Join me as I take a look through the 5 most memorable poker games from the silver and small screen.
If there’s one family that requires no introduction all across the globe, it’s our yellow-skinned, four-fingered friends from Springfield. The Simpsons has been airing for a whopping 614 episodes now, from it’s humble beginnings as a short on the Tracey Ullman show, right through to the Golden Age during the 1990s, The Simpsons has delighted fans of all ages and backgrounds since 1987. Although the show experienced a drop in quality for several seasons due in part to the departure of some key writers, they seem to be back on track in recent years. It’s quite possible that The Simpsons will never reach the dizzying heights of fame that culminated somewhere around season 10 (historically, the period listed as the end of the Golden Age) but a for a whole generation of people, quoting The Simpsons is as much a part of daily life as getting out of bed or eating breakfast.
The episode I had in mind while writing this piece was the one where Marge becomes a police officer and Homer is hosting the card game from his kitchen, I believe the episode is called The Springfield Connection. I still intend on making this section of the article about that but some googling threw up information about an episode from 2012 called ‘Gone Abie Gone’. In this episode, Homer receives a large sum of money from Krusty Burger after spilling hot food and scalding himself. He intends on squirreling the money away into a bank account as an investment for Lisa’s college education but Lenny and Carl convince him that this is no longer the safest way to store your savings. Instead, Homer deposits the money into an online poker account, much to the chagrin of Lisa and others around him. Lisa soon comes around to the idea of taking some poor sucker’s money using only her cunning and the clicking of a mouse. The thrill of doubling her money with every successful hand becomes addictive and she eventually loses her nest egg after going all-in against a player going by the name of Sideshow Bob. In the end, it is revealed that Bart does all of his online gambling under Sideshow Bob’s name for… reasons. Bart was playing against Lisa to prevent her losing the money to someone with less good-natured intentions. I don’t know if Bart’s tactics would land him at the WSOP tournament final but Lisa going all-in and taking big risks? Now that’s something we can work with!
The episode ‘The Springfield Connection’ features, for most fans, the most famous poker game in the history of the show. At this kitchen tournament, Homer and Moe discuss the correct title for the part of the house where you leave your vehicle and tools. If you said ‘garaaaaage’, you might be a haughty little Lord Fauntleroy. The correct term is ‘car-hole’!
Before any suspicions are roused, I would like to be abundantly clear in saying that at NO POINT during the research and writing of this article did I meet Matt Groening in a secluded copse and take home a brown bag filled with Itchy and Scratchy Land Dollars in exchange for plugging his shows. That’s NOT what happened.
So any plans for this weekend? What’s that? You have no plans relating to piloting a spaceship through an asteroid belt to deliver medicine to a mining facility on LB4D6 or delivering a vial of Yeti Blood to the CDC on Rigel 12? Good to hear because this weekend and this weekend only the Universal Poker Championships are being held in Mars Vegas.
The year is 3009 and the plan is to reach the final table of the tournament, confirming once and for all who is the best card sharp in The ‘Verse. Many bonkers things happen over the course of the tournament, including the untimely deaths of contestants “Tex” Connecticut and Boobs Vanderbilt in a tragic prop-related accident. The game comes to a thrilling conclusion as Fry and Bender go head-to-head, with Bender eventually gaining the upper hand after coming into the possession of The King of Beers chip, which gives the bearer a hand of 5 Kings.
What list is complete without mention of the most famous sitcom of all time? For 10 years, Friends dominated the ratings. The stars of the show made a pact that they would all stick together when it came to negotiating their paychecks at the beginning of each new season, ensuring everybody got the best deal possible. One assumes they moved into the tenth and final season adorned in exotic silks and gold plated shoes, driving to and from the set in their dark matter powered rocket cars.
This episode dates all the way back to 1994 when Friends first aired, an era defined by flicky boyband hair that made everyone look like they were on the way to a Stone Roses show in the Hacienda. The episode is simply titled ‘The One With All The Poker.’ The premise of this episode is simple, as they usually are. Perhaps that’s why Friends worked so well. They never ‘jumped the shark’ in the same way The Simpsons did. The Simpsons exhausted every plotline relating to suburban life in just a few short seasons before they were jetsetting off to visit the Sultan of Brunei every second week, whereas Friends kept its simple premise; Friends living together in Manhattan. Even if you weren’t tremendously interested in what song Phoebe was writing or what neuroses had Chandler crippled socially from week to week, it wasn’t really about what the characters were doing, more to do with a sense of belonging. Spending time with these fleshed-out characters as if they were your own… Friends.
As I was saying… the premise is simple; the guys take on the girls in a game of poker. Phoebe insists that the boys host a monthly poker night just to have an event that the girls can’t attend. With accusations of sexism only moments away, the girls insist on taking part. After a sound thrashing at the hands of the boys, the ever-competitive Monica demands a rematch. Meanwhile Rachel pays a visit to Ross and Monica’s Aunt Iris, a lifelong poker player, and returns back to the apartment thirsty for vengeance. In the end, Ross and Rachel are locked in mortal combat at the head-to-head but the phone rings informing Rachel that she she did not get her dream job which she recently interviewed for. Sometimes you win a million bucks and sometimes you get a kick in the teeth.
And now onto the only poker game on this list to take place in a casino. The dapper, pouty British agent with a license to thrill features here in Casino Royale, the 2005 entry into the bond series and the sophomore outing for current Bond and pouting specialist Daniel Craig. This one has really been done to death. I don’t even think there’s much point in me talking you through the game hand by hand or getting knee-deep in the statistics to prove that the math is either wrong or extremely unlikely. If you want to see people get scientific on this stuff, google Casino Royale Final Hand Breakdown and there’s enough reading there to make a Wheel of Time fan dizzy. This is classic Bond. Bond was in a strange place before Casino Royale. There’s a militant group of people who think that in order to survive, James Bond needs to retain that campy 1960s attitude, with whacky gadgets, innuendo and globe trotting a plenty and then a different but equally militant subsection of film society that think Bond needs a re-brand. People who felt that the era of sexism and car chases after fifteen martinis was over and that perhaps a more broody, mature-bond would set the franchise in the right direction for this brave new century. Casino Royale washed the bad taste of ‘Die Another Day’ out of the mouths of the viewing public, a distinctly unpleasant and cheesy taste indeed. Casino Royale had all of the Bond staples, incredible architecture from all around the world, beautiful ladies but this time with personality stats maxed out and most importantly, in this iteration Bond feels distinctly human. No more jet skiing through a tsunami wrapped in a Union Jack parachute, this time it’s close quarter fistfights in train station toilets and recovering from injuries for weeks after a tussle.
There are two types of people in the world; those who started watching The Wire and now say things like “OMG, you haven’t seen The Wire?!” and people who didn’t watch past the first two episodes. Everybody likes different things about The Wire, with such a large and diverse cast of characters and story lines to choose from it’s not surprising, but cigarette smoking, do rag enthusiast Omar is hard to deny as the crowd favourite. Once you have completed The Wire, it’s advisable, nay, standard procedure to prepare your smuggest face and begin explaining to any available ear that if people ‘just watch a few more episodes’ they too will understand the almost unanimous critical praise and that ‘you’ll be hooked once Omar arrives.’ Many of the characters, from both the Baltimore PD and the drug gangs, are based on real individuals and you can really tell. Minor characters feel fully fleshed-out. Even when extensive backstory is not provided, you can imagine these characters existing off-screen in this narrative universe, going about their day to day business on the streets of Murderland.
President Obama himself admitted that Omar, a man who robs drug dealers with a sawn-off shotgun, is his favourite TV character of all time. I think there are several scenes in The Wire where characters play different card or casino games but one game stands out amongst the rest. Forget your ‘Why y’all playing checkers on a chess set?”, the look Marlo gives Omar in the scene where he steals his ring is unforgettable. We haven’t seen a look that cold over a piece of jewelry since Gollum and Bilbo traded riddles in the dark. Marlo and some other key players, no pun intended, are attending a game of poker in the back room of Prop Joe’s shop when Omar arrives, his hand cannon in tow, to relieve them of their loot.
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