Lifetime of Simpsons

S31 E16 – Better Off Ned

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In the face of a world gone mad, it’s always nice to have something familiar to give us a sense of comfort. I’ve been watching the Simpsons my whole life, you know, like the premise of this whole thing, and even though we’re in the midst of an extremely middling and dull period of the show, it’s still a source of comfort. Even though this episode really feels like several other previous episodes just sort of haphazardly duct-taped together.

The episode begins with Bart just hanging out at the Retirement Castle with Grandpa, while Abe regales him with the insane stories of his past. And, unlike usual, they’re interesting, apparently because the Castle has been giving him actual medications instead of placebos, and his brain is actually working well for once. The two have a nice time bonding, and Grandpa decides that it’s time for him to give Bart a special gift.

He pulls a small box out, emblazoned with Army warning, and opens it to reveal a hand-grenade. Bart is absolutely thrilled, and grabs the grenade as Abe starts to explain it. At which point Bart realizes that the pin has been pulled, causing him to be thrown into a panic. But, as Bart begins freaking out Abe begins laughing, because it turns out that this is some sort of dud prank grenade. Which Bart immediately realizes could be used for vast pranking. And, because Grandpa just sort of falls asleep Bart sees that as consent, and takes the grenade.

We then cut to the Elementary School where Principal Skinner is giving some sort of assembly about how they’re the laziest and fattest school in the district, and need to start getting more active. This is accomplished by the mascot for a third-string local hockey team coming out to talk to the kids, but it turns out that the mascot is just Kirk Van Houten, and he gets distracted by a bee in his costume.

So, while Kirk is dealing with that, Bart leaps up onto the stage and begins showing off the grenade. He then pull the pin and drops it, causing instant panic. Skinner wets himself, the students panic, and the only person keeping a cool head is Ned Flanders, who I keep forgetting is now a teacher. He leaps into action and throws himself on the grenade to save everyone, when Bart finally admits that it’s a prank.  And no one is pleased.

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Parents then come to pick the kids up after the emergency, since someone brought a goddamn grenade to school, and we get a B-Plot set up when we see that Nelson’s mom has arrived drunk and lacking any real affection. But, the real point of interest is the fact that Superintendent Chalmers has officially had it with Bart, and threatens to fully expel him forever. But, before he can make it official, Flanders offers to begin mentoring Bart, using prayer. Chalmers isn’t really down with this at first, since it’s mixing prayer with public schools, but Flanders essentially threatens him to be bombarded with complaints from angry Christians, and he just sort of rolls over.

So, Bart starts hanging out with Ned, who is attempting to fix him. And, he does that by going on some sort of fishing trip, where Ned refuses to bail Bart out. They spend the entire day fishing, until Bart finally manages to catch one. He then has to learn how to start a fire, clean the fish, and they get to eat it. And, after a day of actual accomplishments, he starts to feel a weird source of pride.

And, just like that, Bart is now a good kid. As shown by the fact that he now starts singing in his church choir. This causes Homer and Marge to start feeling some pride towards their son, until they see everyone in church rightfully crediting Ned as the person who fixed him. Homer becomes instantly jealous, especially when he finds that Bart is spending more and more time with Ned.

So, Homer begins wandering the town, sad that no one is paying attention to him, and he eventually ends up at the town dump. And, while there, he finds Nelson crying on a mattress, alone. Homer then gets struck by the idea that Nelson’s life is so terrible, and that he’s such a wreck, that even Homer could make his life better. Plus, he could make Bart jealous in the process. So, Homer decides to start mentoring a sad boy in order to spite his son.

 

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Homer then begins teaching Nelson his secrets of the world, which revolve around things like tricking people, packing when your wife kicks you out of the house, and how to make motorcycle noises when you ride your bike. Meanwhile, Bart is helping Ned, Rod, and Todd build some sort of giant pair of praying hands that will be the centerpiece of a large Christian Pride parade that Springfield is hosting for some reason.

Homer ends up showing up and mocking Bart while he’s building the hands, showing off his relationship with Nelson, which is obviously a red flag for Lisa. So, she confronts Homer and demands that he sees a therapist to talk about the insane thing he’s doing. Homer actually does this, but just ends up disgusting the therapist so much that she kicks him out.

So, without learning a lesson, Homer heads over to spend more time with Nelson, when he’s confronted by his mother. She tells Homer that she knows what  he’s doing, and why he’s doing it, and warns him against hurting Nelson like so many men have done in the past when they bail. Homer tries to deflect, but Mrs. Muntz makes him tell Nelson the truth, causing the boy to freak out and flee from the house, concocting a revenge plot against Bart to get back at Homer.

Which, ends up revolving around this weird parade going on. Nelson somehow learns that the end of the parade will feature people walking through the giant hands that Ned was building earlier, before they clasp together in prayer. So, he plans on waiting until Bart is walking through the hands and then trigger them to close on him, hurting Bart.

Homer learns about Nelson’s plot, and ends up making it down to the parade-route, figuring out what he’s going to do. So, right as Bart walks through the hands Homer leaps into action and gets smushed instead, saving his son. The two then happily head to the hospital together, huffing oxygen and rebuilding their relationship. Which leaves Nelson alone and sad. But, the episode informs us that it’s running short, and tacks on an ending where Ned decides to start mentoring Nelson instead, making everyone happy.

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There’s really not much to this episode. It’s very forgettable, and like I said earlier, really just feels like a hodgepodge of other, better episodes. Homer getting mad that Bart is hanging out with a mentor and then picking up his own sad child to mentor out of spite is literally the premise of a much funnier and better done episode. And, we’ve even seen an episode before where Marge specifically starts bonding with Nelson, and Bart gets jealous. So, this episode just kind of takes those two premises, and smashes them together, really only adding two extremely weird plot elements into the mix. Bart bringing a grenade into the school and making everything think that they’re going to die is fucked up, and the fact that Springfield is having some sort of right-wing Christian Pride parade, which Bart is taking part in because he’s good and Christian now, is also extremely weird and unpleasant. Just a bunch of weird choices all around.

 

“Better Off Ned” was written by Joel H Cohen and Jeff Westbrook and directed by Rob Oliver, 2020.

 

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