Written by: Patric M Verrone
Directed by: Bret Haaland
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential
I’ve said before that I absolutely love Zoidberg but have always found episodes that put him as a protagonist to be weak. I wondered, watching this one, whether or not I was underrating this one, and I’ve decided I was but not by much. It manages to avoid the worst pitfalls of a Zoidberg episode by actually putting his ordinary motivations front-and-centre – he’s always wanted to be a standup comedian, and in general he absolutely loves the idea of being the centre of attention (“Yes, let’s all pay attention to Zoidberg!”), so having him go to Hollywood to make movies is a good idea. I’m also enough of a film and comedy buff to enjoy the exploration of silent film – it always tickles me that early holograms apparently redid silent films all over again, and I especially love the detail here that the titles leave shadows! I have often said that both The Simpsons and Futurama are post-vaudeville comedies, taking the basic rules and expectations of the genre and taking them to stranger places than the original ever dared; this is a loving look back at where we came from. I find it especially significant that the show explicitly points out the Jewishness of the comedy history it draws on; obviously, this is a big part of Zoidberg’s character, but I enjoy the reminder that this comedy is rooted in a specific cultural tradition.
One of the downsides is that the comedy is uneven. Zoidberg’s act isn’t as hilarious hacky as Krusty’s, and really comparing the two is a Goofus and Gallant in showing how to pull off ‘so unfunny its funny’. The big difference – and this points to the main difference between the two shows – is that The Simpsons knows exactly what it wants to say with Krusty and what his exact motivation and thought process is. Krusty is a professional hack who has a deep knowledge of the history of the entertainment industry and a complete disinterest in creating anything new, and the show finds a lot of clever variations on that basic concept. Sometimes it’s a joke at the expense of a specific bit of pop culture, sometimes it’s a joke where an otherwise perfectly delivered hacky joke shows his mask of good cheer slipping, sometimes it’s a bad joke deliberately delivered just badly enough to trip us up, and sometimes the joke is how poorly he understands or cares about what he’s ripping off. Zoidberg’s jokes in this episode, on the other hand, are hacky jokes delivered poorly and the punchline is that the other characters hate it. There’s probably a good joke about Zoidberg not fully understanding what he’s ripping off or why it doesn’t work (it nearly gets there with “I worked on that material my whole life!”), but the story never fully lands on that The shift in the emotional arc is less wobbly but doesn’t land either. I’ve seen people who say they love the “one die-hard fan” line, and I agree it’s a nice moment, but it feels like we get too far away from Zoidberg for the length of the third act for that finale to really land. The story builds and builds, but then fizzles before the finish line.
Title Card: Deciphered from crop circles
Cartoon Billboard: “Boxcar Blues”, 1930
Hank Azaria is another Simpsons actor migrating over, guest starring as Harold Zoid, and he is predictably great – he is basically just rehashing his Old Jewish Guy character. Joan Rivers also guest stars as her own head in a jar. The comedian from “My Three Suns” returns as MC. This episode has a lot of shots of Fry without his red jacket for no reason, which I like as a way of breaking up his visuals. Fry and Leela’s subplot is so inane and pointless that I end up loving it, though I’d love it even more if we got to see them go mad over the course of the week they were down there.
“I just pray they like me half as much as I do.”
The title is a reference to the 1974 film That’s Entertainment! Zoidberg’s stage name is a reference to Bobcat Goldthwait and his comedy style rips off Yakov Smirnoff. The Star Tours bus is a parody of Star Wars. The head of Jar Jar Binks is in the audience at the Oscars, as well as Pauly Shore and Michelle. The plot of A Close Shaving references the films of Buster Keaton and the title is a reference to the Wallace & Gromit cartoon “A Close Shave”. Star Trek: The Pepsi Generation is a dual reference to Star Trek: The Next Generation and a series of Pepsi ads – and there was, in fact, a short film by the same name.
Iconic Moments: N/A!
Next Week: “The Cyber House Rules”. “Keep adoption in mind. It’s a great way to have a kid without having sex!”