‘The Simpsons’ and the American Man: Troy McClure, Lionel Hutz and the Magic of Phil Hartman

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Lionel_Hutz2Lionel 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. (more…)