637. Left Behind

Original airdate: May 6, 2018

The premise:
After the Leftorium finally shuts down, Homer gets Ned a job at the power plant, but once he’s fired from there, Ned decides to become a teacher.

The reaction: This show sure switches a lot of gears over twenty minutes. An opening featuring Homer and Marge’s date night (that admittedly is a little sweet in the effort Homer puts into it) is interrupted in the middle of the night by Ned, fraught over losing his job. Homer begrudgingly refers him to the power plant, where he gets hired as the new head of HR. From there, it’s just a bunch of scenes featuring Ned being a milquetoast weenie, which I find as very boring characterization for him (we have “Viva Ned Flanders” to blame for that.) When Burns impromptu fires him, he cycles through a bunch of odd jobs that don’t quite fit. Finally, fourteen minutes in, Marge convinces him to become a teacher, specifically the new substitute for Bart’s class. At first it was mind boggling to me to see Ned taking his deceased wife’s job with absolutely zero mention of it. But it turns out the writers were holding onto that info for a manipulative ending, where we have Bart apologizing to Ned, saying he thinks he could be as good a teacher as “her,” gesturing to the picture of Edna on the wall as Clair de Lune plays (plus an archival line from the deceased Marcia Wallace). I guess they felt that saving the Edna mention for the very end would act as a solemn, heartwarming tribute, but the fact that nobody mentioned her at all before that point felt incredibly strange. How is this episode not entirely about Ned trying to step into his dead wife’s shoes and whether he’s worthy of taking her place, and the kids’ perspective on this development as well? Did they think it would be too heavy to make it about that? Why not? It certainly would make it more human. All the last minute mention did was reinforce how vacuous and empty the whole Nedna thing was. They literally couldn’t have a plot revolving on Ned reflecting on Edna because there was nothing to their relationship in the first place. It was a soulless publicity stunt from six years ago that was tragically cut short following Marcia Wallace’s death. Ultimately, Ned reaches his class by manipulating them into being docile and God-fearing through some “miracles” Bart rigs up, which I guess counts as our happy ending? Remember the ending of “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baaadaaaaass S ong”? Yeah, me too. On Twitter, Al Jean explains, “One story point conscious decision that Ned was fired for religion in school before and now is using it. Sign of the times.” If anyone wants to decipher that explanation, be my guest, but I don’t understand it at all. Also according to Jean, he’s now the permanent fourth grade teacher now. So, there it is. It only took four years, but we’ve finally filled the vacancy in our major cast. The absentee actor problem with Wallace is a thorny one, of course, and I understand the writers not knowing how soon is too soon to fill Edna’s position, but four years feels way too long, especially given we’ve had scenes in Bart’s classroom before this with no mention or care of the lack of any teacher. I know they wanted that moment at the end to hit hard and be poignant, but it really felt like a huge shrug, especially after how much time has gone by, and more especially being tacked on at the end of such a hollow and meaningless episode. Ms. Wallace deserved better.

Three items of note:
– In addition to the main story jumping from plot to plot, we also get a minor story involving Todd’s… relationship with Lisa? It’s just two scenes of her being sort of weirded out by him just kinda being around all the time, and then him revealing a little gingerbread dollhouse he made for her with the two of them inside. Lisa is touched, as revealed through painful dialogue (“Todd, I had you all wrong. You’re a wonderful kid, and I’m happy to call you my pal.”) Todd then tells her he’s glad to finally have a friend and not have to hang around with his brother all the time, at which point Lisa tells him to stop talking and go away. Also, Rod and Todd are inexplicably just hanging at the Simpsons house for some reason. I guess Marge is watching them when Ned is working his new job(s)? But who watched them beforehand after Edna’s death? And we see Bart and Lisa there at the house too, so it couldn’t have been during the week, they’d be at school. They’re just there just because. Later we see the two boys bidding Ned farewell for his first day as a teacher, and they’re just sort of standing outside the house unsupervised. Who takes care of these two small children? Also, I think the only Ned-Edna episode involved her urging Ned to enroll her new stepchildren into public school, which I think ended with him agreeing. But I guess once she died, Ned pulled them right the fuck out, and I guess now they just roam the town aimlessly until their father scoops them up and brings them home after work. No one writing this gave two fucks about Rod and Todd. They even make a joke where Todd doesn’t remember which one he is, which feels like an odd joke to make in the 29th season of your show that you confuse the two children of one of your major secondary characters.
– This episode features a few callbacks to the movie for some reason. First, Ned expresses his gratitude to Homer by making his famous cocoa, the elaborate concoction where he grates chocolate flakes and toasts the marshmallow on top, except here it’s revealed he does it in Homer’s mouth. Later, Ned tries to get Bart not to spitball him at the behest of his ravenous schoolmates, saying, “They’ve been fishing together,” like the scene from the movie where he pats him on the back in the boat, and Bart flinches at first physical contact by an adult, which feels like a very sad child abuse joke. If I remember from the commentary, I think Al Jean and the writers really, really loved the Ned-Bart stuff from the movie, but I always thought it was incredibly saccharine and ham-fisted. I also remember one joke they mentioned was cut where after the Simpsons get out of the dome, Bart spies Ned on the other side, moons the glass, but then it’s revealed to be a heart shape as he runs away. Gross. Thank God that got cut.
– Though the teacher Ned story is more potentially juicy due to the Edna issue, Ned working at the plant is also a story that could have actually been something. We have a few scenes of him trying to bolster company morale and instill good manners and a kindly demeanor on the other employees, but it never actually goes anywhere. We see that Lenny and Carl are annoyed at Homer for getting stuck with this goody two shoes, but then Ned ultimately gets fired out of the blue when he mentions he hasn’t given anything to charity. It’s like they were laying down a few tracks but then ran the train off the rails completely before they even began. But I don’t really care. The episode could have been wholly about either story and it would have been a huge festering mess anyway.

One good line/moment: The SEARS closed forever sign, “Jeff Bezos Rot In Hell.”

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10 responses to “637. Left Behind

  1. “milquetoast weenie” is a great term that I hope to use myself one day.

  2. The Anonymous Nobody

    What Al Jean is saying is that back in 1994, Flanders was fired for bringing his religious beliefs into school. 24 years later, it’s considered acceptable, probably because the world has become more sensitive to that kind of thing. I think he’s saying that the writers were conscious of that when they were doing this episode.

    • Without getting too political, it’s a reference to the fact that the separation of church and state is eroding under our current government.

      • I kinda assumed that, but the satire still doesn’t really work. Unless you’re in the deep South, you would still get in big trouble for preaching about God in a public school.

  3. Kaiju no Kami

    This episode was all over the place. It didn’t know what it wanted to be. Did it want to be a story about Ned getting a job at the power plant? Or did it want to be a story about (FINALLY) replacing Krabappel?

    As you said Mike, both of those plots could have easily been its own entire episode rather than being crammed into pieces of one. It’s also taken them way too long to finally give Bart an actual replacement teacher. I mean, how much time has actually passed in this 4 years since her death? A week? Two weeks? Then again, it’s an endless cycle, so maybe it really has been 4 years and Springfield Elementary is just now getting the budget to replace her. Of course, it would have been nice if there was some sort of actual introduction from Skinner to tell the class they are letting Ned take her place.

    Another thing that I was wondering is what the hell was up with Rod and Todd? Why are they just hanging out at the Simpson house suddenly? If it was because their dad wasn’t home to look for work, what have they been doing at the times he has been working? Also, why is Todd so creepy towards Lisa? And now he suddenly doesn’t remember which one he is? That doesn’t make sense. Is that meant to be a reference towards something? Oh, and why are they not in school when their dad goes to it? Hadn’t they started going to Bart’s school several seasons ago?

    The archived dialog from Krabappel bit was pretty useless and did nothing to pay tribute to her one bit. It was quite insulting. On the other hand, there were a few aspects of the episode I did laugh at. Sadly, I just don’t remember what they were anymore to state exactly what I found funny.

  4. Kaiju no Kami

    Oh, and when did the Leftorium just become a kiosk instead of a full store?

  5. “but then Ned ultimately gets fired out of the blue when he mentions he hasn’t given anything to charity.”

    No, he gets fired for asking Mr. Burns if he’s ever given to charity.

  6. I’m pretty sure it was established in the Truckasaurus episode way way back that Rod and Todd go to Springfield Elementary. Of course, that was back when Ned was written as an annoyingly friendly and successful neighbor and not current religious psycho asshole Ned.

    Ned/Edna was a desperate stunt that didn’t work on any level. Referencing it at all is an insult to Marcia Wallace.

    Is Ned even qualified to teach?

  7. Unsettlingly, Al Jean is starting to remind me of Donald Trump. He’s in a position of authority he’s clearly not suited to, his decisions baffle and enrage the vast majority of people, and now his Tweets make no sense.

    And also, he ignores the concerns of ethnic minorities.

    • I think you’re reaching a bit with that analogy- executive producing a TV show that’s long past its prime doesn’t hold the same level of power or influence as the executive branch of the country. And nothing Jean has said (at least in public- I don’t pretend to know how he talks in the writer’s room) has even come close to what Trump says/does daily.

      Still, I think we can both agree that Jean can be very tone-deaf (or outright dismissive) with certain issues, and he’s been showrunning the show for far too long.

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