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.”