It is not an exaggeration to say that American comedy would be poorer if The Simpsons didn’t sometimes need to be padded out to fill out its runtime. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the need to push episodes to full-length inspired new heights of inventiveness and innovation from the show’s writers and animators. Some of the show’s most beloved gags were born out of a desperate need to fill time, from the one-off The Adventures Of Ned Flanders short to the legendary rake gag of “Cape Feare.”
Originally Sideshow Bob was only supposed to step on a rake once after emerging from the underside of the Simpsons’ vehicle while stalking Bart, but the episode was running extremely short so the writers decided to sadistically drag out the gag by having Sideshow Bob step on one rake, then another, then another, then another, then another, then another, then another, then another, and then finally step on a ninth and final rake.
I have dubbed this technique The Rake Effect. The idea is that a gag is first funny, then repeated often enough that it becomes unfunny, and then exhausting before cycling back to being even funnier than it was the first time. The Rake Effect is a case study in the joys and agonies of repetition but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as funny as it is if it weren’t for the squirming, palpable humiliation in Sideshow Bob’s voice every time he takes a new step and ends up with another rake in his face for his troubles.