January 19, 2004
The History of Thomas Pynchon on TV
It's been talked about for what feels like forever, and on Sunday it will finally happen: Thomas Pynchon will appear on The Simpsons. [Update: Here's our post containing screen caps and audio from the episode.] The famously reclusive author will not show even his animated face, though: he'll be wearing a paper bag over it. But at least we'll get to hear what he sounds like. The episode involves Marge writing a novel and is called "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife."
Pynchon's association with the Simpsons began in an episode called "Little Girl in the Big Ten," in which Lisa heads off to college, and is in awe of those around her. She asks a girl holding a copy of Gravity's Rainbow whether the girl is reading it. "Rereading it," she replies.
But there are many other intersections of Pynchon and television.
- Those who follow Pynchon's occasional transgressions of his own wall of secrecy will remember his relationship with The John Larroquette Show. Larroquette considers himself a pretty literate guy, and is a big fan of Pynchon, so he started slipping references to Pynchon into the show. Eventually, the writers sent a script mentioning TP off to the man himself. The script called for TP to be represented on camera by an extra with his back turned, but Pynchon vetoed that idea. Nonetheless, the plot of the episode revolves around a character who claimed he knows Pynchon. Before the show was cancelled, the writers managed to squeeze in a few more TP references, including one in which the the girl from Blossom assumes the name of a character from V.. If you're really that interested in Larroquette's literary tastes, here's a long interview with him about that very topic.
- In 1998, CNN attempted to track down Pynchon in New York and videotape him. The film crew quickly accomplished its mission, and a seemingly panicked Pynchon contacted CNN and offered an interview in exchange for the tape's never airing. CNN agreed, and the interview is here. After the segment ran, an announcer revealed that TP could be spotted among the pedestrians in the street scenes it had just shown. Shortly thereafter, Salon featured an article about Pynchon's appearance on the tape, written by someone who saw an enhanced version of it. If you still have access to the old video streaming software VXtreme (remember those heady days?), you may be able to view the video.
- On the sitcom Pearl, which starred Rhea Pearlman and lasted only one season, a character named Professor Pynchon (Malcolm McDowell) played a prominent role, and several TP references were made. There's even an episode called "Pynchon's Pynchon."
- The worlds of TP and Star Trek collide in an episode of Deep Space Nine called "In the Cards," in which the plot bears a resemblance to Pynchon's short novel The Crying of Lot 49 [synopsis | full text(!)].
- You can catch some Pynchon references on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in their 1993 treatment of "The Rebel Set" and a couple of other movies.
- Finally, it's not from TV, but the movie The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension is in its entirety a pretty big reference to Crying of Lot 49.
Here's another page that covers some of the same ground as this post, sometimes in more detail, sometimes in less.