Depending on your perspective, the clip show is either an exciting challenge or a trial of the damned for overworked, overpaid television writers. Clip shows are unwieldy beasts by nature, Franken-episodes stitched together from bits and pieces of previous installments from earlier seasons willed into life by the angry demands of commerce. The clip show is fundamentally dishonest, pragmatic and cheap, a smorgasbord of lukewarm television leftovers masquerading as a new dish.
Is it any wonder writers seem to hate writing clip shows as much as we hate watching them? To its credit, The Simpsons resisted the easy allure of the clip show as long as possible. Fox understandably wanted as much Simpsons content as possible at the height of the show’s popularity and didn’t particularly care if that content was new, old, or some combination of the two. To that end, Fox wanted four clip shows per season but The Simpsons writers and producers respectfully declined before finally giving in and including a clip show in the series’ fourth season.
The title of “So It’s Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show” betrays the writers' profound ambivalence about having to churn out such an episode. It’s a title that all but apologizes to audiences—and for good reason. The Simpsons generally had great respect for its audience, but “So It’s Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show” groans under the weight of clumsy segues and network-mandated contrivances.
The best moments in “So It’s Come To This” riff on the innate artificiality of clip shows. In the episode’s most inspired gag, Bart follows up a flashback of Homer dealing with aliens (which, to play the Comic Book Guy for a moment here, is a little confusing since I have been led to believe that “Treehouse Of Horror” episodes are non-canonical and consequently are not part of the show’s official timeline, as all the other clips in the show would be) with, “And there’s one Itchy & Scratchy cartoon I don’t think we’ll ever forget!” as a flimsy pretense to show an Itchy & Scratchy clip. It’s a segue so clumsy and irrelevant it borders on nonsensical, even surreal. It’s so jarring, in fact, that it causes the fourth wall to shatter when Marge, realizing that Bart’s memory is even less tangentially related to what’s currently going on than everyone else’s, asks him why he’d introduce such a bizarre non sequitur. “It was an amusing episode—of our lives,” Bart responds in winking comment directed as much to the audience as his family.
Later, Grandpa tells the Simpsons that being in a coma is actually swell, assuring them, “You relive long lost summers, kiss girls from high school. It’s like one of those TV shows where they show a bunch of clips from old episodes.” “So It’s Come To This” intermittently attempts to rebel against the clip show, or subvert it from within, but all too often it simply plays the clip show’s dispiriting recycling game relatively straight.
The episode begins with Homer intent on pranking Bart something awful on April Fool’s Day, as revenge for all the pranks Bart has pulled on him in the past. Bart promises to top Homer—which shouldn’t be too difficult—but Homer scoffs at Bart’s promise with the taunting words, “You couldn’t fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electrified fooling machine.”
Clearly words like those must be avenged so Bart has a can of Duff Beer shaken up so violently that when it’s opened it causes a massive explosion that lands a comatose Homer in the hospital. Putting Homer in a coma provides a convenient excuse for the entire family to gather around its patriarch and reflect on his life and legacy of getting hit in the head consistently throughout his disaster-plagued existence. This leads to such natural attractions as a machine-gun montage sequence of Homer enduring head trauma that anticipates the supercuts of the YouTube generation. In fact, the montage of Homer taking hits to the head really feels more like something you’d see online today than on a network television show in 1993.
“So It’s Come To This” has some inspired new gags, like a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest homage where Barney hurls a water fountain out a window and flees the hospital, prompting Moe to deadpan, “He really needs a girlfriend” or a distraught Grandpa wailing of his son, “Poor Homer. This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you,” then being horrified and appalled when Homer comes back to life. However, the episode exists mainly as an excuse to show recontextualized clips from the show’s run. The clips are great, of course. This is golden-era Simpsons we’re talking about and while it’s always nice to see Homer in the land of Chocolate or traipsing through Slumber Land the connecting tissue is consistently clumsy and arbitrary.
“So It’s Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show” at least closes in classic form with Homer waking from his coma. Everything is great, except, as Marge cheerfully points out, “You lost five percent of your brain!” to which Homer chipperly responds, “Me lose brain? Uh oh!” It’s funny because Homer has serious brain damage. Like so many a golden-age episode, “So It’s Come To This” closes on a note that’s sweet, incredibly dark, and morbid.
The episode is about as good as possible, but to say it falls far short of the season’s high standards would be a massive understatement. Masterfully reheated leftovers, it seems, are still just leftovers.
- After “Last Exit To Springfield” the show probably earned the right to take things a little easy
- Boy am I glad that Fox didn’t succeed in its bid to get four clip shows per season from The Simpsons. That really would have altered the fundamental dynamic of the entire show.
- I didn’t include clips in this write-up because all the highlights are pretty much stuff you’ve already seen.
- “Truly Transcendent Clip Shows” would make for a short Inventory. What would y’all put on it?
- Next up is “The Front.” If memory serves, that’s a good one.