Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for March 5 through 11 is “Kamp Krustier,” the 16th episode of the 28th(!) season of Fox’s The Simpsons.
The song, a parody of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” is a self-conscious goof on The Simpsons’ longevity, written and performed at a time when all involved in the show were wondering just how much more gas the series had in it.
On April 21, that song will turn 15 years old. And it was in the 13th season of The Simpsons. It debuted as part of the show’s 286th episode. The show itself passed its 600th episode with much fanfare in 2016, and is currently in the midst of its 28th season.
It’s starting to seem as if the show really won’t ever stop. The main cast — which currently makes a reported $300,000 per episode — might eventually get too expensive, but they’re all voice actors. Could they simply be replaced? If that’s the case, then there’s really no reason for The Simpsons to ever end.
And yet the 28th season hasn’t been as strained as you might expect. Yes, sometimes the series goes back to the same story wells a few too many times (I don’t really know that I need to see Homer and Marge’s marriage tested ever again), but it’s a free-floating satire of American excess, and American excess is always finding new ways to be obnoxious.
And in “Kamp Krustier,” the show makes explicit something it’s toyed with before: Its history is so long, rich, and varied that it can do direct sequels to old episodes.
“Kamp Krustier” is something The Simpsons has never tried before
The Simpsons has a few recurring formats it uses from season to season. The murderous Sideshow Bob turns up every few years to try to wipe Bart from the face of the earth, and every Halloween sees a new trio of vaguely spooky tales in the ongoing “Treehouse of Horror” feature.
But “Kamp Krustier” is the first direct sequel to an earlier episode. It picks up where season four’s “Kamp Krusty” — in which Bart and Lisa go away to the titular summer camp, which is essentially a child sweatshop, while Homer and Marge’s sex life revs up with their kids out of the house — left off.
Bart and Lisa return, traumatized, while Homer, back to sexual frustration with the kids in the house, throws himself into his work and unexpectedly becomes Springfield Nuclear Power Plant’s most valuable employee. The episode is even written by David M. Stern, who wrote the original “Kamp Krusty” and hasn’t written a Simpsons episode since 1999.
Often sequels are threadbare retreads of old ideas that slavishly replicate the original in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle twice. But “Kamp Krustier” works because it understands something The Simpsons often glosses over in its rush to get back to the status quo by any given episode’s end: The things that happen to these characters would reverberate with them past those immediate events.
If Bart and Lisa really had endured what they did in “Kamp Krusty,” this episode suggests, those events would hang with them. Bart’s growing realization that he really is suffering from camp-induced PTSD, after pretending to so he could skip school, is a predictable reveal, sure, but Stern’s script treats it with the seriousness and weight it deserves. (Fortunately for Bart and Lisa’s sake, they didn’t actually witness the death of another child, as they feared initially.)
And while the “Homer can’t have sex, so he excels at work!” storyline is perhaps a too-neat reversal of the original episode’s Homer and Marge storyline, it provides so many good jokes that I don’t really care. (My favorite: While attempting to have sex in Bart’s treehouse before the kids come home, Homer and Marge are nearly arrested by Chief Wiggum for violating the “No Girls Allowed” sign Bart has posted.)
The effect on the show is noticeable. I mostly watch The Simpsons nowadays because it’s so old that for a handful of episodes each season, it will just try weird things in hopes of finding fresh and interesting stories to tell. Often it fails, but sometimes you get an episode like “Kamp Krustier,” which is funny and fresh without feeling like it’s coasting off the show’s glory days — a remarkable feat for an episode that is literally a sequel to an episode from said glory days.
600 episodes = 600 sequels
The natural impulse after watching “Kamp Krustier” is to wonder which other classic Simpsons episodes deserve sequels. Naturally, it would be great to see a direct follow-up to “You Only Move Twice,” the season eight episode in which Homer ends up working for Hank Scorpio, who’s basically a Bond villain. (Fellow critic Alan Sepinwall had the same idea.)
But I’d also love to see a direct follow-up to the series’ Christmas debut, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” on how the family integrated Santa’s Little Helper into their home, or maybe even “King Size Homer,” to better see how Homer lost his additional weight and got back to a svelte 250 pounds.
Why stop there, though? Not every episode of The Simpsons is “Kamp Krusty” (though I think that’s one of the weaker episodes of the show’s best season), but there’s probably room to expand on every Simpsons episode to have aired so far. More “Simpsons Bible Stories”? Sure, why not! Want to see what happens when the residents of Springfield travel to other cities to destroy their monorails? I do!
The great advantage The Simpsons has always had beyond similar series like Family Guy is the sense that for as wild as its stories get, it takes place in some real, consistent world. Springfield is elastic and can contain many different genres and weird jokes, but the Simpson family’s personalities are relatively consistent, and the city itself is always glomming onto the next wild craze.
As such, sequels are a natural fit for the show’s world, because they allow the show to build out and enrich that world without pushing too much. I wouldn’t want The Simpsons to become all sequels (contrary to most of what I wrote above), but the series felt so enlivened by “Kamp Krustier” that I wouldn’t mind seeing it dip into its vaults to see what it could come up with next.
Just don’t revisit that episode where all jockeys are leprechauns. Please. I beg of you.