This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 31 Episode 9
The Simpsons, season 31, episode 9 “Todd, Todd, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?,” is a revelation. It is as perfect an installment as any latter-day Simpson offering. Subtitled “The Flanderseseses,” a faux series in itself which is owned by Disney and created by god, the foster family has its own theme song. Derived from The Simpsons theme, it is filled with oodlies and doodlies. The Simpson family even gives over the opening couch gag. The godly Flanders family, of course, doesn’t have a couch because Ned gave it away to a less fortunate family. One imagines a homeless clan somewhere in Springfield having to take care of a couch. This leaves poor Todd to do the devil’s work at the chalkboard.
Todd drops the mic in this episode, both literally and figuratively. Nancy Cartwright, who also voices Bart, Ralph Wiggum, Nelson Muntz, and Kearney, brings real sorrow and doubt into the squeaking renunciant. His questions resonate, his fears are real. His disappointments hurt. When he is asked to give the last words to Reverend Lovejoy’s children forum, he brings down the house. The setup is perfect. Each of the kids comes across with their ingredient. One kid thanks baby Jesus for being born, because now he can celebrate Christmas, and the audience is moved by the odd cuteness. Ralph cuts the treacle. Todd tosses it into the fireplace. God let his mother, Maude, die. He can’t forgive that.
This comes after he mines the best rule-of-three gag of the episode. Todd tells Ned about his recurring nightmare. Foreshadowing Ned’s plan to scare faith into his son, Todd sees his mother as a faceless ghoul, is shocked by his brother’s lack of complexion after wearing his mother’s facial mask, and then is terrified by the shadow the mask makes after his brother throws it on top of a lamp. It is truly a holy trinity.
Rodd puts in a well nuanced performance by extension. He shows both vulnerability and self-interest when he asks if he might now be Ned’s favorite son. He is forgiven for mistakenly watching 30 Rock, as long as he only focuses on the heartland-born page Kenneth. Each sequence is also very touching, even when Bart locks Homer out of the house without his pants.
Todd’s 40 yard journey is an old and sad one, as biblically tragic as any prodigal son’s. He is immediately set upon with temptation, as Lisa tries to convert him to the egoless nirvana of Buddhism. Todd maintains his nihilism. Although Lisa realizes she’s been meditating too much after having the epiphany that David Bowie has been reincarnated as a fly.
The Flanderseseses are a wonderful device to mine comedy. Their righteous reality turns the usually skewered sensibilities of the title characters on its ass. When Ned screams, “Let me put this gently, we’re all going to hell,” your whole brain laughs. He doesn’t see what’s so crazy about the Holy Ghost. He is not mocking the almighty when he tells Todd not to question god’s real estate holdings. Ned is fully committed to that belief, even as he spells out the very things which should shake it. Todd’s loss of faith can’t touch that. But it’s Reverend Lovejoy who really sets the tone. The first words we hear coming midway through his sermon are “and that is why we’re right and the Episcopalians are really, really wrong.”
I knew “a tootsie pop without a center” was too racy a rejoinder for Ned, but I thought it had more to do with humble choice of bland food like the breakfast cereal he serves up every morning. When it turns out to be the word tootsie which is the culprit, it makes it far more delicious. He needs more than a swear jar for that one.
Moe pours Ned a drink, alleluia. Yes, the godly man actually wets his mustache in this episode, and it is very revealing. At one point he admits Homer is godlike because he falls off cliffs and stays fit as a fiddle. But Homer is like a god. After all, he really was the one who killed Maude. It was an act of random calamity, like an earthquake, a typhoon or a T-shirt cannon at a car race. It was reasonless, a bad thing that happened to a good person because of a dropped bobby pin. Also, as Lisa points out, Homer never judged a pizza by where it came from.
Marge brings the sagest wisdom to the boy in dire need of faith. The fathers of both families are at death’s door after Uber-driver Moleman runs into them on their way out of bar. Todd can no longer speak to god, so Marge says to think of it as talking with himself. The prayer sequence is reminiscent of many similar scenes in the show’s past, from Bart losing his soul to Marge promising to give the poor something they’d actually like. But the delivery system is fresh, right down to Todd cc’ing Jesus on his petitions to the lord.
The backstory and narration are told in hymn form. The couplets are amazing, right down to promising a new show in two weeks. The choral voices play it straight, mixing pious with droll whimsy, sacred with propane, and burns through the episode like a cleansing fire.
The animation even seems more adventurous. Heaven is pictured as it usually is, but there is a little more care in the details. For instance, Abraham Lincoln’s head is shown to be blown off as he walks away without his top-hat. The artists also fill the episode with sight gags, such as the sign at the front of Lovejoy’s church threatening “God is everywhere but he wants you right here right now.”
This is one of the most subversive episodes The Simpsons have ever offered. The irreverence comes from the most reverent reaches of Springfield. The town is supposed to represent Middle America, its values and faith. The family that lives on Evergreen Terrace poked holes in all those things but, all the way back to the earliest episodes, the series comforted its viewers with a community’s status quo.
The Simpsons complete a Hail Mary pass in this episode at great risk of dropping the ball. The Simpson family guest stars on their own show, a gamble. This wouldn’t have worked with most of the other families, collectives or individual characters, and might not have worked here. The series is in one sense poking the most fun at itself by choosing the stupid Flanders. But they also return to the very traditions of the series which makes for classic episodes. This is an overall great episode of The Simpsons and it is right to give them thanks and praise. I was afraid I might have had to deny them at least three times before the cock crowed.
“Todd, Todd, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?” was written by Tim Long and Miranda Thompson, and directed by Chris Clements.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, Krusty the Clown and Groundskeeper Willie, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Comic Book Guy, Kirk Van Houten, Chief Wiggum, Professor John I.Q. Nerdelbaum Frink Jr., and Moe. Harry Shearer is Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Pamela Hayden voices multiple parts. Guest voice: Glenn Close as Mona Simpson.
The Simpsons episode “Todd, Todd, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?” aired Sunday, Dec. 1, on Fox.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.