(originally aired November 15, 1990)
Homer’s undying disdain for his neighbor Ned Flanders is one of the show’s long-standing hallmarks. Hell, “Shut up, Flanders” is basically one of his catchphrases. The two have a great dynamic; it’s almost playing off of the lovable neighbor character who stops by the core sitcom family’s house, except here the patriarch can’t stand them. But here in the first show to examine their relationship do we see what’s really going on. Homer’s antagonism stems from a deep-seeded jealousy. The Flanders are an affluent, caring, well-off family to which no wrong seems to befall them. As lazy and uncaring Homer seems in many aspects, he is truly envious of that. They could actually be good friends (which they would be in one later glorious episode), or at least somewhat amiable, but Homer’s sense of pride won’t let him. This episode is a real showcase of Homer’s blind emotions, starting off angry and getting progressively more irrational as the show goes on, and it is ever so hilarious.
We start with Homer being invited to Ned’s house for the first time, where he is blown away with his lavish rumpus room, his doting wife and loving son, and the newly installed beer tap with imported brews. Despite Ned’s penchant for alcohol (though maybe he has it exclusively for his guests), he’s pretty much the man we know and love him as today: selfless, cheerful, and always willing to help out a neighbor-eeno. All these things slowly eat away at Homer, until it explodes in an angry rant. Ned responds in the crossest way he can think of: politely but firmly asking him to leave. Following this we get the two men talking the spat over with their wives. Homer is unable to articulate how Ned was rude to him (because he wasn’t), while Ned feels awful at “erupting” and calls up Reverend Lovejoy for guidance. We also get a better glimpse at their relationship, with the Lovejoys clearly exasperated by Flanders’ constant pestering over every little thing (“Probably stepped on a worm…”) But as I mentioned before, Lovejoy isn’t a cynical character, as he manages to give Ned some good Biblical advice, at least how he takes it. And Ned isn’t the insane Bible-thumper caricature he would later lean towards: he’s just an honest man who holds religion very dear to him and his family.
The two families later cross paths at the miniature golf course, where Homer invariably creates a rivalry of skill between Bart and Ned’s son Todd. When the two express interest in a mini golf contest, Homer is quick to sign his son up, hoping he can vicariously best his goody two-shoes neighbor. Bart is a fine golfer in his own right, but not so much when Homer is loudly coaching/berating him in the background. Lisa takes pity on a despondent Bart (“It’s times like these that I’m thankful Dad has little to no interest in almost everything I do”) and trains him, enhancing his mind with age-old proverbs and examining each of the 18 holes to find the perfect angles to hit the ball (“I can’t believe it. You’ve actually found a practical use for geometry!”) Meanwhile Homer’s unabashed goading his raised the stakes of the event: a bet is forged, where the father of the loser has to mow the winner’s front lawn in their wives Sunday-best dress. I always found this plot point hilarious: it’s introduced toward the end of the second act, followed by a short bit of Homer’s berating Bart at the course causing him to widely miss his shot, then the act ends with Homer mournfully looking at his options in Marge’s closet. This wildly ridiculous addition to the bet that he insisted on has backfired on him within minutes.
Civility wins out in the end as a deadlocked Bart and Todd realize this manufactured competition is stupid and call it a draw at the last hole. However, Homer is still unmoving that the father of the boy who doesn’t win has to suffer the embarrassment, so they both end up going through with the ridiculous bet. This is Homer at his most psychotic: completely blinded by anything except his petty grudge. Some of the best scenes here are Homer attempting to motivate and encourage (in a loud, obnoxious way) a completely indifferent Bart. This episode sets up the Homer-Flanders dynamic absolutely perfectly, something we’d come to love from the show years to come.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The scene where the Simpson family are laughing over Ned’s note is beautiful. Not only is it one of those few times all the actors are clearly in the same session, but it’s always so great whenever the family can get together and have fun in unison. Even Marge gets in a giggle, albeit out of the rest of the family’s sight.
– I love Sir Putts-a-Lot. I remember wishing that I had a mini-golf course as lavish and fun as this one, but alas, I was stuck with mere rock obstacles and water traps. Also like the bit where a frustrated Homer is jumping about similarly to the giant mechanical ape.
– Homer: Son, this is the only time I’m going to say this: it is not okay to lose!
– I love Todd happily waving to Bart’s window, his pose mirroring the photo Homer gave Bart to glare at angrily. Alone it’s funny, but as the capper to a fantastic scene where Homer is giving Bart an angry pep talk, it’s hilarious.
– Always good to see the ol’ card catalog. I’m just old enough to have remembered using it as a kid before they put computers in the libraries.
– I’m all for Bart in his technique for one-hand clapping. And if a tree falls in the woods, it does make a sound. Come at me, fools.
– There’s two great bits where Homer misunderstands Lisa:
[Lisa] I’m studying for the math fair. If I win, I’ll bring home a brand new protractor.
[Homer] Too bad we don’t live on a farm.
[Lisa] Oats are what a champion thoroughbred eats before he or she wins the Kentucky Derby.
[Homer] Newsflash, Lisa, Bart is not a horse!
– The final hole with a stone-faced Abraham Lincoln mechanically swinging his legs back and forth revealing the hole… there are no words. How amazing that is.
– The announcer for the competition is fantastic. I have no idea why he’s taking a kid’s event so seriously, but I’m glad he is. Upon Bart and Todd’s decision for a tie, he fights back tears and reports, “This is the most stirring display of gallantry and sportsmanship since Mountbatten gave India back to the Punjabs.”