(originally aired May 6, 2001)
This episode I feel won’t be too hard to dissect, because within the three acts are three glaring, dismantling issues. A slightly consistent amount of humor, a lot coming from isolated bits, keep this show from being utter shit though. So thing start off at a church ice cream social, where Flanders once again runs into Christian singer Rachel Jordan. He offers her to stay the night at his place, which is still adorned with photos and mementos of his dearly departed wife. That’s all well and good; we’re trying to establish Ned as a man who hasn’t yet moved on and is still dealing with his lost, something that “Alone Again, Natura-Diddly” kind of lacked. Then we see that Ned is preserving his wife’s imprint on the bed with starch, and he later cuts Rachel’s hair to look like Maude’s while she sleeps. We’ve gone well past the point of creepy here, this is basically crazy behavior. Rather than go for a subtler touch, the writers went over-the-top, but in the end makes Ned look like an insane weirdo, which isn’t so good to do in your first act when we should be rooting for him through the episode. I was more puzzled than anything though, thinking why they thought this was a good idea.
Realizing he’s still living in the past, Flanders enlists the Simpsons to dispose of all Maude’s belongings. Amongst them is an old sketchbook, where Maude had outlined a Christian amusement park named Praiseland. A pie-in-the-sky dream if I ever heard one. But let’s make that dream into a reality! Things start out believable enough, with a good callback to Storytime Village, now a dilapidated husk that the Rich Texan donates to Ned as a tax write-off. Ned puts his all into repairing the place and gets hand-outs from various townspeople, but ultimately when you see the finished park, you have to wonder how the fuck Ned managed to afford to build it. “King David’s Wild Ride” has a giant ride building, track and a big animatronic King David, that must have cost a pretty penny. And I get having Maude as the statue at the center of the park (with nice name plate “She taught us the joy of shame, and the shame of joy”) but who the hell would want to buy a Maude mask? Why not Jesus? This park is a monumental investment, and I just don’t see how it could ever have been built. This big factor could have been hand-waved if things made sense or were funny, but there’s not enough here.
The park seems to be a flop, or at least until Skinner experiences an unexplainable vision in front of the Maude statue, claiming to have witnessed his own personal version of heaven. It’s seemingly a miracle, or at least until Ned discovers it’s a result of a gas leak. An incredibly obvious gas leak that apparently nobody saw, and that Ned does not experience the ill effects of when he sticks his face right in it when he discovers it. This dumb plot twist is only saved by the great scenes of showing Disco Stu and Comic Book Guy’s visions, and the conclusion of Homer and Ned frantically tackling two poor orphans before they can light candles before the statue. Then Rachel Jordan returns, and instead of giving Ned a restraining order, agrees to give him another shot. And then is never seen again. This episode is kind of a big hot mess, and I’m not entirely sure what it’s supposed to be about. It seems to want to be about Ned deciding to move on with his life, but that message is kind of lost amongst all the theme park stuff and hallucinogenic visions. It’s pretty bad, but there’s enough choice chuckles to keep it bearable.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Like the different flavors at the social: Blessed Virgin Berry, Command-Mint, Bible-Gum, and Lovejoy’s specialty: Unitarian ice cream (“There’s nothing here.” “Exactly.”)
– Don’t care for the bit with Homer’s gigantic ice cream cone; it feels like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon seeing that cone fifty scoops high.
– I kind of like how all the Simpsons kind of playfully goad Flanders and his obvious crush on Rachel, it’s very cute.
– I feel like I should be more offended by Homer and Bart chucking all of Maude’s possessions in a wood chipper, but it’s just so completely absurd that it becomes funny. Even better that Ned mistakes it as “some kind of sorting machine.”
– To those you think that a religious amusement park is farfetched, I propose you come on down here to Orlando and visit the Holy Land. I’ve debated going out of curiosity’s sake, but I don’t think it would end up being worth it.
– Like the insane runner of the Rich Texan becoming irate and calm at the drop of a dime (“Oh, you are so full of it! God’s grace, that is. It’s really sickening… there aren’t more people like you. Now, get out… your pen, and we’ll make it official.”)
– Nice bit of Homer scorching the earth around Bo Peep and her two sheep, incinerating them, revealing two wire frames and one sheep skeleton. I also like his demands upon taking up the “begging” initiative (“I’ll need a sack and something sharp.”)
– I love Quimby’s drive-by dedication (“It is with great pride that I dedicate this new school, sports arena, or attraction.”) Reminds me a lot of Krusty’s “I heartily endorse this event or product.”
– Ned walks by the Whack-a-Satan, runs the souvenir cart, works at the beverage stand and is at the exit with a hand stamp. Are there any other employees at this park?
– I’m not too big on Skinner becoming Captain Exposition and having to explain how he saw his own specific vision of heaven and then describing it.
– Disco Stu and Comic Book Guy’s visions alone almost make this show worth the price of admission. They couldn’t be more perfect.
– Kind of like Ned on the phone with the gas company (“How poisonous is your gas? …wow. But I’m talking about, you know, outdoors with plenty of ventilation… How could that be worse? …okay, permanent brain damage, or just temporary?”)
– Love the smile on Wiggum’s face after the crowd finally gets his “Crazeland” for “Praiseland” joke.
– In addition to Ned apparently being a creep, so is Homer, who appears outside, then inside Ned’s bedroom throughout the episode. What a wacky guy.