Season 31 Episode 16 

On a show that’s been on as long as The Simpsons have there comes a point where you inevitably have to borrow an idea from past seasons. This isn’t a bad thing and if done well can be kind of refreshing. But if it’s done poorly it comes off as lazy and worse yet, another reason for the critics to say the show should just end.

Unfortunately, Better Off Ned veers more towards the latter category. It has its moments but those are too few to redeem it. The episode takes its cues from season 4’s ‘Brother from the Same Planet’ were, to prove his worth as a father, Homer mentors a young boy. Bart gets back at him by finding a big brother of his own. A beloved episode not so much for its laughs but for the way it developed the Bart/Homer relationship.

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In Better Off Ned, Bart gets in trouble for pranking the school and is taken in by Ned who says he can reform the boy. Seeing Bart’s progress, Homer gets jealous and takes in Nelson hoping that he can use him to get back at Bart. So basically a redo but with the roles reversed. The main difference here is that the conflict between father and child is rather petty. Homer’s only reason to take in Nelson is that he is jealous and wants ‘revenge’. In the Same Planet, Homer’s motivations were to show everyone that he could be a good father. In Better Off, Bart to has no such inclination to improve as a person since the reason he got into his mess was because of a prank and because Ned stepped up when no one, not even his parents, would.

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There was something also a little unnerving about Ned too. Chalmers decides to expel Bart but Ned blackmails him to not do that or else he’ll send his email to an entire Christian group chat. Not terrible, but oddly forceful. Then, when cooking with Bart, he responds to his ketchup prank by leaning in and with a menacing tone saying: ‘I can make that real blood, you little punk.’ Bart is kind of shocked and Ned quickly reverts back to self but it was an eerie addition to the episode. Then when Homer is forced to thank Ned with pie he comments to Marge that you can’t see it but Ned is laughing under his mustache, which he actually is. Then in the end, he holds a Christian Pride parade for people to ‘finally show their faith’. All of this didn’t really sit well with me. We’ve seen Ned tap into his ‘dark’ side before but it usually been with good reason. Here, we don’t really get any and Ned is left just looking like a grumpy zealot.

The Nelson scenes weren’t bad but left a lot to be desired. It was nice to see his home modernized for 2020 and basically the same as when we first saw it. We’ve seen Nelson episodes before but not many dealing with his home life. This could have been one of those moments but its, unfortunately, the side piece to Homer’s vendetta. Nelson’s mother gets a moment of redemption when she tells Homer to not leave Nelson the way others have but it’s a brief moment and doesn’t have the emotional impact it should, or deserves.

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Then Nelson tries to sabotage the parade and in the process hurt Bart but Homer steps in to save him. The two then ride off in the ambulance together. The conflict is resolved in that things to go back to normal but Homer never really worked out his jealousy. An incomplete ending making the whole ordeal rather pointless. Then the show actually ends with multiple tags that go nowhere.

A forgettable episode to be sure and an odd one at that. A filler episode if I ever saw one.

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