Upstate New York has been “Honored” by The Simpsons

Rob Hoffman
May 20 · 6 min read

Can you really say a place has decayed when it was never that good to begin with? (Homer Simpson)

A few weeks ago the venerable animated series, The Simpsons, (A program that I believe when it is all said and done may outlast “60 Minutes,” “Meet the Press,” and “Face the Nation,” which definitely says something about our viewing habits as a nation.) aired an episode entitled, “D’oh Canada.” In the episode, the Simpson family decided to go to Niagara Falls. Now let’s be honest. Anybody who knows anything about Niagara Falls knows two things right off the bat.

  1. There are two “Niagara Falls.” — There is Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Canada, and each can lay claim to its own waterfall. (Spoiler alert, the Canadian one is vastly superior.)
  2. Niagara Falls, Canada is vastly superior to Niagara Falls, New York — As Ron Burgundy states in Anchorman, “It’s just science.” Niagara Falls, Canada is superior in almost every way to its New York cousin. (In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I once went to a wedding in a big atrium type building in Niagara Falls, New York where my wife’s brother was married by the mayor of Niagara Falls, New York. The event was a sight to see for sure, with one guest calling it, “Legally binding.”)

One would think that the somewhat dank and despressing circumstances that makeup Niagara Falls, New York would yield more than enough comedy gold for a program as successful and sharp as The Simpsons. However, it would appear that the writers and producers of the 30 year-old program must have believed in the old adage, “More is more.” In other words, why just tweak Niagara Falls, New York when all of Upstate, New York seems like fertile ground to land a few comic blows. Anybody who has counted themselves among The Simpsons’ faithful over the past three decades is well aware of two things:

  1. Nothing is sacred — The Simpsons have been skewering their seemingly endless array of targets, including politicians, actors, celebrities, the media, towns, cities, countries, and itself since its arrival on Fox during the administration of George H.W. Bush.
  2. The Simpsons know of what it speaks — This is hardly the first time The Simpsons have zeroed in on Upstate, New York. In fact both Utica and our beloved Albany have taken it on the chin several times thanks to the acerbic wits who write and produce The Simpsons.

For those of you who have been in a prolonged three-decade coma, The Simpsons got their start on The Tracey Ullman Show on Fox back in 1987. They were only seen in little vignettes then, but their course humor and uniquely bizarre drawings made them memorable. In 1989 they were given a prime-time slot on Fox, and the rest is television history. The Simpsons have survived five presidents, including the election of one that they predicted, that Trump fellow. The Simpsons appeared before both wars with Iraq, when the date “9/11” meant literally nothing, and when cell phones and the internet were things best left to the Jetsons. While one could argue, and I believe successfully so that one of their advantages is the fact that they are an animated series and therefore their characters never age, and at least as far as the public is concerned, neither do the actors who portray them, (Although some of the actors who portray recurring characters on the show have passed away such as Phil Hartman) the show has for the most part been cleverly written, and has excelled in exposing the public and political peccadillos that plague American society.

As I stated earlier, the episode entitled, “D’oh Canada” was hardly the first time Upstate, New York was mentioned in a less than positive way. For example, in the episode entitled “The Old Man and the Lisa,” Principal Skinner portrayed by the brilliant Harry Shearer discussed a fundraiser that the school was doing, and if it turned out to be successful, their dream of taking kids on a field trip to Albany, New York might come true. Once it appeared that they wouldn’t have enough money, Skinner ruminates over the idea that their backup plan will have to be a trip to Utica.

Skinner is also at the center of another Upstate, New York reference in the episode, “22 Short Films About Springfield,” where he pretends to make up a new dish to serve his boss Superintendent Chalmers called “Steamed Hams.” When Chalmers accuses Skinner of being up to something claiming he’d never heard of “Steamed Hams,” Skinner stated that it’s an Upstate, New York expression. Chalmers retorted that he was from Utica, New York, and he’d never heard the expression “Steamed Hams.” Skinner replied, “Oh, not in Utica, no it’s an Albany expression.”

So what exactly did they say about Upstate, New York on this recent episode of The Simpsons that has everybody choking on their “Friday Fish Fry?” Well, if you’re easily offended, I suggest you look away, otherwise, for those who aren’t faint of heart, here are the lyrics to the song that Homer Simpson sand as he mocked Upstate, New York. The tune is from New York, New York. I would show you the You Tube clip, but copyright issues and lawsuits have made life impossible. Thanks a lot lawyers!

“Start watching Fox News,
Stop watching your weight
There is no fancy part of it
Upstate New York
They’re fond of their booze
Hot wing sauce is great
I’m going to clog my heart in it
Upstate New York

I want to sleep in, in a city
That never wakes
And find I’m fitting right in
One of the gang
Par for the course
The Kodak plant closed
But I’m longing to stay
And go on disability In Upstate New York
Can’t make it anywhere
But I can make it there
I love you so
Upstate New York

Benedict Arnold fought here, baby!”

Of course the song also is accompanied by some less than flattering scenes from what would appear to be a series of decaying sights throughout the Upstate region. Utica and Rochester take it right in the face, and even Niskayuna for some reason gets lampooned.

So the questions begs, “Why upstate?” In other words, while The Simpsons have taken their share of pot-shots at just about everybody and everywhere, they do seem to return to Upstate, New York with some degree of frequency. An odd choice for a bunce of coastal elites who you would think had never traveled north of 103rd Street in Manhattan. Well, if you really want to point the finger of blame at somebody, point it here, at show writer and producer, John Frink. Frink hails from wait for it…Whitesboro, New York, which as every good hearted Central, New York native is aware is near Utica. Dangerously close I might add. Frink, who has a character on the show named after him, the beloved Dr. Frink, attended Oriskany High School, and attended Herkimer Community College, the fighting Generals.

Frink claims that all of the shows references to Upstate, New York are done with love. Perhaps, but local politicians as they are wont to do, used this episode to proclaim their outrage, and how angered the were over seeing their favorite town or city lampooned. One Republican party member actually held Governor Andrew Cuomo responsible, saying that the state became ripe for mocking since it had decayed so dramatically under Cuomo’s rule. Speaking for the governor, Homer Simpson stated that Upstate, New York couldn’t deteriorate since it was never that good, so take that Republican party.

Honestly, while nobody likes to see the things they hold dear made fun of, it would benefit a lot of people who call Upstate their home to lighten up a little and roll with the punches. In fact, we should feel honored. When you consider all of the presidents, religious leaders, sports figures and entertainers who have been made fun of and ridiculed on The Simpsons, we here who are proud to call favorites sons, and former presidents Martin Van Buren, and Millard Fillmore two of our own, know that to know us is to love us. (For the record, you don’t have to waste your time looking up the records of either president. While they weren’t particularly popular, their presidencies were viewed as failures.) Now, if only I could find a restaurant open after 9:30 on a Friday or a Saturday night, I could actually boast about life in Upstate, New York.

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