With a combined 33 seasons between them, both Futurama and The Simpsons are awash with references to Apple. Some of these references take the form of biting commentary while others are much more subtle.
In compiling this list, I was lucky enough to chat with famed Simpsons writer Bill Oakley (seasons 4-8) and talented Simpsons director David Silverman (seasons 1-present). They were both gracious and kind enough to answer many-a-question and provide me (and you) with some behind-the-scenes information about the "how and why" behind some of the Apple references you'll find sprinkled throughout this post.
That both Futurama and The Simpsons are rife with Apple references may not be all that surprising given that both shows were created by Matt Groening; before becoming a household name, Groening helped Apple design a Macintosh brochure for college students in the late 80s.
What's more, Futurama co-creator David X. Cohen is a professed Apple enthusiast who, in the early 1980s, developed a game called Zoid for the Apple II in assembly language. Indeed, the beloved Futurama character Dr. Zoidberg was actually named after the aforementioned title. Not only that, but Cohen in an interview once said that his favorite piece of technology remains an Apple II and that he's a Mac guy because "it's the closest living descendant of my old friend." That friend, of course, being the venerable Apple II.
So without further ado, below is an exhaustive list of every Apple reference ever made on Futurama and The Simpsons. You'll soon find out why Simpsons writers envisioned Smithers as a Mac user, what type of processor keeps Bender running, the process by which a Mac might show up for a split second in a freeze frame, what Matt Groening thinks about the Mapple parody, and a whole lot more.
1. Futurama - I Dated a Robot. Season 3, episode 15.
In this virtual reality themed episode, Fry starts dating a robot with the downloaded personality of Lucy Liu. If you play close attention, you'll notice that Professor Farnsworth at one point goes to a bin of empty robots which, you'll be glad to know, have been "Mac Formatted."
Later on in that same episode, we're treated to a classic 1950's style spoof warning about the dangers of dating robots. If you look closely, you'll notice the original Mac front and center.
2. Futurama - Neutopia. Season 6, episode 12.
Here we see Bender putting the ole' Mac vs. PC debate to rest.
Rock Alien: Your genders differ in many ways. But as with all things that are different - chocolate and vanilla, Mac and PC - one is always clearly better.
Bender: Chocolate, Mac, Men. The end.
3. The Simpsons - Homer Defined. Season 3, episode 5.
With the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant on the verge of a meltdown, chaos ensues as employees begin looting. If you look closely, one of the items being whisked away by an employee is a Mac SE with a dual floppy drive.
And in some nice attention to detail, you'll note that the Mac has but one mouse button.
As a show notorious for freeze frame humor, I asked Bill Oakley how a distinct computer like the Mac SE might end up for a split second on the show.
While Oakley didn't work on this particular episode, he explained that the "writer or show runner" of each episode "approves every prop and design in the show." If an item doesn't lend itself towards the plot or isn't a joke unto itself, a depicted Mac (like in the example above) could have been done at the behest of an animator.
As for the aforementioned approval process, Oakley elaborates: "Every important prop and character design (at least in those days) was faxed over for approval for the show runner and/or writer. Sometimes the designer would make a choice and it would be approved or disapproved."
David Silverman, who has been directing for The Simpsons since the late 80s, added that some computers on the show were likely drawn as Macs because that was the platform of choice for most animators who used computers back in the early 90s.
Stay tuned, there's some more detail regarding freeze frame Mac appearances later on.
4. The Simpsons - Lisa on Ice. Season 6, episode 8.
As any Simpsons enthusiast will attest, Season 6 was smack dab in the middle of the golden age of the show. With all-time classic episodes like "Homer the Great", "Homie the Clown", and "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" (the list could truthfully go on and on), season six is without question one of the best Simpsons seasons of all time.
Season 6 also includes the episode where Bart and Lisa both take up Ice Hockey and compete against each other for Homer's love. Dubbed "Lisa on Ice", the episode features a biting and rather famous scene which makes fun of handwriting recognition on Apple's Newton.
During the scene in question, a bully named Kearney tells his friend Dolph to take down a memo on his Newton. The handwritten message is entered in as, "Beat up Martin." The Newton, however, translates this as "Eat up Martha."
A funny joke that, believe it or not, would actually go on to weigh in on the minds of Apple's original iOS team more than a decade later.
This past fall, Fast Company interviewed Nitin Ganatra, a longtime Apple employee who previously served as the company's Director of Engineering for iOS applications. Ganatra relayed how folks on the iOS team were all too aware of how handwriting recognition on the Newton was widely ridiculed. Familiar with the "Eat up Martha" gag, the iOS team used it as motivation to ensure that the iPhone's virtual keyboard worked just as promised. The last thing they needed was for Apple's then super-secretive product to become the butt of yet another round of pop culture jokes.
In the hallways [at Apple] and while we were talking about the keyboard, you would always hear the words 'Eat Up Martha,'" Ganatra recalls. "If you heard people talking and they used the words 'Eat Up Martha,' it was basically a reference to the fact that we needed to nail the keyboard. We needed to make sure the text input works on this thing, otherwise, 'Here comes the Eat Up Marthas.'"
It may seem like ages ago, but it's really easy to forget just how revolutionary and risky Apple's decision to go with a virtual keyboard was. These days, nearly all the top selling smartphones lack physical keyboards. But back in early 2007, before the iPhone hit store shelves, it wasn't yet entirely clear that Apple could deliver a virtual keyboard that just worked, and more importantly, if such an input method would catch on with consumers.
I asked Bill Oakley about the gag, and he recalls that it was originally pitched during a rewrite:
I do not recall this exactly but I know it was during a rewrite and was pitched by someone in the room being run by David Mirkin at the time. I personally was skeptical that anyone would get it as I was the only one on the staff that actually had a Newton (it was useless) but there had been at lot of press at the time about how crappy it was so it was in the news.
Oakley also added that he's "glad it had the desired effect of shaming Apple into making up for those shortcomings."
5. Futurama - Fear of a Bot Planet. Season 1, episode 5.
In this episode, the Planet Express crew find themselves on a planet filled with robots with a knack for hunting humans. In one scene, a robot sounds a "horn" indicating that it's time to begin the ceremonial human hunt. The emanating sound, however, is the all-too familiar Mac OS startup sound.
6. The Simpsons - Four Regrettings and Funeral. Season 25, episode 3.
Though Apple has made a number of noticeable improvements to Siri since it first launched back in 2011, Apple's voice activated personal assistant remains a popular topic to lampoon in popular culture. In this particular Simpsons episode, a store owner tries to use Siri to locate a hospital for Homer.
Upon doing so, Siri tells him, "I'm sorry, I don't see any 'hos petals' near you. Deleting all contact information."
Furious, the man responds, "No, I didn't ask you to do that Siri!" To which Siri responds, "Delete confirmed."
7. Futurama - Future Stock. Season 4, episode 9.
An all-time classic episode, Future Stock centers on a frozen 1980s Wall Street businessman who subsequently thaws out and becomes CEO of Planet Express. As part of his effort to give the Planet Express brand a makeover, we're treated to this parody of Apple's iconic 1984 ad.
Upon seeing the new commercial, Leela remarks: "That was terrible! People won't even know what we do."
This may be a stretch, but that line may be in reference to Apple's board of directors famously not liking the famous "1984" ad.
From the very same episode, we're also treated to a futuristic stock ticker with a number of subtle jokes. Here we see that OS X is up 39 cents while Win(dows) is down 50 cents. Other stocks not doing well include (Captain) Kirk and Fox. Also note the Run-DMC reference up top.
"Don't you worry about Planet Express, let me worry about blank."
8. The Simpsons - Homer the Smithers. Season 7, episode 17
A great episode where we see Mr. Burns convinces a burnt out Smithers to go on a vacation and hire a temporary replacement. In conducting his search, where he ultimately settles on Homer, we see Smithers clearly using a Mac.
When I mentioned to Bill Oakley, who was a showrunner for this particular season, that the Apple reference here was blatantly obvious and purposeful, he explained that Smithers using a Mac was no coincidence.
For Smithers, I am fairly certain we specified that one in the script because Smithers is the type of progressive young fellow who would have a Mac rather than a PC.
9. The Simpsons - Million Dollar Maybe. Season 21, episode 11.
In the couch gag sequence of this episode where Homer wins the lottery, we see Homer launching a "Couch Gag" app whereupon he selects the order in which each family member joins him on the couch.
10. The Simpsons - The D'oh-cial Network. Season 23, episode 11.
In this Zuckerberg-inspired episode, Lisa creates a new social network dubbed SpringFace in an effort to make more friends. Here we see Lisa hacking away on her trusty LISA computer, an obvious shoutout to Apple's own Lisa machine. Incidentally, Steve Jobs explained in his biography that the "Lisa" computer was named after his own daughter Lisa.
For the sake of comparison, here's what the actual Lisa computer looked like.
Note that the LISA computer referenced in The Simpsons is a Lisa 2, evidenced by the machine's single floppy disk drive. The original Apple Lisa had two.
11. Futurama - Fry and the Slurm Factory. Season 1, episode 13.
In the season finale to season 1, the Planet Express crew take a tour of the Slurm Factory where we get to see them hang out with good ole' Slurms McKenzie. Earlier in the episode, Professor Farnsworth scans Bender with a new device called an F-Ray, whereupon we discover that our dear friend Bender Bending Rodriguez is powered by a 6502 microprocessor, the same processor that was used to power the Apple II.
In an interview with David X. Cohen, the Futurama co-creator said that the 6502 reference was "straight from me."
When I was in high school, I spent may of my teen years until five in the morning programming video games of my own invention, so I became extremely and intimately familiar with this chip. It ran at 1 MHZ - we're used to hearing GHz nowadays - and so you had to be a nimble programmer to get it to do what you wanted it to do.
In yet another interview, this one with IEEE Spectrum, Cohen said:
I spent a good percentage of my high school years programming the Apple II Plus in 6502 assembly language, so I have fond memories of long nights alone with this chip. My greatest 6502 achievement was a video game I called Zoid that was played heavily by me and my father and no one else. Incidentally, Zoid incorporated digitized speech (me saying the word " Zoid ," slowed down to make it mightier), which was pretty rare at the time. The digital audio for that single syllable used much more memory than the entire program. I tried to sell the game to Broderbund Software, but I knew I was in for bad news when the return letter they sent me started with a misspelling of my name.
As a point of interest, the 6502 processor debuted in 1975 and was created by MOS Technology.
12. The Simpsons - Million Dollar Abie. Season 17, episode 16.
After Grandpa ruins Springfield's only chance to ever field an NFL team, the entire town turns against him, prompting dear old Abe to contemplate Euthanasia.
The suicide machine in this case is called a diePod, and is clearly a revamped first-gen iPod.
It also comes pre-loaded with some tunes from Megadeath. Not too shabby!
13. The Simpsons - Homerpalooza. Season 7, episode 24.
A riff on Lollapalooza, this episode sees Homer, in an effort to reclaim his coolness, join a music festival dubbed "Hullabalooza." The episode features a number of notable musical guests, including Peter Frampton, Cypress Hill, The Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth.
The reference to Apple in this episode is rather subtle, but should evoke fond memories from anyone who followed the music scene back in the early 1980s.
During the scene in question, Homer finds himself at a record store where he references the Us Festival, a music and technology themed festival that was put together and bankrolled by none other than Steve Wozniak.
Homer: Now here are some of your no-name bands. Sonic Youth? Nine Inch Nails? Hullabalooza?
Store clerk: Hullabalooza is a music festival, the greatest music festival of all time.
Homer: There can only be one truly great festival a lifetime, and it's the "Us Festival."
Store clerk: The what festival?
Homer: The "Us Festival"! Geez, it was sponsored by the guy from Apple Computers
Store clerk: WHAT computers?
And in a photo sure to blow your mind, here's a photo of Woz from the 1983 US Festival chilling with Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth.
14. Futurama - Clockwork Origin. Season 6, episode 9.
Here we see a not so subtle riff on the iPad, with a tablet dubbed the iFad. Note the name of the newspaper - the USB Today.
15. The Simpsons - Thursdays with Abie. Season 21, episode 9.
In this episode, we learn that Homer's brain is powered by an old version of Mac OS.
16. Futurama - Fear of a Bot Planet. Season 1, episode 5.
At a makeshift trial, Fry and Leela find themselves accused of being humans. The judge overseeing the proceedings is an old Mac 128k. Note, here, the Mac OS style progress bar.
And in a shot that sadly looks all too familiar to any pre-OS X Mac user, we see a system error and an all too familiar bomb icon when the Mac freezes up. And in a bit of uber Mac nerd humor, a character trying to help shouts out, "try Control-Alt-Delete!"
17. The Simpsons - Mypods and Boomsticks. Season 20, episode 7.
After years of subtle Apple references, The Simpsons in 2008 thought it high time to launch a full fledged satirical attack on all things Apple. Nothing was free from ridicule in this episode; Apple stores, iPods, iPhones, Steve Jobs, Apple's iconic 1984 commercial.
This episode introduced us to the world of all things Mapple and may very well be the most widely known Apple reference to ever appear on either The Simpsons or Futurama.
The action begins when the Simpson family is at a mall and Lisa gets excited upon noticing a Mapple Store, a dead ringer in both name and appearance to an Apple Store.
"It's so sterile!", she exclaims upon entering. "Mypods, Myphones, a braniac bar!"
Particularly funny is the Mapple store employee telling Homer that the light from the glowing MyCube "confirms that it's off."
All in all, the first few minutes of this entire episode are rife with subtle and not-so-subtle jabs at Apple. From Lisa asking for fake white earbuds so people think she has a MyPod to a live announcement from "Mapple founder and Chief Imaginative Officer Steve Mobbs."
While Jobs (eh, I mean Mobbs) is speaking, Bart hijacks the audio feed and proceeds to lambast the Mapple faithful.
You're all losers. You think you're cool because you buy a $500 phone with a picture of a fruit on it. But guess what, they cost $8 bucks to make and I pee on every one. I have made a fortune off you chumps and I've invested it all in Microsoft. Now my boyfriend Bill Gates and I kiss each other on pile of your money.
Dems be fighting words!
Not being able to take it any more, Comic Book Guy shouts, "Traitor! Your heart is blacker than your turtleneck!" as he wields a sledgehammer and tosses it at the large video display of Mobbs -- an obvious homage to Apple's famous "1984" commercial.
Comically, someone after the fact states, "Who dares question the boss we fired 10 years ago and then brought back!"
Now as for the Mapple universe, I was able to chat with longtime Simpsons director David Silverman who explained that the Simpsons staff are very conscious about not resorting to the "Mapple" parody too often.
"In fact, these days we are careful not to over-do our "Mapple" parody logo (apple with two bites)," Silverman told me. "We really don't want to be seen as doing product placement."
So while the show does have a number of permanent references to real world products (Kwik-E Mart and 7-11, Squishee and Slurpee, Laramie cigarettes and Marlboro, Buzz Cola and Coke), Silverman said that those references are far enough removed from the real thing as to avoid suspicions of product placement. The "Mapple" parody, however, is rather close in name and design to actual Apple products so the issue a bit trickier there.
"Even if it's in the Simpsons universe and we created it," Silverman explained, "we don't want to put it in every show because it looks like we're promoting it, and that's not our point. Mapple is too close to the real thing."
Indeed, Silverman stressed that the Simpsons staff are solely concerned with one thing -- churning out comedy. If a particular scene is funnier with a Mapple reference, than so be it, but superfluous Mapple references aren't part of some hidden agenda to promote Apple in any way.
Driving the point home, Silverman even said that series creator Matt Groening at times has nixed the depiction of Mapple products when they they serve no broader comedic purpose. In short, the show doesn't want to seem like they are endorsing any specific product, ever.
18. Futurama - A Flight to Remember. Season 2, episode 1.
In this episodic parody of the movie Titanic, Bender at one point looks to drown his sorrows with some Pennzoil and Jagermeister at the bar of a space cruise ship. The bartender? Why it's trusty ole iZac whose name (not to mention the style of his nametag) pays homage to the original Bondi Blue iMac. iZac re-appears ever so sparingly in future Futurama episodes as well.
19. The Simpsons - Marge vs. The Monorail. Season 4, episode 12.
Look closely, there's an original Mac being stolen!
I asked Silverman how these subtle Mac references that wouldn't ordinarily be specified in a script would often come about.
Most animators who had computers early in the 90s (and there weren't too many) were using Macs as they were by far more artistic friendly back then - there's little debate about that. So, yes, perhaps references crept in. HOWever -- we were careful not to be seen "promoting" any product. I really can't emphasize that enough. Occasional glimpses of a product, like in Homer Defined, sure. But it wasn't an on-going thing. It occurs to me that Macs back in the 90s had a very distinct look, which may account for another reason they show up from time to time in those shows.
20. Futurama - Clockwork Origin. Season 6, episode 9.
In this episode, we're introduced to the Wozniak Nerd Academy, an homage to everyone's favorite self-professed nerd -- Woz.
21. Futurama - A Bicyclops Built For 2. Season 2, episode 13.
In this episode, we see Bender using a Mac OS styled menu with the appropriate keyboard shortcuts.
22. The Simpsons - Politically Inept with Homer Simpson. Season 23, episode 10.
In this episode, Homer becomes the host of his own talk show, a program aptly titled, "Politically Inept with Homer Simpson." The news ticker at the bottom reveals that Steve Jobs is up to his old tricks, having recently unveiled the iGhost.
23. Futurama - Attack of the Killer App. Season 6, episode 3.
Two years after Apple skewered the Apple fanbase with its Mapple Store episode, it was time for Futurama to step up to the plate. And that they did, with season 6's "Attack of the Killer App."
The Apple references here are a'plenty.
The episode begins at an e-waste recycling festival where, if you look closely, we see yet again what appears to be an original Mac.
Following that, we see the Planet Express crew lounging around and watching TV when a commercial for a new eyePhone from Mom comes on.
"With the new eyePhone," the commercial boasts, "you can watch, listen, ignore your friends, stalk your ex, download p*rno on a crowded bus, even check your email while getting hit by a train."
Intrigued by the commercial, the crew heads out to pick up eyePhones at Mom's store before finding themselves waiting in a line that stretches back for blocks. Naturally, everyone waiting in line is depicted as a mindless zombie intent on blindly handing over their money for this newfangled eyePhone.
Once inside, the references to Apple retail store are in full effect; from the Mom logo which bears a striking resemblance to the Apple logo all the way down to the dancing iPod silhouettes that grace the walls.
With some funky music playing in the background, Amy comically states, "Wow, it's that obscure underground song that's constantly playing everywhere."
Sounds about right.
Later, we see Fry about to purchase an eyePhone when the store clerk tells him, "okay, it's $500, you have no choice of carrier, the battery can't hold a charge, and the reception isn't..." Fry then abruptly interrupts him and shouts "SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!"
Just a few months ago, series co-creater David X. Cohen explained the impetus behind this line in an interview with Rolling Stone.
"It's one of the first episodes we did when we came back on the air on Comedy Central after a long hiatus of cancellation, and one thing that happened while we were off the air is that technology in our daily lives did evolve tremendously," Cohen says.
"This particular line . . . at the time we put it in the script, I said, 'This line is going to be quoted and remembered.' It's rare that I feel like we have captured something so clearly and distinctly, and that was one of those moments. I felt like that was a rare opportunity for a show set in the year 3000 to nail something happening in the current day."
Moving along, we're next treated to a video clip of Mom explaining the benefits of the eyePhone.
"The new eyePhone is wonderful," she says. "I use it to check recipes and send threatening emails to unauthorized third party app developers." (A joke more on point back in 2010 when it first aired.)
The episode later ends with the entire city walking towards Mom's store like mindless zombies to pick up the recently announced eyePhone 2.0. Peering down on all these future customers, Mom remarks, "dumb bastards." Curiously, the "dumb bastards" line was later removed from the online version of the episode on Comedy Central's website.