639. Flanders’ Ladder

Original airdate: May 20, 2018

The premise:
After getting struck by lightning, Bart goes into a coma, where he is haunted by ghosts of the dearly departed, looking to him to sort out their unfinished business, the most insistent of all being Maude Flanders.

The reaction: I’d say the show gets points for trying a different type of story, but those points immediately get redacted since I didn’t understand the point of it or why any of it was happening. We open on Bart tricking Lisa with a screamer prank and posting her hilarious reaction online, basically just ripping off the Scary Maze Game, an OVER TEN YEAR OLD Internet meme. I guess next season will feature Bart first discovering ytmnd. When Bart tragically falls into a coma, Lisa gets her revenge by whispering in his ear to be surrounded by the dead. And so, in Bart’s head, first he encounters Maude Flanders, who is urgent to talk to him, and soon he’s doing the bidding of a bunch of other ghosts just because they tell him to. None of this feels like the extended dream of a child though, which made me keep forgetting this was all a big coma fantasy and ultimately nothing that happened mattered. The conceit reminds me of the Futurama episode “The Sting,” where Fry seemingly dies and Leela has to deal with her grief but also starts hallucinating due to the effects of space bee honey, but then it’s revealed that she was actually in a coma, and her visions were due to Fry at her bedside talking to her and keeping her brain active. This episode attempts that a few times with Lisa saying something and a character in Bart’s dream saying the same line, but that was barely an element of the show. Whereas Leela found herself going mad as reality seemed to bend before her eyes, Bart’s coma world feels just like reality except with ghosts in it. Anyway, Maude wants revenge on Homer, since he was responsible for getting her killed by the T-shirt cannons, so Bart recruits the bullies to ambush him with T-shirts. Then Homer shows up as a ghost and Bart has to deal with him not wanting his father to leave him… Wasn’t this a Bart-Lisa story? Shouldn’t the emotional crux be Bart feeling bad for humiliating her sister? We cut from Lisa apologizing for messing with Bart at the hospital to coma Bart begging ghost Homer not to go into the light? Is this meant to be symbolic? What’s Bart’s emotional arc? What’s the point? Again, part of me appreciates the show trying to tell a different kind of story, but if I have no idea what the purpose of it was, and considering another show already did it extremely competently fifteen years prior, I just wonder why the hell they even bothered.

Three items of note:
– We open with a transformer blowing and the family’s Internet goes out. We see a CONNECTION LOST message on the family room’s updated HD TV, Bart on the floor with his laptop with the Mac spinning rainbow circle, Lisa and Abe’s tablets don’t work… even after all this time, the Simpsons using modern technology still feels wrong to me. It gets even odder when Homer busts out his old VHS tapes, which absolutely mystify Bart and Lisa, leading to a sequence where they are stupidity by the sound of a rewinding tape and the concept of a corded remote. A big element of the pilot episode almost thirty years ago was Lisa being psyched about watching her favorite Happy Little Elves videotape, and here we are now, this show still alive and kickin’ (barely), with the kids not even knowing what a VHS is. This isn’t a criticism, it’s just really weird to see.
– We see a lot of familiar faces in the crowd of ghosts haunting Bart: beyond our beloved popular dead regulars like Marvin Monroe and Bleeding Gums Murphy, we also have Homer’s Vegas wife Amber, Rabbi Krustofski (Jackie Mason appearing again, aiming to rival Glenn Close for most posthumous repeated guest spots), Waylon Smithers Sr., that Fat Pride motor scooter guy, and then two or three other faces that seemed familiar that I didn’t recognize. I guess that had someone go on Simpsons Wiki and pull up the Deceased Characters page or something. Shary Bobbins also gets a line in, which why not, considering that got Maggie Roswell back for Maude. Speaking of which, the whole second act is building toward finding out what Maude wants from Bart, which turns out to be revenge on Homer for causing her death, and like… who cares. Like, really, who the fuck cares. “Alone Again, Natura-Diddly” was almost twenty years ago, does anyone give a flying shit about this? And I’d rather not be reminded of that episode, or of Homer’s gross behavior in it. They wedge in a (full frame) clip of her death in there in case people forgot, and you know what, as bad as that episode was, I would watch it over any episode over the last several years in a heartbeat.
– The episode was pretty much wrapping up eighteen minutes in or so, which was slightly confusing, but that left room for a lengthy, uninteresting tag depicting how and when the Simpsons and other Springfield denizens will die. It’s a “parody” of the ending of the series finale of Six Feet Under, complete with the same song scoring it, a show that went off the air thirteen years ago. I often bitch about the show making incredibly outdated references (I literally just did with the screamer videos earlier), but the show in its prime make a lot of references to TV and movies that were decades old. So what’s the difference? I feel like there are two big reasons. Firstly, as time goes on, and we get inundated with more and more media outlets spitting out more and more content at us, “big” pop culture moments tend to not have a lot of staying power. The series finale of M*A*S*H pulled in over a hundred million viewers in 1983, but flash forward to the Friends finale twenty years later and it had barely half the audience. With so many different viewing options out there, the audience is more fragmented than it’s ever been, and as such, big cultural moments aren’t quite as big and long-standing anymore. Six Feet Under was a pretty successful show, but now, over a decade later, it feels so completely irrelevant, because there have been thousands of other great dramas to take its place since then. Secondly, The Simpsons was born in an era where reruns were king; the major networks and basic cable would constantly run old shows and movies to fill up their airing slots, so when the show would lampoon Citizen Kane or The Godfather, not only are those classic films, there’s a pretty good chance a then modern audience would have seen the movie playing somewhere on TV. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find many channels running content that’s over a decade old, and that’s just on television. We’re living in a cultural landscape that is hyper focused on the now, an inevitability when everyone is connected on the Internet and can instantly make fun of whatever just happened that very day. It’s made The Simpsons‘ hallmark tradition of ripping on pop culture basically obsolete. We saw that clearly last season with their attempt to make a Pokemon Go episode, which came out nine months after the app went big, but most importantly, eight months and three weeks after every late night show, web cartoonist and Internet dweller had made ten thousand jokes and memes about it. Honestly, I really feel like the show should just retire pop culture jokes; between the poor writing and the outdated production schedule, they literally can’t be like they used to.

One good line/moment: The animation of Lisa getting stuck in Bart’s underwear and feebly struggling to get out was kind of fun. There have been a couple of fleeting fun animated moments this past season since they switched production companies, but not nearly enough for me to be crowing about what a tremendous difference it is or anything.

And there you have it, season 29 in the can. I’ll give it this, it wasn’t nearly as bad as season 28, which had some of the worst fucking episodes I’ve ever seen. But this is also the very first season I’ve watched and reviewed as it aired, so I’ve had a lot more time to completely forget almost all of it over the last nine months. “Singin’ in the Lane,” “3 Scenes Plus A Tag About a Marriage,” and “Left Behind” stick out as being particularly terrible, not to mention the tone-deaf Problem With Apu response from “No Good Read Goes Unpunished.” Most of the season I recall just being more dull than anything else. So, looks like I’m on hiatus until September then. I’d like to thank everyone reading this for sticking with the blog for another glorious season. I’m sure season 30 will provide even more wonderful, wonderful garbage for me to sift through. I’m so happy FOX canned Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Last Man on Earth so we wouldn’t miss out on more episodes of this broken down pathetic hollowed corpse of a goddamn show. Fuck.

(and yes, I know NBC picked up Nine-Nine, before anyone chimes in to deliver that news.)

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26 responses to “639. Flanders’ Ladder

  1. Calling it now. The next season is going to include a parody scene of Grey’s Anatomy. Or maybe LOST.

  2. Fake Plastic Derriere

    A couple of points I’d make regarding pop-culture references:
    1)They should work as a standalone joke/scene even if you don’t get the reference. Modern Simpsons messes this up quite a bit. The scene where they showed Homer dreaming about killing Grampa ala The Sopranos was a classic example of this.
    2)If your references can’ t be timely, then it’s better to reference things that have stood the test of time across the years and ingrained themselves into the public consciousness. I’d rather a show reference “big” moments from 50yrs ago than reference something from 10yrs ago that has already faded into obscurity.

  3. So the last four episodes have been dying Grandpa, Ned’s dead wife, dying Grandpa, Ned’s dead wife. They really are out of ideas.

  4. If this episode has been an episode of a completely different show in its first season…it would have been kind of good. Incoherent, it good. But the Simpsons has thirty years of backstory and history weighing on it, making it not work here.

    I literally couldn’t tell whether Bart was in a coma fantasy or if his body was somehow alive somewhere else. I mean, they have such high stakes for everyone dying, but it’s a dream! Who cares? They make Homer’s rising to heaven as a huge deal, so it makes you think that this is actually happening, but it isn’t. Dreams cannot have high stakes unless they affect the real world.

    What made the Futurama episode work is that you didn’t KNOW it was a coma fantasy until the end. That’s what made it work. You had no idea what was going on, and when you watch it again, you can see all the subtle clues left along.

    Also, don’t any of them have data plans on their phones?! An iPhone doesn’t go dead when you lose Wi-Fi. They seem to have enough money to EACH have an iPhone and several iPads, but they don’t have data plans?!

    And a minor nitpick…Bart’s YouTube video of Lisa stuck in his underwear has over 18 million likes. 18 MILLION LIKES?! Gangnam Style doesn’t have that many! Literally no video on YouTube outside of music videos has anywhere NEAR that many! Bart must be the most famous boy in the world! You’d think someone that famous being in a coma would be a bigger deal.

    • Big John's Breakfast Log

      Well, also, after you find out what happened in “The Sting”, you could easily piece together what really happened by using the moments during the actual episode as to what Fry was doing in the real world, giving you an additional level of depth to it. That’s something The Simpsons nowadays would never understand, because layers mean additional minutes of writing that take away from “Eating Chinese Food” time or “Why Millennials Suck” rants.

  5. Kaiju no Kami

    Hold up, that was the season finale? o_O My Fox never once advertised it as such. I didn’t even realize it was time for the season to end yet. I felt like there were less episodes this season, but yeah, this was episode 21. Okay then.

    I have mixed feelings on this episode. I mean, I didn’t think it was bad, but I didn’t think it was all that good either. It kind of just existed. I give them a lot of points in the creativity department, especially with the stuff they did in the coma, yet, it took so damn long to get to that part. I’m also not sure what the point of the narrative was, as it just seemed like a bunch of random ideas that were thrown together because they needed one more episode for the season.

    I did laugh at lot of the VCR bits and it reminded me so much of why I do not miss VHS. Though, how do they not know what VHS is when they have watched tapes millions of times? Hell, wasn’t the episode earlier this season when Bart found out he was used in an advertising campaign due to a tape?

    I sitll don’t understand why the episode was called “Flander’s Ladder” when that was not even the main plot of the episode. It should have been something like like Bart Sense or Bart Sees Dead People or something like that.

    Still, as I said the creativity did elevate it above most others from this season and it was sure as hell a better finale than last year’s Dogtown. As a whole, this season was pretty forgettable while managing to give us one of the worst episodes of the entire franchise (Serfsons). The best episode is easily the one where they go to New Orleans perhaps followed by this one or the one with Moe’s family.

    • The title “Flanders’ Ladder” is a reference to the movie “Jacob’s Ladder”, which is about a traumatized Vietnam vet who goes on a very odd metaphysical journey. (I can’t really say more without giving away that movie’s twist, although it is nearly 30 years old…)

  6. Kaiju no Kami

    By the way, thanks Mike. Your blog and a Youtuber named Phil Payton are the only reasons I actually watched this season. Whether or not you take that as an insult or a positive is up to you. :-p

    • That’s the worst “compliment” I’ve ever heard. But seriously, thanks for reading. You seem to be a lot more tolerant of this show than I, so feel free to continue following along through season 30 and beyond if you wish.

      • Kaiju no Kami

        I’m probably more tolerant just because I don’t care all that much. It’s been on for 30 years, so at this point, there’s no reason to get really mad at the show. When it’s good, I’ll say it’s good. When it’s down right dreadful, I’ll call if out for being just that.

        Although, I’m probably lying about only watching it because of you and Phil. I’ve invested this much into the show that the completionist in me won’t let me stopped. I actually tried that when Season 24 was airing and then crammed 24, 25, and 26 all into the summer before 27 premiered as I needed to watch them. Dropping a show mid-way through just isn’t in my nature. Hell, I would have dropped Supergirl and Arrow this season if i could do that.

  7. Strangely, until this post, I didn’t know that “Scary Maze Game” was the first of those screamer things. The first one I saw was either a Where’s Waldo? game or a “What’s Wrong With this Picture?”. I don’t think I ever knew there was a maze until now. That may be why I wasn’t as annoyed by that reference as others.

  8. The problem isn’t parodying something that’s no longer in the public consciousness, because good writing ensures it still works even if only few get the reference.The issue is how lackluster this was. You don’t need to be aware of Six Feet Under to find the premise of finding out how everyone died interesting and full of promise, yet….Of all the ways they could off Homer Simpson, a random shooting, really? So many possibilities and they go with what seems like the first gag they pitched. Hell, why not have him die the exact same way Maude did? It’d have had a thematic payoff with the episode and be more of a laugh.
    Maggie’s non-death was cool though.

  9. -Great rant about the pop-culture references and how they worked earlier in the show compared to now. Another interesting thing to ponder is how unfocused the show has become. The Simpsons was created to be a satirical look at American culture, but what even is American culture now? Everyone is split into small sub-cultures with little to nothing that brings people together.

    -“Parody” or not, I really didn’t like the ending tag. A couple bits got a small chuckle, but overall it was just disturbing. Most disturbing was watching Marge simply die. Bart in judicial robes was a nice continuity nod, but him still pranking Skinner kind of ruins the point of him being a judge.

    Really, I’m just hoping season 30 is the end of it.

    • Kaiju no Kami

      It’s not. Al Jean already confirmed there would be a Season 31 as he said that THoH XXX is going to be the 666th episode.

      • There are certainly enough holdover episodes from the 30th production season to make up a season 31 (THOHs are always made toward the end of a production cycle for the following year), but FOX still hasn’t officially picked them up to make more episodes after 30. But they will. Oh, they will…

      • Kaiju no Kami

        True Mike, but those holdover episodes will still be considered Season 31 even if it ends up being like a half season.

        Hell, I still wish Season 9 had just been nothing but a short holdover season outside of the THoH episode.

  10. Hi.

    Thanks for the recap and wading through this decaying carcas of a once amazing show so that I didn’t have to.

    Though Gaga was the final straw, I think the fracking episode was the last I bothered to see, after that watching new episodes didn’t seem worth my time, but its sort of satisfying, and depressing to note that I didn’t miss anything post that, your blog is actually far more entertaining than the show is at this point, —- though given how low the bar is these days that’s probably not the complement I intend it to be :D.

  11. Fake Plastic Derriere

    And let me just say; what an incredible piece of work this blog has turned out to be. Thank you so much for all the great articles (and for watching and analysing all the terrible post-classic Simpsons episodes so that I don’t have to sit through them myself). You’re doing an amazing job.

  12. Dude, you’re a fucking hero. You promised us, and yourself, that you’d stop at season 20, and yet here you are, forcing yourself to keep reviewing the Simpsons even long after its appeal, relevance and humor wore out. I fail to understand why FOX keeps this thing dragging, but I’m under the impression that it’s because they’re afraid of trying new stuff and the Simpsons were their most veritable cash cow ever, so they’re milking it dry and beyond.

  13. Mike, any chance of you reviewing Disenchantment?

    • I was considering it, but I don’t think I cared enough about the show to do a full dissertation of it. Maybe as an addendum after the season 30 premiere, I dunno. Quick review: didn’t like it.

  14. Season 30 starts tommorow night, are you ready?

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