When Springfield’s only casino is demolished, massive dust clouds form, prompting the Simpson family and Ned Flanders to go to a car wash to get rid of the dust on their cars. There, Homer sees Ned gets a senior discount. Thinking that Flanders is not a senior and lying about his age, Homer reveals this at church. As a result, Ned is forced to admit to everyone that he is sixty years old and only looks young because he has never done anything exciting in his life. Out of pity, Homer decides to take him to Las Vegas, where, after a night of partying and gambling, they end up marrying two casino barmaids while drunk. As Homer and Ned try to escape from the barmaids the next day, they go on a wild rampage through the casino, until they are confronted by casino security and banned from ever visiting Las Vegas again.
One of the hardest parts of these season ten reviews has been telling the difference between actually comedy and comedy-lite. You know, like when you go to the store for a stick of comedy and accidentally come home with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Comedy, now with real humor substitute. If I let myself, I could use this moment from Parks and Recreation to react to much of this season, and today’s episode in particular.
Let’s look at a few of the laugh-adjacent moments from the first few minutes of this episode:
Kent Brockman: “Moments from now, “the house that social security checks built” will be demolished to make way for a casino-themed family hotel … Gone are such headliners as Little Timmy and the Shebangs, the Shebangs, and the New Shebangs featuring Big Timmy.”
There are three hypothetical punchlines in there: one about old people losing money in casinos, one about the Disneyfication of America, and one about old bands changing their lineups. Each of them is delivered in a way that resembles a gag. But are any of them funny? They didn’t make me laugh, certainly. But they’re not bad either. They might make some people smile. Maybe if I watched them again in a better mood, their superficial resemblance to jokes would be enough. But is that enough?
I honestly don’t know. And with so much of this episode is devoted to material that isn’t good enough to be praised or bad enough to be condemned, there’s not much to latch onto.
I suppose, then, it’s something of a blessing that there’s so much actively offensive material to discuss – that’ll kill a few paragraphs. It starts early with a racist Don Rickles1 line that even Don Rickles himself might have found hacky, ends with a casual gang rape discussion2 and has these allegedly delightful slurs in between:
Then you have the jokes that aren’t necessarily offensive, but center on Homer being entirely indifferent to human life – not stopping when he runs over Don Rickles, nearly wiping out several park-goers, and almost getting Lance Murdock killed. There have been times when I’ve found humor in Homer’s tendencies toward involuntary manslaughter3 but much like the character himself, I’m growing a little sick of them the more I have to chronicle them.
As for the plot itself: there’s some potential in the idea of Ned needing to let his hair down, and needing somebody to explain to him how to do that. Think Jane on Happy Endings asking Max to teach her to be less controlling and more of a slob (wait, that one might have actually happened – I’m not sure). But for the trope to work as intended, the mentor has to actually give a damn about the pupil, and it wasn’t long ago Homer was dreaming of mauling Ned to death. The question is not whether he’ll ruin Ned’s life, but how – and how quickly the writers will pretend it never happened.4
Alright, let’s get to the stuff I liked:
- Homer calling Ned “Churchy Lafemme,” a reference to the French phrase cherchez la femme, meaning “look for the woman,” and possibly to the Pogo character of the same name.
- Lovejoy: “And once again, tithing is 10% off the top. That’s gross income, not net. Please, people, don’t force us to audit.”
- Ned’s snack of plain white bread with a glass of water on the side for dipping may result from his Flanderization5 but I enjoyed his family’s cheerful reminder of how boring and predictable he is, having no idea they were only depressing him further.
- Homer leaving his barbecue mess for Marge to clean up is pretty jerkassy, but her irrepressible joy in her work makes me love this moment.
- I also enjoy Joan Rivers’ willingness to dunk on her own child.
- “Someone dishonoring their marriage vows? Not in Las Vegas.”
Not applicable. I’d seen this one before, and I couldn’t have told you anything about it besides the basic plot.