304. A Star is Born Again

(originally aired March 2, 2003)
I really don’t like single Flanders. It just doesn’t work. As mentioned before, what made Flanders so great in the past is that he represented all that Homer didn’t have, but now with his wife gone, he’s been taken down a peg, leaving him a sad, lonely man who Homer now elicits some sympathy for, at least enough to not be as much of a dick to him. So now every Flanders plot has to involve him finding a new romance, even though we know they won’t work out, and they all make no sense at all, and of course, like all one-episode love interests, they have little to no characterization. The dame here is actress Sara Sloane, voiced by Marisa Tomei, who Flanders unwittingly serves at the Leftorium (“You don’t know who I am, do you?” “I sure do. You’re the most important person in the world, because you’re my customer!”) Sloane is filming a movie in Springfield, and takes comfort in Flanders’ small-town, simple way of living. Tomei does give her a degree of likability, and the ultra-revealing dress she wears in the third act doesn’t hurt, but ultimately, she’s pretty much disposable.

So even though a scene prior he muses how he’s “happily married to a dead woman,” Ned proceeds to date Sloane, and the two have a whirlwind romance. Or at least as whirlwind as Ned can allow, which doesn’t go much further than holding hands with him. The main runner is that Sloane is a lot more uninhibited than Ned, making her a source of temptation, but most of the middle portion of the show is kind of time killing, with reactions from the Simpson family, and Rainier Wolfcastle appearing as Sloane’s ex-boyfriend. The one bit I do like is the crazed tabloid reporters storming Ned’s home, breaking all of his possessions and taking photos of it (“Let’s concoct more lies!”) Then instead of running with that, they kill the bit off with a stupid gag about a Cher-crow. The stuff with Sloane and Ned are kind of sweet, but there really doesn’t feel like a big connection, at least not as big as we’re supposed to believe. I get Sloane is into Ned for his quaint, small-town charm, but what does Ned like about Sloane? That she’s pretty and nice? Through the whole show, it just feels like he’s being very polite rather than he’s head over heels in love.

As her movie wraps up, Sloane proposes Ned move out with her to Hollywood, but that being a wicked, sinful place, he refuses. So Sloane decides she’s going to stay in Springfield, even though it’s incredibly inconvenient and detrimental to her career being that far away from the major movie studios. But she’s only got one thing on her mind: fucking Ned Flanders. Ned of course is hesitant, premarital “doodly” being a sin and all, but after consulting the Bible and all of its passages that affirm this, eventually he cops and just bangs Sloane anyway. Sure, it’s out of character, but look, he’s a guy, and she’s a hot movie star, so I’ll be gracious and give him a pass on that. Plus he then expects her to marry him right afterwards (“I’m like Baskin Robbins, you get one free taste, then you gotta buy the scoop.”) Sloane declines, telling him she’s not ready to be tied down. Oh? But you already moved to this jerkwater berg away from your job to be with Ned, how is this any different? Oh, because I guess all she wanted to do is to get her rocks off, because she leaves him after this, then goes off and has a three hour celebrity marriage as a finale gag. So how genuine was Sloane through all this? Was Ned proposing marriage just her easy out? They wrap it up so quickly that it’s hard to discern. And we get a “happy” ending in that since he dated a movie star, Ned is more attractive to the ladies of Springfield, even though that doesn’t matter since he’ll never remarry ever, ever. Except he just did recently, but I’m not even going to touch upon that. Because I never watched it.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Maggie encased in sunscreen with sunglasses and sun hat is pretty cute.
– Twice in this show Ned consults Homer for advice about Sloane, and both times Homer rambles on some nonsense that is barely related to the subject, and both times the scene ends with Ned looking contemplative. Contemplative over what? What Homer just spouted was not helpful in the least; stop asking him for advice about everything.
– “She’s had more stars on her than Lisa’s homework!” When did Bart become catty? It’s like that stupid bit at the WNBA. Of the whole family, it seems Bart has turned into the hardest character to write. Homer is a moronic insane man, Marge is cautious and makes lame jokes, Lisa is the know-it-all/substitute narrator, and Bart… well… there’s no simple personality traits you can latch onto with him, he’s just a regular ten-year-old. So instead of writing him like one, we’ll just throw random lines at him and hopefully people will think it’s funny.
– I really like this line from Ned (“We occupy that useless mass of land between Los Angeles and New York called ‘America’!”)
– One of the paparazzi yells at Ned, “Do you plan to kill Sara like your last wife!” a horrible, despicable line, but out of the mouths of bottom-feeding tabloid reporters, it works just fine.
– Sloane is shooting her film at PolyStar Pictures. But… that’s the studio we saw in Hollywood in the Mel Gibson episode. Couldn’t they have pulled a shot of Krustylu Studios, there must be dozens of establishing shots they could have reused. Or did they not give a shit?
– “Ned, I haven’t seen you this happy in years!” “I haven’t felt this good since we stole the 2000 election!” Yep, Ned’s an ultra wacko religious conservative Republican now! The GOP is evil and he loves George Bush!
– I like Flanders’ twisted nightmare of “Hollyweird,” complete with an appearance from James L. Brooks (“Perhaps you’d like to go to a football game?” “Well…” “We don’t have a team!” “Nooooo!!”)
– The scene at the Kwik-E-Mart is like a perfect storm of shit: distasteful dialogue (“The last thing I bought for a lady was a casket,”) Apu trying to pawn off two of his kids on Sloane, and apparently has already given away three to Mia Farrow… somehow, then the Simpsons walk in and we get this from Bart and Lisa (“Look, it’s celebrity boy-toy Ned Flanders and his arm candy Sara Sloane!” “Miss Sloane, how are you handling the change from La-La-Land to Blah-Blah-Land?”) Nobody talks like that. At all. Especially not small children. If they’re going to keep writing dialogue like this for these kids, they might as well age them up to teens so it makes a little more sense.
– Sloane attends the ladies’ book club, where they all make excuses for why they didn’t read the week’s book and crack open the margaritas. I like that conceit, but then it’s ruined when Sloane brings in “Bridget Jone’s Diary” author Helen Fielding (voicing herself) to do a stupid bit, which then comes back later when we have absolutely no way to end our episode.
– Love this dialogue when Sloane shows Ned her skimpy outfit (“Loosen up, honey, this dress just creates the illusion of nudity.” “Well, Siegfried and Roy create a lot of illusions, but I doubt their girlfriends dress like that!”)
– Honestly, I can see Ned being tempted and sleeping with Sloane; it would have worked a lot better if the entire episode was focused on it, because it’s a huge leap for his character. Call it ‘The Last Temptation of Flanders.’ Instead we got this, and a cop-out ending. Le sigh.

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17 responses to “304. A Star is Born Again

  1. “Call it ‘The Last Temptation of Flanders.’ Instead we got this, and a cop-out ending. Le sigh.”

    Please don’t. There’s already one good , and one okay, Last Temptation simpsons episode. I know late era simpsons likes to steal from itself but a threepeat is pushing it even for them.

    • It wasn’t at the time, but this episode is now a threepeat. A Star Is Burns, A Star Is Born Again, and A Star Is Torn.

      • But none of them are related to each other. “A Star is Burns” is that crossover episode with The Critic that Matt Groening didn’t want to be associated with (which is why he wasn’t credited for the episode. Al Jean filled in the missing spot. Wow, Al Jean filling in for a missing Matt Groening — a sign of things to come), A Star is Born Again is this episode, and A Star is Torn is the…I forget. I think it’s the one where Lisa sings in the kids’ version of American Idol, but these newer episodes are so boring, lame, offensive, and stupid that I’d be better off watching stuff like “Family Guy,” “Brickleberry” (that Comedy Central cartoon about the park rangers), and whatever’s on Adult Swim that’s not a FOX cartoon put in syndication.

  2. This episode has its share of issues that you mentioned (particularly the forced dialog by Bart and Lisa), but one thing that’s always stuck out for me is that Ned is actually somewhat… likeable. This hasn’t been the case since the classic era. In particular, I’m thinking of the scene where he and Sloane first meet; there’s a simple sweetness to that scene. In less capable hands, Ned would’ve whipped himself for daring to think of Sloane as a woman (see “The Wettest Stories Ever Told”) and acted incredibly unnatural. But no, thankfully they didn’t go there. He still had his ultra-conservative moments that are unwelcome, but they weren’t his entire character like in some other recent episodes. And like you, I also enjoyed his temptation of wanting to sleep with Sloane.

    “Can I call you Jim?”
    “James L. Brooks is good.”

  3. While I love the first act of the episode when Sloane was amazed that Flanders had no idea who she was, the episode turns to the worst.

    As for the comment about Ned and Krabappel, it kind of works, because we get to see new concepts given to Ned. Like the second last episode of Season 23 had Edna enrolling Rod and Todd into a normal school so they can actually learn about non-sugar coated things, and seeing Ned’s frustrations gave some indepth development for him.

    However, I agree, that he has never been the same without Maude, and it seems like the writers had no idea what to do with him after kiling her.

  4. They will never age up Bart and Lisa. Ever. In the classic era they could’ve pulled that off, but nowadays the only thing The Simpsons has going for it is how recognisable the characters are, so making Bart and Lisa visibly older would take guts that the current writers obviously don’t have.
    They were happy to age up Homer and Marge to 39 for the sake of a stupid plot point in “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace” and they were happy to age up Flanders to 60 for the sake of a stupid plot point in “Viva Ned Flanders”, but aging Bart, Lisa and Maggie by just 1 year? That would be crazy.

    It’s a shame really, because if the show magically became well written again, I would love to see Bart, Lisa and Maggie grow up as the series goes on. It would allow the whole family to genuinely grow as characters, there could be newer and less forced inter-family conflicts, they could tell the teenage Bart/Lisa stories they’ve been desperate to tell for years, and the show’s satire of the middle class American family would be more complete. You could even end the series when Bart and/or Lisa leaves home (a la ‘Malcolm in the Middle’) and have an emotionally satisfying conclusion. But by now we know that The Simpsons will never end unless it stops making money or one of the principal cast dies, soooo….. yeah, not gonna happen.

    • That is just it, a show has to grow up with the audience. I’m not saying they have to age them 20 years, but put Bart in 8th grade and Lisa in 6th, with Maggie starting 1st. It will give the series a refreshed feel. Then again, with the current writers on board, they would probably still find a way to fuck that up too. What they need to do is do a complete change of crew. Get rid of everyone currently running, writing, whatever on the show, and bring in completely new talent, new blood.

  5. Another one of those episodes I can barely work up any enthusiasm for. All I ever remember is James L. Brooks’ cameo (“We don’t have a team!” is one of my favorite lines from this one too) and the Rainier Wolfcastle scene, mostly because of this exchange:

    “You punched out Jon Lovitz just because he presented me an award!”
    “Oh come on, nobody misses a handshake that badly!”

    I do remember, when I first watched this one, going “What the fuck was that?” at the Helen Fielding/Benny Hill ending followed immediately by a reprise of the jellyfish song.

  6. Your comments on how they have a tough time writing for Bart are spot on. I wish I could find it again, but I once read an interview with Al Jean where he was asked which character he found hardest to write for and he answered that he could never relate to Bart. It really shows in the episodes he’s produced. I think there have been more Marge-centric episodes than Bart ones under his reign.

  7. Shockingly decent episode. “Do you plan to kill Sara like your last wife!?!”, James L. Brooks’ appearance, Ned sleeping with Sloane (after consulting his Bible and having all the contradictory verses — though I find it odd that he’d rip out pages of his Bible, apparently?!), and I like the Mia Farrow joke (though I’m a big Woody Allen fan). This episode had a lot going on, and it was actually pretty well-handled, despite some silliness and stupidity here and there. All in all though I gotta give another approval. I’m shocked at how many season 14 episodes I find watchable. Weird…

  8. forbidden donut

    I actually rather like this episode. I found it pretty charming, and Flanders (mostly) felt like his classic genuinely warm/endearing self. As far as disposable one-episode love interests go, Marisa Tomei’s character wasn’t nearly as bland as the likes of Gloria, Rachel Jordan, Renee, Greta, etc. I don’t really buy Ned having premarital doodly though.

    Rod looking at her and asking “Where do babies come from?” cracked me up.

    • I liked the premarital-sex thing. I like that it showed Flanders is “flawed” (well, I don’t consider it a flaw, but it’s a HUGE no-no under his usual thinking) but willing to justify it with “you only get one time and then you gotta marry me…” I thought it actually added a bit of depth to his characteriziation..

      It’s also further proof that they really could make whole episodes around 85% of the supporting characters and have episodes for … forever … if the writing was quality enough. I guess that’s what always bothered me about the show, they have so many quality characters to work with yet they keep doing the tired “Simspons go to WHEREVER” and “Homer starts works at HERE” episodes. I mean, really, a talented writing staff could make anything even resembling a cliche be entertaining, but “watchable” is about as far from Simpsons as possible is nowadays.

      • forbidden donut

        I like the idea of Ned being tempted and perhaps even ultimately giving in. There was room to explore his character post-Maude. But Ned’s values are so hard-wired into his personality that his premarital affair here felt too rushed. It would be like, in Last Temptation of Homer, if Homer just started getting feelings for Mindy towards the end of the 3rd act, and then kissed her after their conversation.

      • It might be creepy to some people, but having Flanders being an actual sexual being is pretty interesting. He let his sin-boner get in the way of his religious-values. Of course he’d never admit that but it was still shocking and interesting. Rushed? Maybe. But this dude hadn’t been layed in a long time, most likely…

  9. Ned and Edna were actually a really nice couple and their relationship was basically this episode done right (IMHO), or at least righter.

    Sadly, Flanders is single AGAIN, this time due to the untimely passing of Marcia Wallace. Somehow I doubt the writers will have the guts to pair Ned up with yet another wife, but I guess we’ll see.

  10. Nathaniel Quoronson, Invesigative Reporter

    I have reason to believe that be that Mike Amato, author of this blog, has vanished from existence since the last postings here. This phenomenon has only occurred with a few individuals, such as Bill Watterson for a prime example. Once they get bored, the disappear.

    Should one have information on the whereabouts of this man, please reply.

  11. “Well, I’ve got a date with a girl with no name,
    It sure feels good to be back in the game.
    At dessert, maybe I can ask her her name,
    ‘Cause I can’t pray for her without the right name.”

    Not a terrible take on the song by America… but I’m not sure I would call it a brilliant one, either. It feels like it’s missing the things that would make it brilliant.

    And there’s definitely nothing brilliant about the ending. Tacked on, and – like the Sopranos opening in “Poppa’s Got a Brand New Badge”, and later the Ali G opening in “Ice Cream of Margie (with the Light Blue Hair)” – much more of a duplication of Benny Hill than a proper parody. Safe to say, the writers had given up by that stage and were proverbially pissing in the viewers’ faces.

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