77. So It’s Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show

“April F…”

  • First broadcast: Thursday 1 April 1993, Fox Television
  • First shown on UK terrestrial television: Monday 30 March 1998, BBC2
  • Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss
  • First draft: Jon Vitti
  • Writing staff: George Meyer, Jon Vitti, John Swartzwelder, Jeff Martin, David Stern, Conan O’Brien, Frank Mula, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Dan McGrath
  • Animation director: Carlos Baeza

The clip show is a species of television that is still, after all these years, indigenous almost wholly to the United States. Sightings in the UK are extremely rare. We’ve never had comedies that run for nearly half a year and which need a clip show to help pad out the schedules. The closest we’ve come was in 1988/89, when a series of ‘Allo ‘Allo! lasted 26 episodes – but even then the BBC spared its viewers the sight of Rene and co reminiscing clumsily about their antics to date. And that’s the nub of the problem with clip shows. They are, by design, clumsy television. They are not organic but contrived, and no amount of self-deprecating hokum can disguise this. The one thing they had going for them – novelty – no longer applies, thanks to the ease with which we can now seek out clips for ourselves. This transformative process was already under way when The Simpsons mounted its first clip show, a contractual obligation insisted upon by Fox Television and which had already been negotiated down from four clip shows every season. Taping programmes off the television was commonplace by 1993 and it’s likely most fans of The Simpsons already had every single episode on video. Even if they hadn’t, the show was repeated so often that your favourite episode was never far away. So this clip show was never likely to treat viewers solely to rarely-seen footage or reward them just with well-regarded incidents from the past – as was the case with, say, clip shows on Happy Days or M*A*S*H. Besides, The Simpsons had only been running for three and a bit years, and didn’t have an enormous archive of material upon which to draw. Instead this clip show could realistically only offer viewers a new way of enjoying The Simpsons and a different sort of context to see very familiar scenes and jokes. Full marks to the producers, then, for at least bothering to try and come up with just that: a type of clip show featuring wraparound material which isn’t merely filler but is entertaining in its own right. Thought has gone into this clip show, along with time and effort. Someone hasn’t just reached for the nearest reel of animation and slapped a few scenes together. There’s almost nothing from the first series, sparing us badly-drawn backgrounds, off-model characters and inconsistent voices. The focus is wholly on the family; special guests and cameos are omitted, keeping the tone of the episode cleanly focused on domestic matters. If the best measure of a clip show’s success is how little it makes you wince, this one performs better than most.

Plot
It helps that the clips don’t start arriving until well into the episode. The whole of the first part is taken up with new material, and this “mini” episode is good enough to stand alone as a story in its own right. It lasts only few a minutes, but contains a gag to rival any of those from the archives (“It’s a good thing that beer wasn’t shaken up any more, or I’d have looked quite the fool – an April Fool, as it were”) plus the unforgettable image of a can of Duff, deliberately shaken up by Bart, quivering and pulsing as if ready to explode. Which is precisely what happens, and on a military scale, thereby hospitalising Homer and triggering the first of the reminiscences. 7

Characters
The clips are restricted almost wholly to Homer and things that have happened to him; Marge and Lisa barely turn up. With fleeting appearances from Moe, Barney, Mr Burns and Dr Hibbert, it’s one of the most sparsely-casted episodes since the first season – a season from which very little is selected, thankfully, although room is found for the dreadful Marvin Monroe and the hideous electrocution scene from There’s No Disgrace Like Home. 6

Locations and design
It’s not the greatest of showcases for the show’s designers. Rifling through the evolution of characters in such a stop-start fashion doesn’t make for a very smooth journey, while we see little of the creative ambition represented by Springfield’s battalions of battered landmarks and eccentric grotesques. 4

Pardon My Zinger
Everyone has their favourite Simpsons jokes and everyone will feel those jokes should have been included in this programme instead of another zinger. A clip show that satisfies everyone is impossible; a clip show that satisfies the most number of people for most of the time is a more realistic aim. By that criteria, speculatively this one is a success. 10

Special guests
There aren’t any. They’re not needed and they’re not missed. 10

Music
Alf Clausen is dealt a poor hand by this episode. Almost none of his finest moments are included, there’s not a song to be heard, and the longest sections of uninterrupted music are passages lifted wholesale from the scores of Psycho and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The one highlight is getting to hear again his beautiful arrangement of Golden Slumbers from Lisa’s Pony. 3

Voices
Marvin Monroe aside, the choice of clips paints the cast in nothing but a flattering light. 9

Animation direction
Some extra animation has been added to the gorge sequence from Bart the Daredevil. In the original episode, we heard Homer falling back into the gorge but didn’t see it. Our imagination did the rest, helped by sound effects and the reaction of onlookers. Here we see what happens when Homer fell back in, and – as is always the way – reality comes off second best to imagination. Some points are clawed back by the sequence when the can of Duff explodes, however. 8

Homages, spoofs, fantasies
A clip show just of Homer’s fantasies or spoofs of other TV shows would be a rich mix indeed. Instead the only diversion into make-believe is when Lisa is explaining the story of April Fool’s Day and we see the Simpsons as a bunch of pagans, cheerily setting fire to Flanders and his family (“Now who’s laughing! Now who’s laughing!”). 6

Emotion and tone
This category is pretty much redundant, given the episode is not meant to have any coherent emotion or tone. At a push you could say it has a celebratory mood, with everything aligned in such a way as to spell out a ringing endorsement of the show’s achievements to date. There’s also a passing dig at clip shows themselves, when Bart – out of nowhere – announces “And there’s one Itchy and Scratchy cartoon I don’t think we’ll ever forget!” “Why d’you bring that up?” questions Marge. “It was an amusing episode…” answers Bart, “…of our lives.” 8

Verdict: 71%
At least Otto’s not in it.

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