The early seasons of The Simpsons are PACKED with cultural references, even to this day I have :smack: moments going ooohhh so thats what that was!
Anyway the episode where Homer grows hair and gets promoted because Burns thinks he looks like a young hotshot, all the women Homer interviews are coming on to him so Marge encourages him to hire the only male applicant an ambiguously gay guy that seems to have a thing for Homer(he kisses Homer on the lips goodbye when he quits). The whole segment seemed so odd and kinda forced into the episode I assumed it was a reference to a film or something, apparently it is not.
If anything it’s likely to be the other way around for me, things that were referencing something but I didn’t realize it and thought they were just being funny until years later when I saw what it was they’d been referencing.
I can’t think of an example at the moment, however.
Not sure if this counts, but in a Tree House of Horror episode when Homer says, “I’m the first non Brazilian to travel backwards though time” isn’t referencing anything and in fact originally was supposed to be, “I’m the first non-fictional character to travel backwards in time” Wikipedia
That might be the most misunderstood joke in the history of the show, Nobody. I remember people used to speculate that the “non-Brazilian” thing is a reference to Carlos Casteneda. I know I definitely accepted that explanation the first time I heard it. In hindsight and thanks to Wikipedia, I see Castaneda wasn’t Brazilian (he was from Peru) and his Don Juan character was Mexican, so there’s no way any allusion to Castaneda was intended.
There was the one where Homer became a bootlegger. Federal agent Rex Banner comes in to help clean up the town. When he arrives he reads two telegrams. The first is from Mayor Quimby and says “Springfield needs you.” The second one says “Rexy, Daisy had puppies!”
I always thought that second one was a reference to something, but damned if I know what.
Not surprised. It wasn’t supposed to refer to anything. That’s what made it so funny: the non-sequitur.
Sometimes things are funnier if you don’t know what they’re referring to. There was the running gag in Get Smart where Max would see, say, a five-story-tall arrow, and say, “That’s the second biggest arrow I’ve ever seen.”
The joke wasn’t that he was referring to a real arrow, but that something so big isn’t the biggest he’s seen. Any reference would have ruined the joke.
Burns and Smithers were watching a broadcast of Boobarella (an allusion to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, who was herself a plagiarization of Vampira), and Burns remarked to Smithers, “You know Bill in accounting? That’s his daughter”.
At first I assumed there was a meaning to this, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a throwaway line.
Bart saying, “Hello, mother,” while flying a kite at night in the episode “Bart of Darkness.” The image is so striking and peculiar, and the sensation I get from it so familiar, that I know it just has be a reference to something.
I previously had the vague idea it might be some sort of reference to the Terry Gilliam science-fiction movie Brazil, which is neither about time-travel nor Brazil/Brazilians, but Homer’s an idiot so goodness knows what he might have gotten out of a movie like Brazil.
Years ago when I was more active on Usenet, I would read the Simpsons newsgroup and after every episode, they would compile a list of references for the episode and the end result would always be they would list every single joke because if the premise of the joke was even similar to something else, they would call it a reference. Sometimes it’s just a joke.
That said, my entry to this thread is from the Bobo episode. There is a sequence where Homar almost has a vision of the teddy bear. It is vague now because I haven’t seen it in awhile but it has to do with a fish tank and a unique musical score. I was sure it was a reference to something but it wasn’t.
There was the episode Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie. The final scene where Homer and Bart are walking together in the future seems to me to be a reference to something, like they’re imitating a well-known scene from a movie. But apparently it isn’t.
In Homer’s triple bypass, there’s the following exchange (link to SNPP)
[at the gas station]
Homer: I keep hearing this horrible irregular thumping noise.
Attendant: It’s your heart. And I think it’s on it’s last thump.
Homer: Oh, I thought it was my transmission. [drives away happily]
Kid: Where’s he going?
Attendant: You remember that old Plymouth we just couldn’t fix?
Kid: We’re going to sell him to Mr. Nikopopolous?!
Attendant: You’re a dull boy, Billy.
– Missing the point, “Homer’s Triple Bypass”
I always thought that must have been a reference to something, because it is just so non sequitur, but apparently it references nothing but itself.
Heck, the episode about backyard pools ends with Martin, humiliated because his own pool collapsed from overcrowding and having his bathing suit torn off by Nelson, singing “The summer winds / came blowing in / from across the sea…” in a sad jazztone.