Warning: Spoilers for The Simpsons season 34, episode 5.
While the movie adaptations of Stephen King’s It were big box-office successes, The Simpsons improved on their plots when season 34’s Treehouse of Horror Halloween special mocked the horror movies. Infamous for its sprawling story, overlapping timelines, countless characters, and lengthy diversions onto random subplots, It is a fundamentally difficult book to adapt. Despite this, a miniseries and a two-part movie adaptation of It were both met with acclaim, and the upcoming Pennywise-centric It prequel Welcome To Derry proves there is still interest in more from the novel’s fictional universe.
While 2017’s It and its 2019 sequel, It Chapter Two, did an admirable job of condensing the novel’s plot, they failed to make the love triangle between Bill, Ben, and Beverly compelling. While Ben pined after Beverly, the more self-confident Bill was able to express his feelings for her, the It movies didn’t give viewers much reason to invest in their shared subplot, nor was there much of a meaningful conflict between the two boys vying for Beverly’s attention. Surprisingly, The Simpsons’ “Not IT” managed to fix this issue when the cartoon satirized the Stephen King adaptation and improved its central romance in the process.
The second Simpsons season 34 episode to focus on Krusty, “Not IT,” was also the first full-length Treehouse of Horror movie parody. Usually, The Simpsons splits its annual Halloween specials into three segments, each of which will spoof a different movie. However, “Not IT” devoted the episode’s entire run-time to parodying the plot of Stephen King’s It and It Chapter Two. Comic Book Guy played the role of Bill Denbrough (sort of) while Homer filled in for the new kid in town, Ben Hanscom, but the story of “Not IT” merged their two plots together in a weird retelling that actually improved their character dynamics massively.
Since Treehouse of Horror episodes ignores the loose canon of The Simpsons, “Not IT” was able to marry Marge and the Comic Book Guy off when Comic Book Guy’s Bill stand-in took credit for a love poem that Homer’s Ben equivalent wrote for her. This was a twist on the original story of It, where Beverly assumed Bill wrote the poem and harbored a secret crush on him as a result, but where Bill never duplicitously took credit for writing the poem, and Beverly never married him. The Simpsons version of the story was more streamlined and had a clearer conflict since making Comic Book Guy the story’s villain gave viewers a reason to root for Homer.
In Stephen King’s It and its sequel, it was tough to care who (if anyone) Beverly ended up with in the end. While The Simpsons season 34 made Marge more than Homer’s love interest in her solo adventures, the show still had a built-in advantage here, as viewers will always want the stars of The Simpsons to end up together. However, “Not IT” didn’t take that for granted and, in doing so, ended up making the plot of It more compelling. In King’s novel and its movie adaptations, Bill couldn’t be blamed for hooking up with Beverly since he didn’t know anything about the poem from her secret admirer.
In contrast, in “Not IT,” Comic Books Guy’s version of Bill was well aware that Homer has a crush on Marge and did all he could to stop the pair from getting together. When he lied and claimed he wrote the poem, it was genuinely sad to see Homer crestfallen that Marge chose Comic Book Guy over him. Unlike South Park’s Stephen King parody, The Simpsons Halloween special mined pathos from this moment and even got a surprisingly creepy scene out of the conflict later on when Comic Book Guy almost confessed to Marge, only to realize he’s talking to a disguised form of Krusto, Krusty’s Pennywise parody.
It’s plot got fairly sad thanks to the death of numerous members of the Losers’ Club. However, “Not IT” made the central love triangle much more impactful since not only does Comic Book Guy’s version of Bill turn the character into an outright villain, but his redemptive arc also made him a tragic figure. The Simpsons season 34 relies on recurring characters for a lot of its strongest gags, but the sight of Comic Book Guy sacrificing his life so that he can make amends for keeping Homer and Marge apart was a rare case of the show using its large supporting cast for effective drama, and a weirdly touching moment in an otherwise silly, over-the-top episode.
In the novel version of It and its movie adaptations, there were some moving scenes and at least one devastating death. However, the central trio of Bill, Ben, and Beverly all emerged from the story unscathed. As the main characters, it was clear they were never going to die, and they didn’t. In contrast, The Simpsons’ spoof of Stephen King’s It injected real stakes into their love triangle by killing off Comic Book Guy. It was strange to say, but The Simpsons’ parody of Pennywise ended up taking a bigger risk with its characters than the Stephen King book.
Killing off Comic Book Guy also allowed The Simpsons to avoid one of It Chapter Two’s biggest problems, which was the movie’s mishandling of Richie and Eddie’s story. In It Chapter Two, Richie and Eddie were heavily implied to be a closeted LGBTQIA+ couple who never felt comfortable expressing their love for each other. This made Eddie’s death particularly brutal and caused the homophobic hate crime depicted in It Chapter Two’s opening scene all the tougher to stomach. However, The Simpsons season 34’s latest parody broke from this story, killing off Comic Book Guy and jettisoning the relationship between Eddie and Richie.
While this did mean that there was less LGBTQIA+ representation in “Not IT,” The Simpsons was always going to struggle to fit in the story of It in one twenty-minute episode. This approach gave Eddie and Richie’s equivalents on The Simpsons a happier ending while avoiding the tricky proposition of parodying It Chapter Two’s opening scene (which was based on a real-life hate crime and, as such, is tough to tastefully make light of). Thus, The Simpsons season 34’s parody of Stephen King’s It managed to improve on issues with the original adaptation of the novel and It Chapter Two while still simultaneously providing a funny spoof of them.
New episodes of The Simpsons air on Fox on Sundays.