The Simpsons, Season Five, Episode Sixteen, “Homer Loves Flanders”

The underlying self-awareness of this show has finally come to a boil, as we get a premise that makes its whole joke out of changing up a fundamental aspect of the series. First, Homer hated Flanders in a satire of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, because he resented his neighbour’s success and happiness. The satire faded away and Homer began hating Flanders simply because that’s what Homer does. This series has a powerful sense of iconography, taking familiar ideas and concepts and expertly tripping them up, and now it’s gone so long that it can trip itself up. There’s always a risk of this kind of thing going up its own ass, but “Homer Loves Flanders” simply uses the idea the same way it does any other, as a jumping off point for absurdity and character work, which in this case Flanders and Homer. The episode is so great because it tracks plausible behaviour from both through to somewhere really sweet.

I find it interesting how elegantly the episode switches points of view; we begin the episode from Homer’s view, seeing his impulsive, gluttonish selfishness; one of my favourite Homer jokes ever is him failing to get on the call-in show on time to win football tickets, hitting the radio in frustration, hearing “Two Tickets To Paradise”, and immediately singing along, completely missing the irony (“Excellent guitar riff.”) – it’s incredibly endearing how in-the-moment Homer can get. Flanders, being Flanders, knows Homer loves football (surely the easiest way for normal people* to find each other) and invites him along. It’s a really great pair of character beats – Flanders works under a system of honour, a strict understanding of right and wrong that specifically begins with “How can I make people around me happy?”. Flanders has things that mean nothing to him personally and will make Homer happy, so why not share them? Homer, on the other hand, is driven more by his personal happiness. This drives his selfishness and bad habits, but it also drives his higher morality – his ability to toss aside his own wants because he knows his family will make him happier.

(*’Normal people’ being people who don’t spend their free time writing essays on two-decade-old cartoons and contemplating what football acts as a symbol for)

That’s what ends up driving the conflict and our drift over to Flanderseses view. What Flanders does is something you have to get up and do every day, and what makes Flanders sympathetic to the show is that he does it even when it’s personally inconvenient for him, and Homer’s all-encompassing love is massively inconvenient. I think aside from his general sense of goodness, Flanders can see that Homer isn’t maliciously awful, and in fact quite the opposite – Homer likes Flanders, and therefore Spending Time With Flanders is good, and he just can’t see how much destruction he’s inflicting. But at the same time, while he doesn’t specifically seek out rewards for his works, there are a lot of things Flanders gets out of being decent and hardworking – respect of his community, nice things. Choosing to be decent and kind to Homer has started taking those thing away, until even his sense of peace in church is gone.

It’s when he finally snaps that the story takes an unexpected, delightful direction, as Homer immediately stands up for Flanders to the mob. Homer’s big heart might be self-interested and impulsive (see: him believing that Marge was the one who hated Flanders), but it’s sincere, and when he likes someone, he likes them, and he stands up for Ned to the angry mob. I read Flanders as heartened by Homer looking out for him, but also both moved and humbled by the recognition of himself as a genuinely good dude; this is another reminder from the show that goodness is its own reward.

Chalkboard Gag: I am not delightfully saucy.
Couch Gag: The family run in to find two couches, and split in half to sit in both.

This episode was written by David Richardson and directed by David Mirkin. It’s the last episode based on a pitch by Conan O’Brien. The scene in which Marge drinks LSD was nearly nixed by the censors until Mirkin argued that it was okay because Marge wasn’t drinking LSD on purpose. That brilliant joke about the God Waffle was based on caramel stuck to the writers’ room ceiling, which only makes it funnier.

“Just stamp the ticket” guy returns, mocking Homer for not just buying a ticket from a scalper! What a jerk. We get our first appearance of the rivalry between Springfield and Shelbyville. Speaking of jokes about these icons, there’s the joke of Moe reading to the homeless.

Homer’s “Rappin Ronnie Reagan” tape is based on “Rap Master Ronnie”. Wiggum’s quote “Where’s your messiah now?!” is lifted from Billy Crystal’s standup parody of The Ten Commandments. Ned’s dream about shooting up Springfield is a parody of The Deadly Tower. Homer chasing the Flanderseseses in their car is a parody of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (“I guess he didn’t see me.”). When Rod and Todd are watching TV, The Last Supper can be seen behind them.

Iconic Moments: “That’s not God, that’s just a waffle that Bart tossed up there.” | “Nacho, nacho man!” | “No, wait, I find him informative and witty.” | Homer backing into the hedge.
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