(originally aired December 29, 1996)
Tone is an important thing to establish and maintain throughout your story. This show of course is primarily comedic, but has expertly pulled off episodes with a greater dramatic and serious slant with assorted jokes peppered in. The subject matter of this one is particularly grave, almost too much so at times, where the humor is sometimes a bit too wacky for its surroundings. Take the first act where Springfield is buckling down in preparation for a big hurricane. There’s some jokes about crowd hysteria in preparation (Hurricane Chow is a great gag), but when the storm hits, it’s pretty severe, or at least treated as such with the Simpson family huddled worriedly in the basement. Then Homer walks out in the eye of the storm and the family gets blown and swirled around back into the house. It almost seems too cartoonish given the established gravitas. It’s not too egregious, but it doesn’t really click the right way.
The hurricane decimates the Flanders house, leaving Ned almost like a modern day Job, now homeless and jobless due to the Leftorium fallen victim to rampant looting. Watching the eternally optimistic Ned slowly lose hope is kind of interesting, but almost goes too far; the scene where he prays to God at night is pretty melodramatic for the purposes of the show. A miracle seems to have happened when he finds the townspeople have banded together to rebuild his house, until he sees it’s so completely ramshackle that it collapses after the grand tour. At long last, Ned reaches his breaking point, chewing out all of the Springfield residents, then calmly drives himself to the town mental hospital to commit himself. There he is reunited with child psychiatrist Dr. Foster, who illuminates his repressed childhood memories. L’il Ned was an uncontrollable bastard child to ineffective beatnik parents. An aggressive spanking therapy manager to keep Ned’s violent outbursts suppressed, almost to a fault, where he now is physically incapable of expressing any negativity.
I’m kind of torn when it comes to examining the origins of secondary characters. On one hand, it’s an interesting backstory presented, giving a bit more reasoning to Ned’s character and his kooky catch phrases. But on the other hand it leaves this dark under hanging to him that is going to stick with me. I didn’t remember this episode too well, but I think it’s more damaging character-wise than “Principal and the Pauper.” So Ned has this seething anger that he feels all the time but can’t get it out? And he really does hate Homer? Is his faith a bizarre way of channeling his emotions? It kind of taints his perfect saintly neighbor archetype he’s meant to be. But it is something that really could have built and went somewhere… except they constrain it to the second half of the third act. Ned and Homer have a back-and-forth, Ned admits he hates his parents, he’s cured, end episode. When the revelation and the resolution occur within three minutes of each other, it doesn’t quite feel worth it. But despite my questions on the worthiness of this character exploration, it was somewhat intriguing, and where there were jokes that didn’t go too far, and even those that did, they were funny. It’s a flawed, but still mostly satisfying episode.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Like to hear Kent Brockman’s latent sexism (“If you think naming a destructive storm after a woman is sexist, you obviously have never seen the gals grabbing for items at a clearance sale”) and Marge’s dimunitive response (“That’s true, but he shouldn’t say it.”)
– Classic Homer thinking; he rips the backdoor of the house off to board up the back window.
– Despite the hurricane, they’re about to execute someone in the prison, but the roof rips off and the convict is sent flying out of the electric chair, much to the disappointment of the others. But the convict ends up lodged in a telephone poll, electrocuting him, and the crowd cheers. Grisly, but funny.
– Great bit with Marge and the Rubick’s cube and the other family members barking ridiculous orders at her, like to use her main finger and turn a side “topwise.” She eventually gets fed up (“Now I remember why I put this down here in the first place!”)
– The treacle is laid on pretty thick as Marge prays for an end to the hurricane, followed by the family surprised to find it over, but Homer finds a way to cut through it (“He fell for it! Way to go, Marge!”)
– Like that Ned considers insurance a form of gambling.
– Very clever that we don’t see the complete wording of Todd’s “Butthole Surfers” T-shirt. I also like Rod’s innocent glee over his shirt (“Look, Daddy, Todd is stupid and I’m with him. And now Mommy’s stupid!”)
– Ned comes to Lovejoy with his Job analogy, but the Reverend informs him that Job was right-handed. Ned then asks if God is punishing him. Lovejoy takes a deep breath (“Short answer: ‘yes with an ‘if,’ long answer: ‘no,’ with a ‘but.'”)
– Entering his new house, Ned snags his sweater on a loose nail. Homer comments, “One out of twenty five ain’t bad!” The load-bearing poster and electricity room are good gags, but I think they went too far with the tiny master bedroom. Too silly.
– Harry Shearer gives a powerhouse performance when Ned snaps. My favorite outburst is probably the one directed at Bart (“Okay, duuuuude! I wouldn’t want you to have a cow, maaaan! Here’s a catch-phrase you better learn for your adult years: ‘Hey, Buddy, got a quarter?'”) Bart is stupefied (“I am shocked and appalled.”) Moe comes in a close second (“You ugly, hate-filled man!” “Hey, hey, I may be ugly and hate-filled, but I… um, what was the third thing you said?”)
– Other familiar faces at the mental hospital include Ms. Botz, John Swartzwelder and Jay Sherman (“It stinks! It stinks! It stinks!” “Yes, Mr. Sherman. Everything stinks.”)
– I don’t quite get why they get Homer in there at the end; he’s never overtly annoyed or agitated Ned, more in how he takes advantage of his good will. I do like his flat reads on the written card (“Past instances in which I professed to like you were fraudulent.” “I engaged in intercourse with your spouse or significant other.”) I also do like their back and forth as Homer tries to find something Ned genuinely finds annoying (“What about fluorescent lights?” “They hum like angels! You’re never lonely if you’ve got a florescent light!”)
– Yeah, I really don’t get the ending. So Ned’s going to be more open with his feelings… except he’s not. That and he’s a maniac. Oh well. Ned, you so cra-zay.