Boy, Season 29 of the Simpsons sure has been an incredibly mixed bag, hasn’t it? There have been some really fun episode, and then some truly misguided stinkers, really throwing the average off like crazy. Last week we had a surprisingly fun episode, exploring Homer and Abe’s relationship in a way that was actually really cathartic. So, logically, they’re following that up with a grim parade of misery and uncomfortable religiosity. Fun!
The story begins with the family getting ready to have dinner, only to realize that they need to put it on hold so that they can go check out the solar eclipse. You know, a very timely reference for something that just happened? I know these episodes take a while to animate, but holy crap did that plot point feel ridiculous. Anyway, Homer refuses to go look at this cosmic event so that he can woof down pork chops, and ends up pissing off Marge, who was upset that he didn’t want to share such a moment with her. But, she also feels like he will make it up for her when they have an upcoming date night.
Unfortunately, that was news to Homer, so he begins panicking over the fact that he hasn’t planned any sort of date night, and has to scramble. So, of course, he responds by excusing himself and heading to Moe’s to think about what to do. And, once there, he gets a bunch of terrible ideas, primarily revolving around just bringing her to Moe’s. This scene is completely irrelevant!
Homer then decides to actually do something right for once, and spends an entire day planning an amazing date-night, including some last-minute YouTube grooming tutorials to make himself as attractive as possible. Marge then gets ready, only to find a trail of rose petals leading her to car where they begin their romantic evening. Homer takes her to dinner at the Gilded Truffle, where he abuses the waitstaff, they go to a rotating lounge to have some after-dinner cocktails, and then take a random gondola ride.
They then adjourn back to the house for some “snuggling.” However, right as they get ready to do the deed, the hear a rather urgent knock at the front door. Homer is willing to just ignore it all, but Marge forces him to go down and see who it is. And, it’s the last person that Homer would want to see in this situation. Ned!
Ned is very depressed, and Marge ends up taking pity on him, inviting him inside to talk to herself and Homer. Turns out that the Leftorium has finally closed for good, and Ned is just feeling adrift in his life. He’s lost two wives, he has weird-ass kids, and now he’s unemployed. Marge becomes really concerned, and ends up telling Ned that Homer will get him a job at the Plant. Homer’s pretty against this idea, but eventually says to go to the human resource department at the Plant, and something can be found.
However, when Ned gets to the Plant the next day he finds that things are in a bit of turmoil. Burns literally fires the HR director in front of Ned, and then finds himself in a bit of a bind. So, needing someone to run the HR department, Burns just hires Ned, with no interview of anything. But, Ned has a job! And he takes it very seriously. Ned starts making a bunch of changes, and even gets to carpool with Homer, where he either wants to talk about Jesus, or listen to music about Jesus.
And this quickly starts to wear down on Homer. who has a pretty low tolerance for Ned in the best circumstances, let alone working with him every day. And it doesn’t help that Ned is really making work no fun. He starts hosting some sexual harassment seminars that become something Mike Pence would approve of, he makes them pray at lunch, he shoots down all of Homer’s bullshit excuses for missing work, and he just generally makes everything too conservative. To the point where everyone starts to hate Homer, since he got Ned hired in the first place.
So, Homer eventually decides to do the sane thing, and start praying for Ned to lose his job. And, surprisingly, it works! Because the next day Ned realizes that that Plant has never once donated to charity, and when he brings that oversight up to Mr. Burns, he’s promptly fired. Which puts Ned back in the same state of depression that he was in earlier, plus Homer now blames himself for it all.
Ned ends up trying to find new jobs in between getting unemployment with Kirk and Gil, all of which ends disastrously. He tries teaching old people to dance on a ship, he becomes a terrible photographer for Rolling Stone, and he tries selling Bibles on the side of the road. He gets fired from all of these jobs, and ends up becoming incredibly bitter about everything.
But, things are saved when Marge comes up with a new idea of what Ned could do for a living. He could be a teacher! Ned has no qualifications to do this job, but I guess he’s a white dude in America, so he can do whatever he wants! Ned’s a little wary about this idea at first, but Bart ends up guilting him by saying he could be like Edna, and Ned ends up agreeing.
He then magically becomes a substitute teacher for Bart’s class, since apparently no one ever became their teacher after the death of Mrs. Krabapple. And it’s a disaster. Everyone in class is terrible and hostile towards Ned, and even Bart joins in on the harassment, driving Ned to madness. And, after a disastrous day, Ned decides to give up, yet again.
But, now both Homer and Bart feel bad that they’ve destroyed Ned’s attempts at forming a new career, and they decide it’s up to them to fix things. Ned’s obviously hesitant about trying teaching again, since it went so terribly, but they eventually convince him to give it another chance. And, as an added bonus, Bart comes up with a plan to get the kids to stop picking on Ned. They decide Ned doesn’t need to be respected, he needs to be feared. So, Ned takes that advice and starts talking about God all the time, making the kids fear eternal damnation in order to be better kids. Which is all kinds of messed up, and illegal, but whatever, the stupid episode is over and I guess Ned is their teacher now.
This episode is rough. It’s odd that the creators of the Simpsons have been slowly transforming Ned into the saddest, most pathetic character in the entire series, but it’s episodes like this that really make that clear. They’ve taken everything from Ned, and this episode just becomes a cavalcade of misery for him, dumping every last bit of punishment they can on him. But, paradoxically, they also make Ned thoroughly unpleasant in this episode, almost reaching the point where it feels like he deserves all of this punishment. Ned’s a real creep in this episode, pushing his religious beliefs on everyone, and just generally becoming a huge bummer. And, by the end of the episode we see that Ned gains control of a job he has no qualifications for by putting the children in perpetual fear of God. It’s messed up! And it’s treated like a happy ending. The show is in serious decline, and it’s episodes like this that become symptoms of that death.
Take Away: Don’t push your goddamn religion on other people.
“Left Behind” was written by Joel H Cohen and John Frink and directed by Lance Kramer, 2018.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons