The Simpsons (tv)

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Apu Nahasapeemapetilan

REVIEWED: 12-01-97

Taken from The Boston Phoenix's "Character Sketches," a celebration of viewers' favorite TV characters. Click here for the full article.

"Scourge of the weak, master of the atom," he once declared himself. Has television ever known a character so epicly fiendish as Monty Burns, The Simpsons' 104-year-old nuclear power plant owner with an unbridled loathing for his fellow man?

In his unrepentant sloth, gluttony, and stupidity, Homer Simpson serves as the comic anchor of the series. But what draws Simpsons junkies is the show's dark side, its assumption that cynical calculation and an evil corporate oligarchy make the world go round. Burns embodies those qualities: greed and malice are his only principles, and they go hand in hand. As he once asked, "What good is money if you can't inspire terror in your fellow man?"

Bony and beak-nosed, with those trademark liver spots on his bald crown, Burns is a bottomless well of villainy. His rage brings sudden lightning and thunder to a clear sky, or draws booming strains of the Darth Vader theme. His tools of oppression are limitless: a troop of ruthless lawyers, a network of hidden cameras; trap doors, poisoned doughnuts, bloodthirsty hounds; an army of flying monkeys. All are marshaled against those who stand in the way of his accumulation of money and power.

"Well, sir, you've certainly vanquished all your enemies," his faithful lickspittle, Wayland Smithers, once said after a particularly ruthless Burns offensive, "-- the elementary school, the local tavern, the old-age home . . . "

It was Burns who tried to shroud Springfield in permanent darkness so as to make the town desperately reliant on his nuclear energy, declaring that "since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun." It was Burns who once sought to troll the oceans and "recycle" aquatic life into a delicious, marketable "slurry." And it was Burns, inevitably, who actually tried -- and failed -- to steal candy from a baby.

Burns may be so fascinating because, for all his excesses, he's not all that unrealistic. We suspect that a lot of Burnsian characters populate the boardrooms of America. As if to prove the point, conservative groups have actually complained that the show unfairly demonizes big business and nuclear power. As Burns is wont to say: Excellent.

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