“Krusty Gets Kancelled” 30th anniversary: ‘Simpsons’ Retrospective

Max Handler, Contributing Writer

Shivani Bondada

To say that “The Simpsons” is a cultural icon is no overstatement. The program has long cemented its worldwide status as a touchstone of animated situational comedy. What began as a hastily composed idea to complement “The Tracey Ullman Show” on Fox TV morphed into a successful franchise worth over $13 billion. The creator, cartoonist Matt Groening, could have hardly predicted the impact his brainchild would have on television programming and pop culture as a whole.

When “The Simpsons” first aired as a stand-alone show in 1989, it was a crudely animated look into a dysfunctional family and their fellow townspeople living in suburbia. The early show was personable and often explored contemporary issues such as depression, spousal feuding and morality, while still provoking laughs with its poignant satire of middle-class life. 

With the arrival of the show’s third season came a shift in the weekly plotlines. The exploits of the Simpson family became zanier in nature, and the show often dealt with the surreal. While the outlandish situations presented were certainly humorous, the real comedic appeal came in the form of snappy dialogue and a keen sense of awareness about cultural phenomena. “The Simpsons” writers’ room proved to be a hotbed for witty and relevant ideas, many of which became immortal episodes in the show’s canon.

Saturday, May 13 marks the 30th anniversary of an important “The Simpsons” episode from the show’s third season: “Krusty Gets Kancelled.” In the episode, Arthur Crandall and his puppet, Gabbo — with their new ventriloquist comedy show, “The Gabbo Show” — dethrone Springfield’s favorite Percodan addict and television mainstay, Krusty the Clown. 

Krusty subsequently loses his titular show due to poor ratings and he falls into a deep depression, watching from the sidelines as the new duo mocks the clown’s downfall. The Simpson children are dismayed by Krusty’s unceremonious dismissal and vow to return him to prominence. Bart and Lisa team up with Krusty and stage a fabulous comeback special for the now-confident clown. Celebrity guests appear in support of their longtime friend and turn the special into an emotional return for the most troubled character on “The Simpsons.” Like most episodes of the show, all is well by the time the credits roll and Krusty is back on his feet.

The episode relentlessly lampoons show business and everything that shapes it. It offers a glimpse into Krusty’s physical and emotional deterioration, his desperate attempts to cling to relevance and his ultimate emotional catharsis. 

The concept of peripheral characters undergoing deep character arcs is a hallmark of classic “The Simpsons” episodes. The “golden age” of “The Simpsons” — often classified as seasons three through eight — perfectly balances this mature storytelling with clever gags. The season four DVD collection features commentary from prominent figures involved in the production of “The Simpsons.” Groening is joined by showrunners Mike Reiss and Al Jean, along with director of “Krusty Gets Kancelled,” David Silverman. The quartet discusses their efforts to cram in as many references to famous — and infamous — memories and figures in Hollywood as possible, without sacrificing the show’s creative integrity in favor of surface-level cameos.

The guest stars and frequent allusions are not the crux of the episode. They serve the story instead of being the plot itself. The absence of this practice is a common gripe among critics and fans when it comes to “The Simpsons” of the 21st century. Nowadays, guest stars replace the side characters that give Springfield its hilarious quirks, who often appear as uninteresting. Gags feel cheap and forced; premises seem like they were concocted with the sole purpose of being out of place, completely lacking the character-driven plotlines that made the show so great.

In 2023, “The Simpsons” is a husk of its former self. The freshness that came with the show’s “golden age” has been all but lost, yet the show keeps trudging along. It exists as a cash cow for Disney, all too eager to reap the profits of merchandising that come so easily when a show is still on-air. It seems like the show will run until civilization dies out — echoes of “Sunday at 8/7 Central” will ring for eternity. 

However, “The Simpsons” of the 1990s will remain the most brilliant comedic achievement in all of television, its episodes forever engraved in the memories of millions of fans, myself included. “Krusty Gets Kancelled” is no exception.

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