This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 34 Episode 4
Poor Krusty the Clown, he lost all his money on NFTs, Non-Funny TV shows. And pity The Simpsons, they actually used that bit, and it’s not the most toxic thing about “The King of Nice.” Marge, the happiest homemaker Gummy-melatonin can pacify, gets poisoned by the well of kindness, masquerading as daytime TV talk shows, and falls for the oldest of jokes, one just a few years too late. Memory and continuity are vague notions for a series which has aired for 34 seasons.
Marge worked for Krusty before, twice in season 30 alone: assistant directing the film he made out of “The Sands of Space,” a book he bought by accident at an adult bookstore in the episode “The Clown Stays in the Picture,” and directing the Hamilton-inspired historical rap musical “Bloody, Bloody Jebediah” for live TV in “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say D’oh.” This time, Marge has an excuse. She is being nice. It’s what people in focus groups do, even if she ultimately lives up to their ulterior motto: Where people with too much free time make decisions for everyone else.
The setup is a variation on a standard. Homer and the kids are ruining the grocery shopping experience for Marge, so she’ll do anything to get out of it. The premise is a reworking of the family’s ventures in the entertainment field. Marge takes a job as segment producer on a Krusty the Clown daytime talk show. The lessons are ancient, you can keep your job, but at the cost of your soul, plus a few incidentals you have to work out over parking privileges. But the approach is solid, ever-so-slightly inventive, and filled with showbiz in-jokes, and celebrity-handler in-fighting.
In a shade of social commentary, Krusty gets the gig after doing a child’s party at “Affluence Acres,” a gated community for celebrities who made their money on American Idol. But that’s nothing compared to the cash to be had on syndicated talk shows, that’s syndicated megabuck territory, and The Simpsons slums to conquer. Krusty finds his dream gig, a studio audience who loves being pandered to.
Marge’s slow fall into disillusionment is done extremely well. From the time she learns all the production assistants are named Jordan because it’s easier on the producers, she leans into the encroaching toxicity of mid-management privilege, taking smaller and smaller steps back. The most frightening sequence is the “segment” segment, which is the only nightmare aside the episode needs.
“The King of Nice” is a belatedly underhanded comment on the problems the Ellen show faced a few years ago, but kept contemporary by the perennially fresh use of memes. It is fitting that Marge is a natural, knocking off segment ideas like “teens explain TikTok to carpool moms,” and “candle-box opening and sniffing.” Her ideas are unbelievably nice, so perfectly non-toxic preschoolers can put them in their mouths, but the pressure to churn out so many feeds on Marge’s soul.
That may seem a bit dramatic for a cartoon, but it works in juxtaposition to Homer’s dilemma, being stuck in a supermarket where he is taunted by all the food he can’t eat. The family is actually very supportive, and mainly for the right reasons. During an intervention, Lisa counters Marge’s claim of being a powerful successful woman with the mixed messages of her how-best-to-show-cleavage segments. Homer truly believes a dream job is something which makes someone happy, and he’s not seeing that in Marge. “I never thought I would speak ill of TV, but it’s destroying you,” he says in an emotionally effective personal paradox, entirely true to his character. Bart, of course, has the most sensible solution.
In the most self-referential segment, Bart lays out “The Krusty the Clown Show” as a metaphor for The Simpsons. He’s got over 700 classic Krusty episodes to choose from, why would any show with so many great episodes bother to make any more? The reason, of course, is revenge. The Simpsons can still take on Fox from the inside, and get paid for doing it. They don’t say this out loud, but only in this episode, they haven’t hidden their scheme at all.
Krusty doesn’t really care about revenge, for now, but he also hides very little in his baggiest of pants. Besides stolen trophies, he also telegraphs his scams. He is just a clown trying to keep himself in seltzer water, with an eye on an infinity toilet. The show’s producer, and episode antagonist, Lindsey Naegle is also cagily open about her ulterior motives. She tries to bond with Marge as a fellow woman in the business world, but warns her subordinate segment producer to always detect a general sense of unease about her intentions. These are standard-issue ironies for The Simpsons, which shreds the boundaries of ethics and morality with consistent ease.
Krusty’s non-apology apology is a high point because it takes the high ground, a new low for the clown. He’s used to signing apologies written in such a way where he’s not actually taking the blame, but for the first in his life, Krusty is not responsible for the problematic set he runs. He’s barely shown up physically, and is certainly never there mentally. When he hears about stage hands pulling at their hair until it falls out in clumps, he probably gets a little jealous. That would be a great gag. So, when you hear him give a heartfelt apology, remember where his heart is: an untraceable offshore account in the Caymans, with its own pacemaker. That’s true justice, and when he gets the chance to rake in celebrity judge money, he is the perfect fall guy to take the stand. We root for him to cheat.
The guest voices for the episode are Renee Ridgeley as Dr. Wendy Sage, and Drew Barrymore as herself, who calls on Marge to consult for The Drew Barrymore Show, and leaves room for a crossover. The post-ending aftermath, in the Ellen-Tensive Ward at Springfield’s psychiatric center, where showbiz monsters discuss PTSD, Post Talk Show Disorders, is disconcertingly amusing with a frightfully funny twist.
The Simpsons does not make nice in “The King of Nice,” which is to its benefit, but also misses opportunities. Marge rides a satisfying downward arc, especially as she is able to scare even herself with her behavior, expanding her character’s range in the process. The overall toxicity of the programming, however, could have used a more potent dosage. Some of the punches felt pulled, when The Simpsons could have gone for the jugular. The episode is above average, if we’re being nice, because of the multitude of visual gags which pass by so fast it makes this installment one to be rewatched. So much goes on behind the scenes, in both syndicated TV and in the animated stories they tell.