The Simpsons is a lot smarter than it often gets credit for. While some view it as merely a funny animated comedy that can be perfect for a 30 minutes of escapism, others have become increasingly aware of little nuances, intricacies and quirks that make Matt Groening’s cultural institution stand out among against other popular animated shows like Family Guy, American Dad and South Park. After all, Groening did once say that it was a show that “rewarded you for paying attention.”
Here are 16 hidden messages and meanings you never noticed in The Simpsons.
1. Principal Skinner is actually Jean Valjean from Les Miserables
Here’s an incredibly high-brow and virtually unknown Simpsons theory; Principal Seymour Skinner is actually the Les Miserables character Jean Valjean. OK, it sounds crazy, but hear us out on this one. In a season five episode, Skinner reveals that his POW number in Vietnam was 24601, the same as Valjean.
Fast forward four years to season nine and the episode titled ‘The Principal and the Pauper.’ This episode is actually notable for universally hated by critics and fans alike, while Matt Groening even called it a mistake.
In the episode, the show delves deep into Skinner’s mysterious background, revealing that he is actually a guy named Armin Tamzarian. He used to be a rebel and an outlaw, and was eventually arrested for stealing, just like Valjean.
After being released, Tamzarian noticed that a smalltown guy named Principal Skinner is missing and presumed dead, he decides to show up and assume his identity, exactly like Valjean again. It’s never been confirmed but it is one of the most fascinating connections between The Simpsons and other cultural works.
2. Extremely Complex Math Jokes Are Hidden Throughout the Show
In case you didn’t know, The Simpsons writers are a bunch of math whizzes and, throughout the series, they hid all sorts of equations and problems far beyond the capability of the normal viewer. There’s a particularly interesting bit in the episode ‘The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace’ when Homer almost successfully disproves Fermat’s last theorem.
The driving mathematical forcefield behind the hidden intelligence of The Simpsons is David S Cohen, an algebra wizard who dropped an academical career to become a comedy writer at the age of 26. What a great decision that turned out to be.
3. God and Jesus Have Five Fingers
God and Jesus are the only Simpsons characters to have five fingers on each hand. Everyone else has four, obviously. Pythagoras once said: ‘Numbers are divine, numbers are a gift from God’. So, thanks to Pythagoras, we know that God is a special entity in The Simpsons, a five-fingered status who created the four-fingered universe of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie.
4. The Full, Hidden McBain Movie
Throughout the series, we are treated to clips of Arnold Schwarzenegger-inspired action hero Rainier Wolfcastle playing McBain. However, it was eventually figured out that, if you piece all the clips together, you’re left with one coherently structured narrative. Definitely one of our favourite things about The Simpsons.
5. Mr Burns’ Telephone Greeting Is Actually The Original ‘Hello’
You may have noticed that Mr Burns’ way of answering the phone is different from the usual ‘Hello,’ instead greeting callers with ‘ahoy hoy.’ You may not have known it, but this greeting carries some interesting history with it.
When Alexander Graham Bell (allegedly) invented the telephone, he recommended that ‘ahoy hoy’ should be the greeting in which people should use when answering a call. Thomas Edison thought it as kind of stupid and proposed ‘hello’ as a better alternative. You can guess which one stuck and which one didn’t.
6. The Writer Who Uncovered The Truth About Whacking Day Also Exposed Watergate
Whacking Day is a memorable, if little weird, episode from The Simpsons’ often-heralded ‘golden era.’ It took influence from real-life festivals that actually rounded up snakes and beat them with a stick. The writers decided to develop a rich history of Springfield’s Whacking Day, while having a couple of digs at President Richard Nixon in the process.
First we see Nixon thanking everyone for coming out to a Whacking Day from yesteryear, before pitifully attempting to whack a snake and being booed away by an angry crowd. However, the more unnoticed joke can be seen when Bart is reading a book titled ‘The Truth About Whacking Day,’ written by the inimitable Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, a key figure in exposing the Watergate scandal. He wrote an entire book on Watergate and most fans wouldn’t have noticed this little Easter Egg, but it’s another smart inclusion from the writers.
7. A Blink-And-You’ll-Miss-It Dig At Former Vice President Dan Quayle
Long before the show aired an episode titled ‘Two Bad Neighbours’ which saw Homer coming up against President H.W Bush after the latter moved onto Evergreen Terrace, the Bushes regularly dissed the show. President Bush was full of contempt for the animated show, even calling it out during one of his campaign speeches.
As a result, The Simpsons wrote him into an episode, in hilarious fashion – and they didn’t pull any punches. There were countless pokes at the former President, but there was also a split-second dig at his perceptibly inept Vice-President, Dan Quayle.
During the scene where Bart accidentally shreds Bush’s memoirs, a piece of paper flies across the screen with the words: ‘V.P. Quayle Embarrassment’. Quayle was widely regarded as an incompetent VP and this gag was a measure of how low the writers held Bush and his administration. Adding to that, in the Treehouse of Horror X episode, Quayle is also one of the passengers heading on a rocket straight to the sun.
8. Simpsons Writer Checks Into Mental Hospital
In the memorable season eight episode ‘Hurricane Neddy,’ the Simpsons walk past a paranoid, mustachioed man when they go to visit Ned at the Calmwood Mental Hospital. This is a funny reference to John Swartzwelder, the most prolific writer in the history of The Simpsons. He penned classic fan-favourite episodes like ‘Homer’s Enemy’, ‘You Only Move Twice’, ‘Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?’, and ‘Krusty Gets Kancelled’ In real life, Swartzwelder is known as a recluse so it makes sense that the writers wrote him into a mental hospital. Later, when Ned checks out, a background character can be seen holding up a sign saying ‘FREE JOHN SWARTZWELDER.’
9. Rapidly-Scrolling Hidden Message During Rock Bottom
Another classic episode, another great hidden joke. After Homer is accused of groping a woman in ‘Homer Badman,’ his reputation was forcibly tarnished by the tabloid news programme Rock Bottom. Then, after the broadcast airs, you can see a number of rapidly-scrolling credits appear on the screen. Of course, this episode aired during a time when people couldn’t pause their TVs to see what was going on. There are four hidden messages in the credits, one of which is rather blunt…
10. Springfield Heights Institute of Technology
In Season seven’s “Much Apu About Nothing,” Apu casually mentions that he got his Ph.D at the Springfield Heights Institute of Technology. In the episode’s DVD commentary, the writers pointed out that the institution’s initials (S.H.I.T.) were a deliberate attempt on their part to sneak a dirty word past the Fox censors. Well played, there, it must be said.
Here’s another ‘fun with acronyms’ bit, just for good measure…
11. Paul McCartney’s Lentil Soup Recipe
When Lisa becomes a vegetarian, she speaks to Paul and Linda McCartney, where Paul tells Lisa that he shares her passion for animal rights, adding, “if you play Maybe I’m Amazed backwards, you’ll hear a recipe for a really ripping lentil soup.” The song is played over the end credits and apparently it actually does provide the recipe for lentil soup, with Paul ominously adding “Oh, and by the way, I’m alive.”
At the end of the episode, Paul’s song Maybe I’m Amazed plays over the end credits, and what do you know, recorded backwards over the track is a real recipe for lentil soup. When it’s finished, Paul adds one more tidbit: “Oh, and by the way, I’m alive.” Check it out below:
12. Comic Book Guy Logs Onto Real-Life Simpsons Forum
In season seven’s “Radiocative Man” episode, everyone is thrilled that at the news that there’s going to be a film adaptation of Bart’s favourite comic book superhero. To accrue more information, Comic Book Guy logs onto the Usenet message board, alt.nerd.obsessive. This was actually a dig at real-life forum alt.tv.simpsons, where hundreds of active users logged on to nitpick every episode of the Simpsons straight after it premiered. Brilliant.
13. Fops and Dandies
During the season 10 episode “Margical Mystery Tour,” we see a Viennese concert hall with separate entrances for Fops and Dandies. If you didn’t have a clue – like us – what that meant, we don’t blame you. It’s actually a reference to 18th-century European culture, when ‘fop’ was the word used to describe a men who was overly-obsessive about his appearance. Dandies, on the other hand, wore tail coats and often took baths. The two different types of Aristocrats hated each other, hence why there is separate entrances…to avoid nasty confrontations.
14. Lisa’s Nod To Famous Celebrity Cameos
In the classic episode “Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie,” Lisa tells Bart about a film she just went to see. “You wouldn’t believe the celebrities who did cameos! Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson… Of course, they didn’t use their real names, but you could tell it was them.” Of course, this is a clever nod to previous Simpsons episodes like “Lisa’s Substitute (Dustin Hoffman cameo) and “Stark Raving Dad” (Michael Jackson appearing under the moniker John Jay Smith). This was a clever way the writer’s could confirm those two cameos were true without breaching the confidentiality agreements.
15. Reoccurring A113
This mysterious code was used for various purposes, like the inmate number or mugshot plate for Bart/Krusty the Clown/Sideshow Bob. The number itself is a reference to the room at California Institute of the Arts used by many famous Disney scribes. Read a much more in-depth piece about the history of its usage here.
16. Frink Rules!
In the episode “Treehouse of Horror VI,” Homer goes into a three-dimensional world. At one point, located behind him is a string of hexidecimal numbers: 46 72 69 6E 6B 20 72 75 6C 65 73 21. When converted to ASCII, these numbers read, “Frink rules!” in reference to Professor Frink.
17. Danny Elfman’s Store In The Opening Credits
The name of The Simpsons‘ theme song composer Danny Elfman is hidden on a storefront in the opening credits (as his theme begins to play). You could watch that opening sequence a thousand times and not notice that!
18. Reference to O.J. Simpson’s Murder Trial
During the faux-celebratory clipshow “The 138th Episode Spectacular,” Troy McClure reveals the ending of “Who Shot Mr Burns” we weren’t meant to see, revealing the culprit to be Smithers. However, McClure then says this: ”But of course, for that ending to work, you would have to ignore all the Simpson DNA evidence. And that would be downright nutty.” He then pauses, blinks and looks at the camera awkwardly, clearly referencing O.J Simpson being acquitted of murder charges in October 1995, just two months before this episode aired.
19. All The Signs…