38. When Flanders Failed

(originally aired October 3, 1991)
If Homer is meant to be our hero, a character we hope will succeed beyond all odds and obstacles, then why do we accept, even love, his irrational hatred of his friendly neighbor-eeno? There’s a couple ideas about this, but there are two main ones I think explain it best. First, Ned is never, ever bothered by Homer’s back-handed, or overtly antagonizing, comments. Whether he even registers them as insults or not, Ned always leaves frame with a smile on his face. Second, it’s been established that Homer has a deep jealousy toward Flanders. Ned has a well-paying job, a family that openly loves him, and overall things seem to go his way, which is basically the exact opposite of what Homer has going for him. So in this show when things start to go sour for Flanders, Homer’s behavior seems a bit more relentless and cruel, almost going too far, until his heel face turn at the end when he saves the day.

We start with an invitation to the Flanders’ for a barbecue, which promises to have “incredibly Ned-ibles’ and “Maude-acious vittles.” Homer of course would rather be dead than go, but in the end his stomach wins over his mind and he goes next door, grabs a plate of burgers and sits by himself under a tree. So yeah, Homer’s pretty rude right from the get-go here. With his guests gathered, Ned announces that this event is in celebration for his new business venture: a new store at the mall that caters to left-handed folks like himself, dubbed “The Leftorium.” Later upon breaking a wishbone with Ned, Homer gets the larger piece, and wishes Ned and his store go belly-up.

Homer’s dreams come to a reality ever so slowly: every time he checks in with Ned, his situation seems more and more dour, despite Ned’s attempts to put a happy face on things. It’s at the most desperate points for Ned that it becomes the hardest to not see Homer as a complete and total asshole, the worst at an impromptu yard sale where Homer gets Ned to sell him his entire living room set, furniture and all, for seventy-five bucks. He also finds a handful of left-handed citizens who would be in need of some wares catered to their needs, but ultimately says nothing. It takes Ned’s home to be foreclosed and for him to be nearly bankrupt for Homer to finally garner enough sympathy to do something for his neighbor: nearly calling up the entire town to frequent Ned’s store, saving the day. It’s probably the most cloying ending to date; the It’s a Wonderful Life style of it is nice, but the sing-a-long to “Put On A Happy Face” is really a bit much. The producers of the show always used to joke that their old formula was to have 21 minutes of nasty cynicism and then 30 seconds of sappy happy ending at the end, and it couldn’t be more true here. Homer does save Ned at the end, but the road there felt kind of unpleasant.

Oh yeah, there’s also a B-story about Bart skipping out on karate class, but it’s mostly glossed over, and I really don’t have much to comment about it. Yep.

Tidbits and Quotes
– First off, I want to comment on the Leftorium, and how insane a financial venture it is. Sure, the store itself is a joke (“Left-handed pinking shears!”) but this show has always tried to be somewhat realistic. Even with Springfield appearing to have a larger population of left-handers than usual, and with Burns buying his car with the left-handed gear shift (one of three ever made), I really don’t see how Ned could keep this place in business on a regular basis. That’s kind of why the ending feels a bit empty, since I know a store like this would never survive. Today, this would be perfect as an Internet store, but paying out space at the mall and having all those products on hand seems like way too much for these specialty products.
– I like Homer’s amusement over kids’ insulting epithets (“You lie like a fly with a booger in its eye!” “The fly was funny, and the booger was the icing on the cake!”)
– I totally forgot Ned was in pharmaceuticals prior to his new business. Probably because this is the only time it’s mentioned ever. This would make a great question for an insanely hard trivia contest.
– We get Homer’s threshold of his Flanders hatred early as he imagines what he could wish for, first a poor, penniless Ned, then him next to his failed store, next his gravestone. Even Homer thinks this is going too far, so he back-pedals to just his failed store.
– I guess I’ll comment briefly on the B-story: Bart is enrolled in karate class, but learning that it’s not all about learning video game moves like ‘The Touch of Death,’ he skips out to play video games and screw around at the mall. We get a second appearance by Akira, here voiced by Hank Azaria, doing a dead-on George Takei impression. The commercial is funny off the bat; Akira introduces himself and smashes a board with his face, commenting, “That didn’t hurt very much, because I know the ancient art of karate.” Later on the first day, an impatient Bart asks when they’ll be breaking blocks of ice with their heads. Akira replies, “First, you must fill you head with wisdom, then you can hit ice with it.”
– The Itchy & Scratchy cartoon sees pretty standard fare: Itchy serves Scratchy a bomb wrapped in spaghetti at a restaurant, he freaks out and runs out the door, decapitating himself and his body explodes in the street. Not too funny. Then a dog waiter walks in and trips over Scratchy’s head. That’s funny.
– I love the scene with Homer in Burns’ office with the complaint box, which only has two, one a kiss-ass note from Smithers, and the other Homer’s. I love the incredibly wide shot of the whole office as Burns reads it, “‘No more apples in the vending machine please.’ Well that’s almost a sentence!” Then there’s some wonderful acting as Burns patronizes him, “Tell my secretary that you could have a free apple!”
– I do like that the Leftorium will be closed and replaced by Libertarian Party Headquarters.
– As questionable I find the ending, I do enjoy Ned’s final line: “Homer, affordable tract housing made us neighbors, but you made us friends.”

8 thoughts on “38. When Flanders Failed

    1. Re: the Leftorium, I thought the same thing, that it’d never survive, but in a town with 4 finger yellow people with big eyes and overbites, maybe most of the population is actually left-handed (I know Flanders specifically mentions the ACTUAL percentage of lefties in the world but Springfield might be different)? Maybe people come from other states to visit the store, surely the only one of its kind? Think of the “24 hour Church of Elvis” thing which mainly is nonprofit but stays in business, someone funds these things and I could see some wacky Christian friend Flanders has letting it run forever, for the novelty and “for God’s creation of lefties” or something.

      Also, Flanders appears to be independently pretty wealthy (despite probably putting 95% of his money into church!) so he probably mainly runs it for fun or for something to do, at least after this episode — as you said, the Burns car alone is very valuable, and I’m sure it would have probably made him enough dough to run the store for a long time.

      One thing I’ve always wondered was about Flanders’ pharmaceutical career. Obviously, medicine in and of itself is not bad in any way, BUT there are lots of insane Christians who don’t believe in pills or doctors of any kind, believing prayer/God will heal them. I think it would have been interesting to see some flashbacks to his pharmaceutical days. Then again, Flanders doesn’t appear to mind pills since he goes to Canada in “Midnight RX”, breaking laws in the process, but it’s in order to get insulin for Rod. I’m honestly shocked by that… maybe the writers just didn’t know better but when they’re making him out to be such a hardcore Christian flake who is afraid of orange juice with pulp, they probably should have made him scared of medication too. “Prayer will save Rod’s diabetes!” you know? But eh. I’m thinking too much about this one.

  1. Ned: “Don’t say what your wish is, otherwise it won’t come true!”
    Homer: “Ooh, that would be a shame… (takes a bite out of his burger) …wouldn’t it, Flanders?”

    Then, of course, great animation as Homer laughs evilly with bits of burger spattering out of his mouth, before he starts choking and his face turns red, then purple.

  2. bWhat I think I love in this one is that we really feel for ned. There’s something so quietly desperate about him, and I like the fact that Homer actually starts feeling guilty and that his guilt actually mounts, even as far as him telling the tax man where to find left handed ledgers before being told that he’s next on the list.

    I also think Burns is hilarious, his talking to the can as he opens it, and his “hazaar for the shop keep!”

    Also I’m afraid i disagree about the touch of death karate bit with bart being off. I just love how much a rampant mortal combat parody it is, —- of course they do a more serious one later with Bone storm, but it’s still just so accurate as to how overthetop and none serious the violence in some 90’s games was.
    I did liek the resolution actually with Bart and the bullies and Lisa’s “It’s odd how sometimes two wrongs do make a right”

    I don’t know, I’d not call this a favourite, but it feels very typically classic simpsons, and I’d rather takee slightly guilty vindictive homer here over the loud obnoxious yet ever loved jerkass variety we got later any day.

  3. It might be far fetched, but at the end of the day, this show is still a cartoon series. Thus, I see no reason for the left handed store to only exist for a short time. I also don’t see a need to show people from other states coming to it when that is irrelevant to the story.

    I do agree that Homer does act like a jackass a lot, but he does come through in the end. The bit when he thinks of Ned dead and says, “Too far,” is quite hilarious.

  4. This episode really made me feel for Flanders when I first watched it. Seeing such a nice guy fail is somewhat hard to watch, but in a good way. I personally find Homer’s jerk behavior to be handled well here, since he feels remorse in the end, and he doesn’t go too far in this episode so his remorse still feels earned. Plus, there’s plenty of good jokes, like Homer choking on the burger, the resolution to Bart’s story, and the apples in the vending machine, among others.

  5. Homer is a huge asshole for most of this episode, but the saving grace is that he didn’t actually cause Flanders’s store to fail to launch. Homer was right, even if he didn’t mean to be; it was a dumb idea for Flanders to risk his family’s financial well-being on a gimmicky store in the mall.

    And the ending is definitely sappy, but I love it. I also love it the first time, when Ned’s family sings the song in the car. Also like seeing Rod play the guitar, so between that and the violin, I guess he’s always secretly been as great a musician as Lisa.

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