Original airdate: March 10, 2013
The premise: Ned finally reaches his breaking point with Homer’s boorish behavior and punches him in the face, leaving him wrought with guilt on how to make things right. Meanwhile, the new 2nd grade substitute Ms. Cantwell has an inexplicable hatred of Lisa, and Lisa is determined to find out why.
The reaction: Two more underwhelming stories to toss on the pile. What ultimately sends Ned off the deep end is Homer getting chummy (and getting high with) Ned’s parents. It seems like such a weird callback from fifteen years ago; with Ned’s deep seeded anger re-emerging, it felt like a spiritual sequel to “Hurricane Neddy,” an episode that I was conflicted on regarding Ned’s characterization. There was really not much of a build-up to Ned punching Homer, nor any real discussion about it being provoked from years of Homer’s abuse or anything. Instead, Homer lords it over Ned, claiming if he doesn’t fight back, he’s the better man. Then we get a scene where the town reacts to Ned as a monster and Homer a hero a la the third act of “Homer Loves Flanders,” except it isn’t earned at all. As for the B-plot, it’s just awful, probably the worst “story” we’ve seen in a long time. Lisa gets a new substitute, a woman who from the very start hates her. Just flat-out hates her. Vindictively. Yes, she does come off as a suck-up at the start, but by the second half of the show, she’s visibly traumatized by this woman. So for the entire episode, it’s a huge mystery: what is this broad’s deal? I knew the payoff would be stupid and disappointing, but I wasn’t expecting how half-hearted it would come off. But if I can give the episode credit, it actually wove the two stories together: Homer decides to call it square with Ned only if his new wife Edna can help Lisa get rid of Ms. Cantwell (bonus points for actually using Ned and Edna together as well). So Bart is transferred into her class, raises hell, and Ms. Cantwell takes off in her car. It takes Lisa clinging to her windshield to finally get a straight answer out of her: she hates Lisa because she’s pretty. That’s it. That’s the conclusion. There’s no build-up to this, nothing in her behavior that this clears up, nothing. I guess she’s just an emotionally disturbed woman who had a horrible childhood, and now decides to get her rocks off emotionally abusing an eight-year-old girl. I was expecting to be unsatisfied, but this was incredibly unsatisfying. And they got Tina Fey to voice her, what a gargantuan waste of a huge talent for such an awful character.
Three items of note:
– We get another couch gag from Bill Plympton, a black-and-white graphite piece of the Simpsons as film noir characters about to get into a skirmish. It’s kinda neat, but not as great as his last couch gag with Homer and the couch.
– Rather than explore the source of Ned’s rage more or talk about Homer and Ned’s long-standing relationship, we get a nightmare of Ned’s personal hell, full of guys in non-Jesus beards, spicy mustard, and a giant Richard Dawkins Satan. When Ned wakes up, he consults the Bible for advice, where we get Marvin Gaye playing as he scans through naughty passages talking about semen on the ground and whoremongers. Did a ten-year-old write this part of the script?
– Speaking of ten-year-old humor, here’s another fucking awful joke. Homer has reservations about punching Ned, but he is insistent (“Come on, Homer, I’m insisting on a fisting!”) The camera pans out to reveal Smithers beside them (“What’s this about a fisting?”) You see, because Smithes is a gay man, and that means he enjoys the sexual act of fisting with another man! That’s what gay guys do, right? It’s funny because HE’S GAY!!! I was wondering why exactly this scene was happening at the plant, we see Ned with a little visitor’s badge on, and my sad, sad guess is that they came up with that Smithers joke, and decided to make the scene take place at the plant. Siiiiiiiggh.
One good line/moment:
– The bullies are astonished to learn Lisa’s teacher is a bully, they didn’t consider that as a career option. Dolph is psyched (“Boo-yah! I’m gonna buy me a Hyndai Elantra!”) Only funny to me because I have that car. As well as a third of all the cars I see around Los Angeles.