Larry the Bar Fly Had to Die to Make ‘The Simpsons’ Relevant Again

A new ‘Simpsons’ episode gave us the last glimpse of a familiar face, but was it enough to make us care?
Larry the Bar Fly Had to Die to Make ‘The Simpsons’ Relevant Again

Here’s a fun trivia question: Which popular Simpsons character died in the past week? If you answered “Larry the Barfly,” you are wrong. He was never popular.

In the opening scene of this past Sunday night’s new Simpsons episode, “Cremains of the Day,” Homer, Moe, Lenny and Carl all traded some Twitter-level punchlines about the rise of mobile sports gambling in Moe’s Tavern for a couple minutes before the real inciting incident of the episode reared its barely familiar head. Larry the Barfly, who we now know to be named Larry Dalrymple, died at the barstool where we first found him in the first-ever Simpsons episode, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” 

After spending the last 34-and-a-half seasons firmly in the background, the Harry Shearer-voiced character slipped out of The Simpsons for good after speaking all of five words in the entire show.

Over the last few days, news of Larry’s death made headlines in The New York PostThe Independent and a handful of other international news outlets as if the extra had been a minor celebrity before his demise on Sunday. Thus far in Season 35, it seems painfully obvious that the only way The Simpsons will ever catch the attention of the general public the way it did on a weekly basis back in the day is by killing something from the first season — be it a character or a running joke.

In “Cremains of the Day,” the Moe’s Tavern crew comes to grips with the fact that, despite sharing untold thousands of gallons of beer with Larry over the course of the last 35 years, they knew next-to-nothing about their drinking buddy who considered them to be his closest friends. The crew resolves to scatter his remains at a distant location where they believe he wanted to be laid to rest, but, on the road trip, they discover that the silent extra had a secret life as a jewel smuggler for Fat Tony. 

The trip brings them all close to death and closer together before they return to where it all began — Moe’s Tavern.

Besides the death of, arguably the single most irrelevant original character in The Simpsons, “Cremains of the Day” was as familiar and unremarkable as Larry himself, as is the rest of Season 35, so far. It’s only in these moments where the writers find an unturned nostalgia stone that the majority of self-proclaimed Simpsons fans take notice of the newer episodes — for instance, at the beginning of this current season, the Simpsons staff discovered that, for some reason, everyone in the world had extremely strong feelings one way or another about Homer strangling Bart. When the episode “McMansion & Wife” suggested that Homer had wrung his last neck, it created the most talked-about Simpsons controversy since one of Donald Trump’s cronies said Kamala Harris sounds like Marge.

Larry’s death demonstrates exactly why The Simpsons is stuck in place — the show’s brand is still powerful enough to linger around in the zeitgeist’s subconscious, but the new episodes aren’t inspired or exciting enough to fully grab our attention for more than a couple seconds. It’s only in these brief moments when the writers break free of the floating timeline and remind us of when the show was fresh that we really give The Simpsons thought, but there are only so many background characters and running jokes from the old days to kill off. 

If The Simpsons ever wants us to care on a weekly basis like we once did, the show will have to do something new, like maybe add a cool new character?


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