642. My Way or the Highway to Heaven

Original airdate: October 14, 2018

The premise:
Seeing a shortage of the population in Heaven, God and St. Peter decide to lower the bar for entry a bit, observing three tangential stories of non-traditionally virtuous Springfielders.

The reaction: I’ve never been fond of these “anthology” episodes. While the Halloween shows are (well, were) finely crafted horror parodies with a distinctly darker tone from the series itself, these episodes just felt like plug-and-play re-tellings of other stories with a few paltry jokes sprinkled throughout (Lisa as Joan of Arc, Bart as Batman, Homer as Paul Bunyan, etc.) We actually haven’t had a proper one in almost a decade (Season 20’s “Four Great Women and a Manicure”), and I can’t say I’ve missed them. These three tales aren’t exactly copying public domain or documenting historical figures like episodes past, but the inane, pointless feel of the segments are present all the same. The wraparound features God and St. Peter debating what sinless non-Christians they should allow into Heaven. First up is Ned Flanders, who tells of his prior debaucherous days as a door-to-door salesmen of kids trampolines which turned out to be incredibly dangerous. After saving a young Homer from getting struck by lightning, he has a vision of seeing Jesus and vows to turn his life around. He talks about his godless life performing depraved jobs like painting dots on dice and putting bikinis on mannequins, but he’s clearly uncomfortable about doing all of it in the flashbacks. He acts like the exact same Flanders, so what’s the purpose of the story? Next up is something about Marge’s French grandmother hiding American troops from the Nazis, which feels exactly like a “Simpsonized history” segment from the old anthology shows (a younger Abe and the barflies as the Americans, Rainier Wolfcastle as the head Nazi). Grandma Bouvier is an atheist, and she lets you know it (“Because I don’t believe there is a God above, we must make our own Heaven.”) They then stop the Nazis. Part three is Lisa telling a fantasy story about a princess who rejects her gross materialistic life to make peace with herself through Buddhist teachings. And in the end, she does. These last two stories are so, so boring. There’s no investment, no stakes, no subversion to the storytelling… it’s just so bland and meaningless. I always want to give this show a little bit of credit when they try to do something different, but it only really counts if they actually, y’know, try something once they decide on a non-traditional format.

Three items of note:
– We get to see Flanders’ hippie parents at the start of his story, indoctrinating him with their carefree, rule-breaking, color-outside-the-lines rhetoric. From “Hurricane Neddy,” we saw young Ned was a little hell raiser, why not lean into that in this story? You could make a whole episode about a young, amoral Flanders and how he eventually came to be one of God’s favorite apple polishers. But like I mentioned, he acts really no different in the segment than he normally does. In his near-death experience, Jesus proclaims him a sinner who, in his selfless act of saving li’l Homer, took his “first step” on the road to redemption. Wouldn’t this line hold more weight if he was a complete dick before this? It’s also revealed that Ned got a hideous scar above his lip from this event, which I guess gives us the answer to the question that Simpsons fans have been feverishly asking for decades: why does Ned have a mustache? Boy oh boy, what a treat for us fans. Wouldn’t he want to keep his lip bare if he viewed the scar as such an important marker of this divine intervention?
– I was really checked out of this one by the halfway point. The WWII segment was just so uninteresting. It ends with the Nazis getting beaten up in a big fight set to “Non, je ne regrette rien,” which I’m sure the show has used multiple times before in a French setting. And not even in any funny ways, unless you consider Abe shooting a photo of Hitler or Lenny opening up the Ark of the Covenant in the middle of the tavern to be hilarious jokes. Lisa’s segment features a grand song about her desire for less, but none of it seems like it’s trying to be funny. It’s sort of parodying Disney princess songs about wanting more from life (Lisa cutely titles her story, “The Princess-Not-Affiliated-With-Disney. Unless we’re now owned by Disney.”) But it just doesn’t go anywhere or do anything interesting with this set up. She sets off to find enlightenment, and then she does. That’s all.
– As much as I try not to think back to the classic era, an episode like this immediately makes me recall the likes of “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment” or “Homer the Heretic.” Episodes like these were like morality plays, with characters discussing and debating serious questions about faith, humanity, and the difference between right and wrong. Homer stealing cable for the family made him grapple with real moral dilemmas, whittling away at his excuse making until he descended further and further into a paranoid panic before finally doing the right thing, saving his soul in his daughter’s eyes. What are the stakes in these stories? What are they trying to say? Two of them aren’t even technically about our characters, so why should I care what happens to these fantasy people? It’s not like the episode has given me any reason to.

One good line/moment: Wherein the show once again gloms onto the success of a more contemporary cartoon (Rick & Morty, Adventure Time), Homer is flung into the Bob’s Burgers dimension for the couch gag, viewing their opening titles from inside the restaurant, then attempting to hide when the Belchers turn around to observe him through the glass. This seems to have been animated by the Burgers crew as Homer looks and moves a little differently, and we get an amusing back-and-forth between the Belchers as they watch this crazed jaundiced man flounce about their restaurant (“If he’s robbing us, I feel sorry for him.” “No, don’t say that! We’re fun to rob!”) It’s just sad to go from this segment to the episode itself; the Belchers feel even more authentic, humorous and full of life when immediately followed by a sterile, shambling corpse. Even entering its 9th season, Bob’s Burgers is still a joy to watch, the closest to a spiritual successor to The Simpsons as we’re ever going to get, in my opinion.

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16 responses to “642. My Way or the Highway to Heaven

  1. I thought we were done with these stupid three-parter stories! Really, the only good one they ever did was “Tales of the Public Domain” (Which was one of the few season 13 episodes that wasn’t shit). The rest of them range from mediocre to empty, this one being at the tail-end of empty. Still though, I’m shocked that they waited ten seasons to do another one. Maybe it counts as fan service to the unlucky folks who grew up with Seasons 10-19?

  2. Even the episode titles continue to worsen…

  3. God these anthology ones are lame. Another one of those “empty” episodes. Ones where I watch but get absolutely nothing out of them in the end. Bland, boring noise that leaves virtually no impression on me, or otherwise known as 90% of the episodes past Season 12.

  4. I actually found this episode quite enjoyable. No, it wasn’t well written, but it had a lot of solid jokes I found myself laughing at and that couch gag bit with Bob’s Burgers was brilliant. This may be the best episode since Halloween of Horror (though that doesn’t mean much given the quality of the episodes that followed it).

    I did enjoy the Flanders story despite it being kind of dumb and I got a kick out of how confident Gil was. In fact, he deserves to be the loser he became with that snotty attitude of his. I’m also surprised they didn’t have some sort of moment where Homer point blankly states, “And that is why I hate Flanders.” They left that to the viewer to understand for themselves.

    The Marge story was fun too and I had to say I was thinking of Inglorious Basterds when they all went into Moe’s basement. I liked when Moe said kissing with his eyes closed could do no wrong.

    Lisa’s story was the weakest (the thirds usually are), but again, it got quite a few laughs out of me such as when she had the rooms full of presents. I also did like the horse subtitles saying it liked staying in the castle. Oh, and yes, I laughed at the owned by Disney joke.

    The ending was quite bad though, especially since they showed that bit in the damn commercial. Why would you show your episode’s final scene in the commercial?

    BTW, one thing I found odd tonight though is that there was some sort of timer in the upper corner of the screen like you see during online commercials.

    • Final scene in the commercial? I don’t remember that. Either I missed it or they didn’t do it where I live (Milwaukee, WI TV area).

      • Really? Yeah, the scene where Mr Burns tells the god he will support his own way into heaven and Smithers says he will go talk to him was in the commercial.

      • For me, it wasn’t. The credits were playing over it, but there wasn’t a commercial playing that I noticed. Weird.

      • Sorry, I might have confused you on what I meant. I meant that the scene when everyone comes to heaven and Mr Burns makes his little comment was in the advertisements Fox had throughout the week leading up to the episode airing. I just found it weird that they showed the ending to the episode to advertise it.

  5. Wasn’t there a Christmas anthology episode 8 years ago? That was the one with Katy Perry.

  6. Yeah, the storytelling itself wasn’t too good, but I found myself laughing a few times, which is pretty rare for a modern Simpsons.

    BTW, Ned’s parents are beatniks, not hippies.

    I want to check out Bob’s Burgers because I hear it’s good, but I just can’t get past the character designs. It’s a weak reason, I know, but it can be a hangup for me. It’s the same reason I haven’t watched Adventure Time.

    • I occassionally watch parts of Bob’s Burgers and it’s been quite funny, especially some bits I saw from this past episode, but I’ve never really sat down to watch a full episode. I just don’t want to get invested in another show that is now on its 9th season. I’m tired of watching shows longer than 6 seasons.

      • Bob’s Burgers is a stellar show that’s definitely worth watching through. If you’ve enjoyed the bits of it you’ve seen already, then why not give it a go? You can drop off any time you feel like it’s growing stale, it’s not like it’s got an overarching story you’ll be missing out on. Although it has lost some of its freshness, I’ve really liked the first few episodes of season 9 thus far, and I have high hopes for the movie in 2020.

      • I just don’t have the time to get invested in it, honestly. Besides The Simpsons, I watch Better Call Saul, Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, Dare Devil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Voltron, Lemony Snickett, Stranger Things, Super Sentai, Kamen Rider, Ultraman, Garo, and various anime series, etc. Not to mention the movies I need to watch to review for my channel. I just don’t have the time to really get invested in more things at the moment.

  7. You do realize the Lisa segment is simply a retelling of the story of Siddhartha Guatama with a female, right?

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