Every now and then God makes an appearance on The Simpsons but has never quite been the ‘main character’ of an episode. In My Way or the Highway to Heaven, God sort of takes center stage for an episode that juggles a few heavy concepts with some neat laughs.
Watching alongside Peter on his heavenly viewscreen, God listens in on the Sunday school lessons from three very different people, even if, in Marge’s case, the spiritual difference is a second-hand one. There’s Ned the Christian, Marge, whose grandmother was a noble atheist Nazi-fighter, and Lisa, the Buddhist. In each of their stories, God looks upon their works and decides that they are good. So God—who sounds vaguely exhausted and irritated throughout—decides to throw the gates of Heaven open to “all with good souls.”
Ned’s story tells of his beatnick upbringing and working his way to a job as a trampoline salesman. He thinks he’s doing good work until he realizes the hazards of the play device. He ends up saving a young Homer from almost certain death.
FYI, for those who think it’s a creative anachronism that Ned is so much older than Homer, remember Ned Flanders is a senior citizen. This was established in the “Viva Ned Flanders” episode that aired in Season 10 in 1999.
Marge’s story sees her reverence for Genevieve Bouvier’s steadfast goodness despite her disbelief in a God. This comes across rather stirringly, as does Genevieve’s statement to a cadre of hiding American soldiers that, in the absence of a god, “we must make our own heaven down below.” And then, after she disguises the soldiers as waiters at a Nazi banquet, they stir up the occupied townspeople with a Casablanca-style rendition of “La Marseillaise” before stabbing a bunch of Nazis in the throat.
Lisa’s story introduces her version of the Siddhartha legend. She follows the path of Buddha and her awakening goes back to the year zero. To a wealthy princess like Siddmartha, played by Lisa, fifty ponies brings less excitement than one pony. She learns from her brother that the middle path between opulence and decadence is flatulence and decides she wants less, even more of less.
Looking beyond the stories the episode veered a bit on the intellectual side, as it showed the constant battle between the selfless wisdom of Marge and Lisa and Flanders and the chaotic world that surrounds them. It also highlighted the elitist idea of heaven itself and what constitutes good conduct.
With all the flashbacks as well they managed to bring back some traditional jokes that we have failed to see in a while including the “won’t somebody think of the children?” that I feel like I haven’t heard in an episode forever. But, what really brought me back was a throwback to Bart’s old prank calls on Moe. To do that in a war-torn France, a pretty serious part of the episode, was such great timing. I would love to see more of these classic Simpsons jokes continue through season thirty.
All in all, this was a good episode. It wasn’t laugh out loud funny but it was clever and made you think about larger issues which is actually quite refreshing.
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