Scullyfied Simpsons: "Viva Ned Flanders" (Season 10, Episode 10)

 

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“Couldn’t we have gone to Branson instead? C’mon – you can’t hate Andy Williams!”

 

Airdate: January 10th, 1999

Synopsis: Dust from the demolition of Burns’ casino sends the Simpsons to the car wash. There, Homer finds out that Ned uses the seniors’ card to get a discount. At church, Homer gets a confession out of Ned – he’s actually 60 years old. His youth comes from a rather clean lifestyle. However, Ned comes to think about his point in life – that he just might be a bit too predictable.

Upon seeing Homer act like an idiot, he tries to get advice from the man. Homer’s advice involves going to Burns’ Casino… which was blown up. Therefore, the two take a road trip to Las Vegas. Homer’s lifestyle eventually makes an impression on Ned, and the two wake up the next morning hungover, in a suite, and married to two cocktail waitresses.

Review: In the season 5 episode “$pringfield”, the town decided to legalize gambling, with Mr. Burns as the main investor in the initiative. With Burns’s Casino, “$pringfield” lampooned the entire casino establishment – the encouragement of gambling even towards addicts, the incompetence at trying to quell problem gamblers from their worst urges, and even the hidden vices that are found in the most unlikely of characters – in that case, it was Marge that turned out to be a gambling addict. It was a quirky episode, and a fun one at that.

In this episode, “Burns’s Casino” is blown up. And while it’s unintentional, I can’t help but feel the irony, as this episode does a damn good job spitting on the classic era.

Ned Flanders, like most of the Simpsons characters, is (or, at least, was) interesting – mainly for what he didn’t represent. President George Bush once suggested that America needed to be “more like The Waltons and less like The Simpsons.” Flanders and his family were a very good representation of the sitcoms that were seen as endearing before The Simpsons premiered. Devoutly Christian, good natured, solidly middle-class (we think), they were what America is ideally though as. The Simpsons, in contrast, represented what working/middle-class America actually was in the late 80s/90s.

A deconstruction of Ned’s more conservative side would, in the right hands, be excellent. “Hurricane Neddy”, in fact, did so by showing that it may have stemmed from incompetent parents and a callous disciplinary structure, one that caused him to become repressed until a series of misfortunes cause him to blow up.

Here, this episode tries to showcase Ned’s lifestyle as exceedingly, almost cartoonishly, conservative. This, in itself, appears to be a major flaw with the Scully era – it removes the nuances and round-ness of the characters and exaggerates their most identifiable traits to cartoonish levels.

Before we go on, I am aware that The Simpsons is a comedy. However, in the past, it used to have relatable characters that happened to be comic. Flanders was always more in tune with his faith and wiser than Homer, but he had his vices and was willing to take the odd risk (for example, quitting sales to start a business targeting left-handed people). By making him come off as cartoonishly boring, we become less invested in the character from the get go. Thus, the character is less relatable, and thus, the emotional investment in the episode is decreased.

Speaking of which, Captain Wacky.

Yes, to try and learn how to cut loose, Ned turns to Homer. If Jerkass Homer showed his selfish aspects in “Kidney Trouble”, here, he shows his insanely impulsive aspects. This is another thing I should bring up – while Homer was always something of an Id, it used to be a more nuanced, toned-down id. Here, he’s this daredevil, living on the edge, doing stupid things, and everybody else can only look on in awe at how stupid he is.

No kidding – Ned’s dialogue doesn’t come off as lambasting of Homer in any way, despite the idiot’s wanton jackassery. He’s more amazed that Homer can “live on the edge”. Even if you take it as an act of desperation upon realizing that his life was boring, it still makes little sense.

Of course, we need “conflict”. After all, meek nerd egging on Captain Wacky can only carry you for so long. So, what, does Ned think that Homer goes too far and call him out? No – he’s fine with Captain Wacky’s wackiness until he finds out that, in a drunken haze he and Homer got married to two waitresses with little to no personality. Cue wacky chase through casino trying to escape the waitresses. It’s stupid.

There’s also the fact that, compared to the aforementioned “$pringfield”, “Viva Ned Flanders” does little to actually lampoon Vegas culture. Sure, there’s “God” telling Ned to keep gambling, and Ned and Homer being banned from the city for failing to uphold their vows, but little is packed in. It feels more of a setpiece for the aforementioned wacky chase than anything. Oh, and an excuse to get Ned married to a cocktail waitress.

Since I’ve spent the past… several paragraphs blowing this episode to kingdom come (for good reason), I am willing to cede a positive or two – the fact that, again, this episode does have quite a few funny lines. Granted, you have to have a decent tolerance for Jerkass Homer and zany plots, but there are quite a few funny jokes, such as…

  • The diss on 70s soft rock.
  • Lovejoy reminiding churchgoers that tithing is 10% off the top, and threatening to audit.
  • Abe and Jasper riding in a car with beautiful women, earning the envy of Ned… unaware that the seniors are hostages.
  • “The Satin Knights sing the Moody Blues. Opening act – The Moody Blues”
  • “God” encouraging Ned to gamble.
  • “Breakfast is on us, with full waffle bar privileges. But first, I’m afraid we have some bad news… the waffle bar is closed.”
  • And, I’ll admit, Homer’s botched attempt to flee in a car made me laugh.

The amount of stupidity and character derailment in the episode, however, makes those moments, frankly, not worth it. Nothing feels coherent and natural, everything feels too cartoonish, and any and all attempts to place this in reality… yeah, right. This was just boneheaded.

Tidbits:
  • Before we continue, I should bring up that Ginger and Amber wind up re-appearing in the Season 13 episode “Brawl in the Family”. I will not be looking at that episode, as it sits two out from the Scully Era. It just sounds stupid that they went back to this episode. This episode.
  • My question is… why did they demo Burns’s casino? What, did they have to kill time, or find a way to close a plot hole so that Ned and Homer could go to Vegas?
  • The Moody Blues show up, and get one line each. So… why? At least they tried to paraphrase the ending of “Nights in White Satin”.
  • Fun fact – apparently, Homer forgot Marge’s birthday. In the broadcast version, he noted that it was April 20th, noting that it was “the same as Hitler’s”. This episode wound up rerun on the FOX network on April 20th, 1999… mere hours after the date was made infamous again. On the DVD, the line was edited to be July 15th, “same as Lassie’s”.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 4. He acts like a cartoonish madman through the entire episode, and nobody seems to mind (with the exception of running away from a drunken marriage.)

Zaniness Factor: 3. I know it’s Vegas, but this is just boneheaded.

Favorite Scene: More a line, but Lovejoy threatening to audit for tithes.

Least Favorite Scene: I could say any scene in Vegas, but the twist involving the wedding really drove me up the wall.

Score: 3.

…and before the end, just a reminder – tomorrow (Feb. 15th) will be the premiere of the last Gravity Falls episode, at 7PM Eastern on Disney XD. It’s been quite a ride, folks.

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