The Simpsons, Season Four, Episode Twenty-Two, “Krusty Gets Kancelled”

I have this idea that a great protagonist is someone caught between two completely contradictory drives, and from this perspective, Krusty is one of the best side characters on The Simpsons. On the one hand, he has a compulsive need to perform, right down to his bones; on the other, he hates basically everything about the entertainment industry. I think what makes The Simpsons near-unique on TV is its ability to imbue its characters with archetypal power, and Krusty is the entertainment industry in this respect, loving the craft and performing and getting shitloads of money even as he hates everything else that comes with it. The fact that he’s a TV clown, something that wasn’t even relevant at the time the show began, only serves to make that archetypal power goddamned hilarious.

The episode is a classic fall from grace story, with Bart and Lisa serving as witnesses and helpers to Krusty’s riches-to-rags-to-riches – in this way, reduced to their own archetypes of Kids and Fans. It’s through Bart’s eyes that we see Krusty’s oncoming rival Gabbo, in a brilliant parody of the hype machine via demonstrating what it looks like in Springfield, and it’s Bart who toasts Krusty at the end; this show could get antagonistic with fans at times, especially as it developed its own, but I usually took that in good humour because episodes like this showed how well it understood fannish impulses.

This was part of a broader understanding of pop culture’s place in society as a whole. Stories, characters, and symbols give us shorthand; the pre- and post-Gabbo scenes of Springfieldians reacting to him and incorporating him into their lives and speech shows how that works, with my favourite being Mayor Quimby working Gabbo’s catchphrase into his speech to literally get away with murder; Krusty wants to be the guy who gets to create that, to be iconic the way Bette Midler or Hugh Hefner are. The Simpsons gets what he gets out of that, and it gets what we get out of having icons, and it can spin jokes out of both.

The last third of the episode is taken up by the Komeback special, and thus by one of my favourite kinds of comedy: sheer absurdity played completely straight. We’ve often documented the show putting a needless amount of detail and accuracy into shots; here, that’s given the laser-focused goal of recreating cheesy TV specials. The whole thing is great, but my favourite is Krusty’s opening song, a mournful rendition of “Send In The Clowns”, complete with the half-fade between a long-shot and a close-up, Dan Castellanetta’s sincere singing, the animation of Krusty’s mugging, and Sideshow Mel pulling a Han Solo and showing up at the end of the song despite having initially refused to join. It genuinely bringing a tear to my eye only makes me laugh all the harder.

With all this in mind, I find the final gag interesting. Beloved commentor wallflower once talked about ending music in movies, and the specific point he makes that I was thinking of was how ending a movie on the same theme we began on brings us back to the real world. Ending the episode on an accordion performance of the theme is kind of a “That’s all folks!” bit of vaudeville. But it’s also kind of sentimental, especially with this being the last episode of the season; as if to say, we know we’re just as iconic and important as anything we make fun of, but it’s over now, go back to the real world. Possibly I’m just being a Fan.

Chalkboard Gag: I will not charge admission to the bathroom.
Couch Gag: The family get caught in a net trap.

This episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by David Silverman. Marge doesn’t saya  single line, because Julie Kavner protested the overuse of guest stars. The guest star concept was difficult, due tt guests dropping out; the crew hoped to get an ex-President, but the only one who responded said no. Ultimately, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Johnny Carson, Luke Perry, and Bette Midler accepted, with Barry White and Elizabeth Taylor filling in on top of their other episodes. Carson and Midler had conditions; Carson didn’t like being portrayed as a moocher, so the writers made him hypercompetent, and Midler wanted attention drawn to her anti-littering cause.

Krusty approaching RHCP about changing their lyrics is a parody of a similar situation on The Ed Sullivan Show with The Doors, and several of their poses are taken from The Doors (movie). Worker And Parasite is a reference to Soviet cartoons, and gets as much sincere effort as everything else, with Silverman xeroxing pages to make them stutter. Gabbo’s name is lifted from the 1929 film The Great Gabbo, and he’s a combination of Howdy Doody, Jerry Lewis, and Pinocchio. Bette Midler serenading Krusty is a reference to her doing the same thing to Carson. Several scenes in Krusty’s special are a reference to Elvis Presley’s ‘68 Comeback special. Hugh Hefner plays Peter And The Wolf on glasses.

Iconic Moments: “What the hell was that?” / “If this is anyone other than Steve Allen, you’re stealing my bit!”
Biggest Laugh: The hardest I have ever laughed at a television show was when I was ten years old: the Crazy Old Man Dancers, a truly Swartzwelderian escalation of already hilarious absurdity, staged perfectly so that we only hear the singers and see Krusty’s nonplussed reaction.

Season Four Retrospective

So, there were slightly more duds than I remembered, but only one that I would consider inessential. Technically, that breaches my definition of a Golden Season, but I would still be prepared to defend this is as the start of the Golden Era of the show; even that episode is filled with great, iconic gags (“Uh, revenge?”). Part of the reason I can tell we’re in the best years of the show is because I really have to work to keep up with the standards of the show – the crew are a well-oiled machine, working together with a rhythm and chemistry that seems to generate magic, while I’m just (counts fingers) one man, trying to understand and explain what’s more of a collective way of seeing the world than a process.

In that respect, I’d like to thank you all once again for going on this journey with me. I don’t always respond to it, because I try to keep the circle-jerks to the end-of-season retrospectives, but I deeply appreciate those of you that keep coming back every week and making this into a fruitful discussion as well as The Avocado memes, and I’m glad to bring a tiny thrill into your gray little lives.