Sunday, March 04, 2007

Simpsons Guest Cameo, Standard Version

Here's the Stephen Sondheim guest-voice spot from tonight's episode of The Simpsons.

The way they incorporate celebrities playing themselves has, sad to say, become kind of tiresomely predictable. It always seems to involve several of these jokes:

- Regular Simpsons character hasn't heard of guest
- Regular character thinks guest is famous for something someone else did
- Guest acts like a total suck-up
- Guest, if he's highbrow, does something lowbrow (or vice-versa)
- Guest turns out to be a total sell-out

In fairness, a lot of these things were fresh and different at the time The Simpsons -- and a few other shows -- started doing them. When famous people guest-starred as themselves, it was traditional for them to be treated very respectfully. Look at all the guests on Lucille Ball's various shows: they poked mild fun at themselves, but basically they were shown to be as wonderful as we'd expect them to be, and Lucy would freak out with glee at every celebrity appearance. Or look at Sammy Davis Jr. on All in the Family: that's a great episode, but Sammy is never the butt of the joke at any moment; Archie is always the butt of the joke.

So in the late '80s and early '90s, in a sort of backlash, guest stars started being asked to play themselves as mean, or selfish, or miserly, or stupid. Instead of being sucked up to by the regular characters, the guests would suck up to them. Instead of being happy to see the stars, the regulars would find them annoying or claim they'd never heard of them. And that's how you get Leonard Nimoy as a crazy freak on The Simpsons, or Homer threatening to punch out Dick Cavett for being so boring. But what used to be a reversal of the standard prime-time guest star appearance is now, in itself, the standard prime-time guest star appearance. Maybe if a show went back to doing Here's Lucy-style guest shots, that would be considered fresh and different now.


Anonymous said...

According to the show's credits, Sondheim actually wrote the music to the Buzz Cola jingle...with lemon! Very catchy.

Anonymous said...

"late '80s and early '90s, in a sort of backlash"

So what was Eddie Cantor doing in, cough, Thank Your Lucky Stars.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

So what was Eddie Cantor doing in, cough, Thank Your Lucky Stars.

Exception that proves the rule? :>

Anonymous said...

My favorite cameos are still the ones in Batman where the guest-star would poke their head out the window as Batman and Robin were climbing the wall.

Anonymous said...

"The Odd Couple" probably holds the record in the 1970s for most guest star cameos on a TV sitcom, the best of which (Howard Cossell, Allen Ludden/Betty White, Monty Hall) worked the guest into a role where -- if not the butt of the jokes -- he or she at least was not treated with excessive deference in the script (well, except for Neil Simon, who even got to steal Felix's pen after signing an autograph in a fifth season episode. Too bad the jerks at Paramount edit that scene out of the TV prints nowadays).

Joe Gannon said...

I see your point after watching a couple of reruns of Entourage last night. It was the one where James Woods threatens Drama with bodily harm if he doesn't get his Aquaman premiere tickets back. In another episode, Drama is dropped by his agent while Pauley Shore laughs and enjoys the scene.

Anonymous said...

When I think of Simpsons guest stars who were well-incorporated into the episode, Ringo Starr comes to mind.

I reckon one of the things that made the difference there is the fact that he's mentioned in the episode (when Marge's old paintings are found in the attic) shortly before his voice is heard.

Anonymous said...

I take it you aren't interested in Ricky Gervais's Extras, since that's the premise for the entire series.