5:30pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'The Simpsons' Postmortem: EP Talks Surprising Character Death
[Warning: Spoilers ahead from the season 26 premiere of The Simpsons, "Clown in the Dumps."]
After showrunner Al Jean casually mentioned that producers would be killing off a character to tell a story with a "good emotional through line," it was Krusty the Clown's father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky (voiced by Emmy winner Jackie Mason) — and not the career funnyman — who delivered the punch.
The reveal came nearly a year after word about the storyline was first revealed and after a build-up of epic proportions in which Krusty and Homer were both positioned as likely knocking on death's door. (Though both characters had their own moments with the Grim Reaper during the premiere.)
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"It was something that we did not plan in any way as a possible event," Jean tells The Hollywood Reporter about the viral storyline. "I had suggested that we do an episode where Krusty's father passes away and the last word he says to Krusty is, 'Eh.' I thought it would be funny and sad to deal with that being the last thing your father says to you.
"The whole thing has been pretty funny in the way that people took something that was not intended to be a brainteaser and completely tied themselves into a knot and then wouldn't believe it when someone told them the truth," Jean says of the story, noting that producers decided to play it straight when titling the episode "Clown in the Dumps."
"I was doing an interview where they asked what episodes we had coming up and I said, 'Well, a character dies and the actor who played the character won an Emmy for that portrait,' and that turned into this huge puzzle. People all over the world were trying and are trying to solve still this mystery. … When we titled [the episode], we said we weren't going to play games; that we'd give it a title that's a pretty good clue, and we had people going, 'You're going to kill Krusty?!' "
The viral nature of the story astonished Jean, who called the nearly year of speculation "a little overhyped."
"I love True Detective, but I was convinced that Woody Harrelson was going to be the Yellow King. I thought there were all these clues that they planted. So when it didn't turn out to be him, I was disappointed. The one thing I wanted to do with this story is if people figure it out correctly, they shouldn't be disappointed because there should be a very logical answer with the limited clues we provide. … I wanted to make sure people knew what we were trying to do is an emotional episode about someone losing their dad."
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After all the hype, Jean says he doesn't think fans will be disappointed at the reveal.
"Do people really want to see Krusty die? I don't think they do! … We've been very careful; everything we've said has been very true in terms of who dies. So if you thought about it, you'll get it right and I don't think you'll be surprised or disappointed," he says. "The way that we had [Krusty and his father] reconcile — even though they can't — I was really happy with the way we got the emotion we were going for."
As for all teasers about Homer's mortality, Jean put the idea of a Homer-less The Simpsons to rest. "I'd lose my job in two seconds if I killed Homer; nothing is happening to him, trust me!" he said with a chuckle.
In terms of where The Simpsons goes from here, Jean said he'd love to see the show run for 10 or 20 more years, though he already has an idea for an eventual series finale.
"The finale I would do — if it were up to me: I would have the last episode end with the family getting ready to go to the Christmas pageant that opened the first episode so that the whole series is a continuous loop," he said. "But I hope I never have to use it!"
What did you think of The Simpsons' big reveal? Hit the comments below with your thoughts. The Simpsons airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. on Fox.