In this inaugural installment of A.V. To Z, we pick the best obscure (or at least semi-obscure) Simpsons character for each letter of the alphabet. We sifted through hundreds of lesser-seen characters as we debated our nominations. Some letters offered a clear-cut winner, and some presented agonizing decisions—hence the occasional runner-up, to defuse arguments. Even the definition of “obscure” proved slippery, given how many characters have grown from an initial cameo appearance to become an integral part of the show’s lore. We eventually settled on the Frink Line: A character had to be more obscure, in our judgment, than Professor Frink to be considered for inclusion. (Sorry, Professor.)
Considering the hefty chip on Arnie Pye’s shoulder, it’s remarkable his traffic copter ever leaves the ground. The journalistic second banana fronting Channel 6’s “Arnie Pye In The Sky” segment, Arnie harbors specific resentment toward blowhard anchor Kent Brockman: When Brockman is demoted to weatherman for cursing on the air in “You Kent Always Say What You Want,” Arnie adds insult to injury by scrawling “Kent Stinks” on the reluctant meteorologist’s map. Maybe it’s just the vomit-inducing, bagel-losing stress of Arnie’s job that makes him such a miserable, tightly wound cuss. When he finally takes Brockman’s seat behind the anchor’s desk, Arnie’s adenoidal whine smooths out into the steady, professional voice of a real newsman.
Runner-up: Armin Tamzarian. The “true” Seymour Skinner—until he wasn’t, and that’s the way everyone remembers it. [Erik Adams]
Bumblebee Man is the perfect minor Simpsons character. It doesn’t hurt that many of his ultra-brief appearances have been in classic episodes like “Mr. Plow” and “22 Short Films About Springfield,” but really, the show-within-a-show star embiggens any story that he finds himself adjacent to. Non-diehards might not even recognize the character: He’s a grown man dressed as a bumblebee who appears anytime a Simpsons character turns on the Spanish-language channel, usually just long enough to deliver a funny, easily translated line of exaggerated dialogue (“Ay yi yi! No es bueno!”). Bumblebee is based on a Mexican TV character from the ’70s called The Crimson Grasshopper (“El Chapulín Colorado”), who was similarly flustered and clumsy. But Bumblebee Man actually contains multitudes: In his lone non-Spanish-speaking moment, he grabs the newsdesk from Kent Brockman and delivers one line in perfect, unaccented English. [Josh Modell]
Part Hee Haw doodle, part meth-addiction poster-boy, slack-jawed yokel Cletus Spuckler has been a valuable part of Springfield’s Greek chorus since 1994’s “Bart Gets An Elephant,” in which he took a gander at Lisa and laughed, “Look at that pointy-haired little girl!” Since then, Cletus has been a go-to character whenever the writers want to contrast their lumpen central family with locals who are even cruder. Over the years, Cletus has been joined by his Maw, his stripper wife/girlfriend/sister Brandine, and an ever-expanding brood of kids that includes Q-Bert, Normal Head Joe, Gitmo, and International Harvester. (The Cletus clan tends to pop up en masse whenever any business in Springfield offers a special for children under 10.) Like a lot of the Simpsons irregulars who appear in “22 Short Films About Springfield,” Cletus also has his own snappy theme song, which effectively establishes the line between him and other folks—y’know, the kind who would never eat a skunk or lose a toe. [Noel Murray]
Much like disco itself, Disco Stu was a passing fancy that ended up having a surprising shelf life. Stu was introduced as as a throwaway gag in “Two Bad Neighbors”—as the only guy who could possibly be interested in Homer’s bedazzled jean jacket, if he felt the need to advertise—yet became a fully fleshed-out character, albeit one whose chief interests remain severely limited. In “Springfield Up,” it’s revealed that he was once known as Nautical Stu, having abandoned the sea for the dance floor, and further glimpses into Stu’s inner life have included his cocaine-like addiction to sugar and the admission in “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation” that he doesn’t even really like disco anymore, but feels consumed by his Disco Stu identity all the same. His attempts to free himself from disco—like when Professor Frink transforms him into “Normal Stu,” or the glimpse of a lobotomized “Nothing Stu” in the dystopian “Days Of Future Future”—only deepen that somber soundtrack to which Disco Stu can’t help but dance.
Runner-up: Duffman. As the “guy who creates awareness of Duff,” Duffman serves an invaluable party purpose to the citizens of Springfield—even if he’s destined just to be replaced by another actor once he inevitably dies. [Sean O’Neal]
Chief Wiggum sets the tone for the Springfield police force, establishing a standard of laziness, incompetence, and impulsiveness that his officers try their best to meet. Most of the actual law enforcement in town is done by Lou and Eddie, who are connected enough to know the specific motel where Mayor Quimby is “polling the electorate” on any given night, but not savvy enough to recognize Sideshow Mel when they see him rollerskating down the street in “Separate Vocations.” (“They only come out at night,” Eddie snorts.) Where Lou is the brains of the partnership, Eddie is the muscle: He’s the kind of cop who enjoys abusing his authority and pretending that he’s in some kind of crack military unit, using official lingo to make himself sound smarter than the citizens he’s bullying. Wiggum relies on Lou more for insights at crime scenes, but it’s Eddie he would count on if he ever had to put Springfield under martial law. [Noel Murray]
“What if a real life, normal person had to enter Homer’s universe and deal with him?” According to former showrunner Josh Weinstein, that’s the question that inspired season eight’s “Homer’s Enemy.” And the answer? Frank Grimes—or “Grimey,” as he liked to be called. Arriving at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant with a tragic backstory and a fanatical belief in meritocracy, Frank is appalled at the outlandish excess and taken-for-granted luxuries of Homer Simpson’s life. (“A dream house! Two cars! A beautiful wife! A son who owns a factory!”) To make matters worse, Frank is seemingly the only person in Springfield who can see the error of Homer’s slovenly, negligent ways, an extra-sensory ability perhaps brought on by the sleep deprivation that comes with living above a bowling alley and below another bowling alley. For a few fleeting moments, Frank tries living like a Simpson—only to die like a Grimes. He learned too late that normal human beings don’t last long in Homer’s universe. (They’re also susceptible to extremely high voltage electricity.) [Erik Adams]
The personification of America’s hapless, faltering, sweat-drenched middle class, Ol’ Gil is among The Simpsons’ most tragicomic creations: a salesman right out of Arthur Miller, for whom death would bring sweet release. Actually, Gil is modeled on Jack Lemmon’s equally desperate character from Glengarry Glen Ross, from whom he derives his cracking voice, cloying attempts at folksiness, and complete mess of a personal life. But Lemmon’s Shelley Levene looks like Ricky Roma compared to Gil, who’s unsuccessfully tried his clammy hand at selling real estate (for his first appearance in “Realty Bites”) and used cars, working as a mall Santa, manning the store at the Kwik-E-Mart, and most pitifully of all, practicing law. Gil’s cries of “C’mon, help Ol’ Gil out,” his chronic health problems, and his perpetual near-homelessness have made Gil an easy punchline, but they’ve also earned him the pity party of his own episode, “Kill Gil, Volumes 1 & 2,” which saw the Simpson family taking him in for 11 months, only to kick him back out again—with Gil then finding huge success in Scottsdale, Arizona as a result. Of course, the Simpsons have to show up and ruin it for him, because Ol’ Gil is best when he’s at his worst.
Runner-up: Gabbo. Gabbo, Gabbo, Gabbo! [Sean O’Neal]
The elderly—or is he?—Hans Moleman exists largely as a vehicle for sadistic Simpsons writers to work out their violent fantasies. Though critics may complain about continuity with the main characters, Moleman has died—or at least appeared to die—many times, yet he keeps showing up again. His car blew up with him inside it. Mr. Burns drilled into his brain. He slept with Lars Ulrich’s grandmother. Still, Moleman endures, appearing whenever the script calls for either a clueless adult (“Didn’t that movie used to have a war in it?”) or a victim of physical pain. (“Hans Moleman Productions Presents Man Getting Hit By Football” may be one of the most indelible moments in 25 years of The Simpsons.) Moleman has gone through some changes over the years, changing his name (from Ralph Melish) and his skin color, but he always delivers key one-liners in the style of Droopy the dog, after whom he is clearly modeled. “No one’s gay for Moleman…”
Runner-up: Handsome Pete. Dances for nickels. [Josh Modell]
Once every other Springfield Nuclear Power Plant employee has been honored with a “Worker Of The Week” award, it appears that Homer Simpson’s moment has finally come in “Deep Space Homer.” But his hopes for seven days of workplace glory are dashed when Mr. Burns instead drapes a medal around an inanimate carbon rod. In fairness, the rod does more to ensure the plant’s safety than safety inspector Homer ever has. Later, after Homer has become a NASA astronaut in a desperate bid for respect, his rivalry with the lifeless green stick comes full circle when Homer saves the space shuttle from burning up on re-entry—and the nation lavishes attention on the inanimate carbon rod he used to bar the shuttle hatch closed. Only The Simpsons in its prime could get so much comic mileage out of the world’s most boring object. [John Teti]
Abe Simpson—that’d be Grampa—has a pretty killer group of compatriots at the Springfield Retirement Castle, but his best friend is Jasper Beardly, who’s presumably named for his long beard. Like Hans Moleman, Beardly is prone to injury, may be at least partially blind, and was used at first to deliver quick one-liners, usually about aging. But in the 1995 episode “The PTA Disbands,” Jasper really came into his own: When the Springfield teachers go on strike, the community steps up to replace them. Though it’s unclear at first what Jasper’s teaching specialty will be, he immediately outlines his disciplinary plan, which is basically a long list of things that will result in a paddlin’—looking out the window, staring at his sandals, etc. It’s one of the most quotable lines in Simpsons history, and one that offers some practical real-world advice, too. Jasper got a bigger plotline a few years later, when he attempted to cryogenically preserve himself in the Kwik-E-Mart. [Josh Modell]
There are four main bullies at Springfield Elementary, and the majority of Simpsons-watchers could probably only name Nelson, since he’s their ostensible leader (sometimes) and most-used character. But Kearney—the bald one, who wears spiky wristbands—is more than he first appears. First of all, unlike his compatriots, it’s likely that Kearney (whose last name, fairly recently revealed, is Zzyzwicz) doesn’t belong in fifth grade: After all, he drives a Hyundai, has at least one child, and may have had an affair with Jimbo’s mom. Plus, he dances a very nice jig. He’s one of those characters you can tell the writers have fun with: Because he’s rarely crucial to the story, they can throw random bits of backstory at him to tickle observant viewers—and themselves. [Josh Modell]
Springfield’s most tenacious businesswoman (with the possible exception of Cookie Kwan) was originally little more than a buzzword-spouting chatterbox, a way for the show’s writers to mock the inane notes that spew from the TV industry’s executive suites. In her first appearance, “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show,” she’s the one who insists that the dog being added to Krusty’s cat-and-mouse violence showcase should be “edgy” and “proactive,” with a “totally outrageous paradigm.” The showrunners liked Tress MacNeille’s performance enough to bring the character back, and Lindsey evolved beyond her one-note beginnings into a slightly more versatile caricature of a self-assured businesswoman. In “Marge Vs. Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples And Teens And Gays,” the one-time bit player Lindsey becomes the catalyst for the main plotline, as she forms an anti-child protest group. Of course she’d hate kids: They were foolish enough to reject her precious Poochie, even after she had the brilliant idea to “rasta-fy him by 10 percent or so.” [John Teti]
There’s not too much to say about Mr. Teeny—Krusty The Clown’s monkey sidekick—because Mr. Teeny doesn’t speak. He’s a monkey after all, though since we never see his tail, he might be an ape. But Teeny is a great vehicle for visual gags, and he’s a window into Krusty’s abusive nature: There have been many Mr. Teenys, with the latest mentioned most likely the seventh. Every Mr. Teeny smokes. One is threatened by Maggie, who’s wielding a broken bottle. Most of them wear roller skates and/or a tuxedo. All are ridiculous in the way the best minor Simpsons characters are—he’d never make sense on his own show, but Mr. Teeny is the brilliant little side joke that the early Simpsons would pull off with ease and grace. [Josh Modell]
Just as good as Dr. Hibbert (check out his ad!) but without the unnecessary premium of a conscience, Dr. Nick is the physician Springfield turns to whenever it needs procedures performed inexpensively and incompetently. In his first appearance alongside fellow shyster Lionel Hutz, Dr. Nick applies his Hollywood Upstairs Medical College training to help fake Bart’s injuries from his auto accident with Mr. Burns. As it turns out, this may be the most scrupulous, least dangerous form of malpractice Nick has ever been involved with. Nick’s trail of bodies includes poor Mr. McGreg (“with a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg”), as well as the literal trail of bodies he’s believed to have buried somewhere, only to dig them up later for spare parts. Chipper to a fault—except when dealing with the coroner (“I’m so sick of that guy!”)—Dr. Nick’s best quality is his bedside manner, as he’s always quick with a “Hi, everybody!” to warm up his nervous patients. Unfortunately, Dr. Nick may have greeted his last room, as The Simpsons Movie found him crushed by a shard of shattered dome—and Dr. Nick is one physician who definitely cannot heal thyself. [Sean O’Neal]
Runner-up: Nacho Bot. He’s a nacho robot who cries tears of nacho cheese. He deserves all the love he can get.
Old Jewish Man—also known as Crazy Old Man—at first seemed like little more than a delivery system for an exaggerated, funny accent. In a lot of ways, he’s still that, though OJM has also made a couple of important appearances, including the time he became a TV star for singing “The Old Gray Mare” with his pants down. He’s also one of the film executives responsible for the alternate Casablanca ending, as well as the unseen It’s A Wonderful Life “killing spree ending.” He has died at least once, which seems like par for the course for most Springfield elderly. [Josh Modell]
Like his compatriot at the “L” spot on our alphabetical pantheon, Poochie debuted in the eighth-season episode “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show.” The sunglasses-wearing dog is perhaps the best gag ever to emerge from network meddling: He came about when the writers grew tired of Fox executives’ suggestions that a new character in the Simpsons household would spice up the series. For this episode, the Simpson family does inexplicably acquire a new housemate, a catchphrase-spouting Gen X-er named Roy. But The Itchy & Scratchy Show—The Simpsons’ in-world proxy for itself—also gets a new cast member, Poochie, who serves to demonstrate why adding Roy to the usual lineup would be such a terrible idea. An amalgamation of soulless marketing ideas, the extreme, laid-back surfer pooch is rejected by Itchy & Scratchy fans, so his most celebrated moment is his last: a crudely drawn title card slapped on screen to inform viewers that “Poochie died on the way back to his home planet.”
Runner-up: Pinchy. Homer’s pet lobster enjoyed an idyllic life of chasing birds and pinching people—until Homer gave his beloved crustacean a hot bath, bringing the beloved companion to an untimely yet delicious end.
Runner-up: Pepi. “I love you, too, Pepsi.” [John Teti]
The enfant terrible of Springfield’s resident Kennedy family, Freddy Quimby manages to make his uncle, Mayor Joe Quimby, look like a humble servant of the people with his spoiled antics. Freddy has his first and only significant appearance in “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” when his 18th birthday party becomes the scene of an appropriately Kennedy-esque scandal after he’s accused of brutally beating a French waiter over his pronunciation of chowder. (Or rather, chowdah.) As his trial captivates the town—and as testimony reveals he carries the same “evil gene” as Hitler and Walt Disney—Freddy only skates the charge thanks to bribery, and the lucky coincidence that he didn’t do it. But even now that he’s cleaned himself up enough to become Mayor Quimby’s Chief of Staff (as seen in “See Homer Run”), Freddy still serves as a reminder of the awful latitude granted to Springfield’s privileged few—and of how to pronounce “chowder.”
Runner-up: Q15. Q15 is a robot seen momentarily in Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. (There aren’t a lot of Qs.) [Sean O’Neal]
A two-gun-totin’, Stetson-wearin’, oil-drillin’, Republican-votin’ son-of-a-gun (who actually hails from the great state of Connecticut), the Rich Texan always turns up to dance his little jig at the scene of capitalism run amok. He’s been known by many names over the years—Col. Richard “Tex” O’Hara, Senator Shady Bird Johnson—but the Rich Texan is less a man than a golem of greed, a walking caricature who represents every single big-business stereotype in one boisterous package. His first appearance comes in “$pringfield (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Legalized Gambling)” when he offers Homer the lucky hat he wore “the day that Kennedy was shot.” Rich Texan only gets more gleefully terrible from there—buying the city’s oldest redwood just to make “the world’s first drive-through humidor,” abandoning his greyhound after she falls in love with Santa’s Little Helper, parking his limo in handicap spaces, and offering a hearty “Yee-ha!”—accompanied by sprays of celebratory pistol-fire—at every moment of selfish gain. The show has attempted to give the Rich Texan some depth over the years by introducing his socialite daughter, Paris Texan, and giving him a gay grandson who he loves anyway. But mostly he’s remained as unapologetically, uproariously single-minded as his name. [Sean O’Neal]
The perpetually pubescent slave to the service industry otherwise known as Squeaky-Voiced Teen has a full name, pieced together from one deleted scene and the only time anyone would ever call him “mister”: Jeremy Freedman. But in an indignity greater than four years of film school leading to movie-theater-sweeping duty, he’ll always be Squeaky-Voiced Teen to viewers. That lack of identity suits the character just fine, qualifying him to man counters and clean floors beyond the fast-food realm of Krusty Burger. Since he’s the son of Lunch Lady Doris, food service is Squeaky-Voiced Teen’s family business, but his areas of part-time expertise also include hardware and shoe sales. Of course, in Australia, squeaky-voiced teens are allowed to name previously undiscovered species (“I’d’ve called ’em chazzwazzers”); this Squeaky-Voiced Teen would have to ask his manager before taking on a responsibility of that magnitude. [Erik Adams]
The Flandereses would never admit it, but between the two youngest members of the family, Todd shows the most promise. Most often depicted as the younger brother of Rod (though occasionally cited as older in early episodes, as well as in the 1997 Complete Guide book), Todd is adventurous and talented where Rod is blandly obedient. Both boys are goody-goodies who take after their father Ned, but Todd is also a gifted violinist and a mini-golf savant, and he’s more inclined to go along with new experiences, even if they come via the bad influence of his next-door neighbors. In “My Sister, My Sitter,” Ned calls Todd “a handful” because he’s been pinching everyone, but it’s just that kind of petty rebellion—along with his simultaneous attraction to and fear of stories about robots named Rod and Todd—that puts the lad on pace to reject his upbringing and grow into a fairly interesting adult. [Noel Murray]
Originally introduced as throwaway sight-gag in “Treehouse Of Horror IV”—meant to resemble every storybook cliché of a little European boy—Üter Zörker has long since ceased to be “that foreign exchange student” and has become one of the more recognizable attendees of Springfield Elementary. But that hasn’t stopped The Simpsons’ writers from continuing to use Üter as the repository for anything vaguely Bavarian they remember from their own childhoods. Though Üter sometimes does normal Springfield kid things like going on field trips and playing hockey for the Kwik-E-Mart Gougers, his dominant characteristic is his love of weird candy, like Flavor Wax and Marzipan Joy-Joys (mit iodine!). He’s meant to evoke all those odd, familiar-but-not-quite-American products that people stumble across as they grow up. After all, isn’t there’s a little Üter in all of The Simpsons’ explorations of strange cross-cultural byways? You might even say that we selected Üter for this list, and that Üter represents the letter “U.” [Noel Murray]
Before Homer acquires the new truck that launches his snowplow business in “Mr. Plow,” his quest for cheap wheels brings him to Crazy Vaclav’s Place Of Automobiles, where Vaclav sells his customer a vehicle that’ll “go 300 hectares on a single tank of kerosene.” Better yet, the rather cramped three-wheel jalopy—which the animators apparently modeled on the real-life Harper Invacar—was built in a country that “no longer exists,” so it’s a rare limited edition. Vaclav may have made only a brief impact on The Simpsons, but he is certainly a character whose name begins with “V.” [John Teti]
Although he acquired the moniker of Raphael in season 12, for years this aloof, sarcastic character was known by The Simpsons staff simply as Wiseguy, and he has appeared in dozens of different jobs around Springfield—pet store clerk, repo man, and TV cameraman among them. In every guise, Wiseguy exists mainly as a vehicle for Hank Azaria call people “boy-o” and “pally” in his Charles Bronson impression, a voice that adds an edge of humor to the character’s withering remarks. Wiseguy first appeared as a limo driver in the flashback episode “The Way We Was”; a lonely and heartbroken Homer directs the car to a favored post-prom make-out spot, Inspiration Point, and the chauffeur replies, “Okay, but I’m only paid to drive.” [John Teti]
Like her real-world inspiration, Brazilian children’s entertainer Xuxa, Xoxochitla is a much bigger deal on her native continent. In the States, the “South American sensation” can’t even get the host of It’s A Krusty Kinda Kristmas to pronounce her name correctly. In Brazil, though, her ample… talent has earned Xoxochitla the starring role on the tellingly titled Teleboobies. As seen in “Blame It On Lisa,” the series transcends language barriers by teaching rudimentary lessons in phonics and geometry through bumping, grinding, gyrating, and inventive use of Xoxchitla’s tasseled wardrobe. After making a strong impression on Bart, Xoxchitla returned to The Simpsons alongside another international crowd-pleaser that only manages to confound and confuse American viewers: the FIFA World Cup, subject of season 25’s “You Don’t Have To Live Like A Referee.” [Erik Adams]
In 2015, the average television viewer isn’t likely to recognize the name Frank Nelson, but they might know the actor’s distinctive catchphrase: An elongated, singsong “Yes” that Nelson put to good use on The Jack Benny Program, I Love Lucy, and Sanford And Son. Nelson died in 1986, but the word that made him famous survived into the 21st century, thanks to The Simpsons: Beginning with “Mayored To The Mob,” Springfield has been home to its own, animated version of Nelson’s persnickety TV persona. (Why does he talk like that? Because he “had a str-o-o-o-ke.”) Continuing a legacy of sarcastic clerks played by Nelson, The Yes Guy found his most gainful employment at Costington’s department store, where his one-word exclamations go well with the owner’s habit of hollering “You’rrrre hired!” and “You’re firrrred!” By keeping “Y-e-e-e-s?” in the TV lexicon for another 16 years (and counting), The Yes Guy represents The Simpsons’ ability to warp and remix a pop-culture touchstone so effectively that it ultimately becomes the show’s own. [Erik Adams]
You could argue that Zutroy is the same vaguely Eastern Bloc character design as Vaclav, but that would be preposterous. Zutroy here is as American as apple pie; Mr. Burns says as much to an inspector from the Department Of Labor who dares to question Burns’ hiring practices. As a member of the power plant’s all-star team of nuclear technicians, Zutroy earns a shiny penny for every day of work he completes. He’s a testament to the American dream—and likely a commentary on contemporary tech-industry scandals that exposed high-tech firms like Hewlett-Packard for hiring Eastern European programmers at dirt-cheap rates. [John Teti]