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The Simpsons - Better off Ned - Review: Parenting Gone Wrong

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*NOTE – This review may contain spoilers.

What starts out as a promising premise we've already seen work on this show quickly falls flat as 'The Simpsons' fails to capture the true magic of the Bart and Homer relationship.

Opening the show Abe Simpson unknowingly gives Bart his faux hand grenade, setting up a scene in which the young Simpson has the entire school thinking they're about to be under attack. Ned Flanders however, attempts to save the day, which leads us to this week's theme of him being the poster child for good parenting. The scene ends itself like the end of a real-life school shooting in which firetrucks and police cars are scattered outside the venue whilst a few crying faces and emotional hugs are in view. And in the centre of all of that we have Ned Flanders being presented as doing everything the other dads should be and just aren't, which, if you haven't been paying attention by now, is pretty much his entire character.

The premise is already set: Ned is proving yet again to be what Homer isn't as a parent. And as enjoyable as this has been in the episode, this week we have to deal with a declining charm and a clumsy narrative before we eventually lead to where we're meant to: Homer and Bart as the father-son duo we know them as.

A positive thread in this episode is that Ned manages to make Bart enjoy his Christian faith - something Homer has never truly managed to do. We learn early on that even when facing the fear of death itself, Bart refuses to pray, yet when in the hands of Flanders he's a gold-star member of the church choir. On top of that, the young Simpson learns how to fish and create a fire in the woods. In comparison, Homer, although deemed useless, teaches Nelson that there is in fact a doctor for teeth, amongst showing him how to use spearmint gum as a deodorant, breaking into the music industry and - most notably - being the first man to tell him he hasn't slept with his mother. This scene is important mainly for its irony, but also because it's a turning point in the young boy's life. So whilst the two pairings aren't quite the same, they do offer something for each youth involved.

Throughout the entirety of the episode though, Ned is proving to be a better parent to Bart than his actual dad, leading us to believe that Homer will have a heroic redemption. This only sours as the very quick and dissatisfying ending we end up receiving turns out to be Homer getting squished by plastic hands and going to the ER, thus proving enough for Bart to quickly accept him again.

It's hard not to compare this episode to the time in the 2007 spin-off movie where Bart prefers being a member of the Flanders household and Homer wins him back by potentially sacrificing his life for the sake of humanity. It's also very similar to the time when Homer is seen taking a spritz of Holy Water in an attempt to win his kids' appreciation back in the season 7 episode “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily”. But what these examples have that this latest episode doesn't is an actual pay-off worth our time. In the other times in which we've seen this story play out, we're given multiple reasons for Bart not to want to remain with Homer, but the journey towards the loving sacrifices of his dad outweighs the good deeds that Flanders has offered. In this episode, the entire arc is ended in one instance, as Homer spends the entire time also enjoying his newfound companionship with Nelson rather than allowing us to miss what we're supposed to miss.

We're not given time to properly reminisce what we had with Homer and Bart as what we've found with our new duos is still so enjoyable. On top of Bart having grown as a person, Nelson found the first father-figure he's ever really had that made sense. Instead of a bad influence that he enjoys being around, Homer is somebody that teaches him things and gives him genuine companionship, so to take that away so quickly with no real pay-off for anyone involved feels flat and out of place.

This episode spends its time on screen showcasing fatherly love in different ways, but falls on its face as it attempts to find a loving finale. There's no real pay-off to these new dynamics, and instead we're back to how we assumed we'd end up except, it doesn't feel as right as it should.

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