We begin with Krusty the Klown discovering that the ratings for the Itchy & Scratchy cartoon segment have tanked. In order to combat this problem they hold a focus group whose members include Bart, Lisa, Nelson, Milhouse, Ralph and a few other classmates. The focus group doesn’t work as the kids opinions and tastes are inconsistent and make no sense. Lisa boils it down for the head of the studio, Roger Myers Jr., by telling him that the characters just don’t have the same impact they once did after so many years (A clear reference to The Simpsons itself and the repetitive themes within the episodes).
Myers misreads Lisa’s intentions and while in a meeting with the show’s writers, gets the idea that the way to save Itchy and Scratchy is to add a new character that today’s kids can relate to. They decide that a dog named Poochie will join mouse Itchy and cat scratchy. At breakfast the headline on Homer’s newspaper reads “Funny Dog to Make Life Worthwhile” prompting Lisa to comment that adding a new character to a series is often a desperate attempt to boost low ratings. The second she is finished uttering the words, a never before seen character named Roy enters the kitchen and joins the family for breakfast.
The family encourages Homer to audition to do the voice of Poochie. He gets the part over such notables as Otto the pothead bus driver and actor/spokesman Troy McClure (Phil Hartman). The publicity begins and Homer settles into his roles in the recording studio and public forums where he eagerly mocks the show’s fans, hardcore dorks all. Soon thereafter the family gathers their friends together to watch the debut of Poochie on The Itchy & Scratchy Show. Lacking any of the violent charms of the old format this episode is nothing but Poochie spouting cliché’s and basically existing as a conglomeration of bad ideas and youth oriented stereotypes. Some try to spare Homer’s feelings but it is clear even to him that the episode was terrible.
The TV reviews are even worse and The Itchy & Scratchy Show appears on the verge of cancellation. Homer tries to help improve the situation but his ideas are ignored. While eaves dropping on a meeting he discovers that the writers are planning to kill off Poochie. During the recording session Homer refuses to read his lines. When the woman who voices Itchy & Scratchy goes to bat for Homer he’s allowed to read the lines he’s written himself. Homer’s impassioned reading of his lines is very moving and seems to change the minds of all involved.
The Simpsons sit down to watch the new episode of Itchy & Scratchy only to discover that Homer has been double crossed and that his lines were cut and Poochie has been written out of the show. Much to Homer’s chagrin this makes Bart and Lisa very happy. Feeling bad for cheering Poochie’s demise, Bart tells Homer that he’s sorry and “People just weren’t ready for Poochie. Maybe in a few years.” Just then Roy walks in and announces that he’s gotten his own place. Marge wishes him well and says “maybe we’ll see you in a few years.” The show ends with Bart and Lisa enjoying an episode of Itchy & Scratchy. They appreciate a return to the basics but becoming bored with it they change the channel. The screen goes to static.
Here we find another episode that doesn’t come up particularly strong in any one technical area but saves itself thematically through its subject matter. On a macro scale this is one of the most self-referential TV episodes that you will ever see. It takes pot shots not only at itself but animation and the television industry in general. The only thing missing is a thorough mocking of the Fox network which at this point is standard fare for The Simpsons.
During the episode when the family is at breakfast lamenting Poochie’s lack of popularity Lisa tries to reassure Homer: “It’s not your fault Dad. You did fine. It’s just that Poochie was a soulless byproduct of committee thinking. You can’t be cool just by spouting a bunch of worn out buzzwords.” To which Bart replies, “Don’t have a cow Lis’.” While “Don’t have a cow, man” and “Ay, Carumba” generally disappeared after the first few seasons they do occasionally come back for the sole purpose of mocking their own existence as in the previous example. The Roy character that shows up and is never seen again is also pure gold. He exists only to suggest that someday The Simpsons will be hurting for viewers and flailing to stay afloat and relevant. I wonder if the writers and performers for this episode had any idea that thirteen seasons and one movie later there would still be no sign of Roy.
Rating: 4 out of 5