The Simpsons, Season Eight, Episode Eight, “Hurricane Neddy”

If this season is about deepening and complicating the show’s expanded roster and toying with its mythology (whether that’s intentional a la the Mirkin years or a byproduct of the show reaching a certain age), this must surely be considered one of its most successful attempts – or at least I’ve never heard anyone complain about it to the extent of “Principal And The Pauper” or “Homer’s Enemy”. For over seven seasons, Ned has been unfailingly kind, polite, and giving; sure, he started out as a simple ‘keeping-up-with-the-Joneses’ foil for Homer, but the sheer amount of space given to him over that time has seen him snowball into his own weird individual self, and it’s inherently funny to me to ask a) what would push him to express anger and b) where that niceness comes from. Granted, we saw him yell at Homer in church that one time, but otherwise he is, as I said at the time, someone genuinely concerned with the health and happiness of others and willing to give the shirt off his back every time someone needs it. Even in “Homer Loves Flanders”, this is played as a positive thing, even if it’s often difficult; “Hurricane Neddy” suggests that Flanders is like this far beyond the point of being healthy. It’s a satire of the positivity movement decades before that was a thing – obviously, there are unhealthy ways of expressing negative emotions like anger, but never expressing anger at all is just as unhealthy and can lead to exactly the situation Ned ends up in, where it all spills out at once in one big unfair moment; I love the delicate balance of Ned’s explosion, where he has genuine cause to be angry but the town really, legitimately was coming together in a rare moment of sincerity to help him, and I can get why he’d feel terrible about his outburst to the point of checking into a mental hospital.

I also enjoy the backstory explaining Ned’s Nedness. Normally I don’t have a lot of patience for backstory as an end-goal in storytelling, having seen it botched so often. The best uses of backstory make them an extension of the character’s present choices in some way – Don Draper’s backstory shows him literally inventing himself, something he gets up and does every single day, and one of the reasons LOST took over the world in the 00’s was because “Walkabout”, the third episode, so effectively destroyed and rebuilt our perception of John Locke, clarifying the choices he made and would continue to make for the rest of the show. “Hurricane Neddy” isn’t quite on that level, but it makes a kind of sense that a kid very severely punished for expressing his anger with no clear connection between his behaviour and the punishment might grow up into an adult completely lacking assertiveness, give or take a certain comic exaggeration of all those concepts. I’m not the most assertive guy in the world, and I can see links between my life and behaviour and that of Ned here. I also love the particularly weird detail of Ned’s parents being beatniks, making them proto-hippies and therefore almost as fun to mock as actual hippies (and implying that Ned came to religion on his own as opposed to being raised with it).

It’ll be interesting comparing this with things like “Homer’s Enemy” and “Principal And The Pauper” in the future. I’ve been slamming through Seinfeld for the first time over the past couple of months, and what astounds me is how it keeps evolving, refining, and developing its process and ideas, which of course made me think of the other long-running sitcoms I love that constantly evolve the same way – not just The Simpsons, but Always Sunny and M*A*S*H, shows that you could genuinely divide into ‘eras’ based on cast and tone and style. The Simpsons stands out from all of these in that it is the only one to have a flow of different showrunners that are clearly responsible for the distinct shifts – Seinfeld lost Larry David in its last two seasons and M*A*S*H lost Larry Gelbart and saw Alan Alda rise as a main creative force, causing tonal shifts, but never to the extent that The Simpsons did. And yet, the Golden Era of the show still feels like a unified whole, something genuinely developing and growing. Perhaps the lesson here is that a sufficiently developed ecosystem – one with a clear set of values and sense of process – will thrive as individuals pass through it, each putting their own stamp on the whole. It’s worth thinking about as we head into Mike Scully’s infamous reign on the show.

Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: The couch is replaced by a coinslot. Homer puts a coin in, only for nothing to happen; he beats the slot, and the couch lands on him.

This episode was written by Steve Young and directed by Bob Anderson. Young was a freelance writer brought on to write the episode, with the main idea coming from George Meyer, who combined the idea of Flanders’ faith being tested with an idea for an SNL sketch written by his friend Jack Handey – the sketch being a parody of “The Cobbler’s Children Have No Shoes” where the elves are very bad at making shoes. A caricature of John Swartzwelder is visible in the mental hospital, and a sign later in the episode shows “Free John Swartzwelder!”. 

Watching the Springfieldianites react to the hurricane is a lot of fun and a great example of this show’s worldbuilding paying off in a small way. Say what you will about Ned’s outburst, all his burns are so good. “May God have mercy on us all!” is such a dumb joke but it’s so great and something that’s much harder to pull off than it looks. I’m also a huge fan of the implied “Take that, Dick-Face!” joke. 

The scene of the hurricane mob is a reference to the 1992 LA riots. Todd wears a Butthole Surfers shirt, clearly censored so we don’t see the whole use of the word “butthole”. The show parodies its own opening sequence when the hurricane starts. Jon Lovitz cameos as Jay Sherman, repeating his catchphrase. The small door in Ned’s new house resembles a shot from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Iconic Moments: 6! This episode alone introduced so many jokes on religion to the vernacular. | “Neddy doesn’t believe in insurance. He considers it a form of gambling.” | “Short answer, yes with an if, long answer, no with a but.” | “I’ve done everything the Bible says, even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!” | “I don’t know who you are, but I’m sure you’re a jerk!” / “Hey, I’ve only been here a few minutes! What’s going on?” | “Hey, I may be ugly and hatefilled, but, uh… what was the third thing you said?” | I’m absolutely certain at least two generations have “pleasantly surprised” in their regular vocabulary because of “One of our patients is a cannibal. Try to guess which one, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Biggest Laugh