60. Kamp Krusty

“Gentlemen: to evil!”

  • First broadcast: Thursday 24 September 1992, Fox Television
  • First shown on UK terrestrial television: Monday 16 March 1998, BBC2
  • Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss
  • First draft: David Stern
  • Writing staff: Jay Kogen, Wallace Wolodarsky, George Meyer, Jon Vitti, John Swartzwelder, Jeff Martin, David Stern, Conan O’Brien, Frank Mula, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein
  • Storyboard: Raymie Muzquiz, Kevin O’Brien, Peter Avanzino
  • Animation director: Mark Kirkland

Season four of The Simpsons began with a story that had been kicking around since the early days of season three. Its journey from script to screen was far from smooth and it almost got ditched entirely when James L Brooks decided it would make an ideal premise for a possible Simpsons film. That Brooks would consider Kamp Krusty suitable for a feature-length presentation says a lot about his judgment; it barely contains enough material to make it all the way to 22 minutes. If you’d rather skip reading about it and wait until next week for one of the all-time great episodes, I wouldn’t blame you.

The idea of summer camp is almost completely alien to this country. What we know about it we have gleaned from films and TV programmes, and the overwhelming impression is of something not at all nice: a herd of pre-pubescents or (worse) adolescents, trapped together for weeks on end in the arse-end of nowhere, subject on a daily and nightly basis to enforced fun, ghastly rituals and character-building exercises, with no privacy, amenities or family for comfort. The closest example we have in our own popular culture is probably Maplins’ holiday camp in Hi-De-Hi. So it’s not at all surprising that this episode of The Simpsons is a real curio for British audiences. That it is also hard work is a fault not so much with its setting but its plot, which taxes the patience by deciding to advance precisely nowhere for much of the running time. Bart and co head off to Kamp Krusty where things are immediately dreadful. They stay dreadful and then the episode ends. The one element that is plausible is the notion of someone (Bart) willing to withstand the most extreme pain and suffering in the belief that their hero (Krusty) is just around the corner. But by the time Krusty does show up you’re past caring and never want to see another campfire or pine-cone again. 3

This episode calls on the services of almost none of Springfield’s rich population of eccentrics, duffers and colourful grotesques. Outside of Krusty, a couple of school teachers, and a handful of children who are there mostly to make up the numbers, all we get are the Simpson family. It’s not enough. The plot isn’t sufficiently robust to keep your attention and it’s all too easy to find your mind wandering as the camera cuts between scene after scene of Homer and Marge getting randy at home and Bart and Lisa looking miserable at camp. You get the feeling the writers’ minds started wandering as well. There’s no real attempt to explain why Homer lets Bart go to camp having previously said he wouldn’t. All the stuff with Krusty visiting Wimbledon and getting knighted by the Queen is some of the least inspired padding in the show’s history. And much more could have been done with the character of the camp chief, the superbly arch but drably mysterious Mr Black: a cross between civil service mandarin and diabolical mastermind. 4

Locations and design
Kamp Krusty is drawn in exactly the same way it is written: a dump from the off. There is no suspense in seeing which bit of the location will fall apart next, as things fall apart with abandon from the moment the children arrive. It’s a shame the deprivation wasn’t ratcheted up, scene by scene. That would have given the second half of the episode some real momentum, and maybe even made you care about what was unfolding. Instead when the roof flies off the kids’ bedroom, you just shrug and wait for the next catastrophe. 3

Pardon My Zinger
An anonymous character supplies the biggest laugh. As the coach containing the children drives away to camp and their weeping parents are left behind, the mood switches in a beat and the parents are suddenly cheering and cracking open champagne. “Don’t come back!” someone shouts, with immaculate timing. Later we see Kent Brockman reporting from the camp. “I’ve been to Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq,” he booms, “and I can say without hyperbole that this is a million times worse than all of them put together!” Bart has a tightly-written speech when trying to rallying his peers to rebel: “I got a rapid heartbeat from those Krusty-brand vitamins, my Krusty calculator didn’t have a 7 or an 8, and his autobiography was self-serving with many glaring omissions, but this time he’s gone too far!” 6

Special guests
There aren’t any, and for once they really are missed. A cameo at the camp site would have been enough. It need only have lasted a few seconds and could have lifted the whole episode. Instead, nothing. 0

The children at the camp sing a song called Hail To Thee Kamp Krusty, and along with almost everything else in the episode is it overlong. It riffs on the same one “joke” as the plot – that the camp is dreadful – but rather than making the point in a single snappy chorus, it drags on and on, even slowing down for its final line. The sound of a group of children singing raucously is never pleasant, but when they’re trying to sing raucously in a funny way, it’s simply atrocious. As the final note ends, the stage on which the choir are standing collapses. It is a fitting comment on what it has just endured. 1

Yeardley Smith and Nancy Cartwright come out of this best. There’s a nicely-judged exchange between Lisa and Bart when the two of them are shivering in their beds at camp. “I feel like I’m gonna die, Bart.” “We’re all gonna die, Lise.” “I meant soon.” “So did I.” 6

Animation direction
Mark Kirkland directs all the scenes in the camp with subtlety thrown to the wind. It almost makes up for the aimlessness of the script. At least there’s some life to the environment in which the camp is based, because there’s precious little to be found in the camp itself. Boulders roll down hills, waves lash at the shore and storms blow the roofs off buildings.

It’s nearly enough to get the pulses racing. Well, maybe ambling. A passing mention too for this shot of Homer mowing the back garden:

We’ll see a lot more of this expression during season four. 5

Homages, spoofs, fantasies
The episode opens with a dream – another bit of padding – but in a nice touch Bart gives his fantasy Principal Skinner all the same fastidious tics and underplayed anger as his ‘real’ persona. “I trust you all remembered to bring in your implements of destruction,” the dream Skinner fusses over the public address system. “Somebody put a torch to these permanent records. Quickly now!” The camp scenes later in the episode don’t so much pay homage to sequences from films as to steal them outright: a cloaked Lisa meeting a man on horseback (The French Lieutenant’s Woman) and children with painted faces running amok with weapons (Lord of the Flies). 5

Emotion and tone
It could be the absence in this country of any sort of equivalent formative experience to summer camp; it could be the poor script; or it could be this episode just doesn’t feel like the kind of trumpets-and-flags affair you need for a season premiere. Most probably it’s a mixture of all three. Whatever, Kamp Krusty fails to ever really resonate in an emotional way. It begins, exists for 20 or so minutes, then stops. There’s not even a proper denouement. Rather than the children returning home to be reunited with their families, we get a sequence of postcard snapshots showing them being taken off by Krusty to Tijuana in Mexico. Don’t hurry back, kids. 1

Verdict: 34%
Best stick with Ted Bovis doing Famous People On The Toilet.

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