Given just how bad The Simpsons got at one point (seasons 12 and 13 being the all time low) it’s probably not a surprise that it’s hard to convince people that in it’s thirtieth year the show is seeing something of a return to form, I’ve personally tried and failed a good few times. Okay, admittedly it’s not as great as it was at it’s very peak but there’s been an awful amount to like about many of the recent episodes, it seems like real care is being put in to the storylines rather than dashing off yet another “The Simpsons are going to…!” episode, or one where shock horror Homer and Marge’s marriage is in trouble a-bloody-gain.
There’s still been the odd weak episode, The Girl On The Bus from a few weeks ago repeated the storyline where Lisa wishes a friend’s family was her own and just fell a bit flat in it’s attempt to parody French farces, and this year’s Treehouse of Horror was bland and disappointing, but the majority have been pretty enjoyable and often a lot more than that, the writers have remembered that the audience liked the warmth the show created in the best episodes of the classic era and when the plots weren’t so ridiculous it was hard to believe anyone would become involved in them.
This latest episode, The Clown Stays In The Picture, is nearly all told in flashback but for once they do a lot of fun things with the concept. Framed with the device that Krusty is appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast and telling of the time when he tried to make a film which went all rather wrong, we skip back to the nineties where a young Marge and Homer are working as production assistants on the movie and Krusty is plagued by doubts and insecurities until Marge comes along and helps him decide how to helm the flick. But then Krusty becomes frustrated by the time she wishes to spend with Homer, and does his best to kill him.
Admittedly that last bit is a tad extreme but Matt Selman and the rest of the writers room manage to pull it off by having it be a mixture of the daft and the sweet, which also applies to the rest of the episode too. Marc Maron’s game to be sent up and there’s a good couple of strong gags about his podcast’s adverts and his obsession with cats, and it’s an episode where they use Krusty effectively, mocking his previous film career (which includes Dog Cop, a movie I’d genuinely love to see) but also by showing him in a positive light for a change as he’s actually passionate about something as he wants to make the supposedly unfilmable novel “The Sands Of Time” in to a moving cinematic masterpiece, amusingly commenting “When I brought this in an adult bookstore by mistake it changed my life”.
The Hollywood executives he’s involved with want the film to flop so that Krusty comes back and makes Dog Cop 2 and 3 (but no more than that) and so hire a shitty film director and give it a painfully low budget, and while everyone does decamp to Mexico thankfully they don’t spend much time sending up the culture and just stick to satire of the film industry, which they do with aplomb. There’s great jokes about the insecurities of creative types, the cynicism of the studio system and the extensive use of cocaine back then, with Marge saying “You wouldn’t believe how much directing dust he’s sniffing”. In this episode she gets a lot of strong lines, it’s always great to see Marge having fun rather than complaining and moaning and she gets to do a lot of the former here pleasingly.
The making of the film stays on the right side of absurd, there’s a great deal of killer jokes, and cute sight gags too, with Krusty repeatedly trying to kill himself with a fake ray gun being my favourite. It’s not a perfect episode and there’s a couple of moments which don’t quite work, the worst being when Homer hallucinates that two cactuses are Bart and Lisa who complain that they’ll never be born unless Homer sorts himself out, but otherwise it’s an impressive and very likeable episode, and if you’re having trouble persuading people that the show is worth seeking out then this is a good episode to show them.