“Hi, kids. Today’s show is gonna be the funniest, side-splittinest, cavalcade of . . . ah, the hell with it. Roll the cartoon.” – Krusty the Klown
There are a lot of big, flashing similarities between “Like Father, Like Clown” and “Clown in the Dumps”, most prominently that both are about Krusty and his father, and, even moreso, about Krusty missing his father. But there are also a lot of small, individual scenes and jokes that are very similar. So let’s consider one of the former and then one of the latter.
For our overarching theme, just look at how each episode handles Bart and Lisa. In Season 3, Bart and Lisa have a reason to meet Krusty (their saving him in “Krusty Gets Buster”), and then we follow them as they set out to help him. We see them asking Reverend Lovejoy how to find a rabbi, we see them meet Rabbi Krustofsky, get rejected, and then their attempts to win him over. (The Simpsons being The Simpsons, Sammy Davis Jr. succeeds where the Talmud fails.)
Meanwhile, the episode checks in on Krusty as we see him wallowing in depression: watching a TV movie in a bus station, cracking up on his own show, and dialing his father over and over again. It’s genuinely sad, but it’s still funny because the movie is Hercules vs. the Martians and Krusty’s on-air break down is his touched response to a particularly brutal and gory Itchy & Scratchy.
“And didn’t Scratchy Jr. look happy playing with his Dad until they got run over by the thresher.”
By contrast, in the blasted wasteland of Season 26, Bart and Lisa are just sort of there for the ride. Lisa because she was shunted off to an unrelated (and very repetitive) B-plot; and Bart because we don’t see him do anything except show up and explain to us the stuff we didn’t see him do.
In addition to this not making sense, it sucks out a lot of the fun. Instead of getting to see Bart and Lisa as active characters who get to do things like lie to Reverend Lovejoy about liking his radio show and dress up in curls and a hat to argue Jewish philosophy, we watch Bart talk to Krusty, talk to Krusty, and then talk to Krusty again.
Great, good conversation there.
And it’s not like what we do get to see is any better. Krusty bounces from one manic episode to the next, but they fall flat over and over again, which brings us to our individual scene of wretchedness, Krusty hosting his show and airing what I almost hesitate to call an “Itchy & Scratchy” cartoon.
Things open with Sideshow Mel helpfully expositing everything that’s happening:
“Boys and girls, you know that we’ve been dark for a couple of days because of a tragic loss in the Krustylu family. Now, put your hands together for the man who’s falling apart before our eyes, Krusty the Klown!”
That is quintessential “tell don’t show”: not a single word of that needs to be there. It’s filler from start to finish. We already know what’s going on, and while there’s something to be said for a dry description of the obvious from time to time, Zombie Simpsons uses it so much that it’s impossible to tell if they’re even trying to be funny with it.
The really bad part, though, is that they’ve become so bad at showing things, they almost have to resort to this sort of thing. After Krusty appears and tells them to roll the cartoon, we see a very short Scratchy cartoon (Itchy isn’t in it), and then this:
Krusty, looking a little miffed.
Krusty is kind of upset, but he looks completely normal, and his dialogue is just him setting up a rimshot worthy punchline:
Oh, my God, who made this monstrosity?
Which is immediately followed by a recording of him on the TV claiming credit (rimshot), then more exposition:
Kids, I’m experiencing a crisis of conscience.
It goes on from there while he explains each joke as it happens and tells us what he’s going to do.
Compare that to Krusty also barely holding it together in “Like Father, Like Clown”. For one thing, we get a real Itchy & Scratchy cartoon, one of the bloodiest and most violent ever, “Field of Screams”. Just like in Zombie Simpsons, it starts with Scratchy playing with Scratchy Jr.. Since Zombie Simpsons ends it right there, that’s where the similarities stop. “Field of Screams” has Scratchy and Scratchy Jr. run over by a mechanized thresher driven by Itchy and Itchy Jr., whom we then see playing catch with Scratchy’s head. There’s a lot of blood, Bart and Lisa (watching from home) laugh uproariously, and then we see Krusty:
Now that’s sad, and he didn’t even need to tell us what he’s feeling.
Take a look at those two images. In one, we see Krusty acting perfectly normal (or what passes for it for him), in the other one, we see a broken man just barely holding it together who chokes up and starts crying as he desperately tells them to go to commercial. The Simpsons doesn’t need to have Krusty tell the audience how he’s feeling because we can see it plainly on his face.
Both episodes have the exact same scene (Krusty bombing his show because he’s upset about his father), but the version from The Simpsons has no gratuitous exposition, a much better Itchy & Scratchy cartoon, and enormously more emotional punch, all while letting the jokes speak for themselves instead of explaining or pre-explaining them. Furthermore, that incident is what prompts Bart and Lisa to go in search of Rabbi Krustofsky. They can see Krusty is in pain, and they try to do something. In Zombie Simpsons, Bart just kinda shows up from time to time.
It’d be one thing if Zombie Simpsons was just repeating things. Twenty-six seasons is a lot of stories, after all. But they can’t even repeat things competently, and the way they bungle characters, scenes and even jokes over and over again gives the distinct impression that they don’t care enough to try.