The Secret Reason The Simpsons Needs Sideshow Bob


For years, The Simpsons used Sideshow Bob to voice frustrations with the state of the television industry on a regular basis, thanks to the character’s pretensions and his status as an entertainment industry has-been. Since the show’s Golden Age between seasons 3 and 12, The Simpsons has gotten more and more self-referential in terms of the show’s zany sense of humor. However, while episodes in The Simpsons season 34 even reference the show’s perceived ability to predict the future with its satirical stories, earlier seasons were less outlandish when it came to fourth-wall-breaking gags.

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Since The Simpsons wanted to maintain a cartoon world with its internal logic, the show sometimes struggled to directly criticize television cliches. After all, The Simpsons couldn’t address the fact that it was a cartoon without breaking the fourth wall (although a few episodes came close), thus depriving the show’s plots of their emotional impact. Luckily, one popular supporting character allowed The Simpsons to work around this issue.

Whether it was Bob attempting to ban TV with a nuclear threat or him almost killing Krusty during the character’s umpteenth promised retirement, Sideshow Bob’s storylines tend to feature the character bitterly voicing issues with the TV industry. While the Treehouse of Horror Halloween specials allowed The Simpsons to break the fourth wall and abandon any attempts at infernal logic, these episodes were mostly concerned with parodying classic horror and sci-fi rather than taking satirical aim at the television industry itself. In contrast, from the predictability of TV sitcom plots to the preponderance of network notes received by creators, Sideshow Bob’s rants could take on television’s systemic issues in a bombastic way that would sound out-of-place coming from most characters on The Simpsons.

How The Simpsons Used Sideshow Bob To Mock TV

“Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming” (season 7, episode 9) saw Sideshow Bob bemoan schmaltzy, over-familiar sitcom plots, a joke that allowed The Simpsons to laugh at their less subversive imitators without taking direct aim at a specific show. Similarly, “Day of the Jackanapes” (season 12, episode 13) saw Bob’s former co-worker and Simpsons supporting star Krusty the Clown quit his show due to endless, insufferable notes from network executives, jokes that could have seemed bitter or awkward if they weren’t filtered through Krusty and Sideshow Bob’s story. In the latter episode, Krusty and Sideshow Bob even bury their beef at the story’s end, with both having more animosity toward network executives (who are depicted as un-killable, inhuman robots) than each other.

While later seasons of The Simpsons saw the show feature even more brazen satires of the television industry, the best critiques of television that the show has pulled off came from Sideshow Bob thanks to the character’s unique perspective. Since Bob is intended to be a thoughtful, intelligent character, but also a goofy, self-obsessed, and pretentious bore, The Simpsons can joke about television’s problems via the character without sounding bitter or overly earnest. While meta, self-aware humor can be one of The Simpsons‘ biggest problems in later seasons, the character of Sideshow Bob allowed the show to effectively veil their critiques in earlier seasons. Thus, Sideshow Bob let The Simpsons mock TV cliches without seeming hypocritical when the show also occasionally utilized them.

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