The benchmark 636th episode of “The Simpsons” Sunday took a surprise swipe at Billy Joel — an intoxicated Joel, dangling car keys, in what appeared to be a reference to three car accidents from the early aughts.
The throwaway gag arrived a few minutes into the episode, “Forgive and Regret,” and like so many “Simpsons” throwaways over the years, this one also arrived without much in the way of explanation or logic. According to reports, there were no alcohol-related charges in any of Joel’s accidents, which occurred in 2002, ’03 and ’04. Moreover, 14-year-old tangents hardly qualify as cutting-edge or current.
Why Billy? Why last night?
Fox declined to comment, as did Joel’s spokeswoman. But Joel has popped up on rare occasions here before. Sunday’s gag could even be interpreted as an homage, of sorts.
If an homage was intended, this was indeed of the back-of-the-hand variety. The 636th set the record for most episodes of a scripted prime-time series, surpassing “Gunsmoke,” also parodied in the opening seconds when Baby Maggie gunned down Marshal Matt Dillon.
The Billy drive-by was a few minutes later. Homer found a TV commercial for a demolition derby arriving in Springfield, in which a voice-over promised that “we’ve got all the demolition derby greats,” including “Meth MacFarland” — a not exactly subtle shot at Seth MacFarlane, who’s thrown his share of those at “The Simpsons” too over the years. The last “great” of the list was “a very drunk Billy Joel.”
Cut to animated inebriated Billy, dangling those car keys and slumping at a piano.
The most prominent “Simpsons” Joel reference closed the April 21, 2002, episode of the 13th season, “Gump Roast,” with a remix of “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” entitled “They’ll Never Stop the Simpsons.” Presciently as it turns out, the song parody promised a long life for “The Simpsons” because “we’ve got stories for years,” like “Bart’s boy band/Marge murmurs/Maude croaks/Lisa Buddhist/Homer tokes/Maggie blows Burns away/What else do I have to say?”
Sixteen years later, it would appear that Joel as a demolition derby driver would turn out to be one of those stories.
With Glenn Gamboa