Thomas Pynchon, Sitcom Star

Friday A/V Club: The most unexpected literary joke in TV history


Viking Compass

Now that television is a certified High Art and Americans binge-watch densely woven intertextual narratives for fun, I wouldn't be surprised if you told me tomorrow that Netflix is releasing a 30-part adaptation of Gravity's Rainbow with an option for a second season. But when I settled in one Tuesday evening in 1993 to watch The John Larroquette Show, a short-lived sitcom about a recovering alcoholic managing a St. Louis bus depot, TV was a medium with more modest ambitions. So I was kind of surprised when, a couple minutes into the episode, it launched into an extended Thomas Pynchon joke. There were places I expected to see references to Pynchon's paranoid postmodern novels, but this was not one of them.

The full episode, called "Newcomer," doesn't seem to be online. (Or rather, it's online only in that cropped-and-slowed-down format that YouTubers use to avoid the copyright police.) But you can see that scene, and a follow-up sequence near the end of the episode, in the clip below. Pynchon himself signed off on the dialogue (which is a little "racially charged," as they say), and there are rumors that the famously camera-shy writer slipped onscreen as an extra. Probably false rumors, but don't let that stop you from searching for him as you enjoy a TV moment so strange that for years I thought I might have dreamed it:

Bonus links: Pynchon later had two cameos on The Simpsons. Watch 'em here and here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.