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All Pop Culture Comes Full Circle as ‘The Simpsons’ References Both ‘The Onion’ and ‘The A.V. Club’

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In a moment sure to be of interest to readers of entertainment news websites, last night’s episode of The Simpsons not only featured a couple jokes which were explicit references to both The Onion and its non-satirical entertainment news sister media property The A.V. Club but also included a frame of animation which was a very well done mock-up of the A.V. Club‘s print edition.

Personally, I’m an extreme Simpsons declinist and haven’t intentionally sought out a new episode in years, but I tuned in for last night’s ep, “The Day the Earth Stood Cool,” because I was excited about the prospect of a Simpsons/Portlandia crossover of sorts, with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein guest starring, in addition to Colin Meloy/The Decemberists, Patton Oswalt and others.

The episode turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It was legitimately funny, and not just in a “good for late period Simpsons” way. The cameos and references were all deployed in clever ways and the episode took what would seem to be a stale topic, making fun of “hipsters,” and turned it into a savvy satire of Gen-X parenting, trend pieces about rust belt cities suddenly being “cool” and young moms who are militant about breastfeeding, among other topics.

In one scene, Marge is at the house of her hipster mom neighbor (voiced by Carrie Brownstein), and encounters a copy of The Onion. Marge then becomes the latest in the long line of people to think a news story in The Onion is real. When Carrie Brownstein’s character informs Marge that it’s a satirical newspaper, she tries to get a step ahead of the game by flipping to the A.V. Club portion of the paper and saying, “These fake movie reviews are so mean, it’s hilarious.”  Meanwhile, a beautifully done drawing of a page of the A.V. Club with an “F” review of The Graduate and a “D+” review of The Wizard of Oz fills the frame for a fairly long time.

This is a case of the pop culture snake eating its own tale. The venerable animated series has long been a central fixation of the pop culture website. A search for “The Simpsons” on A.V. Club turns up over 1500 hits. A.V. Club “General Manager” Josh Modell posted an item almost immediately affirming as much, saying in part:

As regular A.V. Club readers know, The Simpsons is a huge touchstone for us—a modern classic that we hold near and dear, even as we critique its every move. (And a Venn diagram of “Simpsons watchers” and “A.V. Club readers” would basically be just a circle.)

The only off part of the gag is the implication that A.V. Club reviewers are unduly harsh, while if anything I’d say that they’re more positive than most, and their writers are all reverential to older classics like The Graduate and The Wizard of Oz. Modell makes reference to this in his newswire post, saying “For the record, both The Graduate and The Wizard Of Oz would get Bs, at minimum.”

Understandably, this has all caused quite a stir at The A.V. Club. Today, long-time AVC writer Nathan Rabin followed up by emailing the writer of the episode, Matt Selman, and asking him about the roots of the “cameo”. His response was illuminating and well-worth reading in its entirety, as it shows the depth of the respect the two institutions hold for one another.

At press time, it’s unclear if HitFix will at some point figure in an episode of The Cleveland Show.

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