(originally aired February 3, 1994)
Being meta is a tricky thing to pull off. Creating part of an episode, or even a joke that is self-referential of your show can come off as being too overt or out of place, or even a little smug. It has to work into your universe, and here it perfectly does. The Krusty the Clown Show is already a hotspot for jokes about the inner workings of television and its personalities, and Bart accidentally becoming the new flavor of the month with a quirky catchphrase is a wonderful parody of the initial fame of The Simpsons itself, with Bart Simpson T-shirts aplenty. It’s a great episode that not only pokes fun at the gratuitous content, but also the fickleness of the viewership; it’s a perfect feedback circle… of crap.
We start off with an exciting school field trip to the box factory, one of the show’s greatest set pieces. The idea of it is boring enough, but the mostly empty factory, limply moving conveyor belts and deadpan tour guide sells it even more, making something so mind-crushingly boring as hilarious as possible. Bart manages to escape to the neighboring TV studio, where he stumbles into a job as Krusty’s assistant. We see Krusty at his more asshole-ish here. Firstly, he doesn’t even recognize Bart, despite having saved him from prison and reuniting him with his father, and then he basically uses and abuses him through most of the second act with various insane odd jobs. Bart isn’t even safe during school hours (“Bart, I need to get your fingerprints on a candlestick. Meet me in the conservatory, chop-chop. Don’t worry, everything’s gonna be aaaall right.”) He’s your typical Hollywood blowhard taking advantage of the little folk, even if they are a precocious ten-year-old fan. Bart is asked to fill in a bit part on the show, which turns catastrophic. Covering his bases with an instinctual “I didn’t do it,” he inadvertently invents a catchphrase that would take the country by storm.
Now Krusty does all he can to milk this cow until it’s good and dry. Charging money to witness the boy, record deals, and sketch after sketch of the same damn joke over and over again. What gets most interesting in the third act is Bart getting exhausted of his fame, hoping people can look beyond him being a one-line wonder. I would think this is like both writers hoping people will see The Simpsons beyond its easy-to-grasp gimmicks and catchphrases plastered on merchandise, or writers going to other projects and not being pigeonholed for doing The Simpsons. Either way, Bart manages to shake off his frustrations and give the people what they want… only to find out his schtick is old hat. Krusty sums it up best: “That’s show business for you: one day you’re the most important guy that ever lived, the next day you’re some shmoe working in a box factory.” It’s an interesting, entertaining show about being flash-in-the-pan, the rise and fall of a one-hit wonder, and the vacuous nature of catchphrases. In kind, the show ends by spouting each and every one of them.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Great opening bit with Homer reading his horoscope (“‘Today will be a day like every other day.’ D’oh! It just gets worse and worse!”) I feel later, Homer would develop this cocky air about himself, but here is true Homer: blissfully ignorant at times, but aware that his station in life sucks.
– I love how brutal Lisa’s fantasy is, her greatest dream involves inadvertently killing her brother (“Impaled by my Nobel Peace Prize. How ironic.” Later, Bart attempts to escape into fantasy, but with a television-ruined mind can’t come up with anything outside reality.
– We get a bit more insight into Bumblebee Man, who seems to be a consummate professional who doesn’t want to insult his audience with tired old gags. So instead of getting bit in the ass by a lobster, they use a giant mouse trap (“I love it!”)
– Great over-the-top line reading on Homer, finding Bart’s lucky red hat on top of a box (“He’s a box! My boy’s a box! Damn you!! A box!!“) Also, great addendum at the start of the second act when he comes running in to the house with the box (“I have some horrible, bone-chilling news!!”) only to be pulled back when Bart walks in the room.
– More ineffectual reporting: Kent Brockman adjusts the news to suit his fancy (“Tragic news tonight: 120 dead in a tidal wave in Kuala Lala… Kuala Lum… France!”)
– I like Bart’s innocent response to Krusty tossing him his towel (nice Mean Joe Green reference): “Wow, a big clown hanky!”
– Homer is at his most brain-dead when Bart talks about working for Krusty, first in his rant against helping poor people (which the family pauses after, then chooses to ignore) then Homer injecting his story about being a terrible street musician. After the fantasy, he gives his son his blessing to get an electric guitar, which is nothing like what they were talking about at all. The bit is saved by Homer using his reassurance voice (“Gig, son. When you’re a musician, a job is called a ‘gig.'”)
– I don’t see why people would wait in line to Bart to sign photos of Krusty for Krusty, who is sitting a fair distance from the table smoking. Love his coldness towards an eager little girl fan.
– Another great Dan Castellaneta performance as Sideshow Mel, simultaneously screaming at Bart and vomiting all from behind the bathroom door.
– Krusty gets all the best lines in this show, with not bothering to remember whether his sidekick is dead or just sick, to the slow build-up to him telling Bart is finished, pausing to open the stage door, just in time to reveal all of the swarming fans. He immediately changes his tune (“He’s mine! I own him and all his subsidiary rights!”)
– Great appearance by Conan O’Brien, of course former writer on the show, and at the time recent graduate to late night television. Delivers one of the best lines of the entire series (“Sit perfectly still. Only I may dance.”)
– I love the runner about repetitiveness in television (“I shouldn’t let this bother me. I’m in television now. It’s my job to be repetitive. My job. My job. Repetitiveness is my job. I am going to go out there tonight and give the best performance of my life.” “The best performance of your life?” “The best performance of my life!”
– Love the crowd’s disappointed nature over Bart’s improv as they leave in disgust (“That’s what passes for entertainment these days, woozle wozzle?”) and the announcer’s announcement (“Ladies and gentlemen, the Klown Show has been put on hiatus for retooling.”)