Written by Matt Kelly
Plot: After a surprising death in Springfield one character has the pick up the pieces and learn about his relationship with the deceased. Lisa also wrestles with her fathers poor condition and works to protect him.
The big question this episode brings up is “Does continuity matter on the Simpsons?” I think the answer has always been no. But, what this episode does show is us why The Simpsons really matter and it wasn’t what you expected.
“Clown in the Dumps” centers around the death of a character. FOX seemed way less interested in this episode than its other event episode this week (see Family Guy review) but I do remember The Simpsons getting a fair amount of press related to who they would kill. I assumed after Arrested Development killed that racist lady in “Save Our Bluths,” joke stunt deaths would be a thing of the past. But no it is not. The Simpsons refused to do what they probably should have and killed a character that everyone forgot existed and the episode was ultimately fine but who cares?
Let’s talk about that couch gag.
Now I’m not going to pretend to understand everything I saw but it was pretty incredible. The couch gag should have been the stunt. It was wild. If you haven’t see it yet, you can watch it here.
So yeah. You really have to watch it twice because the first time is way too surprising to get it all.
Here it is again.
So first Homer goes into the past. The groundwork is laid is set by having Homer transform into the original Homer from The Tracey Ullman Show. Then he started going forward into the future and we get a rare glimpse into television and comedy’s probable future.
The first big change is that Homer loses his color. The character has been reduced to his most iconic form. It is simple and what designers today would call “clean.” He floats in empty 2D space like an icon on your phone. It calls back to how 20 years ago the idea was to give everything depth but now art and design is moving in the direction of flatness and simplicity.
Obviously, Homer has tentacles but we’ll probably end up with those thanks to Monsanto (politics) or something.
He meets the children and they are also mutated versions of their former selves. First you’ve got Lisa. All she says is “I am Simpson”and she’s not wrong. She repeats that line over and over again every couple of seconds like a Vine. Now I don’t find Vines particularly funny but I definitely don’t find them funnier if they repeat. Originally comedy was built on surprise. A good joke was ilicited the strongest response the first time you heard it. Now it seems like a joke can be made to be repeated infinitely and there is an audience that really likes that in defiance of what humor used to be. I am not part of that audience but it surely exists and it is young. They are the future.
Then you’ve got Bart. He is a melted but still recognizable form spouting a version of his classic “Don’t have a cow, man” catchphrase. Today shows like The Big Bang Theory have nothing to say, so they just say Bazinga and the familiarity gets a huge laugh. Those shows are the most watched on television. Why not expect that years into the future, that is all we will have?
Marge is present and reduced to only her blue beehive hairdoo with eyes. She is spouting a line about the dark lord of the twin moons. That can be read one of two ways. Either it is supposed to function as a hilarious non-sequeter or she is spouting propaganda within the show. Both are valid complaints with today’s television. Shows like 30 Rock nailed the non-sequeter but as it gets bastardized by less genius shows, I could be a thoughtless extension of TVs future. On the other hand, shows like The Simpsons and to a greater extent Family Guy can be polarizingly political so why not expect that it will only get worse?
Maggie is the last to appear with a bit of native advertising that we are all too familiar with as citizens of the internet.
Homer and Marge go through the motions. Marge forgives Homer for some mistake. The family gets reunited. We have skipped the growth and development periods of the episode and gotten straight to the gratification.
Finally, The Simpsons are sitting around the table. The Simpsons are doing the usual schtick. Homer gains a bit of awareness, looks to the camera and gives a self aware “D’oh”. Credits.
It was easy during FXX’s record breaking marathon to look backward at what The Simpsons have been. You see how the lines and colors and themes have changed. Characters have come and gone but that doesn’t matter. Don Hertzfeldt attempted to use the couch gag for the opener of the 26th season of The Simpsons to look the future. If The Simpsons proved one thing this year, its that they aren’t going anywhere. Television may go somewhere incredibly strange but they’ll be right there with it. They will be the Rosetta stone of comedy, giving people a framework to understand where comedy has come and to speculate on where it will end up.
That’s why The Simpsons matter.
Episode: 5/10 – Couch Gag: 9/10
Matthew Nando Kelly is a contributing writer for Pop-Break. Aside from TV reviews, he also writes about films, music, and video games. Matthew also has a podcast called Mad Bracket Status where he discusses pop culture related brackets with fellow Pop-Break writer DJ Chapman. He loves U2, cats, and the New Orleans Saints. He can also occasionally be found writing lists on Topless Robot. His twitter is @NationofNando