So far Season 30 of the Simpsons has been a pretty rough ride. I’m getting more and more worried about the continued state of this project, and the effect it’s going to have on my psyche. And, the bar has been put so incredibly low that I’m about to tell you something that kind of hurts me. This is the best episode so far of the season, and it’s a triptych episode. So, after giving us a delightful couch gag where Homer is teleported mysteriously to the world of Bob’s Burgers, causing the Belchers to just stare at him in confusion for a while. It’s nice to be reminded of a show that’s currently funnier than the one I’m about to watch.
The episode then begins exactly where you’d expect it to. In heaven with God and St. Peter hanging out together, watching a television that shows them what us mere mortals are up to. They’re concerned with the fact that attendance in heaven has gone down, and they’re wanting to find a way to get more people in. Which means they need to figure out ways to let more people into heaven, letting the rules get a little more lax. So, of course, they tune into a live feed of the Sunday School going on in Springfield, looking for ideas. And, they get three of them!
Things start off with Ned Flanders, who is standing before the children of Sunday school, asking them how they think people get to heaven. We’re then treated to variety of insane ideas, like being caught like a trout, saving people from train-wrecks, choking on chocolate in Willy Wonka’s factory, and repenting on their death beds.
Ned doesn’t like these ideas, so he offers a different one. Never stray from the path of God, ever. And, to hammer this home, he decides to tell them the story of his life, and why he’s so religious. And it all begins in his childhood living with his beatnik parents. They pushed him to never color in the lines, and be an iconoclast, despite his conservative nature.
But, things started to change when Ned started working as a door to door salesman. Because he’s been assigned the impossible task of selling people trampolines, something no one wants. The other salesmen mock Ned, telling him that he’ll never succeed, since they’re deathtraps that build up deadly amounts of static electricity.
Ned takes this as a challenge though, and hits upon some luck, because the Apollo 14 moon-landing has just occurred, and people are in the market for something that lets them bounce. He starts selling trampolines like crazy, becoming wealthy and successful. But, as he starts filling Springfield with trampolines he becomes worried that people will start jumping too much of them, building up the static electricity to the point of death.
Enter the news that a local boy, Homer Simpson, is attempting to bounce 500 times on his new trampoline, the magic number that will make deadly static electricity. Ned then races to Homer’s house where the Duff Book of World Records are there to record his jumps. Ned pushes little Homer out of the way just as a lightning bolt strikes the trampoline, causing a horrible burn to form on Ned’s upper lip. Which is why he grew a mustache and became an obnoxious Christian for some reason?
God and St. Peter aren’t really that impressed by Ned’s story, probably because it had nothing to do with their stated purpose. But, they give it another shot, and think about letting atheists into heaven. And, as luck would have it, Marge is in the Sunday School talking about how sometimes atheists are cool too.
Apparently Marge’s grandmother, Alvarine Gurney was an atheist living in Nazi-occupied France. She believed that a just and caring God wouldn’t let such a war occur, but still devoted herself to a life of honor and goodness, despite not believing in God.
And that was tested when she encountered a group of American paratroopers in the basement of her husband Moe’s restaurant. Moe is a prolific Nazi collaborator, but when Marge sees the paratroopers she decides to help them. Which is good, because they include Abe Simpson, and apparently relatives of Lenny, Carl, Barney, and Sideshow Mel.
Marge disguises the Americans as waiters so that they can sneak out of Moe’s restaurant, despite the presence of a lot of Nazis. And it goes incredibly poorly. The Nazi’s immediately realize that these are Americans, and Abe accidentally mentions the D-Day invasion. They’re then forced to start a massive Nazi-killing riot, inspiring the French patrons to fight against their oppressors. And, because Marge told a story about an atheist killing a bunch of Nazis, God and St. Peter agree to let good atheists into heaven.
At this point St. Peter and God are running out of ideas, which is when Buddha shows up. He says that the best way to let more people into Heaven is to allow good people from different faiths in. God and St. Peter aren’t too sure about such a radical proposal, but they decide to hear Buddha out. So, they turn their TV back on to find Lisa explaining Buddhism to the kids of Sunday School.
Lisa tells them the story of Siddhartha, but this time as a princess named Siddmartha, who looks like Lisa. She’s a powerful princess who has everything she could ever desire. Unfortunately, she’s still unhappy, and no one in her life has any idea how to fix that. She wants to find something outside of opulence and decadence, and even sings a Disney Princess-style song about wanting less in life.
She finally discovers an idea though when she notices some poor people in the town are still happy with nothing. She ends up travelling the kingdom disguised as a poor boy, looking for people who have the secrets to happiness. She ends up sitting below a Bodhi tree, meditating until she reaches enlightenment. And, after several years of meditation, it works, and she becomes the Buddha. And apparently this has something to do with heaven, because God decides that they should let good people into heaven. No other qualifications, they just have to be good.
This is an incredibly weird episode. And yet, it’s the best we’ve been given this season. Things have been rough, and this episode is at least kind of fun. Even though it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I think the idea of God and St. Peter sitting around trying to think about new types of people to let into heaven could have made for an interesting triptych, and people telling the kids in Sunday School stories of their faith could have made for an interesting triptych. Combined though? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Primarily because the stories don’t actually end up having anything to do with their stated goals. Ned’s story doesn’t expand the parameters of heaven at all, and it really starts to raise some major questions about the ages of these characters and the timeline we’re operating under. The Marge story is probably the best, reminding it’s always good to beat up Nazis and that atheists can be good people too. And the Lisa Buddha story is pretty fun, although I don’t know why it proves Buddhists should go to Christian heaven, but whatever. It’s a fine triptych. None of them make sense, and this one is no different. But, it has decent gags and wasn’t actively confusing and bad, so it’s a welcomed surprise.
My Way or the Highway to Heaven was written by Deb Lacusta, Dan Castellaneta, and Vince Waldron, directed by Rob Oliver, 2018.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons