Since one of the most recent Simpsons episodes used Carl as a fairly major character, I thought a look at him and his best friend Lenny might be in order. They have been shown as Homer’s co-workers throughout the run of the show, and came to be used in scenes outside of work as well. It kind of seems like they’re now the go-to characters for when Homer needs someone to hang out with, replacing Barney Gumble in this role.
I think this is partially due to the fact that Barney sobered up and became addicted to coffee instead in the eleventh season, making him harder to write for. While he later relapsed, I have to wonder if the writers got used to not using him quite as much. I think it was around the sixth season that Lenny and Carl started being shown as regulars at Moe’s Tavern; prior to that it was usually just Homer, Barney, and a group of largely undefined barflies who appeared in those scenes. Two of these barflies did have names, Larry and Sam, but they never became significant characters.
Eventually, Lenny and Carl received the last names Leonard and Carlson, respectively, and were established as childhood friends of Homer’s, having met him at a camp for disadvantaged youth.
I get the impression that Carl’s race was assigned pretty much haphazardly, simply to bring some diversity to Springfield, and I don’t recall his being black ever being the subject of jokes in the early years. Later it would be occasionally, and one recent episode had someone call him a black guy who talks like a white guy.
While the earliest appearances of Lenny and Carl didn’t always show them together, they gradually grew into somewhat of a comic duo, with Carl obviously the smarter and more competent of the two. There are frequent jokes about how close the two of them are, often bordering on but never quite stating the idea that they’re a couple. That said, both men have been demonstrated to be heterosexual, occasionally mentioning girlfriends and even wives. There might have been a time when I could have tried to tie together different portrayals of their love lives in different episodes, but there are now so many episodes that I’d be sure to forget a few. The current status quo seems to be that both of them live alone, perhaps suggesting that they’ve been divorced. It appears to be an unspoken rule that Lenny lives somewhere different each time we see his home; he was once shown as a squatter in an abandoned house, while other times he’s had a quite swanky apartment. It’s possible that this was being alluded to when Lenny praised Carl for helping him move, even though he’d just moved the previous week.
As far as the characters’ pasts go, the episode “My Mother the Carjacker” has Homer’s mother mention Lenny and Carl’s childhood friend Stevie McGregor, who had since died. Both of them attended Springfield A&M, and are said to have master’s degrees in nuclear physics. As revealed in “The Saga of Carl Carlson” (and apparently hinted at in an earlier episode, which I’d totally forgotten about (the hint, not the episode)), Carl spent part of his childhood in Iceland, having been adopted by an Icelandic couple. Since he’s been shown as a child in Springfield, I have to wonder whether his parents immigrated to the United States and then returned to Iceland even though they were in disgrace there, or sent Carl off to live with someone else. Fans have noted that Carl makes a reference to “our mother” to Lenny in “Little Big Girl,” so perhaps Carl was raised by Lenny’s family after leaving Iceland. Hey, it could be, right?
I suppose I should also mention Charlie, another co-worker at the power plant seen mostly in early episodes. In “The Last Temptation of Homer,” Mr. Burns sends him through a tube to the Middle East and replaces him, but he’s seen back at the plant in later episodes. I guess if Burns is willing to re-hire Homer numerous times, there’s no reason he wouldn’t do the same for Charlie. Nonetheless, he hasn’t made too many notable appearances since then. One exception was in “The Trouble with Trillions,” in which he’s arrested after threatening to have his militia beat up local officials.