The Simpsons turns 30 this December. To mark the anniversary, RICHARD LUCK recounts the family’s greatest European excursions.
It was on December 17, 1989, that the world was introduced to Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson – well, that’s if you don’t include the ‘shorts’ which appeared on The Tracey Ullman Show before then which, for the purpose of this article, we won’t.
Thirty years and 621 episodes later, barely a day passes without someone remarking that it isn’t the show it used to be, and indeed it isn’t.
However, even at its worst, The Simpsons is better than a lot of shows at their best. And besides, the solid gold that was Seasons 3 through to 10 means that any survey of the cream of TV is incomplete without a nod in the direction of Springfield.
Not that all of the Simpsons’ adventures have taken place in that town. In addition to trips to New York and New Orleans – among other US destinations – Homer and Co. have racked up the air miles. Locations they’ve jetted off to include Japan, where they wound up in the clutches of Godzilla, Australia, where they pissed off the entire country, and Brazil, where the Rio tourist board threatened Fox with legal action after the show portrayed the city as being overrun with rats, kidnappers and disease-infested monkeys.
By and large, the family’s European excursions have created far less of a fuss and a lot more fun. Before we begin our tour, I should point out that this gazetteer doesn’t included excursions featured in Treehouse of Horror episodes since they aren’t considered canon.
Nor has the first episode of Season 22 made the cut, what with Krusty the Clown’s visit to the Hague’s International Court of Human Rights being very much Elementary School Confidential’s B-story. Similarly, Raging Abe Simpson And His Grumbling Grandson In “The Curse Of The Fighting Hellfish” is absent since the scenes in Belgium only appear in flashback.
So, with the rules established in true Principal Skinner fashion, let the fun – and the learning! – begin!
The Crepes of Wrath, Season 1 Episode 11
Blackboard gag: ‘Garlic gum is not funny.’
Couch gag: The family jump on the couch at the same time, forcing Homer to the floor.
Plot: Bart is sent to France as part of a student exchange only to find himself enslaved by unscrupulous winemakers. Meanwhile, Homer and Marge open their home to Adil, an Albanian boy who proceeds to spy on the nuclear power plant for his government.
Notable observations: Bart – “So basically, I met one French person.”
Sights seen: On the way to the vineyard, Bart passes through landscapes modelled upon celebrated works by Monet (Bassin Aux Nymphéas) , Manet (Le Dejenuer sur l’herbe), Van Gogh (Wheatfield with crows) and Rousseau (The Dream).
Famous friends: The Gendarme is voiced by the award-winning French journalist and author Christian Coffinet.
Trivia: While its title might be inspired by Steinbeck, the plot of the Crepes of Wrath together with the presence of characters named Cesar and Ugolin, comes directly from Claude Berri’s Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. The entire Simpsons clan would also head to France for the 20th episode of Season 27, To Courier With Love.
Episode: The Regina Monologues, S15 E4
Couch gag: The Simpsons are squeezed onto the couch via a Play-Doh Fun Factory.
Plot: After coming into some money, Bart treats the family to a trip to England, with Grampa tagging along in the hope of catching up with his war-time sweetheart Edwina.
Notable observations: Homer – “We’re big shot tourists from everyone’s favourite country, the USA. We saved your ass in Vietnam and shared our prostitutes with Hugh Grant, so give me some free maps and none of that dry British wit.”
Sights seen: St Paul’s, the Albert Hall, Harrods, Carnaby Street, the London Eye, Hyde Park Corner, the West End, the Old Bailey, the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace where Homer narrowly avoids running over the Queen.
Famous Friends: The gang are greeted at the airport by Tony Blair and bump into Sir Ian McKellen and JK Rowling over the course of their visit. Meanwhile Frasier’s Jane Leeves appears as Edwina while reality TV’s Evan Marriott (aka Joe Millionaire) plays himself.
Trivia: It took eight months to persuade Tony Blair to appear on The Simpsons, and when he did, some bloke called Alastair Campbell insisted that his lines be changed in order to promote British tourism.
Monty Can’t Buy Me Love, S10 E21
Blackboard GAG: ‘I have neither been there nor done that’
Couch gag: The family form part of a circus kick line.
Plot: Bent on becoming as popular as the Richard Branson-esque Arthur Fortune, Mr Burns asks Homer how he can win the hearts and minds of the great unwashed. When none of his employee’s suggestions work, the power plant owner sets himself the task of capturing the Loch Ness Monster. And since the show’s never been to Scotland before, Groundskeeper Willie’s along for the ride!
Notable observations: Willie – “Aye, that is my ma and pa. They own a tavern hereabouts. They still have the same pool table on which I was conceived, born and educated.”
Sights seen: Just the majestic loch, neighbouring Urquhart Castle and a local pub.
Famous Friends: Spinal Tap and Saturday Night Live’s Michael McKean stars as the Howard Stern-esque Jerry Rude.
Trivia: Much of the Nessie material is informed by the original King Kong. As for draining Loch Ness in order to get to the monster, readers will be thrilled to learn that local councillors have outlawed all such dredging operations.
The Italian Bob, S17 E8
Couch gag: A hand of cards is dealt featuring a straight royal flush consisting of Bart, Marge, Homer and Lisa, as the Jack, Queen, King and Ace of diamonds respectively; Maggie has to make do with being the Joker.
Plot: Mr Burns sends Homer and the family to Italy to pick up his new sports car. Needless to say, chaos ensues and the Simpsons find themselves in a remote Tuscan village, the mayor of which just happens to be Bart arch-enemy Sideshow Bob!
Notable observations: Homer – “Stupid Italy. Wish you’d never been unified by Victor Emmanuel II. If only you’d stayed a loose confederation of city-states, trading with each other and occasionally warring…”
Places visited: The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pompeii, the Colosseum.
Famous Friends: Were it not for Frasier Crane, Sideshow Bob would be sufficient to secure Kelsey Grammer’s place in the TV pantheon. Here the eloquent assassin is accompanied by his wife Francesca Terwilliger, essayed by the Italian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta (Il Postino, The World Is Not Enough).
Trivia: Coincidentally – or not as the case may be – Lisa visited Rome alone in the previous episode The Last Of The Red Hat Mamas. Kelsey Grammer, meanwhile, received the Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance; the least he deserved given his extraordinary rendition of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.
Northern Ireland/Republic Of Ireland
In the Name of the Grandfather, S20 E14
Blackboard gag: ‘Four leaf clovers are not mutant freaks.’
Couch gag: The family participate in a dog show which Bart wins, much to Homer’s chagrin.
Plot: In an attempt to make things up to Grampa after forgetting his family, the clan head to the Emerald Isle in search of the pub where Homer’s old man claims to have spent the best night of his life.
Notable observations: Derry Air Pilot: “Welcome to Ireland, also known as the Emerald Isle, Potatoville, East Boston, Freckled Bog, the Land of Poetry and the Land of Bad Poetry.”
Places visited: Blarney Castle, the Giant’s Causeway, the Guinness brewery.
Famous Friends: Pub landlord Tom O’Flanagan’s voiced by Colm Meaney of The Commitments and Deep Space Nine fame. Meanwhile, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová reprise their roles from the Oscar-winning Once.
Trivia: The only episode to have been broadcast in Europe before the US, In the Name of the Grandfather was originally set to star Kenneth Branagh. The model and actress Kathy Ireland also turned down an opportunity to appear; Simpsons semi-regular Tress MacNeille took over the voicing duties while the following caption accompanies Ireland’s cameo: “Not actually Kathy Ireland. We asked her to do the show but she said no. We wish her well.”
The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed, S21 E16
Couch gag: A repeat of the previously mentioned dog show skit.
Plot: Determined to save Homer’s soul, Ned Flanders whisks the Simpsons away on a trip to the Holy Land. Naturally, once there, Homer becomes convinced that he is the new Messiah while his pious neighborino loses his faith.
Notable observations: Homer (preaching at the Dome of the Rock) – “I will unite the Christians, the Muslims and the Jews. From now on, you shall be known as Chrismujews! Because in the end, aren’t all religions the same? They tell us what to eat, when to pray, that this lump of clay called man can somehow shape himself to resemble the divine.”
Places visited: The Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Wailing Wall and the Dead Sea.
Famous Friends: Besides Sacha Baron Cohen as the Simpsons’ tour guide Jakob, the singer-songwriter Yael Naim appears as Doreet, Jakob’s niece.
Trivia: Given the potential for controversy, it must have come as a great relief to writer Kevin Curran when his work on The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed was nominated for a Humanitas Prize, an award for film and TV writing intended to promote tolerance, dignity and understanding.
The Saga of Carl, S24 E21
Couch gag: The family appear as sea creatures who are promptly devoured by Blinky, the three-eyed fish who’s been something of a series mascot since Season 1.
Plot: When Carl disappears with the syndicate lottery winnings, Homer, Moe and Lenny depart for Reykjavík, Lisa having discovered that Carl’s family hails from Iceland.
Notable observations: Homer (torturing Carl): “Tell us where the money is or we’ll feed you shark meat fermented in its own urine.”
Places visited: The Perlan, the Hallgrimskirkja and the Blue Lagoon.
Famous Friends: The Saga of Carl features original music from Icelandic recording sensation Sigur Ros, complete with a fresh take on Danny Elfman’s Simpsons theme music.
Trivia: Carl’s Icelandic heritage had previously been hinted at in the Season 14 episode ‘Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky. Would that such close attention had been paid to his family’s surname – they’re frequently referred to as the Carlsons but everybody knows that Iceland favours patronyms and matronyms rather than family names. Did Matt Groening and friends really think we wouldn’t notice?!
Throw Grampa from the Dane, S29 E20
Couch gag: The family emerge from computer printers. When the page featuring Homer gets stuck, he remarks, “Mmmmmmm, jam.”
Plot: With Grampa in need of medical attention, the Simpsons head off to Denmark to take advantage of the healthcare system.
Notable observations: Homer – “Tubby or not tubby? That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to withstand the wings and nachos of outrageous portions, or just have fish and end it. Aye, there’s the rub! Brisket rubs, Memphis rubs, all the rubs I’ll miss when I shovel off from Buffalo, mozzarella…”
Places visited: Amalienborg, the Land of Legends, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Kronborg Castle, the statue of the Little Mermaid.
Famous Friends: Danish comedian and actress Sidse Babett Knudsen plays the woman who dances with Homer, leaving Marge distraught.
Trivia: Plenty of critics have pointed out that Throw Grampa from the Dane has a very similar plot to the Season 28 episode Havana Wild Weekend, in which Old Man Simpson’s ill-health prompts a visit to Cuba. As such, it’s often sighted when people talk of The Simpsons having run out of ideas. Oh yes, and ‘fart’ really does mean ‘speed’ in Danish.