Way back in season 6 of The Simpsons (that’s over 28 years ago, for those of you keeping track), the classic episode “Homie the Clown” saw Krusty the Clown (voiced, as always, by Dan Castellaneta) opening a clown college so he could train a legion of additional Krustys to cover for him at other gigs, and earn him some extra money.
Now, in season 34’s penultimate episode “Clown v. Board of Education” (the title being a play on the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court Case “Brown v. Board of Education”) Krusty has decided to open a school to train the next generation of clowns, as kids have largely left his audience for TikTok and other alternative forms of entertainment.
I guess there’s a difference there, but “Homie the Clown” is such a highly regarded episode from The Simpsons’ peak era that right off the bat it seemed like an odd choice to crib from it. Anyway, Bart Simpson (Nancy Cartwright) begs his parents to send him to the Herschel Krustofsky School of Clowning instead of Springfield Elementary– or, Jeebus forbid, Catholic school– so he can actually thrive in class and be “like Lisa but fun.” That happens, and we get a montage of all the clown-based elementary school gags you’d probably be able to predict. I have to admit I was a little confused here about whether the kids were learning how to be clowns, about clown history, or about standard topics of education taught through the methods of clowning. I suppose it’s a bit of all three combined, but anyway the joke is that kids who maybe weren’t great at regular school are all starting to succeed at Krusty’s school– oh, and also Krusty is thrilled that Bart is such an “Alpha Loser” (as Homer, also voiced by Castellaneta, describes him) that he compels all the town’s other less-than-competent students to make the switch to the private clown academy. So this story ends at about the halfway point of the episode, with Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner) hugging Krusty and thanking him for creating a place where Bart fits in.
But there’s still like ten or more minutes left at that point, and you gotta fill that with something, so the local Springfieldian mob boss Fat Tony (the always-game Joe Mantegna) forces himself in as partner in Krusty’s successful school, as all the other usual mafia scams have dried up or– like gambling– “aren’t fun anymore.” This is such a weird left-turn out-of-nowhere plot development in the third act, and then I remembered that “Homie the Clown” is also about Krusty owing money to the mob, which made it even stranger. Then Krusty goes to the cops, who ask him to wear a wire in his squirting lapel flower, which of course the mob guys immediately figure out, but the clown is saved by all the kids who love him as the “principal they don’t hate.” So there’s a semi-happy ending again, and then Fat Tony burns down Krusty’s school for the insurance money (a firetruck full of clown firefighters isn’t able to save it) and The Simpsons limps across the finish line to the end of another half-hearted, warmed-over episode. After last week’s stellar– if not quite on time to be topical– pandemic lockdown parody “The Very Hungry Caterpillars,” “Clown v. Board of Education” is a pretty big disappointment. There are a few good gags here and there (I liked Krusty’s producers filling his audience with old people who got lost at the mall) but the rest of this installment is just all over the place, and worst of all not terribly funny. Luckily Disney+ subscribers and/or season-6 DVD owners have a much better, more cohesive episode in “Homie the Clown” right at their fingertips.
The 34th season finale of The Simpsons will air next Sunday, May 21st on the FOX Network.