130. Radioactive Man

(originally aired September 24, 1995)
Bloated big budget Hollywood pictures are pretty prime targets for some sharp satire, but this episode isn’t so much interested in that as much as just doing a bunch of silly gags, but since said gags are really funny, who am I to complain. Hollywood bigshots are producing a film version of Radioactive Man (starring McBain’s Rainier Wolfcastle) to be filmed in Springfield, much to the pleasure of Mayor Quimby, who levies as many taxes on them as he can get away with. Auditions are held for the superhero’s ward, Fallout Boy; Bart is eager to get it, but it ends up going to a greatly reluctant Milhouse. Production halts when Milhouse, sick and tired of the life of an actor, runs off, and when a last minute swap for Mickey Rooney doesn’t work, the film is hastily cancelled.

I really like the concept of someone getting levied with a modicum of fame against their will, and it certainly makes sense with Milhouse. He’s the eternal second banana, and has no real urge to change that. I liked his melancholy attitude through the whole production, which later turned to a weird seething anger regarding the repetitive nature of the business (“We already did it. It took seven hours, but we did it. It’s done.“) Things get a bit weirder in the third act when Bart finds a hiding Milhouse, who expresses his displeasure about Hollywood and how he could be curing diseases or stopping famine. It leads into a jokey monologue by Bart, but it would have fit more if he’d just expressed his lack of interest of being in the spotlight. But the story has a competent balance between Milhouse, and Bart, who has to fight between being jealous and being supportive of his best friend.

While not as much as I’d hoped, there’s plenty of great pokes at Hollywood, mostly from the fast-talking director, talking up people with great enthusiasm before cutting them down, and not being bothered to check whether his actors are actually at health risk; it’s all worth it for his artistic vision. Wolfcastle works perfectly as the title role, our pseudo Schwarzeneggar, who gets a number of great scenes (“Up and atom!” “Up and at them!”), culminating with one of the most quoted lines of the entire series, “My eyes! The goggles do nothing!” Mickey Rooney proved to be a great guest, giving Milhouse a pep talk, and then later scolding the town of Springfield for driving those good-hearted Hollywood folks out of town (“They weren’t thinking about the money. They just wanted to tell a story, a story about a radioactive man, and you slick small-towners took ’em for all they were worth.”) Which leads to the hilarious end which seems to take place in Bizarro Hollywood, where the failed production crew are met with open arms and open hearts. It’s truly a forgiving, accepting place, ending on “Lean On Me.” Wonderful.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Noticeable right off the bat is the different animation; this was the show’s first attempt to be digitally colored rather than on cels. It wouldn’t be tried again until a few years later, then the show would go all digital starting season 14.
– We’ve seen Comic Book Guy a select few times in the past, but rather infrequently. I think it’s not until the increasing advent of social networking on computers that he took off, adapting the anal-retentive Internet geek persona, almost mocking the die hard Simpsons fans. Bart and Milhouse pride themselves on collectively owning every Radioactive Man (including the special limited-edition issue where he and Fallout Boy get killed on every page), and wish to know who’s playing the lead in the Radioactive Man picture. So off to the Internet! The animation of CBG waddling to the back is hilarious, and CBG consults alt.nerd.obsessive, seemingly referencing the old alt.tv.simpsons newsgroup.
– Amazing parody of the old Batman TV series with Radioactive Man, with guest star Paul Lynde as the Scoutmaster (“Don’t be afraid to use your nails, boys!”), which of course ends in beach music and dancing girls.
– The producers flips through Variety, and one singles out the very small “FLIM SPRINGFIELD” in the corner: “All right, this place must be hot. They don’t need a big ad, or even correct spelling.” Another man says, “I agree with that logic.” Like the writers knew how stupid this plot turn was to get them in Springfield, so they point it out with a good joke.
– I always laugh at the “We ❤ Phonies” banner up in downtown Springfield.
– It’s pretty much unrelated to the story, but I love the traumatic flashback to Moe’s Little Rascals days, where he killed the original Alfalfa after he stole his “eye in the exhaust pipe” bit. Great that a stagehand refers to him as “the original Alfalfa” in the flashback, and Moe’s afterward (“Luckily, Alfalfa was an orphan owned by the studio.”)
– The director at the auditions has a lot of great bits, from not going with the perfect choice (Martin) because he didn’t sign in (“Oh, forget him, then. It wouldn’t be fair to the other children who filled out their application forms in full,”) and then building Bart’s hopes up twice before rejecting him.
– I love how Milhouse gets the part, he’s immediately swarmed by fans and runs home, and his parents have already bought a living room full of stuff, like somehow they knew already. And great, great elaborate prop in the scuba suit.
– Good timing on the first Milhouse exploding in front of Bart, and then the second, which ends up being the Estonian midget, who we’ve seen in “Burns’ Heir” and “Homie the Clown.” That poor guy can’t catch a break.
– Great sequence where Homer and the teamsters fight over who’s the laziest, culminating in them all writhing on the floor stretching and making loud relaxed noises.
– The whole conceit of the power plant scene is so ridiculous, like why would they use real acid? It’s like the ultimate form of method acting. I like how worried Rainier is after the director announced it, seemingly hearing of it for the first time (“Real acid?”) And how exactly was Milhouse supposed to bring him to safety that he couldn’t do himself? And why was there no safety mechanism to bring him up? And why didn’t Wolfcastle suffer extreme acid burns or die after getting swept up in a gigantic tidal wave? None of this matter of course, since we have “My eyes! The goggles do nothing!”
– Great joke regarding the spinning newspapers, a gag we’ve seen many times in this show and other shows; we get two ones about Milhouse being missing, then a third one reading “Spinning Newspaper Injures Printer.”
– The best scene of the episode is the shifty editor claiming they can finish the movie by splicing together shots of Milhouse with new footage. So Wolfcastle and Milhouse are surrounded by some thugs underground, then cut to Wolfcastle whispering to his sidekick off screen. Then cut to the two of them in a bright open field so Milhouse can say his line. Then Wolfcastle again whispering, “Are you ready?” Then Milhouse on a green room couch, with a flat, “Yes.” Then the two of them punching aliens on the moon. The editor asks, “Seamless, huh?” Beat. The director’s assistant of course fires him, which the editor takes well (“And with good cause!”)
– Great bits as Bart searches for Milhouse: not at Slot Car Haven where Comic Book Guy and Otto are racing, not at the Spirograph Factory, where the owner has gone mad, but he is at the treehouse, in a great joke with a repeat pan to the apparently six corners of the treehouse before landing on Milhouse.
– I love how dramatically Mickey Rooney shows up in the helicopter. It’s ridiculous, but then they have a joke explaining how he found them, by tapping their tin can and string phone. If they did this now, there’d be no explanation; celebrities just show up randomly and it’s all good. But here the Mickster’s real great, and a real good sport to say “Jiminy Jillickers!” and comment he could sub in for a little girl in a JELL-O pudding commercial.

4 thoughts on “130. Radioactive Man

  1. “Noticeable right off the bat is the different animation; this was the show’s first attempt to be digitally colored rather than on cels.”

    Well that explains why the animation looks so bad in this episode. I never knew that.

    Animation aside, this is without a doubt another wonderful episode. I love how the director wants to wipe the 70s campy crap off the face of the Earth since that is what I wish I could do with the 60s Adam West Batman shit.

    The jokes are all funny and I love how Bart keeps getting freaked out when he thinks Milhouse has blown up or gotten his by a truck. I think my biggest laughfest is how everyone starts gouging prices because of greed, and how when they return to Hollywood, they make it seem like it is a place where everyone loves each other.

  2. Honestly I really wish this episode was cel animated. I wish this classic script could have been paired with the same animation that the rest of the classic era had.

    That said, I LOOOOOVE the episode. “I can’t hear you, I’m wearing a Jacuzzi!”

    And by the way, digital ink and paint is used (briefly) again in the 138th Episode Spectacular.

  3. Another great episode. It does a great job at parodying film adaptations of popular non-film entities. The shoddy quality of it is just hilarious. There’s also satire on somewhat cheap production in certain films. The jokes all hit hard in that regard.

    There’s plenty of other jokes that work too, such as Springfield spelling their own name wrong on the paper, Skinner somehow hearing Nelson’s insult, Moe in Little Rascals, the director screwing over Bart because of his slightly too short height, “my eyes! The goggles do nothing!”, “spinning newspaper injures printer”, “seamless, huh?”… a very funny episode. The animation is also mildly funny because of its rough look in some spots. Being the first digitally inked episode, there’s times when the characters just look wrong (at one point, Ralph looks like he was hastily drawn in MS Paint). It’s oddly funny. Despite the odd animation, this episode is still great.

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