It goes without saying that current era Simpsons episodes usually bite off more than they can chew. In Left Behind The Simpsons can barely sink its teeth in.
A lot happens in this episode and when you think the show is going one way it goes in the opposite direction. It makes for a dizzying experience but more importantly an unsatisfying one. Almost none of the story lines are treated with care and in reality how could they when so little time is spent on each.
Here’s a breakdown of the various threads running through the episode: Marge and Homer’s failing relationship, Flanders losing the Leftorium, Homer getting Flanders a job at the plant, Flanders losing his faith, Flanders becoming a substitute teacher and Todd be-friending Lisa.
It seems that the writers really wanted to tell a Flanders story but they just didn’t quite know how to do it. Any one of those threads would have made for a good episode and Flanders himself can be used to good effect, as was seen in season 3’s When Flanders Failed. Ned is as close to happy-go-lucky as there is on the show and so when he’s faced with real adversity it makes for some pretty good drama. He’s also very quirky and if the writers wanted they could double down on that quirkiness to tell a funny story about him in a new situation (like working at the plant or being a substitute).
I would give what the writers did the benefit of the doubt if the episode was purely a gag machine running from one scene to the next. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen either as the jokes are few and far between. The montage where Flanders goes out looking for jobs was alright but could have been funnier.
It’s also troubling when characters say things that are not consistent. Here, when Flanders loses the Leftorium and starts to reflect, he says “I’ve never questioned my faith until now.”
That is just completely wrong. We need look no further then the above mentioned When Flanders Failed but there was also the season 8 episode Hurricane Neddy. There are other examples too so when a line like that is thrown out there it’s immediately noticed.
There was a nice part where an old voice bit of Marcia Wallace as Edna Krabappel was used to inspire Ned to not give up on being a substitute. However, its impact would have been a lot more meaningful if the episode was solely about that one story.
Despite the multiple sotrylines here’s hoping that the substitute one actually sticks in future episodes. Bart and Edna had a great dynamic, they were both funny and serious when they needed to be. I feel like the same could happen with Flanders and would bring new life into the character. Although given the shows penchant for disregarding continuity lately I’m not holding my breath.
All in all this episode was just average. Some things worked, like Flanders being a teacher, and other things fell flat, like the Lisa/Todd sub plot (it was just awkward). Meanwhile, other things didn’t have the chance to grow, like the opening Homer/Marge plot and Flanders working at the plant. The writers tried doing too much and it really showed.
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