by the inherent crappiness of Springfield.  Or they could’ve shown Musk as an evil, Hank Scorpio-esque nutbar who loves his inventions more than people.  Or, with just a few tweaks, they could’ve shown a Musk vs. Burns battle for the soul of Springfield.  (Burns would triumph, of course, because good is dumb.)  But they didn’t do any of that.  They had Musk show up, then they drew some of his stuff into Springfield, then he vanished while everything fell apart.  This is about as shallow and pointless as it is possible to be given the enormous amount of screentime he got.


The episode manages to find him again, but only with binoculars.  He is apparently unaware that all of his improvements to the town have become failures.

Compare that with Stephen Hawking’s brief appearance at the end of Season 10’s “They Saved Lisa’s Brain”.  Now, by Season 10 the show was already falling apart, and Hawking’s sudden arrival isn’t without its share of problems.  Not only does he drive up with no warning whatsoever, but after he scoops Lisa up in his flying chair to save her from the mob, they land all of thirty feet away while the episode forgets completely that a riot was going on.

But Hawking still has both 1) a reason to show up and 2) is given some things to do.  He’s there because eggheads have taken over the town and he wants to check it out.  This still being The Simpsons, their efforts were doomed from the get go and he finds nothing of value in their little experiment.  Moreover, only on The Simpsons would Hawking be a bullying and arrogant dick who insults everyone and uses an extend-o-glove built into his chair to punch Skinner.  Yes, he is smarter than everyone else, but he’s a jerk about it, and that’s what makes it work.

They Saved Lisa's Brain7

Stephen Hawking: Face Puncher

Of course, The Simpsons also knew enough not to try and string that out for an entire episode.  Hawking is only in two scenes, one of which is an epilogue that doesn’t affect the story.  They don’t build the whole thing around him because even in Season 10 the show could still recognize the limits of a guest star.  In the filler laden wasteland of Season 26, weak guest ideas are asked to carry the entire runtime, and even a world famous inventor and entrepreneur can’t make that work.

28 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Famously Smart Guest Stars”

  1. 1 Jack
    28 January 2015 at 5:56 pm

    You know the show has gone to hell when even Season 10 can be held up as a positive example. Come back, Mike Scully! We didn’t know how good we really had it! (OK, not really.)

    • 2 Victor Dang
      28 January 2015 at 7:21 pm

      Just to test the limit, I wanna see Charlie use a Season 11 episode next for the next C&C post. And I don’t mean the passable episodes like “Criticize Dinner”, “Last Tap Dance”, “Behind the Laughter” or even (perhaps) “Brother’s Little Helper”. I’m talkin’ the big stinkers like “Alone Again”, “Wine & Dóhses”, “8 Misbehavin”, or “Mansion Family”.

      (For convenience’s sake I am ignoring “The Collector” segment from ToHX, which actually got an A rating from the gang here.)

      • 3 Charlie Sweatpants
        28 January 2015 at 11:10 pm

        I guess anything’s possible.

        • 4 Victor Dang
          29 January 2015 at 8:25 pm

          Perhaps next week Marge gets a horse, but then it doesn’t even keep a coherent sequence (ala Scorpion’s Tale), it’s just a bunch of random sketches related to owning a horse! Saddlesore Galactica, for all its inherent shittiness, at least maintained a flow of events.

      • 8 Patty Cash
        29 January 2015 at 7:27 pm

        Don’t forget the one with the horse racing (Saddlesore Galactica) because that really pissed off a lot of fans who thought the show was becoming too cartoony (though Mansion Family did that too, and no one seemed to mind. They didn’t care much for Britney Spears’ cameo, but they didn’t say anything about The Mansion Family being cartoony — it’s always Saddlesore Galactica. Maybe they hated the fact that SG was too self-aware of its cartoonish turn while Mansion Family was blissfully unaware).

        • 9 Victor Dang
          29 January 2015 at 8:20 pm

          I’m gonna go against most fans’ opinions, but I don’t hate Saddlesore Galactica compared to “Alone Again”, “Wine/Doh”, or “8 Misbehave”. It is definitely shitty, yes, but when talking about the long-term damage done to the show (character changes/deaths/etc.), Saddlesore is quite insignificant and benign, and not just in comparison.

          And talking about episodes being “too cartoonish” and being “too self-aware”, while I’m no Simpsons expert, there’s probably a Mirkin-run episode somewhere that carried that idea way better. Perhaps some of the people here can chime in with some fun examples. (Bart’s Comet, perhaps?)

        • 10 Matthew
          2 February 2015 at 1:28 pm

          If I would have to wager an opinion on why SADDLESORE GALACTICA is held in such low regard even compared to contemporary episodes that are even worse, one reason (of many) because of the scene with Comic Book Guy:

          CBG: Excuse me, I believe this family already had a horse, and the expense forced Homer to work at the Kwik-E-Mart, with hilarious consequences.

          Homer: Anybody care what this guy thinks?

          Crowd: No!

          It was a take-that to everyone on alt.tv.simpsons who said the show wasn’t as good as it had been, and by now you could see how the writers believed their own hype and refused to listen to criticism. James L. Brooks’ “no network notes” dictum may have insulated them from that, but what was the point when the writers could no longer turn out quality work regardless?

          Season 12, honestly, is the worst of the pre-Al Jean-as-showrunner seasons. It had everything that was wrong with season 11 but with fewer genuinely funny jokes. Since Jean took over, the show has become stagnant and ossified, and creative decisions are based on how unlike the Mike Scully-era episodes they are rather than how good they are on their own merits, never mind matching their mid-1990s peak. At least under Scully, they could manage to provoke some genuine laughs before writing themselves into a corner by act 3.

    • 11 Sarah J
      1 February 2015 at 1:09 am

      Maybe in twenty years, the show will still be running and will have gotten so bad that we have to use episodes from season 25 as positive examples.

  2. 12 Stan
    28 January 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Hawking was in that episode because it was about nerds getting together and finally ending up standing off one against another. Musk WAS the episode, and I don’t need to have watched it to know it. Besides, anything you mention about what Musk could’ve done instead of showcasing his face in there, all comes out to having already been done in the past. It’s just the same fucking routine of thinking either that they can’t get worse, yet knowing that they would already get worse as soon as they come up with some actual fucking story, because chances 1 million to one are that they’ve already done something similar in the past.
    What really, really sickens me though is that we’re going through the same arguments for years now, and nothing changes. Repeating storylines? 2011 (or 12, I think). Exposition and filler? 2013. Pointless celebrities showcasing themselves? 2014. Even discussing this garbage has reached its logical limits by now. Yeesh.

    • 13 turlet
      31 January 2015 at 12:18 pm

      With Simpsons guest stars I will use a comparison I regularly make with old and new Simpsons.

      In the shows heyday it felt like episodes were written and then they would find a spot for the celebrity. They would always at least attempt to find a plausible reason for them to be there too. Like in Lisa the Vegitarian and Flamin Moes.

      Now they just find a famous face and try and write an episode just for them. They just turn up in Springfield for f all reason and dissapear just as fast just to self promote.

  3. 29 January 2015 at 1:36 am

    Hey, I just mentioned the bollocks that math phys is on another earlier post, and here I see mention of Dr. Hawking, one of the high priests of that religion! Go figure!

    • 29 January 2015 at 10:32 am

      I missed your first rant so I went back to look at it. What exactly do you mean mathematical physics is bollocks or that “relativity, quantum physics & the ‘big bang’ make little to no sense when looked at objectively”? I mean, usually when I read the word “objectively” on the internet it usually translates as “from the perspective of somebody who is too stupid or too consumed by their ego to realise their own subjectivity”. I don’t know if that is necessarily you or rather that actually do have a point and are merely guilty of the sin of presenting a hyperbolically reductive argument, but relativity, for instance, is actually fairly well backed up by practical application – in gps satellites for instance where taking account of relativity is necessary to get accurate locational data. Quantum physics too has led to several major technological breakthroughs, none more mindbogglingly dense with applied quantum theory (as far as I know) than quantum cryptography.

      • 29 January 2015 at 7:22 pm

        Workability is great but it ain’t science, it’s ‘technology’, which has more to do with invention & human advancement, rather than explanatory power, the real hallmark of ‘science’; neither is mathematics in general, because it’s a useful tool that deals with abstract concepts rather than reality, existence, and actual objects, the pillars of true physics. A genuine scientist has two important roles to play in any culture, depending on the situation or time of day: as the detective & the lawyer (for the plaintiff). The sharpest economists, for example, are a lot like scientists, because they don’t engage in feel-good fluff or confuse concepts for objects. There is no breakthrough in science without publication, and no scientific comprehension in society without successful communication. Ordinary language is fine outside of science, but in the scientific realm, consistent & useful definitions matter more than one’s emotional attachment to their own interpretation of words & language. Communication dies otherwise.

        • 17 Stan
          30 January 2015 at 8:04 pm

          How are economists different from true scientists, if both work with maths and numbers? I don’t mean it in a ‘define this’ way, I mean their brains must function on the same wavelength.

          • 30 January 2015 at 9:26 pm

            Hence why I compared their similarity. :/ Like I said, math isn’t a science (at least not a physical one), but that doesn’t mean no scientist can use it as a tool.

            • 19 Stan
              31 January 2015 at 8:19 pm

              Would history be called ‘a science’ if it taught us not to repeat our errors? But history isn’t a science, it’s a matter. So is math.
              Science is the action of binding matter to our own needs, in order to obtain results. Same as statistics. They’re nothing if there is no interpreter behind them. Just a bunch of numbers. And history – just a bunch of words and pictures.

              • 31 January 2015 at 11:19 pm

                Science, math (including stats) & history are all subjects/practices, and therefore concepts. All words are concepts. Not all words describe objects, though. Concepts are relations between at least 2 objects.
                The action of binding (or bending?) matter to our own needs is called technology. Science isn’t about achieving results, but about explaining things so that they’re easily understood. All of these subjects & practices require humans to interpret, perform & study them.

                • 31 January 2015 at 11:22 pm

                  Technology may use breakthroughs in scientific comprehension, but it’s not necessarily science per sé.

                  • 22 Stan
                    1 February 2015 at 7:41 pm

                    If that’s Latin you’re employing, there can’t be a “sé” as there are no accents in Latin proper.
                    You are a good scientist, it seems. But linguistics are a much better matter and scholars simply kick more ass.

                    • 1 February 2015 at 10:37 pm

                      Sorry, auto spellcheck did that & I just shrugged about it. As far as lingo & scholarship is concerned, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man. (That’s a movie reference, in case you’re wondering.)

  4. 29 January 2015 at 9:17 am

    “I don’t need anyone to talk for me” would have been a phenomenally funny line if they hadn’t spoiled it with “Except this voice box.” Typical ZS explaining the joke.

    • 25 Anonymous
      29 January 2015 at 1:49 pm

      Nah, ZS would’ve stretched out the joke by having his voice box malfunction for 20 seconds for something. And I think this quote is pretty good by itself, a decent substitution for the “except myself” that’d be in there.

  5. 29 January 2015 at 6:05 pm

    “Larry Flynt is right!” still cracks me up every time.

    • 29 January 2015 at 8:22 pm

      “Your theory of a donut shaped universe is intriguing. I may have to steal it.”
      “Wow, I can’t believe someone I never heard of is hanging out with a guy like me.”

      A nobody like Homer is lucky to talk to Hawking and knows it, even if he’s too ignorant doesn’t know who he is, he still wants to be acknowledged as more than one of the little guys. I’ve never reminisced for the storytelling and subtlety of season 10 before. Ah, (relatively) good times.

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