I’ve written before about Flanderization – the gradual transformation of a character as one element completely takes over. It was named after Ned Flanders as religion and niceness completely took over his personality, especially in the post-classic era when he turned into a really nasty fundamentalist. This episode is often used as marker for that transformation, and let me tell you, it’s hard not to project the Classic Era Flanders onto him and try and look at him with fresh eyes.
The plot of the episode is almost-kinda meta for The Simpsons, taking basic ideas the show has had – Homer is jealous and rude towards Flanders and his success, and Flanders takes it all in stride with a nice face – and escalates it into conflict. Homer is having trouble mowing his lawn, so Flanders invites him in for a beer, and Homer goes so far into interpreting everything Flanders says, does, and has as a passive-aggressive showing off that Flanders (dun dun dun) asks him to leave.
Flanders ends up wallowing in guilt, and we get the first major laying down of his religion: not only does he call Reverend Lovejoy, he calls him in the middle of the night. A first time viewer would say “Wow, he’s not just religious, he’s SUPER religious!”, while I found it fairly low-key for Flanders. Ned decides to write Homer an apology letter, which just amuses Homer and his kids (another early point where Lisa can still be an asshole). He and Bart end up going out to play miniature golf, where they run into the Flandererererses.
Homer obviously plays quite badly, and when he learns that there’s a children’s tournament, he does something he rarely does: encourages Bart. Of course, Homer is an asshole, so this includes giving him a picture of Todd and telling him to spend fifteen minutes a day hating it. Bart is genuinely invested in doing what his dad says (for a change) and turns to Lisa for help. I like this as a genuine recognition on the part of the show that Lisa is clever and worth listening to, via Bart, and they riff on spiritual questions together.
Meanwhile, Homer and Flanders start digging in deeper. Homer taunts his neighbour so much that Flanders expresses genuine rage, which is the part that people point at when explaining Flanders flanderizing – goody-goody Flanders later wouldn’t do that. Personally, I’m finding it a touch overstated – I can think of plenty of times that Flanders has lost his temper with Homer, even before his famous post-hurricane temper tantrum – but I suppose I can see how he jumps to anger fairly quickly.
Anyway, he and Homer make a deal: the loser’s father must mow the other’s lawn while wearing his wife’s Sunday dress, which has three things. 1) Uncomfortable transphobia with the whole ‘man in dress’ joke, 2) Baffling aging of the idea of a woman having a dress specifically for Sundays, and 3) Extremely precise dramatic payoff for a specific character detail – Flanders the goody-goody insists that the bet be written as “father of the boy who doesn’t win”, not “Father of the loser”.
The day of the tourney comes, and Bart and Todd both play really well. They eventually reach the last hole, the same distance away, and Bart decides to throw in the towel. Todd decides to give up as well, conceding both of them are equally good, and they split the prize money. Both Homer and Flanders mow the others’ lawn, and Flanders actually enjoys it because it reminds him of his fraternity days (which is more out of character than him yelling), so Homer ends up losing. It’s a bit of a cheat ending that doesn’t so much brings the episode to climax as it does rapidly deflate it, but I actually kind of like it as a subversive embrace of laziness over pointless bravado.
Chalkboard Gag: “I am not a 32 year old woman”
Couch Gag: The family takes their seats, and the family pets pop out into view.
This episode was written by Jeff Martin and directed by Rich Moore. There’s a reference to The Karate Kid when Bart does the crane pose when training. The title is a reference to Dead Poets Society. The animators went out of their way to present a realistic miniature golf course in order to make the action funnier.
First Appearances: Maude Flanders (bringing Maggie Roswell into being a regular cast member), Homer calling them the ‘Flandererses”
(I thought Bart spelling it “potatoe” was a reference to Dan Quayle’s infamous gaffe, but this episode aired a full two years before that happened, so apparently Bart is just a bad speller)