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Lionel Hutz’s legal services always came with a hook: a free smoking toy monkey; a business card that doubled as a sponge; the illustrious promise of “Cases won in 30 minutes or your pizza’s free!” His office was in the Springfield Mall. His surprise courtroom witnesses included Ralph Wiggum, the McGuire Twins on motorcycles, and a Santa Claus with an inexplicably broken leg. During his brief dabble in real estate, Hutz, with but a simple facial expression, forever defined the difference between “the truth” and the truth.
Voiced by Phil Hartman, Hutz was indelibly linked to Hartman’s cultish SNL character “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.” The inept, shyster lawyer is a stock character in 20thCentury American culture, but Hartman’s timing and cadences gave Hutz a loveable humanity. It was the same sort of humanity that Bob Odenkirk would bring to Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad many years later. Even the phrase “Better Call Saul!” feels like an ode to Hutz’s office, “I Can’t Believe It’s A Law Firm!” or Hutz’s typo-ridden business card, “Works On Contingency? No, Money Down!” Hutz had a losing record, an abysmal understanding of the law—he admitted to thinking “I rest my case” was but a figure of speech—and yet, now and then, he found a way to pull off a win for the Simpson family. There was, deep inside his white cartoon eyes, a perpetual bimbo vacancy, but there was also delightful, misguided optimism.
Troy McClure’s good looks paid for his pool, and his talent filled it with water. He lived in a crumbling futuristic mansion from another era, he drove a novelty sports car with malfunctioning doors, and he spent the vast majority of his time reminding viewers of past successes (Here Comes The Metric System,Christmas Ape, and Christmas Ape Goes To Summer Camp). In his biggest hit, The Muppets Go Medieval, McClure has an embarrassing, intensely wrinkled forehead (which Bart mistakes for leather) and he lusts after Ms. Piggy. McClure was always sexually ambiguous, and he courted one of Springfield’s biggest spinsters, Selma Bouvier, for a failed sham marriage. McClure could have been a cousin to Hartman’s Newsradio character Bill McNeal—washed up and out of touch, yet still, somehow, a star.
Both characters disappeared with a fleeting “In Loving Memory” frame after Hartman’s devastating murder in 1998. (Marcia Wallace would receive the same send-off years later). Hartman steered Hutz and McClure through some of the show’s best episodes through the mid-‘90s golden era. He also had a memorable one-off as Lyle Lanley in 1993’s canonical “Marge vs. the Monorail,” easily one of the ten best episodes of all time, featuring possibly the greatest song and dance number of the whole series. Hutz and McClure were consistently, reliably hilarious because of their desperation, their cluelessness, and their unending “Hey, why not me?” attitude. They were obsessed with success and they could never understand why it constantly eluded them. They were loveable fools and, like the best of Hartman’s comedy, or even Simpsons humor in general, they were the butt of their own jokes for a far greater good.