647. Krusty the Clown

Original airdate: November 25, 2018

The premise:
On the run from the law, Krusty lies low in disguise as the circus, only to come to love being an authentic circus performer. Meanwhile, Homer takes on a new job as a TV recapper, only to discover a conspiracy involving our current “peak TV” climate.

The reaction: I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but this episode re-reminded me just how incongruous the Krusty the Klown Show is in the year 2018. Lisa tasks Homer with doing recaps of the show, which is what exactly? We see Krusty, Mel and Mr. Teeny doing a hula dance against a fake set, then we see an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. At the end of the show, apparently Chris Pine did a guest appearance, and from the photo in a newspaper it seems he and Krusty did a Star Trek sketch. So is it like Saturday Night Live for kids? Krusty’s show has always been a catch-all for a bunch of different TV parodies, but as time goes on, his status as a renowned entertainer makes less and less sense. But anyway, Krusty literally tries to kill Homer in a rage while driving, getting them both in an accident. Bart somehow rushes to the scene and gets Krusty out of there before police can press charges. They do a “hilarious” bait-and-switch where you think Bart’s actually concerned for Homer’s well being but he runs to Krusty, but… his beloved TV hero just tried to strangle his father to death. Bart tags along with Krusty for the rest of the show, and he makes no mention of this incident going forward. Krusty hides out at a local circus under the alias “Soggy,” only to find his new fellow performers are true professionals who hate sell-out TV clowns. So Krusty needs to step his game up and rekindle his love of performing to go toe-to-toe with these guys… or he can get drunk and perform a crazy stunt by accident and that makes everything okay. But just as Krusty starts to truly embrace his new life, the circus has to close its doors (“A terrible video got out.” “Which one?” “The video we sell here at the circus.”) Don’t see how that makes sense, given how filled the seats have been and how excited the crowds seem at their performances. Do people even go to the circus anymore? Surely they must, but I imagine the industry can’t be doing too hot. Maybe they could have been a struggling performance troupe which causes Krusty’s long-dormant inner enthusiastic performer to come out and act as mentor to these amateur clowns. Considering the B-plot involves an over-abundance of streaming television people are watching (or not watching), I think the decrepit circus concept would have played better.

Said B-plot features Homer getting into the world of TV recapping, summarizing one’s thoughts and opinions about a variety of different shows after they air. Man, what kind of pathetic loser would do that? He’s of course great at it, and renowned the Internet over for his work, as all Simpsons are immediately the best at everything they try ever. He even incorporates it into his foreplay, which I thought was actually kind of cute, but then Marge gets irrationally pissed off at him, so I guess it was supposed to a sign that he was getting too invested in his work. The climax involves Homer facing down the head of Google-Disney (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz), who goes on a big monologue about how “peak TV” is all a scam: there’s hundreds of shows out there, but most of them aren’t even produced; they know no one has time to watch that many shows, all they want is people’s subscriber fees. I actually kind of like this reveal (paired with Serafinowicz’s great performance), but I feel like there could have been more to it. The incredibly populated TV landscape and the psychology of what you’re gonna watch, one’s ever growing backlog of media to consume, and using streaming services in general, that’s more than enough material for an entire episode, not playing second fiddle to Krusty fucking around at a circus. Though I did appreciate them tying the two plots together at the end, with Krusty getting declared not guilty by a jury deeming his attacks justified due to Homer’s scathing B- review. These last couple episodes have actually had some decent stuff in them, but there’s still that ever present stagnation the show’s been lounging in for the last fifteen-plus years that’s hard to shake.

Three items of note:
– So yeah, Krusty as a modern day performer doesn’t really make sense anymore. From way back in 1990, Krusty and his show was an homage to the low-budget but charming children’s television programs, with Portland, Oregan’s favorite clown son Rusty Nails being the direct inspiration for the character. Krusty being a hometown performer who amused children with his cheesy buffoonery worked back then, and any joke about him being a higher level celebrity or getting knighted was funny because it was so absurd that a low-level children’s performer was considered at all notable outside the jerkwater burg he had fame in. But by the mid-to-late-90s, TV clowns went extinct, and by the time everyone got satellite TV and smartphones, locally produced television shows kind of disappeared as well. In an age of YouTube and streaming, what kid would waste their time and watch a rinky-dink, no-effort show like Krusty’s nowadays? It’s another instance of the ever-frozen cast of characters being more and more antiquated as culture marches forward.
– At the circus, we’re introduced to “hippo juice,” a strange purple concoction that circus folk drink, and eventually Krusty develops a taste for as well. It’s used as a joke multiple times in the episode, the performers drinking it is used as an act break joke… We see people drinking it so much, I was expecting there to be some kind of twist of what the drink actually was, or some kind of capper joke to it all. But no, nothing. I guess we’re just supposed to think the name “hippo juice” is funny enough to sustain multiple bits.
– In the end, Krusty saves the circus by letting them turn him into the police for the reward money. But when he’s let off and goes back to the circus to plea for his job back, they still rebuff him. Honestly, why not have him go with them? I know status quo is God, but I think when you’ve run almost 650 episodes, you need to start trying new things. They’re done a few shows where they shake the format up or try different stories, but the characters have remained stagnant since their creation. Why the fuck not have Krusty leave Springfield, at least for a little while? The Simpsons could go see him on the road, Sideshow Mel could take over the Klown show… I’d love to see new things happen to shake up the series’ foundations just a little bit, but it’s like Springfield is forever stuck in formaldehyde.

One good line/moment: Like last episode, actually a couple decent moments. The final scene of Homer’s story was probably the best isolated scene this show has done in years, even if the whole twist could have been handled a little better. But man, that Serafinowicz has got one dynamite voice (“There is no USA Network! There hasn’t been for twenty years! It’s just bus ads!!”)

If I may wax positive very briefly, this season has been noticeably less terrible so far. By no means is this show anywhere close to good, but episodes at least have had a handful of jokes in them. I used to think as the seasons went on, this show was in a never-ending free fall to a creative nadir that they’d never reach. But, at least for now, it looks like season 28 was the actual bottom, which had some of the worst episodes of television I’ve ever seen. Season 29 wasn’t nearly as bad, and now season 30 has noticeably increased in quality slightly. It’s like these two years has been the show attempting to claw and scrape out of the bottom of a pit. Will they manage to resurface and regain some sense of greatness? I’m gonna take a safe bet and say ‘no,’ but I’m at least a little glad to see a little bit of effort in these episodes again.

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5 responses to “647. Krusty the Clown

  1. Big John's Breakfast Log

    Oh my God, this episode. We got a lot to chew on this.

    The swerve where Bart is far more concerned about Krusty than Homer makes sense if you’re a longtime viewer because Bart idolizes a TV figure far more than his own father, but the show often wants to treat the viewer as if they are watching for the very first time, which is why they hate the word “continuity”, so a joke where a boy is worrying for the safety of a man who tried to kill his own dad likely would come off badly. Also, the deus ex machina ending where Krusty is pardoned feels like every lazy first draft attempt at writing jury humor, when you realize they did much better work 25 years ago with “The Boy Who Knew Too Much”. The jurors may have been quick to press guilt on Freddy Quimby, but they were using the evidence they had on file and in the courtroom, and just wanted to go home and back to their lives, whereas Homer simply wanted to stall just so he could have an all-expenses paid vacation in a fancy hotel. The clearly biased jury side with the defendant because the critic didn’t give his show “nine thumbs up” or something, which is what perks Krusty’s mood at the very end because Ralph posts an incredibly stupid review… which goes against the establishment that the show set in which Krusty would read each review he get. Had he read the “idiot” review, wouldn’t he have gotten angrier? Eh, he got what he wanted, so happy ending.

    The circus bits were mostly lame, particularly due to how they absolutely despise “TV clowns”, even though it’s 2018 and Krusty is technically the only TV clown left in existence, and still hate him even though Krusty saves their circus twice; once by actually making their show entertaining, and again by turning himself in and giving them the bounty money. The fact they still hold that against him at the end in spite of him doing uncharacteristically good deeds is a groin kick designed to make you feel stupid for caring, and also creates the illusion that the show still has a “heart”. Whenever episodes nowadays try to establish a setting in which there is thought or meaning to a character’s actions, there must be an undercut to it to make a joke about having emotions because having emotions is for geeks or something. Also, the “nerdy girl becoming hot” joke doesn’t work when she’s got a full beard.

    Going back to the jury decision, it made sense for people to be angry at Homer when he was a food critic in “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner?” when after getting told by his fellow critics at the newspaper that the only approach to the job is “overwhelming negativity”, so Homer became a contemptuous snoot. Here, Homer just becomes super analytical, like he’s embroidered in a fantasy football league and is just giving out personal grades, with the joke being that the grades don’t often match what he says. If Homer was just wandering around going “Worse Episode Ever!” like the writers assume all us fans who believe in the Zombie Simpsons phenomena act, you could maybe make that ending work, but in this scenario, he actually is putting effort into what he’s seeing, and isn’t just liking something because it has a football in the groin.

    The only two jokes I liked were Krusty’s calliope song where he’s embracing death and the USA Network comment. The former is rather controversial, but compared to a previous comment you made about the show making jokes about Nelson’s poverty or Moe being suicidal, a character like Krusty who is often unlikable wanting to end it all tends to be humorous since unsympathetic characters getting beaten up or humiliated often wind up causing your emphatic side to take a vacation. Like, in American Dad!, if something bad happens to Steve Smith, such as when he was getting hazed at Arizona State, you feel bad, but when something happens to Stan Smith or especially Roger, you enjoy it because you feel like they’re getting their comeuppance. And, the latter is sort of an indictment on how we take cable networks for granted, considering that we hear of networks like Bravo and CMT but very rarely look them up even if we’re channel surfing. Unfortunately, as a WWE fan (who has been enduring especially bad wrestling as of late), I kind of wish this joke was reality.

    I know you probably enjoyed this episode a bit more, but I feel like this ranks worse than “Bart’s Not Dead”. I still think “Heartbreak Hotel” will stay as the worst episode of the season, however.

  2. Not gonna lie. I actually really like the concept of Krusty being a circus performer. That’s what I seem to notice with a lot of these season 30 episodes their concepts are much better than their execution. It’s like the second coming of season 10.

    Speaking of season 10 though, the fact that you’re admitting that this season seems to be an elevation in quality makes me wonder… Maybe the show could at least go back to the quality of the Scully seasons? I mean I hate seasons 10-12, but they still occasionally knew funny and are complete gems compared to the schlock we’ve gotten since the start of the HD era. Time will only know. This was the last episode from the XAB production. Next week will begin the YAB production. “Daddicus Finch,” I don’t expect you to be another “Friend with Benefit” or “Lisa Gets the Blues” but you better make Mike smile at least a couple of times.

    • True. While people sometimes heralded “Saddlesore Galactica” and “Kill The Alligator and Run” either as shark-jump points, and some still call them the Worst Episodes Ever, at least they had some pretty quotable lines, notably “I didn’t say they couldn’t, I said you shouldn’t!” and “You’re stealing my trailer! I like that.” It’s possible the show could return to that level of quality – piss-poor storylines but quotable content.

  3. That USA joke is pretty funny. If the middling reviews continue (“middling” being a significant improvement over the past 15 seasons), I might check this out.

    Ironic, perhaps, that the show recognizes the ever-growing, impossibly enormous amount of television available to watch and seems to believe that The Simpsons should be on viewers must-view list.

  4. I haven’t watched last week’s episode yet, but this week’s was down right boring. The only time I even remotely laughed was when Homer made his tweet about Krusty trying to kill him. Other than that, I sat there waiting to laugh the entire time. Naturally, the whole plot is pointless because it all reverts back to status quo in the end.

    Also, what was up with CBG coming to see Homer as if he has never known him before? And who was that woman with him? Where was Kumiko?

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