Saying The Simpsons was ahead of its time is like Charles Manson is an asshole: It goes without saying, and you should cut anyone who tries to argue otherwise out of your life immediately. That said, though nobody is arguing that The Simpsons is great, it’s can still be astonishing to sit down and marvel at just how truly great it can be. There are moments in early Simpsons episodes that still push the boundaries of modern sensibilities, 20 years after their original airdate.
Take, for example, an exchange that occurs between Homer and Mr. Burns in the season 4’s “Last Exit to Springfield”. In it, Mr. Burns wants to quell a labor strike by means of a bribe, but he does so in such a way that Homer mistakes it for sexual advances. After a slew Mr. Burns’ unintentional come ons, Homer stands up and speaks this immortal line:
“Sorry, Mr. Burns, but I don’t go in for these backdoor shenanigans. Sure, I’m flattered, maybe even a little curious, but the answer is no!”
What makes the exchange so great is how frank it manages to be, despite the fact that it’s nothing but double entendres. Given that Homer thinks Mr. Burns is hitting on him, the phrase “Backdoor shenanigans” can only mean one thing, and in that sense, Homer’s phrasing is refreshingly graphic. At a time when homosexuality in sitcoms normally only existed as a set up to the punchline, “Check please,” The Simpsons was not only acknowledging that gay sex exists, but also hinting at the mechanics of it in a way that’s still not really done. Oh yeah, also… HOMER TOTALLY CONSIDERS IT! That’s an astounding display of sex positivity by todays standards, and it’s coming from a throwawy line in a 20 year old cartoon. Damn.
Even though Friends is a show that’s all about sex, their treatment of the subject is roughly the same as a five year old’s. There’s a lot of tiptoeing around things, a lot euphemisms, and a lot of hooting whenever anyone says something remotely dirty. The show is so insessintly psuedo-sexual that it’s genuinely jarring when they occasionally say something that’s actually risque. The most notable of such instances occurs in the season 1 episode “The One With The Evil Orthodontist.”
The orthodontist in the title is Rachel’s ex-fiance Barry, who she talks to for the first time since leaving him at the altar before ultimately having sex with him in a dentist’s chair. (Obviously.) The whole instance plays out like your typical sitcom until the post-coitus scene when Rachel favorably compares their bone sesh to her and Barry’s past sexual encounters. She looks around remarks,
“Ooh, and it’s so nice having this little sink here…”
It’s an easy line to miss, but, if you think about it enough, you realize that it’s dirty as hell. The little sink she’s referring to is, of course, the spittoon, and why do you guys think Rachel appreciates having something to spit into during sex? That’s right, we’re talkin’ ’bout jizz. Given that most sitcom sex ends with a man in his boxers getting out of bed and confessing to some wacky hijinx, it’s genuinely surprising to hear a show not just recognize the existence of sexual fluids, but actually have its main character crack jokes about how she disposes of said fluid. It makes you think that the show could have been truly great if they tried to focus a little more on subtlety and a little less on shoehorning the phrase “We were on a break” into every episode.
If you enjoyed that last paragraph about semen, I have good news!
Will and Grace is caught in a middle ground between the formulaic television of yesteryear, and the raunchy, HBO-style television of today. Like most old sitcoms, the episodes were structured around a lot of easily resolved mix ups. Unlike most sitcoms, those mix ups sometimes involve a piping hot cup of spunk….Seriously…
The season 4 finale revolves around Will and Grace’s attempts to conceive a child through means of artificial insemination. Will arrives at the fertility clinic with a paper bag he think contains his sperm, but actually contains the cup of corn chowder Jack had intended to eat for lunch. Will races to save his sperm from becoming his friend’s lunch, triggering a wild goose chase that culminates in Karen’s maid Rosario confusing the sample for Mop-glo and trying to clean the floor with it. Somehow, unaware that she just confused baby juice with cleaning chemicals, Rosario greets will with arguably the grossest sentence ever uttered:
“Be careful. The floor is very sticky…”
The incident is not just disgusting, but also deeply disturbing for the questions it raises. First of all, what the hell does Will’s sperm look like that he’s worried Jack could mistake it for a cream based soup, and that Rosario ultimately mistakes it for cleaning liquid? Those are two very different looking substances, neither of which looks like healthy sperm. It’s probably for the best that Grace never gets inseminated because whatever Wills’ packing sounds downright dangerous. Also, what the hell kind of impressive ass sperm sample is Will giving that it’s able to masquerade as a full lunch before ultimately coating an entire floor? Like, am I wrong in saying he sounds like a monster?
We could (and probably will) do an entire list on all the great jokes in Arrested Development that flew over everyone’s head because, well, that’s basically the entire show. That said, of all the good, dirty jokes that all us mere mortals missed upon first viewing, none is better than the one dropped by Lucille in the episode “Prison Break-In”.
In it, Michael tries to convince his mother not to sleep with a prison warden he believes is only using her for revenge. Lucille, touched by her son’s concerns and still planning on having sex, gifts the world with this immortal quote:
There’s not a whole lot to say about it other than Lucille is awesome and please kill me if my mom ever says anything remotely similar to me.