553. Clown in the Dumps

Original airdate: September 28, 2014

The premise:
Rabbi Krustofski kicks the bucket, and in addition to a comedy roast cutting him especially deep, Krusty has a crisis of conscious of what he should do with his life.

The reaction: Looks like it’s just about time for Krusty to quit showbiz again. What’s this, the eighth time now? This episode is basically tenuously connected scraps of Krusty stuff we’ve seen before, most obviously “The Last Temptation of Krust” with him feeling alienated from modern-day comedians. Jeff Ross and Sarah Silverman are on the roster for Krusty’s comedy roast, and Krusty gets his widdle feelings hwut. But it’s not even like he goes through any kind of change where he’s game at first, and the jokes get too real and eat away at him; instead, despite being a seasoned industry veteran, he seems bummed out the entire time, and not understand what a roast even is (“Nobody warned me this roast would treat me the same way as every roast I’ve seen and laughed at.”) What garbage writing. In “Krust,” we clearly saw that Krusty was a comic trapped in the past, whose old material didn’t connect with modern comedy sensibilities. Here, Krusty is sad just because. Bart appears later to go talk to his father to cheer him up for some reason, and when Krusty visits the rabbi at the temple, he ends up dying in mid-sentence. I guess like Mona Simpson dying with her eyes open, it was just regular ol’ old age, like God just came down and took ’em. Krusty is haunted by his father’s interrupted last word of “Eh…” on whether he thought he was funny, and ultimately quits his show because of it. He spends the rest of the episode being sad and explaining why he’s sad over and over. How do we wrap this nonsense up? Bart takes Krusty to the church of his father’s rabbi, which he just happens to know, I guess, and finds that he is using Krusty’s old jokes in his sermon, ergo, he did think Krusty was funny. Sure, that works for an ending, why not? Rabbi Krustofski was one of the series’ legacy characters who made one or two legendary appearances in the show’s prime, and then later was trotted out multiple times for fan service purposes. We’ve heard Jackie Mason’s increasingly weakening voice several times over (him straining to sing the poorly written Jewish Heaven song at the end was kind of sad to hear), but as we just saw with Glenn Close, not even killing the character will keep them from dragging them back for more. And really, what else have we learned about the good rabbi in these other appearances? Absolutely nothing. This episode wasn’t about him.

Three items of note:
– So this season premiere had a bit of buzz going into it that I recall, as the writers were incessantly teasing the “death of a recurring character who is voiced by an actor who won an Emmy for the character.” Al Jean and company were quoted a bunch, beating around the bush about how it could possibly be anyone, but I wasn’t buying that shit. I saw through this publicity nonsense fifteen years ago with Maude Flanders, and that’s when I still tolerated the show. Maude may have been a tertiary character, but at least she had a bunch of episodes under her belt, plus her direct connection to Ned, one of the main secondary cast. From the info they teased, and the fact that it was a Krusty show, I thought it might be Rabbi Krustofski, and thought, wow, if this is who they’re killing off, that makes this gimmick even more hollow and meaningless. And that’s what they did. But I get it, at this point, every year or two, they’ve got to do something of note to get some minor press. They did the LEGO episode, and then every other season, they can acknowledge a milestone, like the recent 600th episode. It’s just a “Hey! We still exist!” where everyone pretends to still like the show, and then right afterwards goes back to avoiding it like the plague.
– The B-plot was very, very scarce, and felt very strange tonally. Krusty’s speech at his dad’s funeral about how death can come before you know it gets Lisa worried about his own father’s poor health and seemingly fast-approaching demise, and she, of course, narrates everything she’s feeling (“Dad, I’m worried about your health. I don’t want to lose you!”) Later on, we get a scene of Lisa overseeing Marge struggling to keep the breathing mask on Homer’s face as she sleeps, an overly long sequence that feels more depressing than slap-sticky fun. It makes me feel sad for all involved; compare this to Lisa’s similar worry in “Bart’s Friend Falls in Love,” instead of a light, absurdist touch with quick flinging jokes like the Good Morning Burger or a dream involving lowering Homer’s carcass into his burial plot with a crane, we get this depressing scene of a wife desperately trying to tend to her sick husband who’s gasping for air. This plot ends with Lisa wrapping Homer in bubble wrap to protect him (again, it’s really sad to see a little girl this paranoid in worry about her father dying), and then her precautions being vindicated when Otto crashes the school bus through the backyard and into Homer, and the bubble wrap buffering the blow. And then that’s it, I guess. What a waste of time. At least it was short.
– Minutes before the end of the episode, Krusty awakens from a drunken coma, having just had a vision of his father telling him to help people and do good unto others. Then we see him open up a new animal shelter. A reporter chimes in with an expertly written question (“Krusty, have you fulfilled the promise you made to your father in the dream you never told anyone about?”) It’s the equivalent of making a joke about how a joke they just did isn’t funny. Krusty responds, “Somehow a brief act of uncharacteristic generosity solved nothing.” This is intolerable. It’s like the writers are incapable of pushing a plot forward without characters explicitly say exactly what is happening. Again, I might as well be listening to an audio book.

One good line/moment: Another guest couch gag, this time done by surreal independent animator Don Hertzfeldt, probably best known for the Rejected short film, which I remember being quoted ad nausea at my high school back in the day. The couch gag bears resemblance to that film, as we get a glimpse of the future incarnation of the series, where the Simpsons have been reduced to black-and-white grotesque, barely coherent, catchphrase-spewing creatures. It runs a little long as the weirdness level starts to wear a little thin, but at least it was something different. Can’t they just let Don Hertzfedlt or Michel Socha or Bill Plympton make a whole episode?


9 responses to “553. Clown in the Dumps

  1. Ererrrrrrrrrrrr

    You want a ratings grab? Try the next season premiere.
    You have been warned, Ben.


  2. On paper, the plot actually sounds like it could’ve been done well in the Oakley/Weinstein era, back when the staff knew how to mix drama amidst the wacky comedy. But it sounds like it was poorly executed here. Too bad.

    On another topic, you might want to remove my R&S reviews link from the sidebar; Blog.com has been completely unresponsive for the last year.

  3. They managed to fool 8.53 million people with this disaster.
    And even with a garbage premiere, the rest of the season was mostly decent.

  4. Liked the couch gag on this one. Don Hertzfeldt is great. Haven’t seen the actual episode, though. Probably for the better.

  5. What a rotten episode.

  6. Kaiju no Kami

    It could have been worse, it could have been Marge and Homer getting a divorce so Homer could go out with other women. Nevertheless, yeah, this was a pretty bad episode. I don’t even remember half of it.

  7. I remember back when this episode was announced there was an interview with either Al Jean or the episode writer (I can’t remember who though, and I think it might have gotten out that Rabbi Krustofski was the one to bite the dust), anyways he said that the death would be “sad and funny.” Yeah… No.

    The thing is sad and funny are completely opposite feelings and to try to make the audience feel both of those emotions at the same time is almost impossible. In my opinion they should have gone with a sad death or a funny death. Instead they try for both and as a result both feelings cancel each other out and the audience ends up feeling nothing about the scene (at least that’s what I felt when I watched this episode).

    Also the scene of Homer having trouble breathing while sleeping is one of the most awkward and depressing scenes I’ve ever seen in the series (at least in terms of scenes that were trying to be funny). It honestly felt like I was watching an old animal suffer because nobody wanted to put it out of its’ misery (much like most of the show these days).

  8. Yeah, i remember the build up to this one. I figured it was Rabbi Krustofski almost immediately, didn’t bother watching it because I knew it’d be terrible, and confirmed on the interweb later that I was correct on both points.

  9. I have to give a slight defense to the reporter/Krusty exchange. If the reporter’s question was phrased better, Krusty’s response could’ve been funny. It’s even a subversion of a traditional sitcom, where a character doing an uncharacteristic good deed suddenly makes him/her feel just fine.

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