There’s no TV show quite as quoted or as quotable as The Simpsons, the evergreen Fox animated sitcom that’s been on television since George Bush was president (no, the other one). Though my wife rarely appreciates my perfectly timed Mr. Burns bon mots, there are a whole lot of us who could probably converse for an entire day in nothing but Simpsons quotes.
The show is especially beloved by those with nerdish…leanings, as over the past few decades it has become the hotspot for cameo appearances by a host of famous authors. For all we know, Thomas Pynchon hasn’t left his bathrobe since 1971, but he’s been on The Simpsons twice, albeit with an animated paper bag over his head (he even blurbed Marge’s book: “Thomas Pynchon loved this book almost as much as he loves cameras!”). Thanks to Lisa Simpson, I knew Gore Vidal’s name long before I knew who Gore Vidal was (“These are my friends! Grown-up nerds like Gore Vidal, and even he’s kissed more boys than I ever will!”)
In honor of the FXX Network’s ongoing 12-day marathon of every. Episode. Ever (all 552 of ’em), which kicked off yesterday, I present to you the top 5 author cameos in the show’s storied history. (Excluding Pynchon, because landing not one, but two appearances by the world’s most reclusive author is hard to top.)
5. J.K. Rowling (Episode: The Regina Monologues, Season 15)
At the height of Potter-mania, Harry Potter’s creator made a memorable appearance in an episode in which the Simpson family travels to England on vacation. Lisa asks her what will happen at the end of the series, to which the exasperated author responds, “He grows up and marries you. Is that what you want to hear?” Lisa: “[sigh] Yes!”
4. James Patterson (Episode: Yokel Chords, Season 18)
From the few glimpses we’ve gotten, Marge Simpsons has a deeply weird fantasy life, a fact that was never so clear as the time she fell asleep on the beach reading Kiss the Girls and had a sexy dream about James Patterson riding in on a white steed to sweep her away. (“Come with me, Marge. Help me think of new nursery rhyme-themed titles for my thrillers.”)
3. Amy Tan (Episode: Insane Clown Poppy, Season 12)
The Springfield Festival of Books manages to attract some pretty big-name authors, including Stephen King and Maya Angelou (who recites a poem about a B-2 bomber for some reason), but my favorite bit in this cameo-heavy outing involves Amy Tan’s reaction to Lisa’s interpretation of The Joy Luck Club (“No, that’s not what I meant at all. You couldn’t have gotten it more wrong. Please just sit down. I’m embarrassed for both of us.”).
2. Michael Chabon vs. Jonathan Franzen (Moe’N’a Lisa, Season 18)
Chabon: You can’t make this stuff up.
Franzen: Maybe you can’t.
Chabon: That’s it, Franzen! I think your nose needs some Corrections!
1. Neil Gaiman (Episode: The Book Job, Season 23)
In an entire episode devoted to parodying the trends in the new industry of YA mega-hits like Harry Potter and Twilight, Gaiman steals the show, literally, and wins the award for least self-aggrandizing cameo appearance ever in the bargain. Homer and his friends collaborate on a surefire-hit YA novel about magical trolls, and Gaiman agrees to help them write it (though mostly they let him pick up the sandwiches). At the end of an Ocean’s 11-style caper that involves rescuing the manuscript for The Troll Twins of Underbridge Academy from the unscrupulous publisher, it is revealed that Gaiman has absconded with the only copy and published it under his own name, winning yet another literary award despite the fact that he is illiterate.
What’s your favorite Simpsons literary reference?