Hey, you know what sounds incredibly unpleasant? A Christian amusement park. Let’s talk about one!
The episode starts off with the Simpsons and the rest of the people of Springfield hanging out at a church ice cream social. Sounds fun! Although we do get some good gags, like the table full of cruci-fixins, Homer’s Tower of Babel ice cream cone, the intra-bovine soft-serve machine, and the ice cream headache tent staffed by Dr. Hibbert that’s mainly just pouring hot fudge into kid’s mouths.
But after the requisite amount of gags we get to see something really start happening when we see that the special entertainment for the social is Rachel Jordon. You remember Rachel? She’s the Christian rock-star who awkwardly flirted with Ned in the episode when his wife died from a barrage of t-shirts. So the Simpsons start to mock Ned and bully him into talking to Rachel, and Homer makes the incredibly awkward suggestion that Rachel should stay at Ned’s instead of a hotel.
For some reason Rachel agrees to this idea, and heads over to the Flanders house, where we learn that Ned has preserved the house as if he was a serial killer. There’s even a weird indentation of Maude still saved in the bed that he insists on keeping there. That’s normal Ned. And it gets even crazier when Rachel wakes up in the middle of the night to find Ned cutting her hair to resemble Maude’s hairdo. Wow Ned, you’re really crossing a line here!
So this behavior actually does raise a bit of a red flag, so Ned goes to the Simpsons for help with this Maude obsession of his. This results in Ned and the kids leaving the house for a while so the Simpsons can go through and get rid of painful memories. Which obviously results in Homer and Bart getting a wood-chipper and just throwing precious artifacts into it, destroying all signs of Maude’s existence. Which doesn’t sound quite healthy either.
But when Ned comes back and finds his house mostly barren, he does spot one thing that the wood-chipper missed, a sketch-book. Apparently Maude liked to draw, and Ned starts flipping through the book, looking at her hackneyed little sketches, before finding something odd. The designs for a Christian amusement park called Praiseland. She has most of the park already designed, and everyone’s kind of shocked about it. And after Rod and Todd guilt him into agreeing, Ned decides that he should try to build and run his own amusement park to appease his dead wife.
So Ned goes and buys the old Storytime Village, and gets to work transforming it into his creepy Christian wonderland. The Simpsons obviously offer to help in this Sisyphean task, and they’re doing pretty well until the budget starts to run dry. At which point they hit the town and start begging for hand-outs, and end up getting some costumes from Krusty, fireworks from Wiggum, and vomit-soaking sawdust from Willie.
And after some hard work we cut to sometime in the future where Praiseland is finished! And people are for some reason super excited, waiting outside for the grand opening. So they open the park and everyone files in to be instantly underwhelmed, because Praiseland is pretty terrible. There’s a ride where kids are trapped in a cart and forced to listen to a robot repeat all 150 psalms, there’s a Whack-a-Satan with no mallets, and the only candy is “plain” flavored.
So Praiseland isn’t a hit, and people are starting to flee. Looks like the whole thing is a failure. And in a moment of panic, Ned decides to go to the giant statue of Maude at the entrance of the park and starts to pray. And that’s when the weird stuff starts, because as Ned’s praying a creepy Maude-mask suddenly lifts off of a souvenir stand and starts floating in front of the mask. Which is pretty weird.
But it gets weirder, because when Principal Skinner walks up to the statue to explain what’s really going on, he starts seizing and speaking in tongues, which is really starting to draw a crowd. And when he’s done having a seizure, Skinner has a shocking revelation. He claims to have seen his version of heaven. Praiseland is magic and gives you visions!
Praiseland is now a hit, with people coming specifically to stand by the statue and get their vision of heaven, all while donating money to orphans for the experience. And people are having fun visions. We see Disco Stu’s dance-club heaven where he gets to cut John Travolta in line and Comic Books Guy’s version where he’s Spock getting sex from Uhura, Catwoman, and Agent 99. So everyone’s happy and they’ve found a legitimate miracle!
That is until Ned finally realizes the truth, that it isn’t a miracle, it’s a gas leak. Turns out there’s a gas-line right under the statue and it’s spraying the people, giving them crazy hallucinations. So that’s an issue. And Ned’s really not up for breaking anyone’s faith, but he also doesn’t want them to die from gas-poisoning.
But his hand is moved when he sees the orphans lighting candles next to the statue, and he and Homer have to tackle them to stop them from blowing themselves up. Which turns people off from Praiseland, and it gets closed. Because of the orphan thing, not the gas? I guess. But as Ned’s getting ready to leave Praiseland forever he runs back into Rachel Jordon, who for some goddamn reason decides to give Ned another shot, and we end with the sweet moment of Ned getting rid of the creepy Maude indentation, and starting to move on.
This is an odd one. I’m not a big fan. I feel like it’s kind of weird how little we’ve checked in on Ned since his wife was brutally killed, and it’s good that we got to see how he’s coping. And the answer is, not well! Seriously, Ned is being a straight up serial killer with his little monument to Maude, and the shit he pulls with Rachel Jordan is downright disturbing. Which could have been an interesting story, but the whole amusement park thing is just kind of strange, and didn’t do much for me. The whole heaven fantasy thing was pretty funny, but this episode just fell really flat for me. It was one of those ones that came off a little too pro-blind faith, which is something I really can’t abide. Who knows, this may be one of those episodes that I’m giving an unfair shake because of my disdain for religion, but it just wasn’t even that funny to me.
Take Away: Religious-themed amusement parks are not a sound investment, and you shouldn’t trust people who claim to experience miracles. It’s probably gas.
“I”m Goin’ to Praiseland” was written by Julie Thacker and directed by Chuck Sheetz, 2001.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons
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