240. Alone Again, Natura-Diddly

(originally aired February 13, 2000)
In 1999, Maggie Roswell had a falling out with FOX regarding a pay dispute. This left the show in a minor pickle; while it’s not as devastating as losing one of their big six performers, Roswell still voiced her share of memorable characters, including Helen Lovejoy and Maude Flanders. It’s not exactly the hugest problem though; her roles were at best tertiary, and keeping them mostly silent with a recurring replacement guest voice every now and then wouldn’t have been too difficult to pull off. But instead, this gave the writers the opportunity to pull off a big fat gimmick episode and kill off Maude. I remember the promotion for this show, making a big deal that someone from the cast was going to die, and that it could be anyone. Rumor had it it was going to be one of Marge’s sisters, but it had already leaked that it was Maude. There’s something about this episode that’s terribly misguided, perhaps linked to the circumstances that led to its inception. It doesn’t feel like a story they particularly wanted to tell, and it’s certainly clear they can’t handle the heavy subject matter. All in all, it’s just incredibly clumsy.

Let’s start with talking about what killing off Maude means. Though his role has shifted slightly over time, Ned and the Flanders flock have represented everything Homer and his family is not. They’re loving, well-off financially, and things always seem to go their way. Ned always has a smile on his face and a kind word to say to his neighbor-eeno, as Homer toils away at a job he hates, with kids who don’t respect him and the butt end of fate’s cruel, cruel jokes. But in killing Maude off, Ned is cut down a peg, his happy life burnt to cinders. He can no longer play this role anymore, and must be reborn in a way. …he hasn’t, but this gave the writers the opportunity to build on this character in the future. …they didn’t, but that’s news for another time. So this could have been an interesting role reversal show, where Ned at his time of need takes solace in the dysfunctional Simpson family, who need to work together to get him on his feet and help him move on. Instead we get bonehead Homer making him a dating tape and hiding out in mailboxes.

Things just feel so haphazard here, and the way in which they deal with Maude’s death is so crass. I don’t mean to bring the tone down, but this blog is about my specific reaction to each show, and having not seen this one in years, re-watching it struck me in a different way. My mother passed away last fall, and seeing this definitely brought up parallels. Some of Ned’s behavior reminded me of my dad, struggling of what to do with his life and how he could move on. But with stuff like the “Let ‘Er R.I.P.” T-shirt and Homer’s jerky behavior through the whole show, the episode felt so wrong, like it didn’t even try to blend the jokes with the serious story. I felt offended with how terribly out of place some of these bits were and the tonal clash they created. Now, don’t get me wrong, any subject is fair game for comedy. Hell, this show has done fabulous shows about death in the past. Episodes like “Old Money” and “‘Round Springfield” were thoughtful portrayals of how the death of loved ones affects us, and how we can make due with life without them, and on top of that, communicated all that in a funny way. What does this episode communicate? I haven’t a clue. If there’s any episode I can point to that truly shows how far the series has fallen, it may be this one. Sure, “Saddlesore Galactica” is absolute shit, but this is what the series now considers to be a meaningful, emotional episode. Play this one back to back with one of the episodes I just mentioned, and the differences could not be more stark. The former is a brilliant show, and the latter just has no idea what the hell it’s doing.

Tidbits and Quotes
– A lot of these set pieces in these later episodes are kind of hard to talk about, since there’s not that much there that’s funny or memorable. Lisa is shocked to find part of the nature reserve has been gutted to build a new racetrack. So, they proceed to cross the road while race cars are speeding down it. I can see Homer doing this, but the others? The animals adapting to their new environments, racer Clay Babcock, the stuff at the actual race itself… I got nothing. It’s only offensive in that it’s not funny. The only good bit at the race was this exchange between Ralph and Chief Wiggum upon seeing Homer shirtless (“Mommy has bosoms like that!” “Yeah, I wish.”)
– Okay, so Maude’s death. I guess I don’t have a problem with the ridiculously absurd reason for her demise. I do take great issue that Homer is indirectly responsible, but only in that it’s another sizable example of them setting something up and doing nothing with it. Even someone as thick as Homer has to realize that he was accidentally responsible for someone dying (don’t bother bringing up “Homer’s Enemy,” as that context is totally different). As such, you’d think this would affect him in some way. Maybe make his overenthusiastic desire to help Ned is a response to this sense of guilt. But instead Homer remains locked in jerk mode; even at his nicest, he still feels like a creepy weirdo. Plus the great joke about Homer parking in the ambulance space at the hospital delaying resuscitation that could have saved Maude’s life. That may be the worst line in the history of the series. Homer is basically a reprehensible monster at this point.
– The funeral also feels so wrong. Instead of being meaningful, it just becomes a big meta commentary about how Maude was a tietiary character… in life, and is one of the few major changes that has happened to the series like Apu getting married and having kids and the Van Houtens breaking up. It felt pathetic, like the writers crowing, “Look at all this stuff we changed! Aren’t we innovative!” Also the Fandamonium girls being there felt really wrong. They made a joke about it being part of their settlement due to the accident, but how inappropriate. It’s a cruel joke that maybe would work if it were geared toward a dislikable character, but Ned? The people indirectly responsible for his wife’s death are at her funeral, shooting off the very shirts that killed her. And Homer finally gets his fucking shirt with a fucking crass slogan on it and is oh so satisfied. Fuck this show.
– There are glimmers of Homer being a nice guy here, like when he tucks Flanders in the first night, but it immediately flips back to him wanting to chuck rocks at him (and pocketing some in case he needs them for later).
– One of the few, few laughs here is the zoom-in on Ned’s pin number during Homer’s dating video. Which is then ruined by the next scene, Ned in the shower with pixellation obscuring his seemingly large genitals, a completely tasteless scene.
– I guess we get some foreshadowing to the whole Nedna thing here. …wait, what the hell am I saying, foreshadowing? That implies it was planned that they would get together, not another gimmicky ass pull. The scene’s not funny anyway.
– Ned’s crisis of faith and falling out with God is another interesting plot turn that could have happened in this episode. It could have been great; the senseless death of his wife being the thing that breaks Ned, turning his back on the Almighty, and the citizens of Springfield needing to bring him back. But no, we’ll just make a quick joke out of it. No sense in doing a show about actual character development when we can have more silly Homer antics.
– So if this is the boat we’re in, Ned could do worse than Rachel Jordan. She reappeared next season in a wholly disposable episode, so she doesn’t have much in the way of character, but she could have. So we have our “hopeful” ending (“My name’s Ned Flanders, and I’m here every week. Rain or shine,”) with the writers hoping to garner some sentiment, but all it does is remind me how little there actually was. And in case you weren’t annoyed already, we end on a final song bit from Miss Jordan (“It’s a show about Ned/About him losin’ his sweet wife/She landed on her head/But now it’s time to get on with his life.”) Jesus Christ, fuck you guys. FUCK YOU.

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20 responses to “240. Alone Again, Natura-Diddly

  1. This is, by far, my least favorite episode of this show. I cannot rewatch it. I love dark comedy, but that isn’t what this is. It’s just a poorly handled episode.

    There was no dignity in any scene to give Maude a deserved emotional send off. There was no reason to make Homer into such a disgusting person. Every part of this episode clashes in the worst possible way with the story being told.

    I don’t know what to say that you didn’t cover. I just need to express my hatred for this episode. I don’t care how stupid, pointless, unfunny, and boring episodes are to come, this remains as the only episode I cannot sit through for any reason whatsoever.

  2. This episode makes me so angry too. You just want to punch Homer in the face. Also the ‘joke’ of Bart changing the cake to say ‘Rest in Pee’ is just awful as well. It just feels like how a lesser show like Family Guy would handle a character death.
    What also makes me laugh is that the writers clearly completely forgot about the scene of Ned and Edna on a date in this episode, as in the Season 22 episode where they get together they act like they’ve never met before. I know the continuity is never completely solid in this show but that really sticks out to me.

  3. Never thought this episode was nearly as bad as most people make it out to be. Still not very good though.

  4. i hated the “rest in pee” joke too! the much, much earlier “boy our party sucks” joke (from the war of the simpsons, if i remember correctly) was sooooo much better.

    the only thing i thought was funny in this episode was the “do you even have a job anymore?” “i think it’s pretty obvious that i don’t.”

    lazily pointing out how careless and downright stupid their writing has gotten? undoubtedly. however, there’s something about the timing of it… jokes post-season ten have horrific timing, whereas previously it was sharp as a tack; hell, a lot of times the timing made a mediocre joke fantastic!

    ….sorry, i’m rambling a bit.

    • Good points. The unique and very individual pacing and overall direction is often part of what made the show work so well before. There are glimpses of those kinds of jokes post-10 but they eventually were faded out completely, especially in the computer age.

  5. drewzuhoskydaily

    This episode sucks even more now that I lost a loved one. I almost hung my head in shame when I heard Mike Scully and the producers laugh inappropriately at Colvin’s line “She landed on her head…” when I played back the commentary.

  6. Unfortunately, my dad casually spoiled the big secret to this episode before it aired (he was reading an article from the paper which spilled the beans), so Maude’s death wasn’t a big surprise to me.

    Anyway, the episode has flashes of heart (Homer kissing Ned good night, and generally trying to help Ned out, even if he’s misguided in how he’s doing it), and I do like Ned’s brief test of faith when he decides not to go to church. But I can’t help but wonder how much better this episode might’ve turned out had it been done in the Oakley/Weinstein era. They had a better handle on how to balance comedy and drama.

    I must say, I -love- the gag of Marge giving birth on the tail end of Ned’s dating tape. Low brow, sure, but timed so well.

  7. No doubt Homer’s Enemy is a superior episode to this, but could you elaborate on how the context is a lot different when it comes to Grimes’ death? I never really thought about it until you brought it up, but there seems to be some parallelism in them. Why isn’t there? I’m just curious.

    • Because Homer’s Enemy aim was actually dark and tragicomic, i mean, purposely. The whole episode was focused on the absurdity of how an average american middle man with no skills or whatever quality can get a better and more satisfiying life than a man who never did anything wrong and really worked hard his whole life to succeed. Thats why the “dumb-Homer mode” in the episode is functional to the story, and in the final scene you can feel the tragicomical side at its max: Grimes, as Homers opposite, believed in the system, always followed the rules, and worked hard all his life like the society want, but in the end, not even at his funeral he earns any true respect or whatever intrest; meanwhile, an incompetent Homer who killed him, enjoys his life.

  8. As crass as it is, I love Moe attempting to comfort Flanders.

  9. All I remember is that this episode aired the same day as the beautiful final peanuts strip the day after beloved Charles Schwartz died. Even at the time the reception on this episode was almost universally negative.

  10. Schultz not Schwartz I don’t know where my fingers were!

  11. I have no idea what the hell they were going for with this one.
    The t-shirt cannon thing was dumb but it’s basically an accident, he couldn’t have known Maude would walk behind him. It’s a stupid way to kill off a character but I could have forgiven it if not for the bit about Homer parking in the ambulance spot.

    Just, what? Is that supposed to be funny?
    “Hahahaha, our main character’s selfishness ensured the death of the nicest guy on the show’s wife, isn’t he a hoot?”

    Fuck this episode.

  12. Re the ambulance parking space line: when I watched a lot of these episodes when I was young, I never really noticed the jerkass Homer. I stopped watching long before I was really able to fully identify the reasons why I didn’t like Zombie Simpsons. But I think even back then, this line stood out to me as one that I really didn’t like.

  13. I just described the horse racing episode as one of the worst, but I’d forgotten how awful this one was. Callous treatment of death of a major secondary character’s wife and his grief. It’s like the writers have never lost a loved one. Comparing this episode to other major death episodes drives that point home. And the callousness would be forgivable, except that this episode commits the cardinal sin of comedy – it’s not remotely funny.

    Homer is past Jerkass here and is straight up a reprehensible monster. Fuck him and fuck the writers.

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