In the early years of The Simpsons, the writers didn’t necessarily have any long-term game plan for the show, let alone for any of its many, many supporting characters. As revealed in the DVD commentary tracks, they just tried various strategies and kept what worked. One successful tactic was picking out a throwaway joke or casual reference from a previous episode and then embroidering upon it in later shows. For example, in an episode called “Separate Vocations” from season three, Springfield Elementary‘s Principal Seymour Skinner briefly mentioned that he’d seen “some awful things in ’Nam.” As the show progressed, Skinner’s horrific experience in the Vietnam War became a cornerstone of his character. His dramatic, easily-triggered PTSD flashbacks even became a running joke on the show. Now, a supercut by a YouTuber called Beer Baron collects all of Skinner’s painful Vietnam memories in one place.
Voice actor Harry Shearer deserves credit for making this example of gallows humor a staple of the show. He’s really able to tap into some wellspring of bitterness and agony when performing Skinner’s Vietnam scenes. Some of the inspiration for these scenes must also have come from war films like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket. As the supercut reveals, the writers still felt no real obligation to be consistent with Skinner’s Vietnam experience, and the amount of time he spent as a prisoner of war changes from scene to scene. In a 1996 episode called “Team Homer,” Skinner gives Bart one especially memorable version of his backstory:
I spent the next three years in a POW camp, forced to subsist on a thin stew made of fish, vegetables, prawns, coconut milk, and four kinds of rice. I came close to madness trying to find it here in the States, but they just can’t get the spices right!