240. Alone Again, Natura-Diddly

(originally aired February 13, 2000)
In 1999, Maggie Roswell had a falling out with FOX regarding a pay dispute. This left the show in a minor pickle; while it’s not as devastating as losing one of their big six performers, Roswell still voiced her share of memorable characters, including Helen Lovejoy and Maude Flanders. It’s not exactly the hugest problem though; her roles were at best tertiary, and keeping them mostly silent with a recurring replacement guest voice every now and then wouldn’t have been too difficult to pull off. But instead, this gave the writers the opportunity to pull off a big fat gimmick episode and kill off Maude. I remember the promotion for this show, making a big deal that someone from the cast was going to die, and that it could be anyone. Rumor had it it was going to be one of Marge’s sisters, but it had already leaked that it was Maude. There’s something about this episode that’s terribly misguided, perhaps linked to the circumstances that led to its inception. It doesn’t feel like a story they particularly wanted to tell, and it’s certainly clear they can’t handle the heavy subject matter. All in all, it’s just incredibly clumsy.

Let’s start with talking about what killing off Maude means. Though his role has shifted slightly over time, Ned and the Flanders flock have represented everything Homer and his family is not. They’re loving, well-off financially, and things always seem to go their way. Ned always has a smile on his face and a kind word to say to his neighbor-eeno, as Homer toils away at a job he hates, with kids who don’t respect him and the butt end of fate’s cruel, cruel jokes. But in killing Maude off, Ned is cut down a peg, his happy life burnt to cinders. He can no longer play this role anymore, and must be reborn in a way. …he hasn’t, but this gave the writers the opportunity to build on this character in the future. …they didn’t, but that’s news for another time. So this could have been an interesting role reversal show, where Ned at his time of need takes solace in the dysfunctional Simpson family, who need to work together to get him on his feet and help him move on. Instead we get bonehead Homer making him a dating tape and hiding out in mailboxes.

Things just feel so haphazard here, and the way in which they deal with Maude’s death is so crass. I don’t mean to bring the tone down, but this blog is about my specific reaction to each show, and having not seen this one in years, re-watching it struck me in a different way. My mother passed away last fall, and seeing this definitely brought up parallels. Some of Ned’s behavior reminded me of my dad, struggling of what to do with his life and how he could move on. But with stuff like the “Let ‘Er R.I.P.” T-shirt and Homer’s jerky behavior through the whole show, the episode felt so wrong, like it didn’t even try to blend the jokes with the serious story. I felt offended with how terribly out of place some of these bits were and the tonal clash they created. Now, don’t get me wrong, any subject is fair game for comedy. Hell, this show has done fabulous shows about death in the past. Episodes like “Old Money” and “‘Round Springfield” were thoughtful portrayals of how the death of loved ones affects us, and how we can make due with life without them, and on top of that, communicated all that in a funny way. What does this episode communicate? I haven’t a clue. If there’s any episode I can point to that truly shows how far the series has fallen, it may be this one. Sure, “Saddlesore Galactica” is absolute shit, but this is what the series now considers to be a meaningful, emotional episode. Play this one back to back with one of the episodes I just mentioned, and the differences could not be more stark. The former is a brilliant show, and the latter just has no idea what the hell it’s doing.

Tidbits and Quotes
– A lot of these set pieces in these later episodes are kind of hard to talk about, since there’s not that much there that’s funny or memorable. Lisa is shocked to find part of the nature reserve has been gutted to build a new racetrack. So, they proceed to cross the road while race cars are speeding down it. I can see Homer doing this, but the others? The animals adapting to their new environments, racer Clay Babcock, the stuff at the actual race itself… I got nothing. It’s only offensive in that it’s not funny. The only good bit at the race was this exchange between Ralph and Chief Wiggum upon seeing Homer shirtless (“Mommy has bosoms like that!” “Yeah, I wish.”)
– Okay, so Maude’s death. I guess I don’t have a problem with the ridiculously absurd reason for her demise. I do take great issue that Homer is indirectly responsible, but only in that it’s another sizable example of them setting something up and doing nothing with it. Even someone as thick as Homer has to realize that he was accidentally responsible for someone dying (don’t bother bringing up “Homer’s Enemy,” as that context is totally different). As such, you’d think this would affect him in some way. Maybe make his overenthusiastic desire to help Ned is a response to this sense of guilt. But instead Homer remains locked in jerk mode; even at his nicest, he still feels like a creepy weirdo. Plus the great joke about Homer parking in the ambulance space at the hospital delaying resuscitation that could have saved Maude’s life. That may be the worst line in the history of the series. Homer is basically a reprehensible monster at this point.
– The funeral also feels so wrong. Instead of being meaningful, it just becomes a big meta commentary about how Maude was a tietiary character… in life, and is one of the few major changes that has happened to the series like Apu getting married and having kids and the Van Houtens breaking up. It felt pathetic, like the writers crowing, “Look at all this stuff we changed! Aren’t we innovative!” Also the Fandamonium girls being there felt really wrong. They made a joke about it being part of their settlement due to the accident, but how inappropriate. It’s a cruel joke that maybe would work if it were geared toward a dislikable character, but Ned? The people indirectly responsible for his wife’s death are at her funeral, shooting off the very shirts that killed her. And Homer finally gets his fucking shirt with a fucking crass slogan on it and is oh so satisfied. Fuck this show.
– There are glimmers of Homer being a nice guy here, like when he tucks Flanders in the first night, but it immediately flips back to him wanting to chuck rocks at him (and pocketing some in case he needs them for later).
– One of the few, few laughs here is the zoom-in on Ned’s pin number during Homer’s dating video. Which is then ruined by the next scene, Ned in the shower with pixellation obscuring his seemingly large genitals, a completely tasteless scene.
– I guess we get some foreshadowing to the whole Nedna thing here. …wait, what the hell am I saying, foreshadowing? That implies it was planned that they would get together, not another gimmicky ass pull. The scene’s not funny anyway.
– Ned’s crisis of faith and falling out with God is another interesting plot turn that could have happened in this episode. It could have been great; the senseless death of his wife being the thing that breaks Ned, turning his back on the Almighty, and the citizens of Springfield needing to bring him back. But no, we’ll just make a quick joke out of it. No sense in doing a show about actual character development when we can have more silly Homer antics.
– So if this is the boat we’re in, Ned could do worse than Rachel Jordan. She reappeared next season in a wholly disposable episode, so she doesn’t have much in the way of character, but she could have. So we have our “hopeful” ending (“My name’s Ned Flanders, and I’m here every week. Rain or shine,”) with the writers hoping to garner some sentiment, but all it does is remind me how little there actually was. And in case you weren’t annoyed already, we end on a final song bit from Miss Jordan (“It’s a show about Ned/About him losin’ his sweet wife/She landed on her head/But now it’s time to get on with his life.”) Jesus Christ, fuck you guys. FUCK YOU.

28 thoughts on “240. Alone Again, Natura-Diddly

  1. This is, by far, my least favorite episode of this show. I cannot rewatch it. I love dark comedy, but that isn’t what this is. It’s just a poorly handled episode.

    There was no dignity in any scene to give Maude a deserved emotional send off. There was no reason to make Homer into such a disgusting person. Every part of this episode clashes in the worst possible way with the story being told.

    I don’t know what to say that you didn’t cover. I just need to express my hatred for this episode. I don’t care how stupid, pointless, unfunny, and boring episodes are to come, this remains as the only episode I cannot sit through for any reason whatsoever.

  2. This episode makes me so angry too. You just want to punch Homer in the face. Also the ‘joke’ of Bart changing the cake to say ‘Rest in Pee’ is just awful as well. It just feels like how a lesser show like Family Guy would handle a character death.
    What also makes me laugh is that the writers clearly completely forgot about the scene of Ned and Edna on a date in this episode, as in the Season 22 episode where they get together they act like they’ve never met before. I know the continuity is never completely solid in this show but that really sticks out to me.

    1. Family Guy handled death a lot better than this episode did (“Peter’s Two Dads,” “Life of Brian”).

      1. It’s pretty sad when a less serious show like Family Guy can pull off sadder episodes better than a show that’s supposed to be grounded in reality like The Simpsons… :/

  3. i hated the “rest in pee” joke too! the much, much earlier “boy our party sucks” joke (from the war of the simpsons, if i remember correctly) was sooooo much better.

    the only thing i thought was funny in this episode was the “do you even have a job anymore?” “i think it’s pretty obvious that i don’t.”

    lazily pointing out how careless and downright stupid their writing has gotten? undoubtedly. however, there’s something about the timing of it… jokes post-season ten have horrific timing, whereas previously it was sharp as a tack; hell, a lot of times the timing made a mediocre joke fantastic!

    ….sorry, i’m rambling a bit.

    1. Good points. The unique and very individual pacing and overall direction is often part of what made the show work so well before. There are glimpses of those kinds of jokes post-10 but they eventually were faded out completely, especially in the computer age.

  4. This episode sucks even more now that I lost a loved one. I almost hung my head in shame when I heard Mike Scully and the producers laugh inappropriately at Colvin’s line “She landed on her head…” when I played back the commentary.

  5. Unfortunately, my dad casually spoiled the big secret to this episode before it aired (he was reading an article from the paper which spilled the beans), so Maude’s death wasn’t a big surprise to me.

    Anyway, the episode has flashes of heart (Homer kissing Ned good night, and generally trying to help Ned out, even if he’s misguided in how he’s doing it), and I do like Ned’s brief test of faith when he decides not to go to church. But I can’t help but wonder how much better this episode might’ve turned out had it been done in the Oakley/Weinstein era. They had a better handle on how to balance comedy and drama.

    I must say, I -love- the gag of Marge giving birth on the tail end of Ned’s dating tape. Low brow, sure, but timed so well.

  6. No doubt Homer’s Enemy is a superior episode to this, but could you elaborate on how the context is a lot different when it comes to Grimes’ death? I never really thought about it until you brought it up, but there seems to be some parallelism in them. Why isn’t there? I’m just curious.

    1. Because Homer’s Enemy aim was actually dark and tragicomic, i mean, purposely. The whole episode was focused on the absurdity of how an average american middle man with no skills or whatever quality can get a better and more satisfiying life than a man who never did anything wrong and really worked hard his whole life to succeed. Thats why the “dumb-Homer mode” in the episode is functional to the story, and in the final scene you can feel the tragicomical side at its max: Grimes, as Homers opposite, believed in the system, always followed the rules, and worked hard all his life like the society want, but in the end, not even at his funeral he earns any true respect or whatever intrest; meanwhile, an incompetent Homer who killed him, enjoys his life.

  7. All I remember is that this episode aired the same day as the beautiful final peanuts strip the day after beloved Charles Schwartz died. Even at the time the reception on this episode was almost universally negative.

  8. I have no idea what the hell they were going for with this one.
    The t-shirt cannon thing was dumb but it’s basically an accident, he couldn’t have known Maude would walk behind him. It’s a stupid way to kill off a character but I could have forgiven it if not for the bit about Homer parking in the ambulance spot.

    Just, what? Is that supposed to be funny?
    “Hahahaha, our main character’s selfishness ensured the death of the nicest guy on the show’s wife, isn’t he a hoot?”

    Fuck this episode.

  9. Re the ambulance parking space line: when I watched a lot of these episodes when I was young, I never really noticed the jerkass Homer. I stopped watching long before I was really able to fully identify the reasons why I didn’t like Zombie Simpsons. But I think even back then, this line stood out to me as one that I really didn’t like.

  10. I just described the horse racing episode as one of the worst, but I’d forgotten how awful this one was. Callous treatment of death of a major secondary character’s wife and his grief. It’s like the writers have never lost a loved one. Comparing this episode to other major death episodes drives that point home. And the callousness would be forgivable, except that this episode commits the cardinal sin of comedy – it’s not remotely funny.

    Homer is past Jerkass here and is straight up a reprehensible monster. Fuck him and fuck the writers.

  11. For me, this is the “jump the shark” episode when the series finally became unwatchable. It’s one thing for Maude to die, but to do so in a totally senseless way and make the entire episode just crass and meaningless…. ugh. Ned as a sad, hopeless widower is something I never liked, and now we’re stuck with it for the rest of the series. And the whole “Nedna” gimmick was beyond stupid.

    just FUCK this episode. fuck fuck FUCK it

    1. oh, and I HAAAAAATE the song at the end. Even as a kid I though the whole “she landed on her head” line was Family Guy levels of badness.

      heck, as noted above even Family Guy isn’t this terrible. FUCK this episode!

  12. There’s no point in sidestepping, this is probably one of the worst fucking episodes of the series. It’s definitely up there. Everything about this episode pisses me off, it is the most fucking regressive thing for the show. I remember watching this one for the first time and thinking “is it really as bad as people think it is?” but when I started to consider a lot of the criticism of this one out there, I started to piece it all together and it is fucking wretched. I can’t even believe why it took me a while to piece it all together.

    There’s a big argument to be made on whether or not a wacky episode like Kill The Alligator and Run or Saddlesore Galactica is worse than an episode that tries to trick you into thinking it has some emotional core like this one. For me, I don’t think one is worse than the other; it depends on the episode, but this one is truly fucking bad. The thing about Saddlesore Galactica and Kill The Alligator and Run is the problems with those are different than the problems with these, with some overlaps. Especially the Jerkass Homer element. So I don’t like to compare this one with those.

    It’s even the little things in this one that piss me off. It’s super nitpicky but I hate the very, very beginning. Why do we need this park? And why is the motorway literally in the park? Lisa criticizes it if I remember correctly, but it’s brushed off. I can get this conceit if they wanted some environmental commentary or some shit, but it’s just weird and pointless here. Why not just cut out the park shit and start with The Simpsons getting to the raceway? Did they really want to keep in jokes about bear shit? I’m already fucking pissed off.

    Another thing I hate hate hate in this one is the way Maude dies. It’s the stupidest, most crass, insensitive shit ever in my eyes. Killing off a well respected, yet secondary character in a crass, stupid, and comical way is already it’s own can of worms, but this is supposed to be the driving action of the plot, the thing that kicks in the drama. I’m not saying she should die in the most gruesome, extreme way, but could you maybe not make it super silly? It’s one of the several things that makes the rest of this episode hard to take seriously at all. Also the dialogue after Maude dies… jesus fucking christ is it hokey. *pause and close up on Ned* “Maude?” “Oh my god, she’s dead!” (I think it’s something like that). Jesus christ this is Family Guy level writing.

    Okay, let’s talk about Homer in this one. Where the fuck do I start…. indirectly killing Maude and his treatment toward Ned for the rest of the episode. It’s all so extreme. I get what they were trying to go for kinda, of Homer doing things with good intentions and fucking up but now is just not the time. If this was written in past seasons Homer would be in overdrive comforting Ned and making everyone comfortable, not being a fucking asshole.

    I will admit some of the jokes in the dating video are kinda funny…. outside of context. Homer is making Ned miserable so I can’t really laugh. Also yeah there’s the meta commentary shit…. fuck it’s so disrespectful. There’s no attempt at all to blend the serious plot with these lame jokes. Seriously, fuck this episode.

  13. Argh I despised this episode. It was nothing more than a ‘fuck you’ to Maggie Roswell. The show went out of their way here to paint Maude Flanders as a worthless, disposable waste of space. Absolutely no respect was given to her.

    Homer’s portrayal was disgusting. Over time, he became nothing more than a yellow Peter Griffin, but back then this behavior from him was shocking.

  14. Apparently the producers asked some NASCAR drivers to provide voices for the guy at the racetrack. They wisely all refused. FOX had just signed a six-year contract to air the first half of the NASCAR season in November 1999. They were not happy with this episode’s crash-heavy portrayal of the sport.

  15. This episode is absolute garbage from start to finish. I remember being absolutely appalled when I first saw it, and twenty (!) years later, it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. As far as the show was in season 11, the stories, characterization, and jokes are much too wacky nowadays for them to make a story about death and try to play it seriously, and this episode proves that point very well.

    Killing off Maude as a character is a really rough decision already because it has little purpose. The writers only did it for a publicity stunt as her voice actress was done at the time. Plus, the writers do virtually nothing with Maude’s death after this episode. There’s a few episodes that have Ned’s loneliness as a theme, but it doesn’t happen that often, as far as I’m concerned.

    Killing off Maude also puts a big issue into Flanders’s character. One of the biggest parts of his character is that he’s very well off. He has a wife and children who respect him, he’s muscular and strong, he’s a good guy, etc. As a result, Homer’s little rivalry with him made sense because he was always down on his luck. Now that Flanders has been knocked down a peg, the rivalry feels a little off, and it gets really bad when we have jokes later where Homer treats Maude’s death callously toward Ned. Awful.

    Oh, yeah, the story. I really don’t get the whole race track stuff. None of it is interesting. And the takeout with Lenny is so cheap because it was spoiled to us before the episode even aired. The circumstances wherein Maude is killed just suck, too. I have no problem with Homer inadvertently causing her death, but the fact that Homer doesn’t even feel slightly guilty (which he would have had this episode been done in seasons 1-8) makes him come off as a really sour character.

    The funeral scene is absolute trash. Having jokes occur during something like this is fine. They managed to do it well during “‘Round Springfield” and “The Curse of the Flying Hellfish”, because those episodes knew not to make the jokes contrast too much with the severity, so they blended in well (plus, in the latter example, they got away with more because the funeral’s for a character we never even meet). The jokes and the story aren’t blended well at all here. Having the people who caused Maude’s death at the funeral? Are you kidding me? And having T-Shirts with “Let her RIP”? And “Rest in Pee”? This just comes off as really callous and awful. Much like you, I’ve lost family members: my mother died in 2006, and my father in 2017, so watching how callously this episode portrays this stuff feels even more wrong to me.

    Of course, a bad season 11 episode wouldn’t be complete without jerk Homer, who seems to want to help, but is still cemented in jerk mode. He tries to throw rocks at Flanders, among other things. He also shows little sympathy, which feels out of character. But the real jerk part of his character is the swing set scene. He just casually mentions that he blocked the entrance to the hospital to prevent Maude from being resuscitated.

    This joke, right here, is the moment this show officially died to me. I continued on watching it for another two years, but this was the point where I knew this wasn’t the show I had enjoyed for its wonderful characters, comedy, satire, heart, etc. over ten years before. This joke is really cruel from Homer and really paints him as an asshole, and the joke makes no sense from so many angles. How did Maude survive the fall so she can be resuscitated? That fall looked pretty fatal, and Dr. Hibbert, a doctor, mind you, said she was dead. Even if she did survive, how on earth did Homer get to the hospital? His car was in the woods by the track, so he’d have had to run there and get to the hospital. How did he guess the hospital? Did he follow the ambulance to it? If so, why the hell was he able to block the entrance? Did he rush to it? If so, that paints him as an absolute monster. And why would Homer do that anyway? He doesn’t seem that concerned about Maude in the rest of the episode, so he has little motivation to head there. This joke from all angles absolutely sucks, if you ask me.

    Then, of course we get many tasteless jokes. Who thought it was a good idea to show Flanders’s pixelated large genitals? It isn’t funny at all, if you ask me. We also have the whole climax with trying to get Flanders back into church, which doesn’t feel developed well enough. The Rachel Jordan stuff is fine, but that song at the end can go screw itself. It isn’t funny whatsoever, and is just terrible.

    Do I seem like I hate this episode? Of course I do. The premises is really gimmicky, the story and jokes don’t blend well together, the characterization of Homer is atrocious, that one joke really killed my soul… yeah, the issues are endless. I hate this episode. It’s by far my least favorite of season 11, and the sad part is it’s not even the episode that convinced me to stop watching. We’ll get there when we get there, though.

  16. I forgot to mention it in my last comment, but the FOX affiliate in the Charlotte, NC area recieved lots of angry calls about the promos for this episode, specifically the scene where Lenny gets hit by a tire. They were upset because it appeared to be making fun of an incident that occurred at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1999 at an IRL race, where debris from Stan Wattles’ car flew into the grandstands and killed three people. And, yes, that debris does include a tire. FOX apologized for this, saying that it wasn’t meant to mock the victims of the incident.

    Then, as a grim side note, only a few months after this episode aired, another incident occurred at the track. A bunch of fans leaving The Winston exhibition race were injured when a footbridge leading out of the complex collapsed. I wonder if The Simpsons ever made fun of that incident.

  17. Ned’s an OK guy but not a great or consistently nice guy and also the show at this point is pretty consistently OTT cartoony so I don’t feel outraged at it being so even with this plot. I think the cartooniness actually was mostly toned down here and there was enough sincerity and sympathy that it worked.

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