Compare & Contrast: Krusty’s Nadirs

Krusty Gets Kancelled11

“That dummy doesn’t scare me.  I’ve had plenty of guys come after me and I’ve buried ’em all: hobos, sea captains, Joey Bishop.” – Krusty the Klown
“Don’t forget the Special Olympics.” – Ms. Pennycandy
“Oh yeah, I slaughtered the Special Olympics!” – Krusty the Klown

In the introduction to yesterday’s Crazy Noises, I mentioned that “Krusty Changes His Show” should be up there with travel episodes, Homer gets a job, and other serially repeated plots (Lisa gets a cause, Bart gets a girlfriend, etcetera).  A corollary to that is the way we see Krusty freak out once he’s at his wit’s end.  That’s another thing they did several times even before the show’s EEG went flatter than Kansas (“Bart the Fink”, “Last Temptation of Krust”), but for comparison to the hapless ball pit bath we see in “The Ten-Per-Cent Solution” I’d like to look at the first time we see it, in “Krusty Gets Kancelled”. 

I would submit to one and all that this is a man truly at a low end:

Krusty Gets Kancelled10

Take a good look at the above image for a second.  Krusty’s gaze is lowered and his hair is disheveled; his shirt is frayed and his pants are faded.  His sign is haphazard looking even before you read that unlimitedly pathetic message that’s scrawled on it.  From the point of his shoes to the droop of his hair, he is every inch unhappy, ashamed, and hopeless.  Now take a look at this character:

Chillin In a Ball Pit

He’s not happy exactly, but everything from his clothes to his hair to his face is on model and looking quite spiffy.  Nor is he outside on a street corner, he’s sitting in a ball pit in a nice, comfortable and climate controlled Krusty Burger.  Nothing about his appearance or location even remotely bespeaks the kind of desperation as the Krusty from Season 4.  That difference becomes magnified when they start talking.

Zombie Krusty acts like he normally does, screaming, yelling, and generally very manic.  When Lisa informs him that he isn’t her hero, he just ups the ante for wailing and thrashing about.  The whole thing is designed to be funny the same way so much of Zombie Simpsons is: franticly and with a maximum of zaniness.  Neither his dialogue nor his behavior matches the events or emotions he’s theoretically experiencing.  Though, to be fair, that may be expecting too much from a show that just just fired him back and forth between two cannons.

This is the only thing “Will Drop Pants for Food” Krusty says, in response to Bart asking him if he’s making any money:

“Nah, that guy’s giving it away for free.”

This is another one of those perfect, multi-layered Simpsons lines.  In just eight words we understand that Krusty is totally defeated, unable even to succeed here at his lowest, pants dropping ebb.  Worse, he’s being out pants-dropped by a disheveled old man and is so despondent that he doesn’t care enough to walk to a different street corner to try again.  Nor does the animation let up.  Krusty’s head never raises and he meekly goes with Bart and Lisa when they take his arms on their shoulders.  On top of all that, there’s the harmless but wonderfully insane absurdity of the crazy old guy with his pants down singing “The Old Gray Mare”. 

And Krusty’s ordeal isn’t over.  Bart and Lisa still have to cheer him up, convince him he can be a star again, and then get him back into shape after he drinks nothing but milkshakes.  The point of doing all that – aside from the way it’s funny as it’s happening, of course – is to make the ending have a satisfying payoff.  We see not only Krusty have a real crisis, but also why his special is such a success, how he got in trouble in the first place (stealing bits, wasting his money), and finally, with the ruby studded clown nose, the fact that he’s already back to his self destructive ways. 

That, boys and girls, is a hell of an ending.  Not only do they tie in all the celebrities and give them something to do, but they don’t moralize or show Krusty being anything other than the self centered jerk we all need him to be. 

By contrast, in “The Ten-Per-Cent Solution”, Krusty doesn’t go through much of anything.  After that extended flashback, Joan Rivers takes him back as a client almost immediately.  As soon as that happens, he gets himself a revival show, and no sooner is that finished than they’re back together as a couple and he’s off to HBO.  There’s no connection or cause to any of this, it’s just a bunch of stuff that happens.

Even Zombie Simpsons can’t just fizzle out quite that easily though, so they manufacture a conflict out of thin air by having Rivers go nuts once she and Krusty get to HBO.  Bear in mind that this isn’t something that is so much as hinted at earlier in the episode.  Despite the fact that they could’ve easily set it up during his revival show or the flashback, it drops completely from the sky just a few minutes before the credits roll.  In fact, Rivers-the-loony-agent is so thin and transient that it gets dropped just as completely as it got conjured almost immediately.  Rivers is threatened with getting fired, but instead of that happening, she and Krusty get a different HBO show.  Roll credits.  Huh? 

Worried Stagehands

Everyone looks upset, and with good cause.  The final conflict is about to be introduced at the 16:00 mark.

That, boys and girls, isn’t even an ending.  Rivers wasn’t acting crazy, then she was, then she wasn’t.  It’s like a sentence that trails off in the middle. 

Here’s the kicker, “Krusty Gets Kancelled” is easily the wilder and more improbable story of the two.  For all its sloppy execution, Krusty gets fired –> reconnects with old agent –> gets new show isn’t an insane plot.  (By Zombie Simpsons’ standards it’s downright tame.)  Bart and Lisa get in touch with half a dozen celebrities they’ve never met to put on a star studded show right there in Springfield is much stranger and unrealistic.  But none of that matters because the story is well told.  We see Krusty go through a real crisis, we see him claw his way back up, we see the celebrities doing things that are sort of what you’d expect (Midler being a do-gooder, the Chili Peppers playing a concert, Hefner hanging out in a smoking jacket) while still being funny and twisted (crashing the pickup truck, having a promoter believe Moe’s holds 30,000 people, a research facility staffed by women in bunny costumes). 

You can get away with crazy stuff from time to time if you make the effort to slip it into something the audience cares about.  On the other hand, you can’t get away with even sane stuff if you don’t bother to make it anything other than a disconnected series of skits. 

12 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Krusty’s Nadirs”

  1. 1 Cyberen
    7 December 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Thank you! Your insightful comparing and contrasting is sweet music to those who seek justification for such strong nostalgia for the old Simpsons.

    I don’t know how to make two stories about Krusty’s Nadir equally compelling and believable but Zombie Simpsons sure as hell wouldn’t know either.

    Anyone bothered by the cliche of conflicts near the end of the show that act like a hard U-turn back into status quo territory? It’s like you know something bad is going to happen with 2 minutes left to go if by 20:00 everything’s resolved although different. Whereas good shows know when to advance or reset things in a funny, believable way like Kirk VanHouten’s divorce.

  2. 7 December 2011 at 5:56 pm

    That serially repeated plot should read “Bart gets a girlfriend voiced by a current female celebrity who doesn’t change their voice to sound like a child at all and has one personality trait at best.” There’s one of these every season now, it’s like, goddamn.

  3. 7 December 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Really good and useful analysis, as always.

    I don’t know how so many programmes let themselves fall to the standards they do when there’s so many good analysts (I’m a big fan of SF Debris, Star Trek reviewer, plus a few on AV Club), giving strong examples of what to do, and what not to do.

    You’d think that even if a long-running show falls into a rut from time to time, there’ll be a talented young writer on their way up, at any low point in a show’s history, studying this kind of site to get the show back to it’s former glories.

    When story structure is so well explained on so many places (Dead Homer is becoming one of my favourites), it makes it all the more infuriating that anything falls to the standards modern Simpsons has.

    • 4 Cyberen
      7 December 2011 at 7:36 pm

      Probably that young up-and-coming writer has to deal with all the other writers who are too stubborn to change because hey, if they can get away with making something mediocre and still get paid as much, why rock the boat?

      True, there were days when the people working on the Simpsons wanted to make something they were proud of but now as you can tell by the commentary they do crappy work and laugh about it later. Now it’s just another shitty show.

      Hence why TV is such a wasteland of crap.

  4. 5 Stan
    7 December 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Having the same story arc repeated several season later isn’t a bad thing. Look at Family Guy: they do it still with Brian trying to date another chick, Meg looking for a boyfriend, Brian and Stewie going somewhere… Thing is, it changes. Since the beginning of the show quite a lot of things changed (unlike the Simpsons, for which killing Maude Flanders was a catalyst), and those changes are very good onsets. I mean, how many things can one do with Peter’s gang trying to find a black guy replacement? Definitely a lot more than with Apu’s octuplets, who barely appeared in a plot or two, other than being filler.

    Seeing this show fall well below the once filthy and disgusting Family Guy is somewhat appalling, yet I can’t say I’m not enjoying that things are finally coming to an end. Like my friend uses to say: “The Simpsons = time to microwave some popcorn, Family Guy = time to consume it”.

  5. 7 December 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Seasons 15-17’s episode were either “Homer Gets a New Job” and/or “Homer and Marge’s Marriage is in Trouble.” You know damn well I meant “and/or” because there were quite a few episodes where both of these plots happen.

    Also, you neglected to mention the Old Jewish Man getting his own show at the end of the act, further hammering home just how low Krusty’s career became.

  6. 8 Bea Simmons's Rotting Corpse
    8 December 2011 at 5:48 am

    Excellent. Your analysis on the difference between Simpsons animation and Zombie Simpsons animation hit the nail on the head.

    I don’t understand how they have 20+ amateurs in the writing room who don’t even know about story structure.
    Since they hang out with Trey & Matt, maybe they should take their writing class: http://thefw.com/trey-parker-matt-stone-crash-college-writing-class-video/

    Has this interview with Daniel Chun been posted here? Some interesting looks into the current writing room:

    “The Simpsons, at this point, is kind of a joke factory. 80% of your job is rewriting jokes in the script.”

    “I loved being at The Simpsons but I didn’t think the marginal benefits of staying for another contract cycle (2-3 years) was going to be that great. The Simpsons writing staff is older, most of them have kids. It’s a great place for them; it feels sheltered and outside of the Hollywood showbiz nonsense. It seems like it’s never going to go away (although recently that has changed). There’s very little chance of having to stay until 2 am to finish a rewrite. But I kind of wanted that – I was hungry for a volatile, unpredictable, intense job.”

    So (as we already knew) jokes have become the priority, even though there seem to be so little of them in the episodes themselves, and there’s just no more room for hungry, young people who want to create the best they can. The kind of people who made seasons 1-8.

  7. 9 The Glory of Being a Clown
    8 December 2011 at 8:35 am

    Off topic, that screen shot of Krusty at the top is pretty cool. I know it is notoriously difficult to animate reflections, but his hand holding the towel looks pretty good in the mirror. One thing that looks odd though is that Krusty appears to be furrowing his brow while his reflection is not.

    • 10 Charlie Sweatpants
      8 December 2011 at 4:20 pm

      I’d never noticed that until I went to get that frame grab, but it is really well done. It’s even more impressive when you watch it, because they start zoomed in before pulling back and it works the whole way.

  8. 8 December 2011 at 8:37 am

    Best compare and contrast yet. Reading this was far more entertaining and insightful than anything ZS aired on Sunday.

  9. 12 LoLo
    9 December 2011 at 2:10 am

    Ah, thanks for this post. “Krusty Gets Kancelled” (and the “Old Gray Mare ain’t what she used to be” bit) was always of my favorites.

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