“Homer? You are the worst human being I have ever met.” – Ned Flanders, “Hurricane Neddy”. Give it three seasons, Flanders.
Airdate: February 13th, 2000.
Written By: Ian Maxtone Graham.
Plot: A trip to the nature preserve results in the Simpson clan encroaching on a racetrack. At a race later that day, they meet the Flandereses on the top deck of the bleachers. Unfortunately, a rather tragic series of events unfurl, and Maude winds up knocked off the stands to her death. Ned has to cope with the loss of his beloved… which he does with the help of a man.
A certain man.
That caused his wife’s death.
The debate over the decline of The Simpsons has often lied in the sentiments and degree of said decline? Not only is it often debated how long the show entered the rough spot (if it hit said spot at all), but there’s also the debate of how far the show sank. As I mentioned in my review of “Saddlesore Galactica”, there are plenty of fans that do watch the show to this day, and argue that while there has been a decline, that the fans that call for the show’s cancellation rely on hyperbolic sentiment.
They argue that the golden years were so illustrious, that nothing, short of nothing, could match them. These fans argue that the Dead Homer Society faction of fans – in effect, the #WengerOut of the Simpsons fandom (and that’s neither a complaint nor a compliment) – are either relying on rose-colored glasses or have such impossible standards as to ruin a perfectly good show for themselves and others.
And you know what?
That’s fine by me!
If you want to enjoy new episodes of The Simpsons, that is absolutely cool. I disagree with your argument that it’s particularly good (or even watchable) television, but again, that’s my opinion. Even Zombie Simpsons – a blog with probably the most thorough analysis of the show’s decline out on the internet – argues that their visceral reaction to the show’s current state is only exacerbated because the golden years (seasons 1-7, according to them) were, in their eyes, so brilliant as to be part of the American canon.
To a cynical select few, it might come off as being part of the #WengerOut-esque bandwagon, this idea that we should kill off this institution of American television because a few nerds on the internet are angry. Which, alright. It’s the internet. You don’t have to go far to find insolent jackasses.
To those few, I want to disclose that what I am about to say, and my rationale thereof, is only a very slightly hyperbolic take on my own personal beliefs. Very slightly, in fact. Yes, I know this is just a show, but it revolves around my all-time favorite TV show. And therefore, where I am coming from is pretty clear.
Here we go…
“Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” is the single most infuriating piece of fiction that I have covered or very likely will ever cover on The Review Nebula.
Oh, yes. I’ve covered quite a few episodes and movies that have shocked me with their poor quality. I’ve looked at “Beyond A Joke”, “Krytie TV”, “Pete”, “Timewave”, “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Make Room For Lisa”, “Kidney Trouble”, “Saddlesore Galactica”, Star Trek: Nemesis… and that’s what I can list off the top of my head. Hell, Steven Universe has produced objectively better episodes that frustrated me. Put “Fusion Cuisine” against a mid-tier Scully-era episode, and “Fusion Cuisine” will irritate me more because it is more irritating.
But that’s beside the point. I hate this episode as much as, if not more, than anything that I have ever touched.
If you want to know why? I’m just going to not bury the lede on the reasoning any further. “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” is the episode that permanently broke The Simpsons beyond repair. As far as I’m concerned, even if the show produced anything good afterward – and it did, very occasionally – this episode marked the show crossing an event horizon. From this moment on, the show was permanently altered by an event handled so appallingly poorly that it casts a permanent shadow on everything that aired afterward.
Let’s not hold off on the autopsy of this any longer… why did they kill Maude Flanders?
I think most Simpsons fans know the story here. Maggie Roswell, the voice actress behind Maude Flanders, was involved in the show’s occasional pay dispute. She was getting paid peanuts, given that she had to fly to LA and back to Denver. She wanted a pay raise of three times the amount of money, the network offered a pittance ($150, that wouldn’t have been enough to cover the plane tickets round-trip), and she walked away. Frankly, I don’t blame her. If that was a response to the show that I had attached myself to, combined with oodles of money that News Corp made on a daily basis, I would’ve told them to go pound sand.
The writers responded in kind.
They had two options. They could’ve gone the route of Phil Hartman’s characters and Lunchlady Doris* and put them in the background, if not retire them entirely. That way, should Roswell return, they can bring the character back. Who knows, maybe they can create an in-universe reason for putting the character on the back burner, and have Ned try and cope with that.
Or, they can kill her off, and make it so that Roswell can’t return to that particular character. Honestly, for all the talk given of character development, it seems spiteful. Like the writers said “alright, you won’t take peanuts for this character? Well, enjoy watching her die.” Even further? Mike Scully admitted that they killed her during February Sweeps, in an attempt to boost ratings. Oh, that’s a good sign, there. (Even worse, apparently, they didn’t even try and hide her death given the title. So they fail at the television equivalent of clickbait. That’s either stunningly subversive or boneheaded; at this point, I tend to go for the latter. Or, given what we’ve seen in the last episode, they think we deserve to be treated like simpletons.)
Now, this show has killed off its characters before. Remember Bleeding Gums Murphy? They brought him back, killed him, and spent the episode focusing on Lisa trying to elevate him from a cult jazz artist to a more widespread phenomenon. Hell, while she didn’t die in her first episode, Mona Simpson’s reappearance and departure in “Mother Simpson” was treated with the highest gravitas. Many would argue that the ending scene, with Homer sitting on the roof of his car looking at the night sky, is the single most moving moment in the entire franchise. (Personally speaking, the episode is close to my Top Episodes Of All Time.)
So, what gravitas is to be found in this episode? Well, one of the very first moments here is a joke about how nobody wants to see somebody’s name carved over a great piece of nature such as a tree, as it would ruin its beauty…
…I’m with you, Lisa.
Yup, this episode is going to go meta. And fail. It actually begins as The Simpsons stumble across a racetrack while on a nature hike! (What are we, over a thousand words in, and I’m actually beginning the episode?) What bearing does it have towards this episode? Well… here’s the issue. The material revolving around this is just… blah. There’s really not much I can say here.
And then the Flandereses show up to the race. You know things are going to utterly suck from the very first line Maude says. I’m going to level with you – Marcia Mitzman Gaven barely sounds like Maude. It’s honest to god like they didn’t even try and get somebody to match the vocal tones. And that reminds you of why this show is taking this route, and the anger starts to seep up.
Now, here’s the deal. This death also stems from a big twist. After all, the satire of NASCAR is that it is a dangerous sport, prone to crashes, debris, and all that entails. And Maude’s death, in the eyes of the scriptwriters, was meant to be the result of a rather innocuous sports cliche – the T-shirt cannon. I mean, Maude’s death was meant to be a cruel twist of fate, catching everybody unawares. It’s certainly dodgy on its own merits, but I can see where they were going.
So, the manner of death itself is not the big issue I have here.
No, the issue I have with the death is the man who instigated it.
From moment one of this episode, Homer Jay Simpson is in full-blown jackass mode. Most of the first act consists of zany antics reigning supreme. To this end, he even causes a wreck after fleeing from the Pit. So, when the T-Shirt cannons come out, what else? He drunkenly requests them, disgusting Maude so much that she departs the show with a joke – noting that foot-longs “make Ned uncomfortable.” Dignified. Asshat keeps requesting the shirt in the most insolent way possible, he paints ketchup on his chest to produce a target, they fire, and then…
“Ooo! A bobby pin!”
He ducks, the shirts fly past, and who else is there but Maude Flanders, hot dogs in hand, taking a barrage of tee shirts to the body, flying off of the stands as a result of the impact.
OK, first off, I’m not a physicist, but THREE TEE SHIRTS had enough power to knock a grown woman over a waist-high ledge. Maybe the velocity was enough to bring her over, but still.
Second off, it takes Ned a full two seconds to react. He doesn’t even sound shocked until he hears the thud. It’s as cliche a reaction as you can get. Combine that with Dr. Hibbert running out to the stands alongside random townspeople that were there (because… reasons), dramatically pronouncing her dead. (That will be important in a bit.)
Third, only Ned appears to react visibly on the top of the bleachers. You would expect maybe, you know, Rod and Todd to have some form of visible reaction? Or maybe Marge? But no. Laziness, animators. Laziness.
Lastly? Well, just look at this. Homer’s insolence, insanity, and fecklessness have finally killed somebody. And not just implied death, but downright took his next-door neighbor and had her knocked to her completely undignified and outlandish demise. Even if it was a freak accident, you would expect some form of gravitas, some sort of dynamic shift.
I mean, others have commented on how the Flandereses were closer to the ideal TV family (the Cosbys, et al), while the Simpsons were more realistic. So I’m not going to get into how this upsets that particular dynamic. But it does, and from Season 13 on, not to the show’s benefit.
But that’s for another reviewer. At her funeral, the show goes meta. First, it cuts to gravestones of characters whose deaths were treated in a far more dignified fashion than this. (OK, Dr. Monroe died offscreen and Grimey snapped and touched an electrical current, but still.) Then, and this is gorgeous, Rev. Lovejoy’s eulogy doesn’t so much go on the nose as much as it paints the entire face:
In many ways, Maude Flanders was a supporting player in our lives. She didn’t grab our attention with memorable catchphrases… or comical accents. (Cue a catchphrase chorus that was done far better at the end of “Bart Gets Famous”) But, whether you noticed her or not, Maude was always there. And we thought she always would be. My friends, life is about change. Just yesterday, Apu was a lonely bachelor. (Apu snipes, “Yes, thank God those days are over.”) And the Van Houtens were enjoying a storybook marriage. (Cue sniping between the Van Houtens.)
This is probably the worst possible time for a show to go meta, at least if it cares about the cast members and characters within. And it tries to invoke this idea of the show constantly changing, which I wouldn’t have a problem with if you jackasses didn’t kill her off because her voice actor wanted to be paid a decent wage and the selfish morons in accounting didn’t want to pay her, and you cynically used it in a pitiful attempt to boost the ratings of a show that is increasingly bereft of ideas and used to scorn ratings-seeking bait, and why does Homer get a t-shirt at the funeral? He should be reviled by everybody that was at the track, BECAUSE HIS INSOLENCE AND IDIOCY LED –
Yeah, sorry about…
…actually? No, I’m not sorry about that rant. Act II is where the episode goes from “clumsy” to downright “disgusting”. It’s treated as a big joke when it shouldn’t be. Jokes mesh in with the supposedly morbid tone of the episode in a way that just makes me sick. The jokes are both provocative and completely unfunny at the same time.
Oh, but that’s just aspect one of what makes the second and third acts of this episode so infuriating. Homer – the jackass whose behavior killed Maude Flanders – tries to get close to Ned and comfort him, albeit in the most unnerving way possible. You know, I could buy Homer being guilt-ridden for causing Maude’s death, trying to make amends in some way. But it’s clear at the start of the second half, when he apparently cries because he can’t be a jerk to Flanders anymore, that the writers at best didn’t communicate it well, if they meant to communicate it at all.
Actually, there is one brief moment where they do try and showcase the guilt. One. And how does it pan out? Well, here’s the quote. Let me remind you that this episode reached 10.8 million households across the United States, an increase of 1.2 million viewers compared to “Saddlesore Galactica”. (No comment.) This is what the writers considered a moment of remorse from Homer Jay Simpson. This is considered a moving moment. I did not edit the following quotes. At all.
Flanders: If I’d only been a gentleman and gotten the hot dogs myself, she’d still be here.
Homer (akin to describing the weather): Now, now, now – don’t beat yourself up. I’m the one who drove her out of her seat. I’m the one who provoked the lethal barrage of tee-shirts. I’m the one who parked in the ambulance zone, preventing any possible resuscitation. (Ned briefly looks livid) Yuh, uh, but there’s no point in playing the blame game.
…and there we are. Thirteen minutes and fifty seconds into Season 11, Episode 14. This, to me, is when The Simpsons well and truly forever died.
First off, the obvious. Where did Homer park in the ambulance zone? Probably after going onto the racetrack, but there was nothing to indicate where he parked in the moment afterward. It was a stupid gag meant to show just how wacky our protagonist is, and best case scenario, it’s come back to add further impact on how Jerkass Homer killed a woman. This is where you show instead of tell in your script.
Second? There was no way she was surviving that fall. Her neck was broken, and gravity likely destroyed her vital organs. Dr. Hibbert pronounced her dead on the spot. That was in the script. Do you even proofread your scripts?
Third, and probably most damningly? Between the delivery of the lines to the animation to the sheer dialogue itself… to put it simply, Homer, who is already removed from his prior characterization as the loutish everyman with a heart of gold, goes from “unlikable” to “effectively sociopathic” in this one moment. He not only acknowledges that he killed a woman, but tries to deflect blame on his own end for the death therein. It actually sounds like that scene from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia when Mrs. Reynolds casually admits to Dee, Dennis, and Frank that the former two were the end product of an extramarital affair.** And she was meant to be a narcissistic disaster area, responsible for a good chunk of her children’s hangups.
I’ll be honest here – if my SO met an untimely end, and somebody I knew admitted to her death and tried to deflect blame right in front of my face, I would want nothing, nothing to do with them ever again. Even if it meant leaving the state, I would never so much as want to see their weasely face after a line like that. And that’s if I keep my composure around them – the police would have to probably pull me off of the jackass, and I would welcome any sort of jail time they gave me on the grounds that I would be far away from the man.
You think I’m overreacting to this joke? Well, guess what? Maude ain’t coming back. This episode has irrevocably altered the show’s canon. Unless they completely dispatch with reality (which, given later seasons, they might as well do), Maude is dead. And Homer just admitted to being responsible for her death, all while not giving a genuine damn about the impact. All while Ned takes up on his advice to get back on the dating scene. In effect, a character changed the universe for the irrevocable worse, flippantly admitted to it and tried to downplay his role, and he got off free.
Honest to god, if I voiced Homer, got handed this script, and saw those lines, I would have dropped the script, walked out, and never come back. I wouldn’t voice this character going forward. Get somebody else to do it – they didn’t care how close Gaven sounded to Maude. (Again, I’m sure she’s a nice lady, but those voices didn’t even come close to matching.)
The protagonist of The Simpsons is beyond contemptible and is still framed as just a jokester that we’re meant to relate to. I honestly want somebody to relate a fist to this jackal’s jaw. (No, not a statue.) If we can’t invest in our protagonist, how can we invest in the show?
To be frank, I barely care about the rest of the episode, simply because I now want horrible things to happen to our supposed hero. The structure of the episode makes it seem like Ned is going way too rapidly into the dating scene. Even discounting the force behind this re-entry, it doesn’t feel realistic in the slightest. It feels like the show has skipped the grieving process almost altogether, as if Maude wasn’t a person but more a car banged up because a jackass dodged a T-Shirt Truck, leaving it to knock said car off the freeway.
(Yeah. That death did drive me up the wall a bit.)
Even further, we get a brief concept of him having a crisis of faith. Again, it’s so poorly handled that it takes whatever good ideas were held within and destroys it. It treats it as a joke (he zooms back to church after threatening to never go back), and then swings it back to seriousness when he forms a rapport with Christian Pop singer Rachel Jordan (Shawn Colvin). Glad to know that you can’t commit to what is a joke and what is meant to be treated seriously. Really makes me invest in the plot.
That is if I didn’t lose investment before. You know damn well where.
It really feels like the writers wrote this episode just to spite Roswell, and then put together a condensed and sloppy “how to move on your deceased SO” from there without any thought as to the impact thereof on the characters, viewers, et cetera. Nobody seems to have given a damn here, from the animators, to the writers, to the voice actors (with the partial exception of Harry Shearer). And if you want a final nail in the coffin, consider the song that plays as the credits roll…
It’s a show about Ned
About him losing his sweet wife.
She landed on her head.
But now it’s time to get on with his life!
…Shawn Colvin, you went from “Sunny Came Home” to that?
This is another one of those moments that makes me wonder if the writers actually wrote this in this way simply to spite Maggie Roswell. As if to say “yeah, your character wasn’t important, we’ll kill the character off in the stupidest way possible and get somebody else”. Well, that somebody else took ten years and was just another character in the canon that they decided to milk for marketing purposes, right?*** Even worse, it’s insulting to the audience. If this is how they treat these characters, it honestly makes me wonder if they weren’t pulling another fast one on us, calling us complete morons for getting attached to these characters.
These characters that we wanted to see get a record by their favorite artist played on K-Jazz, and who formed an eternal bond with the perfect substitute teacher. The senior citizen that made us wonder if they would really gamble their money away just to make sure the legacy of their loved one lived on. The children who, during a tense hockey match, realized the happiness that the anger inflamed, and chose to skate off as siblings as the world burned around them. The underachiever who begged for his soul, fearing that he traded it for good. The fool who fought his desires for a coworker so he would remain loyal to his wife, who we watched as they sat upon the hood of their cars looking at the undying night sky, lamenting about the mother that they can never be with.
We were suckers for wanting to empathize with them. For treating them as human beings rather than as sociopathic and idiotic joke fodder.
Well, if I may respond to the writers? If this was the case, then with all due respect, I don’t think you had a fecking clue about what made The Simpsons so good. And if you did? Well, you’ve really lost the plot.
To put it simply:
I’m actually impressed. I’m mad as all hell, but I’m damn well impressed. You hit rock bottom and dug deeper!
There are Simpsons episodes that have fewer good ideas in them, demonstrating just how bereft the show is of ideas and characters (“Lisa Goes Gaga”). There are Simpsons episodes that have technically been objectively more decrepit with poorer plotting and dialogue (“Saddlesore Galactica”), and those that have been more offensive in terms of failing to measure what type of shock value is appropriate. By those standards alone, “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” doesn’t get its infamy.
To me, this episode earns it’s ire because it demonstrates that the show has irreversibly lost its soul. From the raison d’etre, to the execution, to the animation (lifeless and lacking), to the characterization, to the horrid mixture of the meta and the tragic, to everything in between, there is no other episode of the Simpsons more destructive to the universe and characters that was done this poorly. It is the perfect storm of wretched, one that the show can never really recover from, has never recovered from, and in my opinion, will never recover from.
This is The Simpsons’ Twin Dilemma. It’s Night In Sickbay. The show’s official dethroning moment of absolute suck. The half-hour when everything bad about the show formally caused the bottom to fall out, and the remains to hit rock bottom and keep digging. The day that any other animated show could formally dispatch it from the pinnacle of contemporary animated television. (Which it did. Several times.)
“Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” is, to me, the moment The Simpsons truly becomes a zombie – soulless, vapid, and something that can’t be rescued as much as it needs to be euthanized.
Congratulations, Ian Maxtone Graham and Mike Scully. As far as I’m concerned, you broke what was once the greatest TV show of all time.
- The FOX Affiliate in Charlotte, NC, WCCB-TV (18), was concerned about the episode giving offense… but not really for the reasons you would suspect. Turns out, there was a fatal debris-related incident at Lowes Motor Speedway nine months before the episode was set to air – roughly around the time production would have started. After watching the episode, however, the affiliate decided that the episode wasn’t making fun of the incident in question. You came so very close to escaping, Charlotte. (Just to add to the madness, the network wound up buying a different TV station there and turning that into the FOX affiliate, meaning that virtually all the programming on the network is cleared.)
- Turns out, Homer has a large rock with Flanders’ name on it. Well…
- Well, Homer’s dating tape included Right Said Fred. Oh, the tape and everything surrounding it? Not funny, and not making me upset.
- Yes, that is Edna Krabappel dating Ned Flanders during that segment. No, I don’t think even Mike Scully was even thinking of Nedna as a serious thing in 2000. I think even the writers thought it stupid at the time. (Apparently, jockey elves good, Nedna bad.) Thank god I’m throwing my hands up at the start of Season 13.
- Lastly, Maggie Roswell would wind up returning to the series in two years. After what happened in this episode, a part of me is surprised that she even considered it at all. But, whatever, that’s her bag.
Zaniness Factor: I’m too apoplectic to really measure this at this point. I’ll give it a 4 – what it lacks in downright insane plot twists, it more than makes up for in how it fails to comprehend the severity of it’s subject. However, I can much more clearly assign the next variable…
Jerkass Homer Meter: 5. I don’t think I have to say anymore other than I don’t give a damn the next time Homer suffers a massive injury. He’s that far gone to me. This episode has him affect the show’s universe in a way that I honestly consider akin to his moral event horizon.
In fact, given that the show’s universe and characters are both sunk, I’m honestly thinking of retiring these two measurements from this point forward. In most regards, the show is broken now.
Favorite Scene: Alright, there was exactly one moment that didn’t make me want to eject any memory of this episode out of my brain. As Ned Flanders sleeps for the first time after his wife’s funeral, he reaches his arm out to her side of the bed… only for nothing to be there. In any other episode, this would get the waters worked.
Least Favorite Scene: You mean I have to pick one? Yes, it’s my blog, so I can technically say “the entire thing” and call it a day.
But I am going to narrow it to one because, surprise surprise, I can. The swingset scene can go to hell and back and back again. You could feel the show’s remaining shred of dignity shrivel up and implode on itself.
Like I said, this episode might be the single most shameful and anger-inducing thing that I’ve reviewed in the history of this blog. (Yes, even worse than Nemesis.) It took what I consider the most influential television show in the history of the United States and completed the destruction of the universe within by not caring about the characters as people but as puppets, for the most selfish and cynical reasons possible.
Pardon the cliche, but I have to say it.
“Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” is the Worst. Episode. EVER.
* By the way? They wound up bringing back Lunchlady Doris in Season 17, having her voiced by Tress McNiellle. In Season 25 or something, they changed her name to Lunchlady Dora. Fun fact – while “Lisa Goes Gaga” was my formal breaking point for the show (I got in late), reading up about that was the moment that I began actively avoiding newer Simpsons episodes like the plague.
** And her death was treated with more dignity than Maude’s death. The IASIP episode that dealt with Mrs. Reynolds’ demise involved Frank popping a bottle of champagne when announcing her neck-lift related end, her testimonial all but disowning Dee and Frank and insulting them (“You were a disappointment and a mistake”), the duo pretending to be a couple to scam Bruce Matthis out of his inherited money, and Dennis throwing a party in his newly inherited mansion (“…on the sole condition that Frank not be allowed in”) to celebrate having a mansion at all. Still more dignified than “Alone Again”. Hell, Matthis himself called the protagonists “the most horrible people alive” at the end of it all, and I still like them far more than Jerkass Homer. That’s incredible.
*** Ironically, Edna Krabappel would wind up dying prematurely. Granted, that was because Marcia Wallace died of cancer in 2013, and the writers decided to write out her character. Fair play to Al Jean there.