632. Fears of a Clown

Original airdate: April 1, 2018

The premise:
When his stardom plummets due to a recent scare of creepy clown sightings, Krusty takes to serious stage acting, but must deal with his crippling insecurities. Meanwhile, Marge urges Bart to seek help for his rambunctious ways and repent for his pranks.

The reaction: The Krusty the Klown Show is one of those show hallmarks that became more and more anachronistic the longer this show has shambled on. Inspired by Rusty Nails, the Portland-local clown Matt Groening watched as a kid in the 1960s, Krusty as a character already felt like a throw-back since his inception in the 1990s. It was odd that all the kids in town loved watching the hackneyed, kiddie antics of this cheesy clown on TV, but we still went along with it because the writing was so strong and the characters so earnest. But nobody likes clowns. Nobody. They scare children, they scare some adults, and nobody thinks they’re funny. The conceit of this episode was inspired by the It remake, as well as those creepy clown sightings that were nationwide a few years back, with Krusty’s career being ruined thanks to public perception over clowns (more on why this happens in a bit). Removing his make-up and going by his real name, he bags a role in a local play, but he must deal with his inner demons of self-doubt, represented by his face in the mirror telling him how much of a fuck-up he is. This happens two or three times where he runs out of the room screaming, and it gets repetitive. Sideshow Mel is also in the play, Krusty’s worked with him for decades, you couldn’t have a scene where he confides in him or something? In the end, Krusty bashes himself in the head with a hammer on stage during an anxiety spiral, which the audience laughs at, and he does a little song and dance, then cut to after the show, he talks about how he’s famous again and everything’s alright. It’s one of this endings where it felt like they ran out of time and just condensed the climax because you know everything’s going to revert to the status quo anyway, so who cares if it’s believable or makes sense? Whatever.

There’s a lot more to unpack with the B-story; we open on Skinner supposedly retiring, we’re at his grand farewell ceremony, but it turns out it was all an elaborate ruse to prank Bart, dumping honey on him and covering him with seed. Cut to Bart sad in the bathtub as Marge is attempting to clean him up. Then later, the teachers and administrators carpool past Bart’s treehouse and the gym teacher chucks a dodgeball at his head. I get this is Bart getting his comeuppance, but it just feels weird to see the school staff going out of their way to bully and humiliate this young student. Bart gets his revenge by supergluing Krusty masks to everyone’s faces, but then that leads to people randomly in clown make-up in the woods scaring people? The transition from his to actual creepy clowns showing up to frighten people is really tenuous and I don’t quite understand it, so I won’t bother. Bart stands before a judge and is about to get a light “boys will by boys” sentence, but then Marge pipes up, wanting her son to actually suffer consequences for his actions. Fair enough, but why have this prank that broke the camel’s back be in retaliation to Skinner and the school staff pranking him first? Grown adults bullying a child, that Marge seemingly has no issue with? Bart sees a therapist, makes a run around town to apologize to all who he’s wronged, and throws a big apology party at the school, but he actually has a big tarp of water balloons at the ceiling ready to blow. But Marge telling him how proud she is for reforming himself causes him to rethink matters, but he’s too late to clear the room before the water balloons come crashing down. “Motherhood sucks!” a drenched Marge muses as she leaves the room. And that’s the end of the plot! Marge has always been the endlessly suffering heart of the show, this never-ending well of love and acceptance for her children, and her reaching the end of her rope is such an extreme emotion for her, it could be the basis of a whole emotional arc (“Marge Be Not Proud” springs to mind). Here, it’s just the ending. Boy, my son’s a fuck-up, I had such faith in him and he let me down. CUE CREDITS.

Three items of note:
– The couch gag features the family running into the Museum of Television, passing by displays honoring the longest running shows on TV and their episode count. They whizz past Gunsmoke at 635 episodes, and sit down on the couch next to it with their own series plaque of 636 episodes. Only Lisa does the math and says they’re four episodes early. Why didn’t they just make this for the 636th episode? I guess then we wouldn’t get this great miscounting joke and hear Homer say “D’oh.” So worth it. But yeah, we’re coming up on the big milestone: The Simpsons will soon be the longest-running primetime scripted television show ever in both years on the air and episode count. Congratulations, guys, you did it. I mean, a good two-thirds of the actual episodes are absolute fucking garbage, but you did it nonetheless!
– Seeing the promo image for this episode with Krusty out of make-up, it just makes it clearer how much he looks like Homer, even more so later during the play when he has his hair slicked back and he looks balder, the only distinguishing marks being the bags under his eyes. I remember way back when Matt Groening talking about the design choice, with Krusty being this TV icon that Bart worships, but he has no respect at all for his father, despite them looking almost identical. But I feel like this is the first time we’ve seen Krusty without all his makeup since “Krusty Gets Busted” (or as Rory B. Bellows in “Bart the Fink,”) so it’s something you have to address. So of course, they do it in the most ham-fisted way possible with Homer just lamp shading the fuck out of it (“He looks just like me! And Maggie looks just like Lisa! And Milhouse’s mother looks just like Milhouse’s father! Why is this universe so lazy?”) What a lazy stretch for a meta joke. We also already went through the Homer-Krusty similarity thing in “Homie the Clown” too, now that I think of it. Man, so many great old episodes.
– Llewelyn Sinclair makes his “triumphant” return, twenty-five years after “A Streetcar Named Marge.” I think he showed up one or two times in a cameo, but here he has an actual big role, serving as director for the Death of a Salesman knock-off Krusty’s in. Jon Lovitz certainly sounds twenty-five years older, his voice with less passion and energy despite mostly shouting all of his lines. Like all returning characters from the classic era, there’s nothing really funny or interesting going on. We learn so much about Sinclair in “Streetcar” with so little information, him proudly showing off his review of a grade-school play, berating but also bolstering his performers, a man who had so much passion for his cheap, nothing productions he was actively gunning for a fourth heart attack. What do we learn about him here? Nothing, really. He might be gay; he talks about maybe being “something more” with Krusty and kisses him on the lips before he goes on stage. Boy oh boy, gay people in the theater? What a trailblazing comedic trope!

One good line/moment: Nothing, really. I literally just watched it an hour ago and nothing is sticking out for me.

15 responses to “632. Fears of a Clown

  1. “He looks just like me! And Maggie looks just like Lisa! And Milhouse’s mother looks just like Milhouse’s father! Why is this universe so lazy?”

    I really hate all the meta ‘jokes’ they make in these modern episodes. In fact meta stuff in general is really starting to grate on me.

  2. Kaiju no Kami

    I don’t get the couch gag other than them trying to state how often Fox has screwed up their episode count.

    Hold up though, I thought the Bart prank plot was the A plot while the Krusty one was the B plot? It sure as hell seemed like it since it seemed like the Krusty stuff was an after thought compared to what they were doing with Bart.

    I guess it doesn’t matter since they were both awful and down right mean spirited. What Skinner and gang did was just utterly disgusting and reminded me of the shit they pulled in “Boys of Bummer.” I do agree with Marge wanting Bart to receive a punishment, but holy christ did Kavner sound like she was about to croak. Her voice is so obnoxious sounding as if they are just altering nails on a chalk board into dialog. I also don’t like how the story just kind of stops. There wasn’t any resolution to it at all.

    As for the Krusty plot (which has been done what, four times now?), it was just as bad. Jon Lovitz had absolutely no life to his character whatsoever. All it did was make me go back to his quote about fourth graders from Streetcar. That line alone had far more personality to it than he did in this entire episode. Just another Season 29 “REMEMBER THIS!?” gimmick.
    Also, the Krusty crap was just that, crap. I would rather be playing the SNES game Krusty’s (not so) Fun House than suffering this the shit he pooped out here. Just like the Bart story, there was no actual conclusion here either.

    I didn’t even chuckle a bit at all during this episode. God damn,

  3. Also the joke with Homer saying the snakes ate all the peanut brittle was taken from The Cleveland Show, yes they sunk that low.

    • Indeed, but it’s informative in what it reveals about the current writing staff’s influences and what it considers funny.

  4. How many times have times referenced passing Gunsmoke now? That seems to be the only reason this show still exists.

    Also, GAY PEOPLE LOL amirite? It’s like, they love kissing dudes, lolz! Any dudes, too, because they’re teh gay! I love how the writers caught that there are a lot of gay people in theatre, too! Timely and insightful!

    Jeebus, this has become one of the most homophobic, retrograde shows on television. I’m always shocked there aren’t calls top boycott, but I guess that would require people actually watching it to begin with.

    • Making fun of gays doesn’t mean being “homophobic”, actually. The real offensiveness comes from the stupidity of what the writers think is “funny”.
      A man kisses another man = funny!
      Not even 50 years ago you could find such simplistic view on homosexuality, and, furthermore, call it “comedy”.

  5. “He looks just like me! And Maggie looks just like Lisa! And Milhouse’s mother looks just like Milhouse’s father! Why is this universe so lazy?”

    I already said how much I HATE META-JOKES! I HATE THEM!
    But the worst thing of that sentence, is that it unintentionally underlines how anachronistic the show is.
    I mean: the character’s personality, their lives in front of the TV, the way the show is “drawn” and colored, the simple and grotesque style, and the comedic choices -be it a recurring physical gag like Homer strangling Bart, or drawing a married couple identical-, The Simpsons is, and always been a 90s classic show.

    “Why this universe so lazy?” is pathetic. It makes no sense since The Simpsons IS NOT a 2018 show, they are not being meta.. They are actually making fun of an hand-drawn 90s show for having a grotesque style. Oh, really?
    It is like laughing at Charlie Chaplin because there are no CGI explosions and aliens in his movies. Funny, I guess..

    • I honestly blame shows like Garfield & Friends and Mighty Mouse for inspiring cartoons to include more meta jokes into their scripts.

      The difference there is that those shows were written by people who know about the industry and their grievances towards how things worked. Here it’s just shitty Modern Simpsons writing (like the peanut brittle joke and constant “Boys will be boys” referencing).

      Not saying it’s good, only that it was more justifiable then than it is now where it seems like everyone’s resorting to two absolutes- Meta humor and bodily function humor to make comedy.

      • Kaiju no Kami

        Didn’t they use the “boys will be boys” stuff way back in the season where Bart and Homer are handcuffed to each other?

      • Jebus_Kwijibo

        Hate being unable to reply directly but:
        “Didn’t they use the “boys will be boys” stuff way back in the season where Bart and Homer are handcuffed to each other?”

        They did, but it was a one off deal. Not something that escalated to not only Bart being sent to rehab, but the writers implying Marge beating the shit out of her husband at the end of that plot. Because implied domestic abuse is funny, right?

      • +Jebus_Kwijibo
        I totally agree with you. I actually used to blame Family Guy and Shrek for anything that ruined animation: from meta-jokes, to pop-culture stuff, to double meaning\gross humor (I do not think Shrek is bad, but it was the movie that every other animated movie started to copy).

        But I know the problem is not the meta-humor itself, as always the problem is HOW you use it: and ZS are pathetic. I used to like meta-jokes when they were few, smart, and unpredictable; and Garfield and MM used to do it in a funny way, just like the genius Cartoon Networks shows like Dexter’s Lab or Johnny Bravo or Cow and Chicken. But nowadays there’s no artistic talent left (especially among the great companies) so they keep doing the same over and over again,- be it a style of comedy, a whole movie, a show, a franchise-, until people are fkn sick of it.

  6. Honestly, if ever there was an episode that is simply rehashed from old episodes, it’s this. And I’m NOT talking about the Krusty plot or Llewellyn Synclair. (If anything, that’s probably the most tolerable of the “Hey, remember this?”‘s from Season 29. It didn’t feel like he was just there to say, “Hey, remember this?” at all, and honestly I’d rather have him in those reappearances than Chazz Busby.)

    – The couch gag with the count being off? I don’t have a problem with it existing. I don’t even have a problem with them referencing the Gunsmoke thing. (FYI: The only other time I know of that it’s happened is the credits for Treehouse 29) It’s that it was rehashed from “The Daughter Also Rises”.
    – Homer looks like Krusty? As stated, “Homie the Clown”. (FYI: That was supposed to be a plotpoint in “Krusty Gets Busted”)
    – The kids looking alike? “Brawl in the Family”, “How Lisa Got Her Marge Back”
    – “Boys will be boys”? “Kill the Alligator and Run”, “The Parent Rap”
    – Milhouse’s parents looking alike? “Milhouse of Sand and Fog”
    – The universe being “lazy”? “Simpsorama”

  7. Anyone saying this show is still decent needs a fuckin’ bitchslap.

  8. One positive I will give the episode, though…

    It is nice to, for once, see an episode that doesn’t revolve around Homer or have him be shoehorned in for no reason. He only had one scene after the trial, if I’m not mistaken. In the HD era, I can only name three other episodes that have done that: “Flaming Moe”, “The Ten-Per-Cent Solution”, and “The Nightmare After Krustmas”.

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