(originally aired October 1, 1995)
Despite ads claiming they put the ‘fun’ in ‘dysfunctional,’ the Simpsons are a mostly competent family unit, and moreover, love and need each other. From the first scene, and as we’ve seen in many episodes prior, Marge is the never-tiring glue that keeps everything running smoothly, and we see that Homer and the kids respect her for it. They may not always admit it, they occasionally take her for granted, but they’re well aware of all that mother Simpson does for them. As a thanks, Homer managed to score his wife an afternoon away at a luxury spa (“You work yourself stupid for this family. If anyone deserves to be wrapped up in seaweed and buried in mud, it’s you.”) But of course, everything goes to shit in Simpsons fashion as happenstance events compound each other in a ridiculous fashion. When Bart and Lisa end up in ramshackle condition at school, social services is called to find the Simpson home an absolute wreck. From all this, the kids are sent to live at a foster home… right next door at the Flanderses.
This is definitely one of the more intimate, emotional episodes we’ve seen in a while, with scenes of Homer and Marge wandering around their empty house missing all the noise, and Bart and Lisa reminiscing about their parents (“Remember how Mom used to microwave our underwear on cold days?” “Or the way Dad used to call the radio station with fake traffic?”) It’s all incredibly sweet and moving, and through the entire episode you want nothing more than for the family to be reunited. Going off that, you never feel any ill will regarding the Flanderses. Ned claims to be impartial and nonjudgmental regarding the Simpson parents and does his darndest to give the kids a good, hearty home. But it’s Flanders hearty: cucumbers with cottage cheese and Bible trivia only serve to disturb Bart and Lisa and yearn for their own home. Meanwhile, Homer and Marge attend court-sanctioned family skills classes to get their kids back, learning important home safety tips (“Put your garbage in a garbage can, people. I can’t stress that enough. Don’t just throw it out the window.”)
Our climax occurs when Flanders learns that the Simpson kids were never baptized; he’s sat idly by with a lot, but this is the last straw. So it’s off to the Springfield River as Homer and Marge make haste to save their children. I love how this seemingly puerile act takes on such a dramatic, almost horrific angle as Flanders slowly tips his goblet over Bart’s head, much to Homer’s terror. The slow-mo sequence of him pushing Bart out of the way and taking the proverbial bullet is hilarious, as is the sizzling sound effect when the holy water hits his head and he writhes in pain (and his brief moment of Biblical clarity following: “Oh, Bartholomew, I feel like St. Augustine of Hippo after his conversion by Ambrose of Milan.” “Wait! Homer, what did you just say?” “I said shut your ugly face, Flanders!”) There’s also an interesting through-line about Maggie, her young impressionable mind seeming to prefer the more loving atmosphere at Casa de Flanders. In the end, it seems she chooses the Flanders flock, until Marge comes into view, and mother and daughter have a lovely reconciliation. “Maggie, you’re a Simpson again.” Belch. That just sums it up right there.
Tidbits and Quotes
– I like how largely all of the pieces that put together the unfit household puzzle are set up very innocuously: the old newspapers, the “stupid baby” note (“Stupid babies need the most attention,”) and a disheveled Grampa, of course (“A disheveled and malnourished man found sleeping in his own filth, seems confused and dehydrated.”) The house was in a bit too big of a mess, and I doubt someone as smothering as Marge would miss that Bart had lice, but now I’m just nitpicking. It was all set up perfectly.
– Love the flashback of how Homer got the tickets; the look on his face when he’s staring forward with the monocle jerking the steering wheel back and forth it hilarious.
– Great disturbing moment at the spa when an off-screen mafia goon gleefully takes off his robe in front of Homer and Marge in the steam room.
– Love the whistling of Lisa’s speech when her tooth falls out. I think they perfectly gave her dialogue with “s” and “th” sounds so they could do that effect. Also great is the social worker’s condescension (“Don’t you worry, little girl. We’ll get you some nice county dentures.”)
– Classic Grampa line when Homer confronts him (“We leave you the kids for three hours and the county takes them away?!” “Oh, bitch, bitch, bitch!”)
– Rod and Todd’s printing press is such a wonderfully lame activity, that is first used as a joke with “Extra Extra! Todd Smells!” (“Bart, I don’t know if this should be an ‘extra.'” “Is your source on this reliable?”) and later used exquisitely as a touching act break (“Simpson Kids Miss Mom and Dad.”)
– The Itchy & Scratchy here is particularly brutal, with Itchy posing as a baby at Scratchy’s doorstep, who then smashes his bottle, pierces the cat twice in the chest, then loots his TV leaving the cat to bleed to death, pleading, “Why?” Rod and Todd’s traumatized reactions, then extremely impressionable questions (“Dad, should I poke Rod with a sharp thing like the mouse did?”) is a spectacular satire on what overzealous media censorship nazis think the effect of such movies and shows have on kids.
– Great shot of the statue of John Swartzwelder on a horse in front of the courthouse.
– Agnes Skinner is at the family skills class, who is in danger of losing Seymour after another fight over that damn bath pillow, as previously argued about in “The Springfield Connection.”
– Here we have Cletus in his second appearance, and the first time he’s named, I think, in a great great scene with Homer where they role play father and son. “Pa, I cut my finger on the screen door again.” For some reason, Homer is incensed by this and strangles him (even adapting a more country-fied “Why you cotton pickin’!!”) Remembering he needs to pass the course to get his kids back, he backs down, “Son, let’s stop the fussin’ and the feudin’.” Tearful hug. Class applauds, with select gun shots.
– Minor bit, I like that Maude has two stickers on each cheek from Bible trivia; not only is it a cute visual, but I’m sure she knew most of the answers and let her boys answer, but also participated herself to show she was into the game. Bart and Lisa, of course, can’t answer one. When Lisa reveals the kids were never baptized, Ned faints straight away. A panicked Maude gets some smelling salts to revitalize him, which works, until Ned says, “No, that ain’t gonna do it,” and faints again.
– The parents pass their class… except for Marge who tested positive for crack and PCP. A mix-up of course, which is quickly remedied and gives Marge an excellent line (“The only thing I’m high on is love… love for my son and daughters. Yes, a little LSD is all I need.”)
– Ned is rendered a babbling mess about the baptism situation, and calls the Reverend for guidance. Lovejoy of course is very annoyed (“Ned, have you thought about one of the other major religions? They’re all pretty much the same,”) and hangs up to find his model train has wrecked (“Damn Flanders.”) There’s a great callback later when a new train environment Lovejoy is getting delivered is smashed to bits by the speeding Simpson car. He looks to the heavens and asks, “Why do you hate my trains?”)
– I love Homer’s internal mocking Flanders voices (“I’m a big four-eyed lame-o, and I wear the same stupid sweater every day and…”) and how that gets him to the Springfield River. Also great how Flanders’ “I ❤ Your Children” bumper sticker drives Homer into a rage as he runs off into the woods.