143. Bart the Fink

(originally aired February 11, 1996)
There was a time when Krusty actually had artistic integrity; he was a clown of the people, one who lived to entertain. He has some of that vigor of the past deep within him somewhere, but his enthusiasm has been replaced by his status as a celebrity, his high accolade and millions of dollars made from shoddy merchandise. He’s become so far removed from his humble roots that if you take away the fame, you’ve broken the man completely. And that’s precisely what happens in this show, as Bart inadvertently gets Krusty cited for massive amounts of tax evasion. His show (and his trademarked name) are stripped away completely, as are all of his subsidiary assets and his estate. He gets increasingly despondent about his situation, eventually culminating in him driving his plane into a mountain side, where he is declared dead.

This episode is an absolutely tour de force from Dan Castellaneta, giving his all as Krusty, loudly bemoaning his predicament and bitching about having to be a normal human being (“I was a big cheese. A huge cheese! And now look at me! I got to ride the bus like a schnook. I got to live in an apartment like an idiot! I have to wait in line with a bunch of nobodies to buy groceries from a failure!”) A key scene depicts Krusty’s show under IRS scrutiny, “Herschel Krustofsky’s Clown-Related Entertainment Show,” with Krusty in sweats forced to perform with no sets or props. Is his attempted enthusiasm his natural showmanship, or just his desire to stay on the air as a celebrity? I dunno, maybe it’s a little of both. Meanwhile Bart has to cope with ruining the life of, and then by association causing the death of his beloved hero. As a result, he seems to see Krusty everywhere, until he realizes all of his sightings had some kind of connection… maybe Krusty isn’t dead after all.

As in many classic episodes, Bart and Lisa join forces to put this mystery together; turns out Krusty is alive, reborn as Rory B. Bellows, man of the sea. Krusty seems to have had a change of heart, no longer desiring a life of notoriety and riches, but a simple life off land. I feel like I can buy this, that at his lowest point, Krusty concluded that he can begin life anew in an entirely different direction. But we’ve only got two minutes of show left so we have to get the Klown back in Krusty. Bart manages to convince him by reminding him how he’s more respected than all the country’s educators, and Krusty declares he’s not going to let them hog all the respect. I feel like the joke would have worked better if Krusty hadn’t already had a monologue about it earlier (“Everywhere I go I see teachers driving Ferraris, research scientists drinking champagne. I tried to drink a Coke on the bus, and they took away my pass!”) But regardless the status quo is restored, a fair enough end to an episode with great performances and plenty of laughs to go around.

Tidbits and Quotes
– To receive an inheritance from their deceased great aunt Hortace, the Simpsons must stay one night in a haunted house. But unlike “Homer Loves Flanders,” the joke here is that the stay is actually quite lovely (Lisa comments, “Their tap water tasted better than ours.”) In the end, each Simpson only gets a hundred dollars each, with the rest going to Ann Landers.
– Another great Springfield business: the Tacomat, now with a special: 100 tacos for $100. Comic Book Guy makes out with a wheelbarrow full, all set for a Doctor Who marathon.
– Love the running gag about the various stupid bank promotions, first with “You’ll Go Ape Over Our Car Loans” (“A professional in an ape mask is still a professional,”) the reindeer antlers, and then later in New York, “Our Interest Rates Are Through The Roof!” with a man wearing a giant house.
– Odd that Jimbo harasses Bart for only a one dollar check.
– Great laugh from Milhouse when he exposes his autographed stomach to some grossed-out girls; it’s so delightfully nerdy.
– One of the greatest scenes in the entire series is the quick bit with the Cayman Islands representative, the character design is great, and the timing of his scene is just perfect (“I’m sorry, but I cannot divulge information about that customer’s secret illegal account. …oh, crap. I shouldn’t have said he was a customer. Oh, crap. I shouldn’t have said it was a secret. Oh, crap! I certainly shouldn’t have said it was illegal. …it’s too hot today.”)
– Great bit with Kent’s tiff with an off-screen producer on his pronunciation of ‘evasion’ as ‘avoi-sion.’
– I love how uncontrollably devastated Krusty is meeting with the IRS. When told they’re going to garnish his salary, he thinks they said ‘celery,’ but he wasn’t actually joking; he’s just overtly (and loudly) distraught.
– IRS Burger is an example of a scene with ten jokes in one scene. The idea that the IRS wouldn’t just repossess the building, but open their own restaurant is stupid enough, then we have Homer ordering the various joke-titled items (“I’ll have four tax burgers, one IRS-wich, withhold the lettuce, four dependent-sized sodas, and a FICA-ccino.”) Then Pimply Faced Teen gives him a form to fill out, which Homer intently does, asking Marge what her gambling debts were for the year (“Seven hundred dollars!”)
– Love Krusty’s plane, the “I’m-on-a-rolla-Gay,” and Krusty’s sentimental memories (“I used to fly to Vegas in it with Dean Martin. One time we were flyin’ in it, and the moon hit his eye like a big pizza pie! We wrote a song about it! But it ended up infringing on one he recorded years before.”) I like the subversion that you think it’s going to be the origin of that song, but actually isn’t, making it even more stupid… and hilarious.
– I love how angry and mean Krusty is toward Bart, who is nothing but apologetic. He even considers punching a ten-year-old in the face when he asks him to, but not even he at his lowest point can go through with such a horrible thing.
– We do see Chalmers and Agnes Skinner on a date this episode, and Skinner’s wishes for a distraction from the awkwardness are answered as Krusty’s plane whizzes by (“That’ll do nicely.”)
– Great read on Chief Wiggum proceeding to the crash site (“Folks, show’s over, nothing to see here… oh my God, a horrible plane crash!! Hey everybody, get a load of this flaming wreckage! Come on, crowd around, don’t be shy, crowd around!”)
– John Swartzwelder is among those at Krusty’s funeral, who for some reason has a Kermit the Frog puppet.
– McClure is the perfect host for Krusty’s funeral (past ones include “Andre the Giant: We Hardly Knew Ye” and “Shemp Howard: Today We Mourn a Stooge.” Though a bit superfluous, I liked Bob Newhart as a guest, and his stumbling attempt at giving a speech about a man he knew nothing about. Then Troy concludes the funeral (“We’ll be sitting shivah at the friar’s club at 7:00 and again at 10. You must be over 18 for the 10:00. It gets a little blue.”)
– I love Homer’s attempt to console his son (“Don’t let Krusty’s death get you down, boy. People die all the time, just like that. Why, you could wake up dead tomorrow.”) He stares at Bart for a few seconds… then “Good night!”
– Bart blows up a Krusty balloon asking Captain McAllister if he’s seen him. The Captain mistakes the distorted face as Handsome Pete, a midget accordionist who dances for nickels, with a face just like Krusty’s, but more manic looking, perhaps the most insane idea for a Simpsons character. But we get the great line from the Captain, “Not a quarter! Yarr, he’ll be dancin’ for hours!”
– We get a semi-satisfying conclusion to Krusty’s money problems where he reveals the life of his other persona is insured for a lot of cash… then his boat explodes.

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6 responses to “143. Bart the Fink

  1. What, no mention of Handsome Pete? “Arr, not a quarter, he’ll be dancin’ fer hours!” is one of my favorite bits in the whole series.

    And there was some commentary (may have been this episode) where one of the crew members stated that their favorite stage direction from Swartzwelder is from the funeral scene: “Anyone who is anyone is there. My. Teeny is in attendance.”

  2. Bob Newhart is one of the funniest guest appearances on The Simpsons; I love his terrible funeral speech.

    It’s a small scene, but I also love when the feds bust down Krusty as he’s cooking popcorn and he shouts, “Hey hey hey hey HEY! I bought this popcorn fair and square!” You’ve got bigger problems than popcorn to worry about, Krusty.

  3. My fav. bit is DEWEY, CHEATEM, HOWE, AND WEISSMAN. I like how it subverts the old “dewey, cheatem, and howe” joke and it also kinda suggests that weissman (most likely a play on “wise man” in this case, while also being a common name in itself) maybe ruined their practice by actually perhaps being competent. It’s never mentioned by any character directly but it boggles the mind that such a simple and quick joke can resonate with you all these years later and have new depth. I mean every watch of the Simpsons is a new experience, watching the whole golden era series once a year or so is a great way to also look at yourself and see how you’ve developed and grown.

  4. According to the DVD commentary, this, along with “Grandpa vs. Sexual Inadequacy”, is one of those episodes where Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein can’t seem to remember what point they were trying to make. They’re utterly baffled throughout as to what Krusty really wants. And I think it’s kind of interesting how the people who made this show and spent so much of their time and effort to get it to be so great can look back at it ten years later and be like “What the hell were we thinking?”

  5. Just occurred to me that the thing with Kent Brockman saying “avoision” might be a reference to Shatner’s famous line to a director asking him to say “sabotage” instead of “sabo-tadge”: “I don’t say ‘sabotage’. You say ‘sabotage’; I say ‘sabo-tadge'”.

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