It’s a good time to be Bill Hader. He has a new HBO show on the way, he’s going back to his old Studio 8H stomping grounds to host Saturday Night Live on March 17, and (in a bit of TV serendipity) the following day he’ll make a return trip to Springfield. After getting some driving lessons from Marge in season 24’s “The Fabulous Faker Boy,” the Barry co-creator and star takes on a new role in this Sunday’s episode of The Simpsons, playing Manacek, the turtleneck-sporting private investigator who’ll either clear Homer of a major art theft or send the Simpson paterfamilias to prison for a very, very long time.
Manacek oozes an old-school machismo, comparable to past Hader personas like Vinny Vedecci and Jerry Wallach. When asked what he enjoys about playing that type of character, Hader told The A.V. Club “I guess just how self-important those guys are and, in retrospect, how ridiculous they look. There’s just something about the way they carry themselves—there’s a cluelessness to it that really makes me laugh.”
As described by the episode’s writer, executive producer Matt Selman, “Homer Is Where The Art Isn’t” is a formal departure for The Simpsons, akin to the fourth-wall-busting “Behind The Laughter” or the sports documentary parody “22 For 30.” It’s presented as an episode of Manacek’s eponymous detective show, itself inspired by actual ’70s show Banacek, in which George Peppard cracked cases, scored big paydays, and pitched woo as Boston insurance investigator Thomas Banacek. “There’s a certain fun we’re having with that ancient, ancient, ancient style of television that hasn’t been had in a while,” Selman said.
In a first-look video, Hader says he knew exactly what his character sounded like based on his appearance and natty, Nixon-era wardrobe. “Bill can lock in on a character in practically real time,” Selman said. “Manacek doesn’t have any jokes in the show. The joke is just the tone of voice he uses and the kind of lame, half-witticisms the characters on these shows used to say.”
“I felt like I was doing a character solely for him, and him alone,” Hader said of Selman. “And he might be the only one who enjoys the episode!”
While Manacek has his roots in the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie, the episode’s art-world setting is a tribute to late Simpsons scribe Kevin Curran. Prior to his death in 2016, Curran pitched an idea for an episode based on cash-strapped municipalities selling their publicly owned assets—like the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts—in order to settle their debts. That concept was married to another writer’s affection for Banacek, and “Homer Is Where The Art Isn’t” was born.
But if Hader were to pitch his own Simpsons story, what would it look like? “I wouldn’t have the balls to pitch a Simpsons script,” he said. “Those guys are comedy geniuses, I would probably just sit and listen.”