The joke’s on Boston in Sunday’s episode of ‘The Simpsons’
This Sunday, “The Simpsons” will be throwing a full-on half-hour Boston-palooza.
Crammed with references from Fenway Pahk and Jahdan’s Furniture to the Citgo sign and Whitey Bulger, the episode — titled “The Town” after the Ben Affleck movie — plays like a game of local Trivial Pursuit. Extra credit for knowing the Friendly’s Fribble. Extra extra credit for knowing Bell Biv Devoe.
The Boston jokes fly fast and furiously largely thanks to the wit of “Simpsons” executive producer Matt Selman, who’s originally from Watertown, and writer Dave King, who grew up in Needham. Selman calls the half-hour “a playful love letter to the city,” adding “it wouldn’t be ‘The Simpsons’ if we didn’t poke fun.” Yes, fellow Beantowners, brace yourselves for more of the Deflategate taunts and bad Southie accents we’ve been hearing for-seeming-ever.
“We knew we had one shot at doing this,” Selman says, “that doing the show was a David Ortiz-sized swing, and we’d better hit a home run.”
Selman is a Boston sports fan — “I was lucky enough to be in attendance at Super Bowl XLIX, certainly the most thrilling live sporting event of my life” — and he says he’s surrounded by an even more hardcore bunch: “Many of the writers on ‘The Simpsons’ are huge, huge, huge super-fans.” That’s why Boston sports allusions are all over the episode, including a football player named “Bonkowski,” a poster with the name Yastrzemski spelled out, and some pretty-boy gags involving Tom Brady.
It all starts at Moe’s Tavern, where Homer and friends encounter Boston football fans in town for the Dennis Lehane book tour. They hurl insults about cheating at the Boston group. Don’t worry, the Bostonians hold their own in the squabble, sort of. “This place has got more knobs than a hardware store,” one Southie dude yells back.
Soon, Homer catches Bart rooting for the “Boston Americans” and saying, “All those awesome Southies in ‘The Departed,’ those are my people.” Outraged, Homer plans a hate-cation to Boston to turn his son against all of us “clam-gargling tea-tossers.”
Cut to a nonstop Boston tour including Faneuil Hall, the Museum of Fine Arts, MIT, the New England Aquarium, and a stop (and go) in tunnel traffic. The visuals are great, with accurate depictions of many local spots. “Careful viewers will be rewarded by looking at the background of the scenes for insider references,” Selman says, “such as paintings from the MFA, radio stations that no longer exist, and the ‘Cheers-iotic Table of the Elements,’ ” where, by the way, the symbol for Norm is N!.
“I would have loved to put in even more references,” Selman says. “Every scene with a blank wall in the background is a missed opportunity.”
Also seen in the Boston episode of “The Simpsons”: Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (voicing herself) teaching at the “Combat Zone Charter School.”
“The Simpsons” has made fun of Boston before, not least of all because so many of the show’s writers came up through the Harvard Lampoon, but never in such a sustained fashion. “ ‘Simpsons’ travel shows have always been some of our best and beloved episodes — Australia, Japan, London, Brazil,” Selman says. “Boston is such an interesting city with so much history and culture, it’s like a country in and of itself.
“Hopefully Bostonians won’t be as enraged and murderous as the Brazilians were after their episode. But if they do try to kill me, I’ll be flattered, in a way.”
So, will Homer be seduced into loving Boston at “Bulger’s Bowl-O-Rama,” a candlepin spot where he gets three balls? Will he reconcile himself to the fact that we love Aerosmith, even though, as he says, “That’s not how you spell ‘arrow’ ”?
And will we recover from the lovely image of the bug-eyed Marge Simpson with a “B” cap perched high atop her blue conehead hair?
The episode airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on Fox. That happens to be the same day a certain sports hero will be returning from his suspension to play with a certain football team. “Crazy ‘Simpsons’ karma,” Selman says.