For my money, “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show,” episode #14 in the 8th season of The Simpsons, ranks as one of the most effortlessly resonant episodes they ever did. If you recall that one, the TV execs, worried about slipping ratings for “The Itchy & Scratchy Show,” decide to insert an “extreme” dog character named “Poochie” into the program. The surfboard-toting Poochie wears sunglasses, a backwards baseball cap, and torn shorts and generally behaves like the parody of edgy youth behavior he was intended to be. Eventually the kids start to hate Poochie because he always drags down the action, and they kill off the character. In a “meta” point to drive the point home, in the episode an additional, sassy Simpsons sibling named “Roy” materializes, whom all the characters acknowledge as always having been there.
The episode is studded with great dialogue, but here’s a bit in which all the relevant nonsense about Poochie is laid out in detail:
Network Executive Lady: We at the network want a dog with attitude. He’s edgy, he’s “in your face.” You’ve heard the expression, “let’s get busy”? Well, this is a dog who gets “biz-zay!” Consistently and thoroughly.
Krusty: So he’s proactive, huh?
Network Executive Lady: Oh, God, yes. We’re talking about a totally outrageous paradigm.
Writer: Excuse me, but “proactive” and “paradigm”? Aren’t these just buzzwords that dumb people use to sound important? Not that I’m accusing you of anything like that. [pause] I’m fired, aren’t I?
Roger Myers Jr.: Oh, yes.
The whole episode is a stone classic, and (in my mind at least, and I know I’m not alone) the word “Poochie” ever since has always been synonymous with gratuitous attempts to pander to audiences.
Everybody gets that Poochie-type behavior is a daily occurrence in Hollywood—but surely the makers of The Simpsons were exaggerating, right? To judge from the experience of Guillermo del Toro, apparently not!
Around 2003 del Toro was attached to a Disney animated adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s 1905 children’s favorite The Wind in the Willows. In an interview from Rotten Tomatoes’ “Dinner and the Movies” series, del Toro revealed that he had to leave the project because of the Disney execs’ request to “Poochie” up the character of Toad:
Wind in the Willows, which I adapted to do animated. ... “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” and all that - it was a beautiful little book, and then I went to meet with the executives and they said, “Could you give Toad a skateboard and make him say, ‘Radical, dude!’ things,” and that’s where I said, “It’s been a pleasure!”
The section with the Wind in the Willows stuff is embedded below, but you can watch the entire interview (12 files) if you like.
All in all, del Toro’s decisions to walk away from material—which happened often, apparently—seemed to work out well. He’s one of Hollywood’s most inventive and sought-after directors, and he just published a terrific book called Cabinet of Curiosities which we posted about a month ago.
Thank you Mark Davis!