The Very Best Of

10 best Troy McClure films and TV appearances

Phil Hartman star Troy McClure
Phil Hartman's posthumous place on the Hollywood Walk of Fame owes more than a little to the memorably mediocre career of Troy McClure. (Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images)

Did Troy McClure, along with other Phil Hartman characters, make a crucial difference in The Simpsons’ peak years? If nothing else, Hartman gave a solid series a delectable extra layer of entertainment value.

Hartman, who died under horrific circumstances shortly after the ninth season, would have turned 70 this Monday. That melancholy milestone can spawn questions of what could have been, but evokes fond memories as well.

Within the first decade of The Simpsons, Hartman was the definitive ringer for the cast’s six staples. Besides a host of one-off characters and impressions, he voiced Lionel Hutz on 24 occasions and McClure on 31.

If quantity prevails, then McClure was Hartman’s definitive character. A slight alter-ego, he is defined his hopping around hosting gigs for TV specials, endorsements and educational films. His manner in each appearance comically accentuates his overrated celebrity status.

McLure’s delivery is not exactly deadpan, though not the direct opposite either. Despite a general lack of expertise in a given film’s subject, he carries a constant confidence. This never changes for the serious and credible or the ludicrously off-base statements.

This tactic hits the hardest when he offers examples of his repertoire or utters a malapropism. The titles and phrasings underscore his repressed desperation to blow a second wind behind his career.

Of course, one episode revolves entirely around his effort to secure that turnaround through a phony relationship with one of the Simpsons’ extended relatives. That appearance is in a class of its own.

As for the one- or two-minute spots the title characters see through a screen, these 10 define McClure the best.

10. Carnival of the Stars
Sometimes his introductory filmography selections are enough to make McClure’s appearance worthwhile. Among those where he does not offer much else, this is the epitome.

One must wonder if McClure assumes everyone will think fondly of The Erotic Adventures of Hercules thanks to its mythological basis. As for Dial M for Murderousness, did he have a hand in drafting the screenplay and title?

9. Shoplifters Beware
Through no fault of his own, McClure only sticks around for half a minute. There is clearly more in his shoplifting history lesson, but Detective Don Brodka punches the screen out.

In fairness, the late guest voice Lawrence Tierney might as well get more time in his one-off spot. Regardless, for his 21st appearance, McClure squeezes in a droll disclaimer as to why he is hosting this public-service video.

His purpose, he hastily explains, is “completing my plea bargain with the good people at Foot Locker of Beverly Hills.”

8. What A Terrible Waste
Considering McClure’s conduct in this film, it is a wonder everyone but Homer takes it seriously.

As a prerequisite to regaining his license after failing a breathalyser, Homer views this traffic-safety video. Amidst an implied montage of carnage, we hear McClure chime in, “Here’s an appealing fellow. In fact, they’re a-peeling him off the sidewalk!”

Naturally, that commentary only enables Homer, who cannot shake off his action/blooper-reel lenses. “It’s funny, ’cause I don’t know him,” he chuckles.

7. Young Jebediah Springfield
Though McClure’s speaking role in this cheap portrayal of the town’s pioneer namesake is brief, one line suits him impeccably.

“A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.”

That coinage could have been scripted or spontaneous. Either way, it exemplifies McClure’s propensity for lingual overreach. With nothing better in the existing thesaurus, he or the screenwriter tries a new verb to evoke enlargement.

6. Adjusting Your Self-O-Stat
How cheap must Brad Goodman’s budget have been for him to use the take where an endorsing McClure squints and calls his program a “something or other”?

Naturally, Goodman (voiced by Albert Brooks) doubles the humor by relying heavily on his own smooth, soothing delivery. But in evaluating McClure alone, the true highlight is when he melodramatically exclaims, “it’s like you’ve known me all my life!”

Surely some Springfield used-car dealers came calling soon thereafter. Fittingly, in a real-life profile, Bob Thompson of Jam! Showbiz later noted, “Phil Hartman…sounds like a used car salesman.”

5. The Half-Assed Approach to Foundation Repair
Odds are McClure landed here because the tryout for an all-out instructional video was too competitive.

As usual, McClure deviates standard English, but figures he can compensate with his assertive delivery. Looking and acting the part, he tells the viewer, “I’ll be taking you through the do’s and do not do’s of foundation repair.”

For once, though, he gets away with any shortage of credibility, because his audience is Homer. Even if he only looks adept by comparison, McClure breezes through the instructions faster than Homer can keep pace. Adding to the comic agony, none of the essential material he mentions seems to be at Homer’s disposal.

4. Someone’s In the Kitchen with DNA
What is the emergency that sends the presumably real scientists fleeing at the beginning? Is there even a real danger, or is it a false alarm that Troy somehow sets off by introducing himself?

To cap this natural hat trick of questions, who cares? The one-minute film saves its top highlight for the end. When Billy puts Troy on the spot by asking what DNA stands for, the host cannot even pull an answer from his backside.

Instead he blankly stares into the camera, implicitly sending an SOS to his crew. On cue, the videographer bails him out by cutting off the shoot.

3. Fuzzy Bunny’s Guide to You Know What
Before South Park gave us Mr. Mackey telling the kids, “Drugs are bad, you shouldn’t do drugs,” there was this.

This film’s most brilliant aspect is the delayed onset of the “frank and straightforward manner” McClure promises. The first half of the bunny-based animation dances around all verbal and visual innuendo.

But then McClure goes silent and lets the events of Fuzzy and Fluffy’s wedding night speak for themselves. Adding to the disturbance, he mentions that, of the 14 children the couple conceives, “eight survived.”

Afterwards, with no mention of safe practices or consequences of carelessness, he brings everything nominally full-circle. “Now that you know how it’s done, don’t do it.” Perhaps he and his filmmaking colleagues are banking on the visuals of intercourse as a sufficient deterrent.

2. Birds: Our Fine Feathered Colleagues
As part of Season 10’s “Bart the Mother,” this was Hartman’s lone posthumous appearance on the series. While that fact gives the film a sorrowful tinge, the performance is genuinely memorable in its own right.

Working for Regional Geographic (because the National edition is helplessly out of his reach), McClure offers his usual self-promotional introduction. The booming delivery of the last title he names off — “Man vs. Nature: The Road to Victory” — sets the right tone.

An otherwise humorously nonsensical title for McClure’s last strip gains its relevance when he shows how to intervene in nesting. And for once, the host gives all of the facts straight.

Granted, the culminating factoid is revolting, but Hartman’s classic delivery sets the animators up for a great closing grin.

1. Meat and You: Partners in Freedom
By the Simpsons universe’s standards, we can assume the kids’ roles in these films are unscripted. Nowhere does that notion hold more water than in this portion of Season 7’s “Lisa the Vegetarian.”

Right away, Troy’s paycheck priorities creep in when he greets Jimmy as “Bobby.” He then proves himself desensitized by asking a visibly shaken Jimmy if he’s “getting hungry” after emerging from “the killing floor.”

And unlike Billy in subsequent strips, Jimmy cannot stump or stymie McClure with his observations or queries. Troy is armed with an authoritative suggestion that they “ask this scientician.” Before that malaprop and deliberately unhelpful split-second cutaway kick in, he offers more absurd statements and footage.

Absurd, that is, for anyone who is not as young or impressionable as Jimmy. Sure enough, the boy is won over, though McClure’s congratulatory gesture is “hurting” him.

Is Troy trying to literally rub the propaganda deep into Jimmy’s head so that he cannot shake it off? That might explain why Jimmy gives way to Billy going forward.

Al Daniel

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