(originally aired May 13, 1993)
So we reach the star-studded conclusion of our fourth season. Even with all of the guest stars this show has, each one is highlighted and given a standout moment, contrasted with what wastes of time celebrity appearances would turn into. But before that, we’re introduced to the phenomenon that is Gabbo, the precocious ventriloquist dummy act that usurps Krusty’s kiddie show fame. The massive media hype is not let down at all: Gabbo is pretty damn impressive. He appears to be a traditional puppet, but has his own song-and-dance routine. No way this could be a live show, but still, that must be one sophisticated animatronic. Also, there are scenes where Gabbo and his handler Arthur Crandall exchange bits of dialogue while they’re not performing, implying that Arthur may have some kind of personality disorder. I’d like to watch a show that exclusively dealt with his personal mania.
Anyway, Krusty is unable to deal with the dummy’s wave of fame and his show ends up cancelled, and eventually goes destitute. Bart and Lisa assist their hero in his time of need, and noticing framed photos of Krusty’s showbiz friends, suggest he do a spectacular comeback show to reignite his star power. The glut of celebrity guest stars works as a mimicry of similar gala TV events, but also because each one is given their time to shine. Who could forget Bette Midler’s accosting of cars of littering drivers on the freeway? Or Johnny Carson lifting a Buick over his head? Or Flea’s overenthusiastic “HEY MOE!!” As I mentioned, the episode dances around celebrity overload, but provides enough classic moments to keep it at bay. Also, once again, what kind of show is Krusty putting on? He’s a children’s performer who opens with a dour rendition of “Send in the Clowns” (wonderful, by the way) and has Hugh Hefner and Playboy bunnies on his show. But whatever, it’s a big hit, and Krusty is restored to glory.
The episode’s rather trim storyline (Krusty’s rise and fall) is helped with plenty of laughs. Itchy & Scratchy’s Eastern European replacement Worker & Parasite is absolutely amazing, a spot-on parody of bizarre off-kilter foreign experimental animation. Krusty’s dumb-founded expression at its conclusion is hilarious. As is the appearance of Crazy Old Man (who now is Old Jewish Man, because I guess the joke was too subtle for modern Simpsons.) His “Old Grey Mare” routine is a hilarious rebutt to Krusty’s “Will Drop Pants For Food” sign, then comes back in a fantastic act break where he apparently got his own TV special in a matter of minutes. This is another one of those episodes where the story is nothing to write home about, but the fantastic use of gags and other funny bits makes it a memorable and classic outing.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The epic build-up for Gabbo is great manipulative marketing. Bart smells blood in the water once the mystery is uncovered: “That cute little character could take America by storm. All he needs is a hook.” Gabbo proceeds to spout his catchphrase (“I’m a bad wittle boy”) and Bart responds with his own (“Aye carumba!”)
– Gabbo’s dancing during his musical number is wonderfully animated, again illustrating that this is one insanely sophisticated puppet. Who also does a tremendous imitation of Vin Scully. And travel back in time. I suppose that’s the doing of clever video editing… or is it?
– Love Krusty’s perverse joy in “slaughtering” the Special Olympics in the ratings.
– Krusty’s attempts to win back his audience are great: he tries his own ventriloquist act (with a giant prop mustache to disguise his poor lip sync), but the dummy is so shoddy, it falls apart and scars children for life. His next attempt also fails (“Every time you watch my show, I will send you forty dollars!” Followed by a voice-over, “Checks will not be honored.”)
– Quimby goes beyond sleazy to criminal in admitting to having his political enemies murdered, but gets away with it by parroting Gabbo’s precocious catchphrase. Next day’s paper has a sub-headline that more bodies surfaced in Springfield Harbor, but that’s not as important as Gabbo news.
– Gabbo’s crank call to Krusty is a great segment right off the bat (“Is this the callback for that porno film? Look, I was a little nervous that day, but I’m all man. I can assure you.”) Why anyone would want to see an old grotesque clown in porn is beyond me, but hey, people got all kinds of fetishes. Also love Krusty’s overenthusiastic “WOAH! ME RIKEY VERY MUCH!” Sort of foreshadows his giant teeth and dickey bit from many seasons later.
– Gabbo is unstoppable, even after on-air calling children S.O.B.s. He’s saved by Kent Brockman doing the same, but he’s fired for his blunder, almost immediately on his own show.
– I never quite understood the Elizabeth Taylor segments. I suppose that’s some kind of inside joke about her… but what? I guess the writers felt they couldn’t just blow their opportunity with Taylor for one word in “Lisa’s First Word,” just like they reused Barry White in the opening.
– I love Sideshow Mel’s quite dignity adorned with fast food regalia at his cushy job at the Gulp-N-Blow. Mel is such an underrated character; similar to Sideshow Bob in that they’re clearly intelligent thespians stuck in undermining jobs, but Mel seems more pleased with his position, and handles himself with a modicum of respect. His reunion with Krusty at the start of his comeback special is unusually touching.
Season 4 Final Thoughts
I can’t say for certain, I’ll have to wait until I’m done with next season, but season 4 feels like the bridge between 3 and 5. Dumb statement, of course it is, but I’ll explain. The Simpsons began as a traditional sitcom, very grounded and realistic to a point, but also very progressive in its content and barb. The first three seasons never really pushed this too far in terms of wacky cartoonish content. My memories of season 5, and also kinda 6, are really off-the-wall. Latter classic Simpsons is a bit more unhinged and ridiculous, with lots of silly gags and conceits, but is still made palatable by the foundations of the characters, and its fair share of emotional moments. Season 4 is the lead-up to this: we’ve seen in numerous instances with crazy stories (“Marge vs. the Monorail”) and other bizarre gags (the giant spider, Lisa’s acid trip) that the show is going to this weird place. But the balance isn’t there yet. Season 4 has a lot of fantastic episodes and great moments, but as a whole, doesn’t feel as cohesive as season 2 or 3. The show will continue to evolve, but into something just as astounding. I still salute you, season 4. Thanks for the funny. I’ll be back this weekend, roaring and ready for season 5.
“A Streetcar Named Marge,” “Lisa’s First Word,” “Homer’s Triple Bypass,” “I Love Lisa,” “Last Exit to Springfield”
“Marge Gets A Job” and “Brother From the Same Planet” stand out, only in that they don’t really stand out.