Okay, so here’s the deal. We’re in a period of the Simpsons where just about every episode is perfect. Basically all of season’s Six and Seven are perfection for me. They’re all just so wonderfully constructed and just some of the best television ever made. And this episode is another crowning jewel in the series.
Things start off with a scene that’s very familiar and dear to my heart, Bart and Milhouse complaining about comics while wandering the stacks of the Android Dungeon. I don’t think there’s a comic-book fan alive that hasn’t walked around their local comic shop with a friend, bitching about what’s going on in their favorite books, and how the newest event is ruining everything. Bart and Milhouse look at all the new superheroes that are coming out, like Man-Boy, and decide that they’re all lame. This was the mid-90’s too, so yeah, those comics probably suck pretty bad. But while Bart is extolling the virtues of Radioactive Man, and why he’s the best superhero of them all, Comic Book Guy overhears their conversation, and blows their mind by announcing that there’s going to be a Radioactive Man movie. Now, once again, this is the mid-90’s, so the idea of a big budget superhero movie is a shocking idea to Bart and Milhouse, as opposed to our world where I wouldn’t be shocked if we’re close to getting a real Radioactive Man movie in our world.
Bart and Milhouse are shocked about this news, and Comic Book Guy makes them even more excited when he announces he’s about to find out who will be playing the hero. He then waddles into the back room, and pulls up a goddamn Usenet site to ask who will be playing the role. We then see a montage of nerd, and I think Prince, working on solving the mystery, which happens when we see a guy just hiding under a boardroom table in Hollywood. We see some studio execs argue about the role, and I really love that one of the guys is really pitching for Dirk Richter, the actor who played the character in the 60’s, and as we’ve previously learned was shot to death in a bordello. The producer points out that he’s dead, and we then get a wonderful scene of the old Radioactive Man show, which is basically just Adam West Batman, complete with Paul Lynde as the villainous Scout Master. Radioactive Man and Fallout boy then fight him and his scouts, complete with ridiculous sound effects, like NEWT!, and the scene ends with dancing. They end up deciding on Ranier Wolfcastle, and start looking through Variety to find a city to film in, since they need a Nuclear Plant, a gorge, and an easily bossed around local government. And wouldn’t you know, they end up deciding to flim in Springfield!
We then cut over to Springfield Elementary, where Principal Skinner interrupts class with an announcement about the movie:
Principal Skinner: (on P.A. system) Students, I have an announcement. One of your favorite comic book heroes, Radio Man…
Nelson: Radioactive Man, stupid!
Principal Skinner: (on P.A. system) Strange, I shouldn’t have been able to hear that.
Skinner then tells them that the studio will be holding open auditions in the school to find the new Fallout Boy, which makes everyone incredibly excited. And of course Bart becomes convinced that he’ll make the perfect Fallout Boy, and begins practicing around the house. But while Bart is practicing we see that the whole town is getting movie fever. All the local businesses are jacking up their prices for the Hollywood bigshots, and we’re treated to the wonderful reveal that Moe was one of the original Little Rascals, because he’s apparently 100 years old. We also learn that Moe killed the original Alfalfa, but it wasn’t a big deal, since he was an orphan owned by the studio.
And now it’s audition time. Pretty much every boy in town is at the Elementary School, waiting to get their shot to awkwardly read lines against Lunchlady Doris, who couldn’t be less interested. We sadly don’t see that many auditions, really only Ralph and Nelson, before Bart comes in. Bart gives his performance, and the director loves it, unfortunately Bart is an inch too short, and is disqualified. Bart is crushed, and heads home to try and get taller. He basically tries to quarter himself by tying his hands and feet to Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II, assuming they can stretch him, but that only gets him half an inch. So he decides to wear clothes and get a dog that makes him look taller, and he heads back to the audition, only to find that they’ve picked Milhouse as their Fallout Boy.
Milhouse gets terrified of the attention this gets him, which begs the question of why he even auditioned, but whatever. He runs away from the crowds gathering to look at him, and finds out that his folk have already started spending all the money he will theoretically make for the movie. But as Milhouse is starting to freak out, we see that it’s time to get the movie going! And man are there some crazy stuff going on.
Homer has apparently agreed to let them film scenes of the movie in the Simpson house, which results in teamsters pretty much destroying it. We also see Bart wandering around the film-set, seeing the magic of the movies. First he sees Ranier Wolfcastle stuggling with his dialect coach to pronounce Radioactive Man’s catchphrase, “Up and Atom!” Then he sees a dummy of Milhouse explode, before seeing Milhouse’s stunt double get hit by a truck, which leads to seeing the real Milhouse getting blasted with real x-rays. We also learn that “cows don’t look like cows on film, you gotta use horses.” But things start to crack when Bart visits Milhouse’s trailer, and finds that Milhouse hates being a movie-star, and showbusiness in general.
We then get to the most famous scene of the episode, when the movie is getting ready to perform the biggest stunt of the picture, which takes place in the Nuclear Power Plant. They have Wolfcastle tied up in a trench in the Plant, and are going to dump a bunch of real acid in the trench, which would actually burn Wolfcastle. Milhouse is supposed to swing in and save the day, but as the stunt gets going it’s apparent that Milhouse isn’t there, and Wolfcastle gets swept away in a wave of acid with the perfect line “my eyes! The goggles do nothing!” Seems like someone should have checked that Milhouse was at his mark before releasing the acid, but what do I know?
Milhouse has fled the production, and gone into hiding, which causes the production team to go crazy. They begin storming around the city, looking for him and hanging up wanted posters. The director and producer head to the editor, who has the horrible idea of splicing together previously shot footage to finish the movie, which doesn’t work but does lead to a hilarious scene of the trainwreck he’s made. But Bart decides he can find Milhouse, so starts looking for him at all Milhouse’s usual hangouts, which are sad. He goes to some sort of Slot-Car racing store and an abandoned Spirograph factory where some creepy guy lives, obsessed with Spirographs. But no Milhouse. So Bart ends up at the last place, his own treehouse, which is where Milhouse was hiding. The two have a conversation about how phony the film business is, and how much Milhouse hates it, and Bart’s unable to convince him to change his mind. So the studio uses their big gun, and helicopters Mickey Rooney into the treehouse to get him to talk to Milhouse. Rooney does his best, but Milhouse still refuses to come back to the production, so they’re left with no choice but to cast Mickey Rooney as Fallout Boy. This doesn’t go well, so they end up cancelling the whole production. The director and producer then head back to Hollywood, where they’re greeted by all the lovely, friendly people that hang out on Hollywood and Vine.
I love this episode so much. That’s not too shocking, I feel like it’s pretty widely beloved, but man does it check off a lot of my interests. The making of movies, comic books, casting gossip, and superhero movies. Such great stuff. Seeing the old Radioactive Man show is great, and I really just kind of love the character. He’s a weird hodgepodge of Batman and Superman, and is just such a ridiculous thing, and I love how much Bart and Milhouse love him. Plus everything about the making of the movie is wonderful, especially the classic goggles line. Everything about this episode works for me, and it’s just all around great comedy. Yeah, not much emotional depth or anything, but who cares, this is a silly episode, and it’s silliness at its finest.
Take Away: As Bart says George Burns said: “Show-business is a horrible bitch-goddess.”
“Radioactive Man” was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Susie Dietter, 1995.