Recently, we noticed that our old friends from Yankee Pot Roast had written a book called Underrated: The Yankee Pot Roast Book of Awesome Underappreciated Stuff. At first we assumed that they'd misspelled overrated, and that their book making fun of lame stuff had an insanely ironic title. But as we got deeper into the book (or rather as our interns read more of it to us while we lifted weights), it became increasingly clear that they had gone and done something totally and utterly insane. They were writing about things they ... liked. In a daring move that will probably break the internet (which is overrated anyways) we decided to let them try it on our website. Behold, for maybe the first time on the internet: nice things being said about stuff.
If you're thinking Comic Book Guy or Moe are underrated, you're obviously not a Simpsons fan. Wacky supporting characters of that sort are cult-classics, universally recognized and beloved. They're rated exactly where they should be. We're running down some of the truly underrated Springfieldians: those who remain underused and are still rife with potential for unexpected hilarity.
#5. Gil Gunderson
Aw, c'mon, do it for ol' Gil! Essentially a parody of Jack Lemmon's desperate, beleaguered real-estate agent from Glengarry Glen Ross, poor old Gil is the ultimate sad sack: A salesman whose only asset is his expired charm. The poor guy's an inch away from losing his job, wife, house (that is, his shitty job, cheating wife, and whatever roof he currently calls home). All he needs is one more sale--just one sale, please, pretty please?--but he is completely unable to seal the deal. He practically sweats desperation.
Gil is great because he makes you feel good about yourself. No matter how miserable your life, at least you're not that guy. Like many of The Simpsons' finest characters, Gil fills a niche you didn't even know was empty till he appeared. He's like a grownup version of the Squeaky-Voiced Teen in that he pops up any and everywhere, never holding the same crappy job twice. He sells shoes, used cars, doorbells, even Coleco computers ("Now, let's talk rust-proofing. These Colecos'll rust up on ya' like that, er ... shut up, Gil. Close the deal ... close the deal!").
Gil is best when used sparingly; the perfect one-joke cameo. Pop up, make us laugh, disappear. Of course they gave him a starring episode--even Crazy Old Cat Lady is due her leading role--where he moved in with the Simpsons (and who hasn't yet stayed at that house?), but we like Gil best when he's tried to sell us something obsolete, failed, and limped away, dejected but eternally optimistic he'll nab the next one.
#4. Arnie Pye
If you're saying "Who??," Arnie Pye in the Sky is Springfield's traffic-copter newsman with the perfect closed-nose news voice. ("Look out at the corner of 12th and Main because I'm going to be sick!") Arnie is hilarious as a second-rate reporter with an inferiority complex and a chip on his shoulder; he's jealous of Kent Brockman and so desperately wants his job. (In fact, Arnie once got to take over the anchor's desk, whereupon he instantly dropped the nasally newscaster voice and adopted the smooth tones of trustworthiness.)
Arnie Pye's best moment (fleeting as it was) was an early sign of the budding rivalry. Flying above Homer's disaster with a van full of kids, Kent asks him "How are the children, Arnie?" to which he snaps "I can't see through METAL, Kent!"--yes, it loses something on paper, but old Arnie Pye spits it out with such venom, such acidic hatred, you get years of professional and personal contention in those seven syllables. Kudos to Dan Castellaneta's greatest vocal performance. We want more Arnie Pye in the Sky and we want him now.
#3. Lou the Policeman
Springfield can be a dangerous place to live. Between the two-bit criminals (Snake), organized crime (Fat Tony) and the random shysters that swing through (monorail guy?), there's a veritable Rogue's Gallery of Villains inhabiting the town at any given time. And that doesn't even include some of the normal citizens who seem to regularly commit felonies, like Homer, Moe and Mr. Burns.
Keeping the order and protecting the town is a woefully understaffed and ineffective Springfield Police Department. They're essentially a three man show: Chief Clancy Wiggum, the rotund blunderbuss with extremely poor marksmanship and a talent for making clever, on-the-spot puns; Eddie, the white patrolman who barely utters a word, presumably there to make the Springfield Police Department look slightly more robust from a personnel standpoint and an underdeveloped recurring character if there ever was one.
And then there's Lou: rock steady, the man that keeps the whole thing going. He's fully aware of Wiggum's incompetence and is constantly angling for his job, going so far as to write letters to the editor of the Springfield Shopper (under the pen name "Worried in West Springfield") calling for the chief's resignation. Lou has no reservations about making fun of the chief to his face either, insulting his poor deductive skills and making fun of his ill-fitting pants.
#2. Luigi Risotto
He's the chef that looks like he jumped off the pizza box, constantly belittling his staff and conversationally berating his customers, doing it all with a misleading smile and sing-songy Italian accent. Being an asshole isn't confined to his restaurant, either: when Marge entered a cooking contest with her "dessert dogs," Luigi sabotaged her oven with "how do you say, malice of forethought." He's a complete jerk, but he comes off as lovable because he sounds happy and he's kind of roly-poly.
He pops up in episodes here and there. During the Springfield Mayoral recall election, Luigi threw his hat in the ring, promising to "make you the good government, just how you like it." Luigi's character works because he's used often enough that you know who he is, but sparingly enough that his "Italian chef as Italian stereotype" act and his being a total dick don't get stale.
But in the end, there's only one thing to know about Luigi: his English isn't bad because Italian is his first language. He doesn't even speak Italian. Luigi's first language is "how do you say, fractured English. It's what [his] parents spoke at home."
#1. Lisa Simpson
Bart and Homer are the crowd-pleasers, no arguing that: their misadventures dominate the show, and their faces hog the merchandise. But it's Lisa, the second-grader reading at a 14th-grade level, who is the heart and soul of both the family and show.
We love Lisa because she yearns for something greater. She wants to better herself, her family, her town. Sure, she's a nerd--who among Simpsons fans isn't? And without this little overachieving genius and hopeless do-gooder saving the day (on a weekly freaking basis!), our favorite family would've been killed a dozen different ways, the town of Springfield would've been destroyed, the very earth itself lost.
Let's hear it for Lisa! Nobody's favorite character, but the most UNDERRATED SPRINGFIELDIAN OF THEM ALL.
For an obscenely long rant on the lovable lil' Lisa's underrated quotient, check out the Underrated blog here.