The Simpsons: Fears of a Clown, Review

There’s an old saying that goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same. It speaks to an underlying consistency that somehow orders what we do. In many ways this phrase quite succinctly summarizes The Simpsons. All the characters have remained essentially the same since the beginning and yet all around them things have changed. We’ll never really know what its like to see the kids grow up or Marge and Homer in old age (future episodes aside). But that’s part of the beauty of this show: for all the changes the family remains who they are. And yet it’s also the cause of one its problems.

After last week’s fiasco, the writers have basically declared open season on continuity. So it’s interesting that this week they go back to similar tropes and storylines. In Fears, we get two familiar ones: Marge disappointed in Bart and the Krusty ‘Komeback’ (sorry I couldn’t resist). The delivery of these falls short which is in no small part due to the saying I mentioned above.

Marge/Bart

Bart is always going to be a prankster (and he’s delivered some gems over the years). But every now and then he’s confronted with the disappointment of his mother. In Fears, Skinner plays an elaborate April fool’s joke on Bart which involves Skinner perpetuating a rumor that he’s going to retire. My favorite bit is how the music class spreads the lie with their musical instruments and Mr. Largo correctly interpreting the message. Bart gets revenge by gluing clown masks on everyone but gets caught.

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PHOTO SOURCE: The Simpsons, Fox

The dilemma here is not properly played out. Marge and Homer do their bits, the former being concerned and the latter very nonchalant. In fact, Homer is quite insignificant here since, almost literally, the only lines he has are: “boys will be boys”. We then get a courtroom exchange that goes by so quickly it renders Marge’s protestations without any force. She gets the result she wants (Bart going to rehab) but the impact just isn’t quite there.

The scene in the rehab center is nice but really only because of the glaring callbacks to earlier episodes. Bart can’t resist and puts thumb tacks on the chair expecting the Doctor to sit on them but the latter invites Marge in to take a seat. Bart is conflicted and the Doctor goats him  the entire time fully aware of the prank until Bart caves. This of course is a callback to season 6’s The PTA Disbands where Bart undoes all the pranks meant for the substitute when Marge takes over. Of course, gags are reused all the time and there’s nothing wrong with that but really the only good thing about this scene was how it reminded me of the past. The brief exchange between Marge and the Doctor was better when she says behind the one way glass:

Marge: I know he can’t see me but can he still feel my love? Doctor: I’m afraid the glass blocks that too

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PHOTO SOURCE: The Simpsons, Fox

Bart then goes on an apologizing mission which itself is kind of cool. In fact, if they did an entire ‘My Name is Earl’ type episode that might make for some good television. Instead Bart gets cut short at his second apology to Willie and falls off the wagon. In his final scene he’s about to apologize to the school but has one prank left (falling water balloons as everyone sits). Marge joins the crowd and Bart has second thoughts, telling people to run. That’s of course too late and everyone gets wet and Marge silently walks off to the bathroom where its assumed she takes out her anger on Homer.

Perhaps I expected more out of Marge and her defeated look at the end. I half expected there to be one more scene between the two where we get a confrontation but no. Perhaps this is just the natural progression of Marge’s feelings towards Bart’s pranks. What more can she actually do? People can and do change but their core remains intact.  There have been other better versions of this storyline, the best one being season 7’s Marge Be Not Proud. But am I holding The Simpsons to a too high standard? That question might be better left to another more in depth article.

Krusty

I won’t say much about the Krusty storyline because that too felt rather inconsequential. In the aftermath of Bart’s revenge prank, the city goes through a clown hysteria and people don’t want to tune into his show. Lisa suggests he turn to serious acting which he does. Krusty joins a local theater group playing a Death of a Salesman knockoff. Jon Lovitz guest stars and pleasantly reprises his role as director Llewellyn Sinclair.

At first Krusty can’t do it but is motivated by Sinclair and actually performs well. That is until his inner clown (and father) speaks to him and tells him he can only be a comedian. Ultimately, he gives in and makes the crowds laugh and we end with a Star Wars-esque ghost scene where Shakespeare pokes fun at Arthur Miller.

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PHOTO SOURCE: The Simpsons, Fox

Again, we’ve seen this before in season 9’s The Last Temptation of Krust. But again, there’s nothing wrong with rehashing. In fact, it’s perfectly plausible in this case because careers do experience high’s and low’s.  Yet the treatment of that arc is too fast. Krusty gets one whiff of laughter from the audience and he completely abandons acting. It might have actually been better to let Krusty go down this path but still retain his comedic elements a la Bill Hader or Steve Carrell.

All in all this episode was just average, but overly familiar and not dealt with in the same care as done in the past.

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