Thursday, 8 June 2017

James Bond references in The Simpsons, Family Guy and American Dad

The animated shows Family Guy, American Dad and The Simpsons are well known for their pop-culture references, typically those relating to TV, films and music. The James Bond films have not been forgotten, and have provided the inspiration for episode plots, as well as for incidental gags.

For example, 'You Only Move Twice', an episode of The Simpsons, is a complete Bond parody, featuring a James Bond character that resembles Sean Connery and allusions to the films of Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice (and possibly the book of You Only Live Twice – Lisa finds that she is allergic to all the plants in the grounds of the community of Cypress Creek, owned by the evil Globex Corporation, a nod, perhaps, to Blofeld's Garden of Death). The episode even includes a Bondian song that could have been sung by Shirley Bassey.

In other episodes, the Bond references have been more incidental. I've always thought the Bond-related joke in the 'Bart Carny' episode - after Cooder and his son Spud, both carnival folk, ingratiate themselves into the Simpson's home, Cooder puts on Homer's clothes, and Spud says, 'Wow, Dad. You look like James Bond' - to be rather clever.

Given that its main character, Stan, is a CIA agent, it's inevitable that American Dad should have its own Bond parody. 'Tearjerker' features Stan as the James Bond character, Francine as a Bond girl called Sexpun T'Come, Steve as the Q character, here named 'S', and Roger as the eponymous villain. There is a sequel called 'For Black Eyes Only'.

There are plenty of Bond references to be found in Family Guy too. In the episode 'Mr and Mrs Stewie', Stewie meets Penelope, who shares his own psychopathic tendencies. When Stewie refuses to kill Brian for her, Penelope decides to do it herself, but is prevented from doing so by Stewie. They have a fight on the top of a train, when Penelope uses her Rosa Klebb-style shoes with blades in the toes. It's interesting to note that Penelope is voiced by Cate Blanchett, who also appears as Soviet agent Irina Spalko in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Cate Blanchett has stated in interviews that her portrayal was inspired by Lotte Lenya's portrayal of Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love.

I'm not intending to list all the Bond references found in these shows – there are websites dedicated to the shows that do that – but it is probably fair to say that most of the references draw on the older films and classic moments – Sean Connery, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and so on. However, two allusions to Bond in American Dad and Family Guy show that the more recent films, Casino Royale in particular, are also making an impact on the scriptwriters.

We can see as much in 'Phantom of the Telethon', an episode of American Dad in which Stan hosts a telethon to raise money for the CIA torture programme. At one point, we see a blooper reel of comedy moments in the torture chamber. In one of these moments, a man holding a rope with a ball at the end stands by a naked man tied to a seat-less chair, which is obviously a nod to the torture scene in Casino Royale. (If I remember aright, the blooper occurs when the torturer accidentally hits himself with the rope.)

 
The Casino Royale moment from American Dad
Coincidentally (although maybe not, considering that Seth MacFarlane is responsible for both shows), the torture scene is also referenced in Family Guy. In 'The Peter Principal', Peter is appointed principal of James Woods High, and begins meting out punishments to the bullies. The punishments get progressively more severe, and at one point Peter places a seat-less chair in the school hall and swings a knotted rope.

 
The Casino Royale moment from Family Guy
Animated shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy play an important role in keeping the classic elements and traits or memes of the Bond films, such as Rosa Klebb's shoes, current in popular culture. Each subsequent film creates new memes, and a sign of how successful they are in the cultural environment (that is, their longevity and the extent to which they are replicated and disseminated) is that they're referenced in shows like Family Guy. On that basis, Casino Royale is well on the way to being every bit as classic as Goldfinger and From Russia With Love.

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