Classic Simpsons Reviews: “When Flanders Failed” is some delightful schadenfreude.

3.3 When Flanders Failed

Homer’s wish for Flanders’ new store for left-handed people to fail comes true, and when he hears people lamenting over the lack of goods for left-handed people, he has to choose whether to tell his arch nemesis.

This episode explores schadenfreude, and how inaction has consequences every bit as much as actions do. For Homer, his inaction causes Flanders to have his home seized by the bank. For Bart, his inaction causes him to get beaten up by bullies when Lisa says he knows karate.

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The knowing look is the best part.

The schadenfreude makes up all of the episode’s funny bits. Flanders is so comically earnest, and his attempts at positivity in the face of absurdly bad luck is very funny. If the Book of Job was a Simpsons episode, this would be it. I’d think Flanders was based on Job, but the character didn’t start off as being particularly religious.

Homer’s struggle with avoiding telling his left-handed friends about the Leftorium is played more for laughs than sentiment, which is a good choice. If the episode took itself more seriously, Homer’s inaction would have been more uncomfortable than anything. As is, it’s all sickly sweet, with a very funny It’s a Wonderful Life ending. Like the previous episode, “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington,” it’s really more more farce than satire. While satire lives in a more heady, rational place, farce uses situations that are more highly exaggerated. I’m not as high on this episode as others are, but I’m aware that this is because I’m more of a satire guy.

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Oh that is some funny shit.

This episode was directed by Jim Reardon, who also directed “22 Short Films About Springfield” and “Homer’s Enemy,” two episodes I think are noteworthy in particular for their direction.

The scene that sets up the B story of Bart taking karate involves Marge commenting on how Bart needs to be exercising more, as he watches six hours of TV a day. Just as Marge says “parents [who let their kids do this] should be ashamed of themselves,” the camera cuts to a shot behind Bart and Homer’s heads with a clear view of the TV as it shows the Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. Reardon is producing what Bertolt Brecht calls “the alienation effect,” where the director draws attention to the medium in order to pull the viewer’s focus away from the narrative and into a more analytical state. (Doing this for its own sake with no intellectual reason is called “being meta.”)

Theatre that employs the A-effect often does so in a more explicit way, as in Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade, which has titles, songs, and interruptions that force the average viewer to analyze the play rather than experience it passively. Reardon is obviously more subtle in “When Flanders Failed”

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The Simpsons‘ criticism of the acquisitive society is always so on point.

Also I learned from this episode that “sinister” is the Latin word for “left handed.” Ouch.

Best Moment: Rod and Todd Flanders singing “Put on a Happy Face” in the car as the Flanders are moving out of their home.

Best Quote: “Bart, don’t use the touch of death on your sister.” -Marge

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