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Worldly Distractions: The Simpsons 26.1 - Clown in the Dumps





Before we get into the premiere of The Simpsons' twenty-sixth (!) season, a couple of notes. First, the famed character death is supposed to occur this episode, which was moved from last season (and no, it was not Mrs. Krabappel, her untimely demise having been forced by Marcia Wallace's sad passing). Based on the episode's title and the hint last year, I'm guessing it's Rabbi Krustofsky. Second, just in case you've been on Mars lately, the Simpsons-Family Guy crossover is playing tonight, on the latter show. I'm not going to review it because life is too short to spend hours trying to get anything out of Family Guy, but it's there if you want to check it out - I'll definitely be giving it a look.

We get the clouds with Flanders floating by as an angel - nah, it's not him - and get a billboard advertising Jimbo's bullying services. Bart's chalkboard gag informs us that Homer is not going to die tonight. Surprisingly, the opening credits are not chock full of death references, which is highly disappointing, but Lisa does play the harp in her band. The couch gag is actually pretty hilarious, as Homer takes a special remote and moves himself back in time, so that he looks like Tracy Ullman-era Homer. Then it moves forward 10,000 years to reveal a futuristic Jellyfish!Homer, and to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if it's still running then. We also get really weird, distorted Simpson family members. It's kind of frightening, like something out of The Ring. I am so having nightmares tonight. The gag was created by Don Hertzfeldt, who makes experimental cartoons like the Oscar-nominated "Rejected" (you might know it for "my anus is bleeding!"). WARNING: Link is very gory with lots of blood n' guts.

Anyway, once we're past that little vision of terror, we find Milhouse, Homer, Bart and Lisa sitting down to watch a Krusty roast. It's pretty merciless, as roasts go, with Jeff Ross and Sarah Silverman making guest appearances. Krusty is driven to despair, claiming he has no friends, and ends the show early. He decides to revamp his comedy and takes to performing on the streets. Bart suggests, rather stupidly, that he go talk to his dad, theorizing that rabbis always cheer people up. However, even his own father thinks his comedy's "ehhh". (And yes, that is the glorious Jackie Mason returned. It totally is him getting whacked, isn't it?)

...and it turns out that I'm right, as the good rabbi expires mid-sentence. We cut immediately to the funeral, where Krusty attempts to do his father right, even having the "Itchy and Scratchy" theme rewritten in Krustofsky's honour. The mourners are not impressed. Meanwhile, Homer also seems to be falling ill in the congregation, prompting a huge amount of worry from Lisa. (Also, would someone as pious as Krustofsky really have such a liberal-looking Rabbi at his funeral? Just saying.)

Lisa follows her father around, badgering him about his eating habits, as she's scared of losing him. Homer completely ignores this. Marge offers Krusty words of sympathy and botches it, naturally. Krusty also receives words of comfort from Kelsey Grammer's most reliable paycheck Sideshow Bob, who promptly gets into an intellectual catfight with a drunken Sideshow Mel.

Krusty goes to a therapist, a former clown himself, and describes himself as "a sad, tragic clown - like Liberace". As always, the therapist suggests going back to Krusty's childhood, so we get a flashback from the Simpsons version of The Jazz Singer. Basically, it's the same stuff from Like Father, Like Clown, which we've all seen, and if you haven't you need to go watch it right now. I'll wait.



Krusty leaves his therapy session no better than before, and his show is a dreary mess. You know, just like Like Father, Like Clown, only he had his dad CAN NEVER REUNITE. Then we get an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon called "Breaking Dad", because of course we do. Unfortunately, it doesn't live up to anyone's expectations, as it just features Scratchy getting blown up by a kid made of dynamite. Krusty goes berserk at the sight of a father being killed, then falls back into despair. (Also, a word appears on this show that I never thought would appear on this show, revolving around decades-old prerecorded applause.) Anyway, Krusty decides to quit the show, costing Mel his job in the process.

The local TV critic, a weird cross between Orson Welles and Roger Ebert (played by Maurice Lamarche), gives an acerbic tribute of Krusty's terrible comedy and crass personality. Faced with retirement for the umpteenth time, Krusty finds himself less than fulfilled.

Lisa remains paranoid about her father's health, and it's not very snarkable, as we all go through this at some point. The latest incident involves sleep apnea and a breathing machine. Meanwhile, Krusty's falling apart, though Mr. Teeny has found success on Broadway in The Odd Couple. (And yes, that is David Hyde Pierce as himself playing Felix Ungar, though it is sadly not Neil Simon as himself chuckling over his own genius.) Bart arrives to cheer him up, suggesting a Classic Krusty binge-watch. However, due to his aforementioned lack of talent, it doesn't have the desired effect. He goes on a different binge, comes down with alcohol poisoning, and becomes...the second character death of the episode. Or so we think. He arrives in Jewish Heaven, where "even Portnoy has no complaints". Ziing!

Here follows a barrage of Jewish jokes, about one in five of which are genuinely clever ("Joe Lieberman Presidential Library", anyone?). Before anyone gets too carried away, however, Rabbi Krustofsky shows up to explain the real Jewish belief in the afterlife, and get in one last dig at his son's sense of comedy. He asks that Krusty do good in the world. Krusty wakes up in the arms of two paramedics, and declares that he has to change his life.

Meanwhile, Marge goes to see Miss Hoover, who is concerned about Lisa's new obsession with her father's health. Krusty launches a bunch of dubious charities, but still doesn't feel right. As he's walking away, he runs into Bart, who has just been to Temple (huh?!) - but not for the reason you would think. Homer wakes up to find himself cocooned  in bubble wrap like some kind of elephant pupa. He immediately realizes the problem, and tells her that you can't cut yourself off from life. However, just then, Otto crashes the school bus into the yard. Homer is saved by the bubble wrap, and he and Lisa gleefully proceed to pop it. And thus our B-plot has a happy ending.

Meanwhile, Bart brings Krusty to synagogue, where they watch the rabbi (a longtime favourite of Rabbi Krustofsky) in action. He tells a whole bunch of Krusty's jokes, which the congregation enjoys. Krusty concludes that his father did respect him after all. We get a brief musical sequence of Krusty and his dad in Jewish heaven, singing a tweaked version of "Cheek to Cheek". The episode is dedicated to Louis "Father of Dan" Castellaneta, and the credit sequence is a collection of scenes from Krusty's roast. It's good to be back.

So it didn't have the heft of Like Father, Like Clown. Of course it didn't. It never could, because that shit is classic, and you can't touch the classics. But quite apart from some cleverly timed sight gags and solid one-liners, it really did pull off the poignant storyline that the Krusty/Rabbi Krustofsky plotline always reaps. Though the character death wasn't quite as dramatic as expected, it did work as part of an understated and nuanced episode, which really devoted a lot of attention to a complex relationship between characters, and finished up the decades-long story beautifully. The guest stars weren't horribly intrusive, and it was downright delightful to see Jackie Mason play the old rabbi one last time. Even more interestingly, the B-plot actually had some connection to the rest of the episode, and though the meat wasn't really there, it echoed the dominant themes quite nicely. For a show on its 26th season, this was a pretty good demonstration that The Simpsons still has it, even if they don't always show it. It was a good start, and even after all this time, leaves me looking forward to the rest.

Now, if only I could get that terrifying couch gag out of my mind...


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