"Alright, so there can only be one Krusty in each territory, so I hope this works out. Tell me where you’re from." – Krusty the Klown
"Georgia." – Southern Hick
"Texas." – Exaggerated Texan #1
"Uh . . . Brooklyn." – Exaggerated Texan #2
"Russia." – Fur Hatted Russian
"New Hampshire." – Stuffy Yankee
"Homer!" – Homer Simpson
Krusty the Klown is a great symbol of so much that is wrong with the entertainment industry. He long ago shed any last vestige of dignity, then stopped caring about the quality of his show or his merchandise shortly thereafter. He doesn’t particularly like the kids he entertains, treats his staff like crap, and wastes every one of the millions of dollars he earns.
As has happened to so many celebrities and entertainers over the years, the act gets stale, the fame cools off, and then the money dries up. Condor egg omelets and cigarettes lit with hundred dollar bills are all well and good right up until you can’t afford them anymore. The Simpsons showed us what would happen to Krusty at this point several times during its run. When his show got run off the air by Gabbo, he fell completely apart but managed a comeback thanks to his years of celebrity contacts. When Bart inadvertently snitched on him for tax avoision, he got back on top with that old standby, insurance fraud. And when his love of horse racing got him in too deep with the mob, he opened a clown college and franchised himself.
That last one is relevant because it is the exact same thing that happened this week in "Yellow Subterfuge". Well, almost exact, "Homie the Clown" handles it vastly better, but since it was just the B-plot (and a barely extant one at that) in "Yellow Subterfuge", there are just a few scenes to actually compare. Of those, there are two that stand out as exemplifying the systemic and repeating ways Zombie Simpsons fumbles concepts that worked so well on "The Simpsons".
The first is our discovery that Krusty is broke. Going all the way back to Season 1, Krusty and Burns existed in a stratosphere of fame, power, and wealth far above the ordinary citizens of Springfield. This being a television show, they crossed paths with the Simpson family an unusual amount of times, a structurally necessary absurdity that the show began making fun of in Season 4 for Burns ("Last Exit to Springfield", when Burns replies that the name Simpson doesn’t ring a bell after Smithers reminds him of all the things that have already happened) and Season 5 for Krusty ("Bart Gets Famous", when Bart points out all the times he’s helped Krusty after Krusty doesn’t know who he is). It doesn’t make the strictest sense, but neither do people with four fingers and yellow skin, it’s just a part of the show you can have a little fun with.
And having fun with it is exactly how The Simpsons brought Krusty back into contact with the Simpson family. Krusty needs money, so he founds a clown college to franchise his name. Homer, being such a dolt that he cannot resist anything that’s advertised to him on a billboard, attends. He doesn’t stand out in clown class or anything, he just happens to look enough like Krusty (they do have the same character model, after all) that people mistake him for the original. None of the Simpsons are present at the beginning of the episode when we see Krusty’s impressively wasteful spending habits, including buying a new house when his current one gets dirty and paying off Steve Martin and George Carlin for stealing their bits.
By contrast, in "Yellow Subterfuge" Lisa just happens to be riding her bike past Krusty’s mansion while his stuff is getting repossessed. This is their actual opening dialogue:
Krusty: Oh, hi, little girl. What brings you to see Uncle Krusty?
Lisa: Krusty, are you broke?
Krusty: Yeah, all it takes is some bad luck at the ponies, worse luck in the Bitcoin market, heavy investment in a high end bookmark company . . .
Give them credit for being brief, I suppose, but look at that. Lisa doesn’t bother to answer Krusty’s question because there is no answer. Just like when characters appear and disappear from scenes, none of the actions or words are really connected to each other, they just go in a certain order because, well, shut up, that’s why. Krusty, who doesn’t know who she is or why she’s there, just launches into a list of his financial woes because keep shutting up. What’s worse, they don’t even bother to use Lisa. She briefly appears with Krusty later in the episode, but after that she just disappears without another word.
Like so many Zombie Simpson problems this wouldn’t be so aggravating if they only took these kinds of shortcuts once and a while, but they do it all the time. In this episode alone Skinner trusts everything to Bart, of all people, in three or four different scenes. Even though the only thing we see of Milhouse in this episode is him enjoying the submarine ride that Skinner let him have, there he is helping Bart’s moronic deception with nary a word of explanation. Sometimes you need to cheat a little to get an episode to work, that’s one thing. But like "carrot cat food" that’s 88% ash, it’s quite another when the episode is more cheats than not.
The second bit of this short yet interminable subplot is the regionally stereotypical new Krustys. Both shows introduce them in a scene where a bunch of people from different places attend their first day of Krusty class. The Simpsons has them list themselves off, roll-call style, and the guy from New Hampshire is a nasal New England dweeb, the guy from Russia has a fur hat and rolls his Rs, and the two guys from Texas are exactly alike except that one of them claims to be from Brooklyn. Stereotypes are funny, here’s a few of them, let’s move on with the show.
But what The Simpsons used as a single scene joke, Zombie Simpsons turns into the entirety of its B-plot. First we see the Krustys-in-training while the accountant reads off a description of what we already see them holding. After that it’s straight ahead with the stereotypes: Jamaicans get high, the Irish are desperate and poor, Mao was a famous Chinese guy, and so forth. If that had been one scene, sure why not? But it’s the whole damn thing, so we get an entire scene with the Jamaican Itchy smoking Jamaican Scratchy, the accountant running down the success of funny foreign Krustys, and an ending scene with a parade of dully typical accents and costumes. Irish Krusty, by far the strongest of the lot, got a genuine, out loud laugh from me, a rarity for Zombie Simpsons, when he said this:
Irish Krusty: Me ma, she had twelve children, but only three lived, then they closed the mill. . . . Hey, hey.
That’s a good joke, it’s got multiple punchlines that build on each other and it’s delivered really well. But that was the first time. After that they gave him two diminishing return call backs (in a B-plot that’s only about four scenes long) where they basically repeated it.
This is another hallmark of Zombie Simpsons: stretching anything that even remotely works until it’s just as thin as the rest of the filler. Mad Jon once described how when he did laugh at something, he’d just start counting to ten to wait for them to run it into the ground and they almost always did. So while even cheap stereotypes can be funny, trying to hang an entire B-plot on something that overused and one-dimensional is lazy and hacktacular.
Episodes like "Homie the Clown" could manage fanciful episodes that depart far from Evergreen Terrace, like Krusty franchising himself, because underneath all that stuff was a solid foundation, both in terms of story and in terms of gags. They never needed to overuse shortcuts or jokes. They had plenty of the latter and stories that rarely required the former. Zombie Simpsons, most definitely including "Yellow Subterfuge", lacks that foundation, and the result is weak episodes with weak jokes because stories that don’t make sense need lots of kludges and leave even weak jokes to carry heavy amounts of screentime.