The Simpsons, Season Three, Episode Three, “When Flanders Failed”

One of the major aspects of The Simpsons fall from grace is Jerkass Homer, the name given to the warped version of Homer over the seasons that Mike Scully was showrunner (named after a line where Homer nearly runs over someone, crying out “Outta the way, jerkass!”). This version of Homer was cruel and childish to the point of being unfunny and unsympathetic, having you wonder how he’s even still alive, let alone employed with a family and friends. But this version of Homer does have its roots in the Classic iteration of the character, and that iteration fully flowers here.

The episode kicks off with a reminder of Homer and Flanderseseses relationship, when Ned comes over to invite Homer to his barbeque, and Homer has absolutely zero interest. You can tell we’re still in the early stages of the show, because instead of a generic and apparently random dislike, it’s rooted in jealousy (“I don’t care if Flanders is the nicest guy in the world, he’s a jerk!”). It’s only once Homer smells the delicious meats of Flanders’ BBQ that he’s convinced to come over.

(There’s probably something to be said in how culture has shifted in the twenty-six years of the show that ‘keeping up with the Jones’” has become basically irrelevant, or at least shifted to the internet, and that’s mixed with the extreme popularity and longevity of the show so that Homer hating Flanders isn’t a satirical take on a common foible but an iconic part of the Simpsons mythology)

It’s then that we get from the meat of the BBQ and into the real meat of the episode (“That was a joke?”): Flanders announces he’s leaving his job at the pharmacy to open a left-handed store. Endearingly, Flanders genuinely wants to know what Homer thinks of his idea, and Homer being Homer acts dismissive; when Maude brings over the wishbone, he and Flanders share it, and Homer decides to wish for Flanders store to fail. This is the first of three differences between Classic Homer and Jerkass Homer: he explicitly thinks about wishing for Flanders to die, and realises that’s too far, backing up to Flanders failing – he’s not callous or cruel, just petty and emotionally weak.

When we and Homer find Ned later, his Leftorium is moving pretty slowly, and he doesn’t seem to have the cruel touch of capitalism – a woman breaks an item, and he insists that she not pay for an accident; he mainly seems to spend his time validating parking. Homer is then given multiple chances to spread the word on the store to left-handed people who genuinely need stuff, and chooses not to tell them about it.

Homer then begins to see the effect this has on Ned and his family, as he’s forced to sell a few things to make ends meet; this has very little effect on Homer’s disposition, but we can see Ned is starting to hurt. It escalates into a collection agent coming for Flanders, which is enough to get Homer to bring his stuff back, only to discover the Flanders have been forced to live in their car for the night. The comedy drawn from seeing the ever-positive Flanders making do with what they have and breaking down anyway is really dark (“At times like these, I used to turn to the Bible and find solace, but even the Good Book can’t help me now.” “Why not?” “I sold it to you for seven cents!”), and it’s enough to drive Homer to vow to help Ned out of his situation.

This is the second difference between Classic Homer and Jerkass Homer. Homer is a petty, childish asshole, but when the chips are down, he’s who you want on your side, a classic family man who is there for his friends and family and is simply unable to maintain that on a day-to-day basis. The thing I like about this episode is that, while the wishbone couldmean that his wish was coming true, it’s ambiguous enough that Homer’s natural guilt could just be playing on him, and he can’t stand to see someone lose so much, and when he sets out to save Flanders’ store, it feels genuine and heroic.

The B-plot is Bart pretending to learn karate, only to have it come back on him when Lisa calls on him for help; it’s a pretty straightforward example of a realistically lazy kid getting what’s coming to him, and it has quite a few #relatable jokes of Bart wiseassing Lisa with his “karate skills”.

Chalkboard Gag: Nobody likes sunburn slappers.
Couch Gag: The Simpsons do the “Walk Like An Egyptian” dance, then do a ‘tada’ pose on the couch.

This episode was written by Jon Vitti and directed by Jim Reardon. The episode has an unusually high number of animation glitches due to training a new group of animators. The episode was based on the failed left-handed store of a friend of George Meyer.

The title is a reference to the poem “In Flanders Fields”. When Homer watches Canadian football, Simpsons writers names appear on the draft list. Akira’s school is next to Shakespeare’s Fried Chicken, and he hands out copies of The Art Of War by Sun Tzu. Simpsons crew member Richard Sakai appears at the Leftorium at the end.

Our side characters are now fully formed – Ned is doing his doodlies, and I love Burns’ smug mockery of the tin can he opens.

First Appearances: The Leftorium (obviously), a joke about Smithers being attracted to Burns (with enough flexibility that you could just see it as a compliment but still)
Biggest Laugh: “Go ahead, Marge. Have a ball. What if they came back and I was dead from not eating? They’d cry their eyes out. ‘We should have never gone to the Flanders’. Oh, why did we got to the Flanders’ house and leave Homer alone with no food?’ And I’d be laughing, laughing from my grave. Heh heh heh.”

And that’s the third and final difference between Classic Homer and Jerkass Homer. He’s a childish adult, not a literal child; he has ordinary feelings that come from an ordinary place, and finds an absurd expression of them.

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