Even casual observers of the NBA have probably noticed that Portland Trail Blazers center Robin Lopez looks an awful lot like someone else, and I’m not talking about his twin brother Brook. With his typically off-kilter sense of humor, Robin has even denied he looks like his twin, but the comparison he has publicly embraced is his outward similarity to Robert Terwilliger, a.k.a. Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons, which turned 25 years old this week.
When Robin’s Blazers came away with victory over his brother’s Brooklyn Nets in mid-November, he tweeted out a GIF from “Lisa on Ice” – an episode where Lisa and Bart play out their sibling rivalry on their pee-wee hockey teams – and I began to suspect his dedication to the show was more than (yellow) skin-deep. This was clearly a man who’d spent his formative years at 742 Evergreen Terrace, so I asked him to come up with his top five (or actually six or seven) episodes.
“I’ve been thinking about this and it’s tough,” he says by phone. “That Golden Age is so good. There’s not really a bad episode – in my opinion – in seasons one to eight. Can’t find a bad episode.”
Unfortunately, soon after our interview, Lopez fractured his hand, meaning he’ll miss at least a month of action on the court. Though, if there is a silver lining here, he’ll have more time to watch Simpsons episodes. Here are his picks for the best of the best.
‘Lemon of Troy’
“When I was younger,” Lopez says, “the first one that appealed to me was ‘Lemon of Troy.’ My favorite thing about that episode was seeing the world of Shelbyville for the first time, and then seeing the kids’ world. It was kind of what it was like to be a kid, but in Springfield.”
Bart’s big lesson in civic pride is awash in subtle visual gags (the slightly different shade of grass in Shelbyville) and literary references (Springfield’s Trojan Horse plot to get their stolen lemon tree back). But as is the case with most episodes from the show’s generally acknowledged peak, the humor in “Lemon” is not limited to individual jokes or one-liners, but rather enmeshed in the DNA of every line. Lopez fires off the ones he remembers best: “Stupid like a fox,” “Rocky VII: Adrian’s Revenge,” “You Shelbyville kids can’t wear your backpack over one shoulder, us Springfield kids invented that.”
“The one with the Gummi de Milo where Homer grabs it off the babysitter’s butt,” Lopez says. “I think my favorite scene in that episode is the made-for-TV movie starring Dennis Franz. ‘Mr. Simpson, a cat is a living creature.’ ‘I don’t care!’ I love that.”
Aside from one-liners, the episode works as a critique of both tabloid news shows from the ’80s like Hard Copy and our obsession with them. Springfield had its own Hard Copy – Rock Bottom – which featured a hefty dose of manipulative editing.
“The whole episode is such a brilliant satire of the media with the ‘Rock Bottom’ episode, the 24-hour news coverage,” Lopez says. “‘Homer sleeps nude in an oxygen tent which he believes gives him sexual powers.’ ‘Hey, that’s a half-truth!'”
Quite possibly the first cohesively brilliant episode of the show, “Lisa’s Substitute” featured Dustin Hoffman (credited as Sam Etic – itself a play on “Semitic,” since Hoffman is Jewish) as the voice of Lisa’s inspirational substitute teacher, Mr. Bergstrom. It stands out both for the way it developed the characters of Lisa and Homer, and how it did so in an earnest, pragmatic manner. The ending – where a departing Mr. Bergstrom tells Lisa, “Whenever you feel like you’re alone and there’s nobody you can rely on, this is all you need to know,” and hands her a note that reads, “You are Lisa Simpson” – is one of the all-time greats. It was always the best episode to show to anyone who strangely seemed to believe The Simpsons was immoral.
“That’s totally throwing stones from the outside without having seen it,” Lopez says. “Because once you watch it, you realize it’s all heart. It’s hard to describe. There are strong values in it, but you have to dig, you have to work for it a little bit.”
‘Homie the Clown’
Going in a more lighthearted direction, Lopez next taps the episode where Homer goes to clown college to become a franchised Krusty lookalike. This is the episode that gave us “Stop, stop! He’s already dead!”
“That’s the episode I show to my friends when I’m just looking for the straight-up funniest episode,” Lopez says. It is indeed jam-packed with both visual gags and one-liners, but it’s sadly lacking a defining musical number, which leads us directly to Lopez’s favorite musical moment.
‘A Fish Called Selma’
“My favorite musical number is ‘Stop the ‘Planet of the Apes,’ I Want to Get Off,’” Lopez says, referencing the stage production starring Troy McClure – you might remember him from such automated information kiosks as “Welcome to Springfield Airport” and “Where’s Nordstrom?” – that was the highlight of his brief marriage to Marge’s sister, Selma.
“That line is brilliant: ‘I hate every ape I see, from chimpan-A to chimpanzee,'” Lopez laughs. “It’s unbelievable how many ideas they were throwing out within the confines of 22 minutes.”
‘You Only Move Twice’
“Amazing,” Lopez says about the one where Homer takes a job with the Globex Corporation and moves his family to Cypress Creek, unaware that his new boss, Hank Scorpio, is an evil mastermind.
“That’s one of the first episodes I was able to watch and my mom was OK with it,” Lopez says. “Because before that, I was kind of bumming it off my older brother. What’s not to love about that episode? The James Bond parody, Albert Brooks as Hank Scorpio, the Hammock District?”
Many other episodes came up in our discussion, including “Mr. Plow” – Lopez recited Adam West’s cameo word-for-word – and various bits from the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes (“Homer was the first non-Brazilian to travel through time,” Lopez laughs. “Which is a joke I don’t even get! But it’s hilarious.”) But conspicuously absent was Sideshow Bob, who didn’t make an appearance until a day after the interview, when I received an email from Blazers PR with a request:
“Robin asked that I pass along to you to add the ‘Cape Feare’ episode to his Simpsons list.”
Fortunately, the Trail Blazers were about to arrive in Minneapolis to face the Timberwolves, so I got to follow up with Sideshow Rob on Sideshow Bob.
“That’s as iconic an episode of the series as you’re going to get right there,” he says. “It’s amazing how it’s a parody but it kind of surpasses everything it’s parodying, at least in my mind. I really think it’s made such an impression on shows, especially that Sideshow Bob rake scene. I mean; that’s Family Guy before Family Guy essentially. Playing a joke off until it’s no longer funny and then it becomes funny again.”
And as for the similarity between Sideshow Bob and himself? “You know, people make that comparison as if it’s an insult, but it’s very flattering,” he says. “Sideshow Bob’s a very intelligent guy, he’s well-spoken, good looking. Mellifluous voice.”