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Worldly Distractions: The Simpsons 26.21 - Bull-E




As of next week, this sorry season finally comes to an end. I have to say, even by latter-day Simpsons standards this one was pretty wretched. Can they redeem themselves in two episodes? Ummm...


No real opening credits. Couch gag: Maggie kicks soccer balls at Homer. Wait, what? That's not a proper couch gag! What fresh hell is this? Come back here so I can set you adrift on an ice floe, writers!

Groundskeeper Willie unexpectedly quits, having hired crooner Johnny Mathis in his place. And yes, that is dear Johnny offering us his golden voice. Principal Skinner announces a school dance, which neither Simpson kid looks forward to. Bart desperately tries to ditch, but his parents won't hear it. Homer cheerfully tells his ten-year-old that if he goes along with what girls want, he might get a "special night".

The Flanderses have worked hard painting their fence, but at the last minute Homer flips the posts, stealing their paint job. For the first time, the Flanders boys are getting annoyed with their "Uncle Homer's" conduct, though Ned counsels patience.

The school dance is predictably dull, though we do get an awesome Otto hallucination. Bart tries to wreak havoc, which earns him a punch from Nelson and - gasp - the heart of a fifth-grader. However, he hesitates, because he doesn't want a visit from the Puberty Demon. And yes, we get to meet said unappealing demon. Hormones eventually win out and he wins her dance, and also the coveted Best Dancer trophy. He goes to meet with his new girlfriend outside, but the bullies catch up with him first, and I bet you can't guess what happens next. The trophy is smashed and his new girlfriend dumps him in disgust. The Puberty Demon returns to laugh at hapless Bart.

Marge is angry to hear about it, immediately turning into the anti-bullying crusader we see so frequently today. She presents the bill at a town meeting, prompting a string of swear words from Moe so blue that they kill Helen Lovejoy. However, Marge argues so persuasively that they vote it in after less than a minute. Only Hans Moleman votes against, but no worries, Mayor Quimby bullies it into a unanimous vote.

Soon enough, the police are chasing down Springfield's unruly teens, and pipsqueaks like Bart and Milhouse are free to roam the town. The local force is drunk on their own power, and their power is even extended to adults, as egomaniac Krusty finds out the hard way. Homer shamelessly abuses this, reporting Apu for putting too much ice in his drink, and Lisa worries about the kind of society they're becoming. Over at the Flanders house, the boys wonder if their father is being bullied by Uncle Homer. Ned denies this, saying that he's just turning the other cheek. The boys pray for Uncle Homer, but it does no good.

Meanwhile, Wiggum has become something of a tyrant and locked up half the town. The Flanders kids call in their report, and Homer is arrested. He is sentenced to mandatory treatment at a "re-education centre". The bullying therapist (Albert Brooks, oh heralded guest star), a former bully himself, instructs them in the ways of empathy. So the process of breaking down begins.

The instructor probes into everyone's childhood, where we learn that Chalmers was raised according to the methods of behaviourist B.F. SKINNER! Never having been loved, he has no idea how to behave in a constructive manner, and sobs like a child. Only Snake seems resistant to the instructor's methods. Homer details his hatred of Flanders, which is mostly due to jealousy. The instructor declares a breakthrough. We cut to a PSA where the convicted bullies repudiate their evil ways. The instructor explains that this will be distributed to all sorts of vulnerable groups. Class is dismissed, though the instructor remarks that he forgot to teach remorse.

So the reformed bullies are the toast of the town, and the Flanders kids don't like this. Flanders dismisses this, but soon enough he is also bothered. At an autograph signing (no, really), Flanders points out that Homer never actually apologized, despite months of anti-bullying school. When he explains how it diminished his image, Homer finally understands the concept of remorse. Finally, he crawls on his knees to the house next door and begs Flanders' forgiveness. Flanders initially refuses to give it, letting him kneel there and suffer after a quarter century of torment.



However, Homer is persistent, kneeling in Flanders' driveway for several days. Finally, even Rod and Todd beg Flanders to go rescue him. A weeping Ned goes outside, and quoting a Bible verse about forgiveness, pulls him from the lawn (he was in there so long he sank). Their friendship mended, Homer and "Stupendous Flanders" have a reconciliation brunch.

Tag scene - Otto, still tripping, hallucinates the Magic School Bus (sadly, Lily Tomlin does not appear to work her magic). The class decides to visit the inside of a druggie's brain - and holy shit, why did they never make that episode? - but Otto can't stand it and stomps the little bus to death. We learn that while this is going on, real-Otto is supposed to be a foreman on a jury. We haven't had enough Otto in the past ten years or so - welcome back, buddy.

Well, despite my constant ragging on this season, this week's episode had a lot to recommend it - an interesting premise with some good humour and even a wee bit of a satire, some excellent work from the great A. Brooks, and even some surreal weirdness courtesy of Otto. Though they could have done a lot more with the Simpsons-Flanders dynamic, I did want to cheer Ned finally standing up for himself. Was it greatness? Of course not. But at the very least, there is a good chance we could end this season on a decent note!

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