(Photo: Fox)

Well, no one can accuse The Simpsons of trampling all over one of its all-time best episodes. Actually, wait—I can, as the 24-seasons-removed “Kamp Krustier” finds a way to revisit the classic Simpsons episode “Kamp Krusty” without expanding on it, deconstructing it, or even making a memorable travesty of it. That long-absent original “Kamp Krusty” writer David M. Stern returned to the show as main credited writer for the first time in some 18 years and produced something so innocuously unmemorable is a genuine disappointment.

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That “Kamp Krustier” isn’t a complete debacle has to do with a handful of decent gags that have a nice little life of their own. When Lisa and Bart are at a water park, Lisa—given a speedy pass because of her lingering trauma from that horrible Kamp Krusty summer—runs off while Bart (who’s faking his PTSD) complains about everyone getting special treatment. The timing of Lisa splashing by in the background, yelling, “Quit your whining, I’m riding the riiiide!” is expertly constructed. As his her second pass, where, soaked and smiling, she runs past Bart again, joyfully exclaiming, “While you were whining, I did it again!” Similarly, once Bart discovers that his fake trauma is actually concealing some real suppressed camp memories, he attempts to wake Lisa for help. When Lisa asks if he can wait ‘til morning, he agrees, and we cut to daylight where Lisa wakes and thanks him with a friendly, “Thanks for waiting ‘til morning.” They’re little character moments that have nothing to do with the plot, really, but that’s not a handicap when the plot here is so maddeningly flimsy and unimaginative.

To start with, there’s so little connection to the original “Kamp Krusty” that you wonder why they bothered revisiting it. The opening title card explains that this will be a sequel to the season four episode that picks up right when Krusty drops the traumatized kids off back in Springfield, but (apart from the fact that the episode doesn’t mention their side-trip to Tijuana) there’s no reason why this episode couldn’t be set any old time. There are no callbacks or references of any note, and the main plot splits between Homer and Marge being annoyed that the kids’ early return has interrupted their kids-free sexy times (Maggie’s seen fending for herself among their discarded clothes), and Bart and Lisa’s attempt to rediscover the hidden memories of that fateful stay at crappy Kamp Krusty. Even if this episode were an unrelated but hilarious half-hour of TV, that would be an issue—for one thing, it ignores the fact that, in the original, Homer and Marge know exactly why the kids were coming home, and when. But that fact that ”Kamp Krustier”’s narrative indifference is matched by bland irrelevance makes the episode seem even worse than it is. The best I can say, really, is that the episode is too inconsequential to be truly offensive to Simpsons fans who still care about the show.

As it turns out, Bart and Lisa are suppressing the fact that a fellow camper named Charlie seemingly drowned on one of Kamp Krusty’s unsupervised canoe trips, a trauma explained away when they discover that Charlie’s actually a dwarf who was writing an undercover exposé of the camp, and that he’s completely fine now. (He’s working as a masseur at the now-transformed Klub Krusty, a woodland swingers’ retreat.) Now, why exactly? Charlie’s not an interesting character, there were plenty of actual scarring incidents during their stay (remember when that poor kid’s hat that got eaten by that bear?), and the camp’s new direction is a wheeze of jokes that aren’t bad, so much as barely there. The one exception is poor Kirk hedging his bets while trying to proposition Marge, as, like the previous Bart-Lisa examples, it’s just a funny character beat that’s given enough time to take on life of its own.

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The same goes for Homer and Marge’s story, where Homer, sexually frustrated by Bart’s insistence on sleeping in his parents’ bed as part of his “get out of school” PTSD scam, discovers the self-improving nature of early rising and leftover non-sexual brain-space. Marge and Homer’s active sex life is always nice to see—their still-humming physical attraction always provides a believable dimension to the Simpsons’ relationship. But the gimmick here—complete with an Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* But Were Afraid To Ask-style view of the little Homers inside Homer’s brain—remains a gimmick in that it reduces the couple to mere plot-puppets. It’s especially disheartening as the original episode saw Homer, freed from Bart’s malign influence, actually taking a lot of positive steps, while finding the time and energy (and then some) to romance his wife. Here, Homer just immediately becomes a sexless go-getter while Marge gets so stereotypically frustrated that she shreds the protesting Homer’s clothes—and gets a “no means no” lecture for her trouble. Yuck.

Here, too, there are a few jokes that work, mainly because they’re divorced from the mundane proceedings. There’s a running gag about Ned repeatedly calling the cops on Marge and Homer’s sexcapades that made me laugh. (We see him poised with phone in hand as he overhears them working up to some inexplicable Penn and Teller roleplay.) And Homer and Marge seek out sex therapists Masters and Johnson (played by their Masters Of Sex actors, Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, making no impression somehow). When Masters explains that they have “deviants” coming in for a study, we hear Moe at the door, see the elaborately clunky robo-girlfriend he’s made out of a child’s amusement ride, and then listen for a long time as various unseen bells, beeps, and whistles go off and everyone sits in uncomfortable silence. “All right, deviant out,” says Moe finally, concluding a gross, funny bit that stands on its own deviant feet just fine. Unfortunately, “Kamp Krustier” cannot, either as a worthy sequel to a beloved Simpsons episode or as a memorable outing on its own. A below-average modern-day Simpsons is one thing, but this one raised expectations and then dashed them. This one stung a bit.

Stray observations

  • Krusty himself barely figures in the plot, and he’s a lot more uninterestingly corrupt when he does.
  • Murmuring under his breath at Bart’s fakery, Homer’s bitter, “You don’t need pillows under your butt. You butt is pillows” is some prime, petty Homer resentment.
  • Homer, after the impressed Mr. Burns offers the new and improved Homer a raise: “More money? But that’s more than I make now!”
  • Homer, explaining the connection between abstinence and productivity: “You don’t name a company ‘Microsoft’ if you’re getting some.”
  • Another decent joke is the reveal that Bart has been scoring Lisa’s thunder and lightning memories with props, and that he remains committed to his Foley work for the rest of the scene.
  • Lisa, about Charlie: “They like to be called little people.” Charlie: “Eh, not so much.”
  • That’s Simpsons semi-regular all-star Kevin Michael Richardson doing a fine Barry White impression over the end credits.

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