“We artists should not be judged by ordinary standards,” the Joker says at one point in this very silly and very fun episode. “We’re a very special breed.”
On the one hand, this story is more evidence that the show was running out of gas. The Joker gets elevated as an artistic genius, and bamboozles several wealthy socialites into taking an art class, and then holds them for ransom. There isn’t anything interesting at all in that plot, and it certainly doesn’t require the Joker. But appearances are deceiving. The whole affair is a chuckling satire of modern art. It’s done with sledgehammer subtlety, and if you’re not watching it with a four year-old, there’s a three-minute sequence that goes on forever, but there are elements of delicious, nasty, biting commentary inside it.
Things start very well, with Fritz Feld playing a very bored artist who is suddenly inspired anew by the Joker’s vandalism of his tedious landscapes and Grant Wood copies. Feld is actually downright perfect in the role; oddly choosing to play it straight and not overact even a shade, making the parody of pop art more vicious.
Then we have an international painting exhibition, which isn’t anywhere as mean as it should be. Four incredibly renowned artists – their names, like Vincent Van Gauche, chosen just to be recognizable to a mass audience – deliberately paint like dimwits. One paints with his feet, another has a monkey toss rags at a canvas. The opportunity for great, gleeful cruelty was here, but they went for raucous comedy that had Daniel – oddly very talkative and kind of annoying tonight – roaring with laughter. He absolutely loved this scene, but what I thought was funny was the reaction of the judges after the “artists” finish, as they give this nonsense somber consideration, informed criticism, and their unfettered praise. Twelve years later, John Cleese and Eleanor Bron did a celebrated cameo in Doctor Who praising the TARDIS as a work of art with much the same pretentious, academic gravity as these twits.
Then they give the Joker the award for his completely blank canvas, which is entitled “Death of a Mauve Bat.”
It’s done with a sledgehammer, and it is hoisted by a bunch of old squares in Hollywood who just cannot believe what passes for art these days, darn kids, in my day we knew how to appreciate a good portrait, but there are traces of something very informed in there, and frankly, the whole thing is, quite surprisingly, a complete hoot.