Ken Keeler Isn’t Sorry for What He Did to Principal Skinner on ‘The Simpsons’
At the end of the infamous Simpsons episode “The Principal and the Pauper,” Judge Snyder ruled that the ruffian named Armin Tamzarian would forever be known by his alias “Principal Seymour Skinner,” and that no one will ever speak of the unfortunate events that unfolded again “under penalty of torture.” Well, the episode’s writer, Ken Keller, clearly isn’t afraid of a jumper cable to the gonads.
The episode revolves around the revelation that Seymour Skinner, the mild-mannered school administrator and mama’s boy, wasn’t Seymour Skinner at all — he was a reformed roughneck with a motorcycle and an inexplicably Armenian name who assumed the Skinner persona in a Donald Draper-esque war casualty identity theft. Since its airing in 1997, “The Principal and the Pauper” has garnered more negative reviews, more ruthless retrospectives and more hyperbolic labels than any Simpsons installment that came before it. But Keeler doesn’t care. In fact, Keeler even called it “the best episode of television, I feel, I ever wrote.”
That quote comes from the extras on the DVD release of the ninth season — or, as some Simpsons die-hards call it, “the beginning of the end.”
“Doesn’t it strike you as strange you feel so strongly about Principal Skinner?” Keeler asked critical fans on the commentary track. The writer implored upset fans to appreciate the metatextual importance of “The Principal and the Pauper,” saying that the episode “is about a community of people who like things just the way they are.” Keeler explained, “Skinner’s not really close to these people, he’s a minor character, but they get upset when someone comes in and says, ‘This is not really the way things are,’ and they run the messenger out of town on the rail. When the episode aired, lo and behold, a community of people who like things just the way they are got mad. It never seems to have occurred to anyone that this episode is about the people who hate it.”
However, to many Simpsons fans, “The Principal and the Pauper” was more than just a shakeup of the status quo — it was a creative turning point for the worse. Two episodes into Mike Scully’s tenure as showrunner, an era that many critics and fans have identified as the end of the show’s Golden Age, “The Principal and the Pauper” was a plot line that showed downright hostility toward the show’s characteristically flexible canon, opening the door for other egregious retcons, recharacterizations and anachronisms that littered the long decline in quality that continues to the present day. Though the previous season’s showrunners, Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, had more of a hand in the production of “The Principal and the Pauper” than Scully, the plot line coincided with the degeneration of Simpsons storytelling that still has some superfans angry at everyone involved.
As the more portly among them would say, “Worst episode ever!”