The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show
"The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show" is the fourteenth episode of the eighth season of the animated television sitcom The Simpsons. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on February 9, 1997. In the episode, The Itchy & Scratchy Show attempts to regain viewers by introducing a hip new character named Poochie, whose voice is provided by Homer. The episode is largely self-referential and satirizes the world of television production, fans of The Simpsons and the series itself. It was written by David X. Cohen, and directed by Steven Dean Moore. Alex Rocco is a credited guest voice as Roger Meyers, Jr. for the third and final time (having previously provided the character's voice in "Itchy & Scratchy & Marge" and "The Day the Violence Died"), and Phil Hartman guest stars as Troy McClure. Poochie would become a minor recurring character and Comic Book Guy's catchphrase, "Worst episode ever," is introduced in this episode. With "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show", the show's 167th, The Simpsons surpassed The Flintstones in the number of episodes produced for a prime-time animated series.
The ratings of the Itchy & Scratchy Show segment of the Krusty the Clown Show suddenly fail. Krusty orders the cartoon's producer, Roger Meyers, to find a way to fix the sagging ratings, or else a Chinese cartoon will replace Itchy and Scratchy. Meyers decides to commission a focus group to discover why Itchy and Scratchy has lost its popularity.
Bart and Lisa participate in the study, by watching cartoons and answering the questions. However, things do not go very well, with the children in the focus group contradicting themselves when explaining what they want (they argue that Itchy and Scratchy should be both more realistic and more fantastical). Eventually, Lisa says that there was nothing wrong with Itchy and Scratchy in the first place; rather, the characters had simply lost their novelty, and with it, the impact they once had on their audience. Meyers thanks Lisa for "saving" Itchy and Scratchy, and decides that his cartoon's salvation lies in a new character. He tells Krusty and his team of writers that this new character should be a dog with "attitude", who will be called Poochie.
Bart and Lisa suggest Homer to have a go at voice acting when they read that there will be open auditions. Homer auditions to read for Poochie's voice, and gets the part. He and June Bellamy, his fellow voice actor, make several publicity stops to promote Poochie, where Homer confronts the show's hardcore fans. Homer invites all of his friends and relatives to the screening of the first Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show. However, the cartoon is full of clichés and asinine antics, and by emphasizing Poochie, contains none of the show's trademark violence. Everyone except Homer finds the episode unimpressive. Meyers is forced to admit that Poochie's debut was a dud, and he decides to get rid of the character.
Homer learns that Poochie will be killed off, and resolves to keep Poochie alive. At his next recording session, rather than reading from the script, he implores the audience, through lines that he wrote, to give Poochie a fair chance. The writing team is uninterested with Homer's statement, and he is led to believe that the comments will be in the next cartoon. So, Meyers dubs the line "I have to go now. My planet needs me." into the dialogue, and the animation cel containing Poochie is yanked out of view. A statement attesting to the dog's demise (he died on the way back to his home planet) is hurriedly edited into the cartoon; the in-studio audience cheers wildly as Krusty promises that Poochie is gone for good and signs a law preventing him from ever returning. Homer feels betrayed but, after realizing he never got paid for his efforts, attributes the affair to the nature of show business.
Throughout the episode, a man named Roy comes to live with the Simpsons. When Lisa remarks that new characters are just a desperate effort to boost shows with low ratings, Roy appears out of nowhere. He has a few minor lines and calls Homer "Mr. S."
"The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show" was written by David S. Cohen and directed by Steven Dean Moore. The episode was conceived as a commentary on what it was like to work on a television show that had long been on the air, but was considered to be nearing its end. This was intended to show that The Simpsons could still be good after eight seasons, even though it no longer had the "shock value" it did in the early years. Before production of season 8 began, several executives at Fox suggested the staff add a new character to the show, who would live with the Simpsons on a permanent basis, in a bid to freshen up the series. The writers found the suggestion, usually considered a sign of desperation to boost a flagging series, amusing, therefore much of the episode revolves around this trope. Parallel to the episode's main plot, where Poochie is introduced on The Itchy & Scratchy Show to boost its ratings, the writers inserted the one-time character Roy, a college-aged man who is shown to be living with the Simpsons, with no explanation as to his character or presence, as a reference to the executives' proposal. Roy was originally conceived for the "Time and Punishment" segment of the season six episode "Treehouse of Horror V", living with the Simpsons in one of the alternate realities, as a second, teenage son in the family.
Cohen's initial vision for Poochie was that he would be annoying to fans because he was wealthy, aloof and unlikeable. In the episode's DVD commentary he read his script for the first cartoon featuring Itchy, Scratchy, and Poochie:
|“||Itchy and Scratchy are laborers in Poochie's gold mine. Poochie sits on a velvet throne surrounded by bags of money. He drinks champagne as he whips Itchy and Scratchy and lectures them on the value of hard work in a capitalist society. Finally, Itchy and Scratchy get fed up and plan their revenge. They decide Scratchy will present a fake money bag to Poochie. Itchy will secretly be hiding in the bag. When Poochie raises the bag to inhale the sweet smell of money, Itchy will jab him in the nose with a syringe of poison. Itchy gets in the bag and Scratchy presents it to Poochie, but the plan backfires because Poochie is offended by how small the money bag is. To demonstrate how worthless it is to him, he sets it on fire and uses it to light his cigar. Itchy's flaming skeleton falls out of the burning bag, and the syringe lands on Scratchy's toe and kills him, too. Poochie says, "Oh, well, I can always use my millions of dollars to hire more workers. That's the power of money." The end.||”|
As with other episodes centering on the production of The Itchy & Scratchy Show, such as "The Front", the show's staff are shown. Almost all of them are based on the actual staff of The Simpsons. In the first scene at the production table the person in the lower right corner, wearing a squid T-shirt, is Cohen. On the left side, the furthest away is Bill Oakley with Josh Weinstein next to him. Next to Weinstein is George Meyer, who is the writer who speaks out and gets fired. The animator shown designing Poochie is supervising director David Silverman. As Silverman plays the tuba, one was drawn into the background of the scene. Other writers who appear include Dan McGrath, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Donick Cary, Ron Hauge, Ned Goldreyer, and Mike Scully, who had to be added in later, as the animators "didn't have his photo" from which to get an accurate likeness.
This episode saw The Simpsons surpass The Flintstones for the number of episodes produced for an animated series. The episode therefore deals with the issue of longevity and the problems that arise when the producers try to make a show “fresh” again.
The show mainly deals with themes commonly known as "jumping the shark", instances that usually occur when a failing show adds a new character or twist to boost ratings. The first theme is a commentary on adding a new character, when the show has run for too long. Usually, this is a technique used in shows that involve children, who have grown up. This was the case in "Oliver" in The Brady Bunch or "Luke" on Growing Pains. Both Poochie and Roy are used to reflect this, by attempting to keep The Itchy and Scratchy Show and the Simpson family fresh respectively.
Another theme is the notion of network executives forcing ideas onto a show. The interaction between the writers and the network executives in the episode underscore the differences between them. The writers understand the show's inner workings, but the network executives approach improvements to the show from a business point of view. They try to incorporate what they see as a rebellious character with the comment "This is popular with the kids", but the viewers later reject the character. The writers themselves are satirized in the episode, and are depicted as lazy and pretentious with few original ideas.
The last theme is the viewer backlash and obsession with internal consistency. When Comic Book Guy sees the Poochie episode, he immediately goes on the Internet and writes "Worst episode ever" on a message board; a commentary on how the active audience nit picks the episode. The writers respond by using the voice of Bart:
- Bart: Hey, I know it wasn't great, but what right do you have to complain?
- Comic Book Guy: As a loyal viewer, I feel they owe me.
- Bart: What? They're giving you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? I mean, if anything, you owe them!
- Comic Book Guy: ...Worst episode ever.
Earlier in the episode Homer and June Bellamy attend an in-store appearance as part of the promotion for the new character Poochie. They are asked a question of internal consistency, like the show's fans do all the time; Homer says to the fan who asks the question, "Why would a man whose shirt says 'Genius at Work' spend all his time watching a children's cartoon show?" This is again a reflection on how the writers feel about the fans obsessing about internal consistency.
The original opening couch gag shows a pastiche of the cover collage from The Beatles' 1967 album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was first used earlier in the season in "Bart After Dark". Otherwise, the episode refers to other TV shows, including the syndicated couch gag featuring the Flintstone family, recycled from the season 4 episode "Kamp Krusty", to mark The Simpsons surpassing The Flintstones as the longest-running animated series. Roy calls Homer and Marge Mr. and Mrs. S, which echoes Fonzie calling the Cunninghams "Mr. and Mrs. C" on Happy Days. Later, he decides to move in with "two sexy ladies", recalling Jack Tripper in Three's Company. Homer hiding in the closet to hear what the network executives were planning to do with Poochie is a reference to Jay Leno reportedly eavesdropping on a conversation between NBC executives on whether he or David Letterman would replace Johnny Carson as the host of The Tonight Show.
Itchy and Scratchy are based on Tom and Jerry and other cat-and-mouse cartoons. As a boy, series creator Matt Groening and his friends would fantasize about an ultra violent cartoon and how much fun it would be to work on a show like that. June Bellamy is a parody of voice actress June Foray. In the episode, Bellamy claims that she provided the "Beep, beep" sound effect in the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons; in reality the phrase was voiced by Paul Julian.
This episode was placed 23rd on Entertainment Weekly's top 25 The Simpsons episodes list. Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, praised "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show", calling it "a very neat episode which, like "The Front", is a good parody of the cartooning business." In 2007, Vanity Fair named it the sixth-best episode in the show's history, describing it as "a classic satire of network influence, obsessed TV fans, and programs that survive long after the shark has been jumped, the episode is a meta-celebration, a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal to everyone who claimed that the quality of The Simpsons had declined over the years." Todd Gilchrist called it a masterpiece, stating it "could easily be packaged and sold by [itself]." Planet Simpson author Chris Turner describes the episode as "the most contentious and direct counterattack The Simpsons ever unleashed on its fans" and "[harsh] satire of the working world of big-time TV production". Robert Canning of IGN said it was "laugh-out-loud funny" and describing the introduction of Roy as "a hilarious parody of a classic, overused television device." Alan Sepinwall of The Star Ledger, in a review printed two days after the episode originally aired, praised the writers for not airing a "very special" episode to celebrate the milestone of overtaking The Flintstones. He noted "[the episode is] so self-aware it put the best in-jokes on St. Elsewhere to shame." The BBC named it as one of the ten most memorable episodes of the show, noting "the writers used the opportunity to pay tribute to the art of animation and rail against network interference in their show." In 2014, The Simpsons writers picked "The Beagle Has Landed" as one of their nine favorite "Itchy & Stratchy" episodes of all time.
In its original American broadcast, "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show" finished tied for 38th place in the weekly ratings for the week of February 3–9, 1997 with a Nielsen rating of 8.8. It was the third-highest-rated show on the Fox Network that week.
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