Flanders, Ned

Father. Neighbor. Holy Roller. True believer. Mustachioed. Lefty…

One of the most beloved residents of Springfield, Flanders, Ned (full name Nedward) has given us so much over the years. A faithful provider of positivity, forgiveness, uplifting exhortations, enduring catch phrases, and gentle reminders of hell’s eternal flames, steady Ned has been our delightfully cheesy moral compass since his debut in 1989.

Longtime fans of The Simpsons have been through quite a lot with Ned. He’s been subjected to more tribulation, twists and turns than perhaps any other character on the show (other than Hans Moleman).

'I was saying Booo-urns.'

‘I was saying Booo-urns.’

He’s lost a wife and nearly his faith on multiple occasions. He’s had to endure living next door to Homer for more than two decades. But despite all this trauma – or perhaps because of it – it seems Ned has also experienced the most profound transformation of any Simpsons character.

From “Funny” to Beloved

The Simpsons has undergone quite a transformation itself over the years. From its humble beginnings of getting cheap laughs from Bart’s sassy one-liners (Eat My Shorts!), and the crudely drawn family engaging in crude behavior (Homer choking Bart, shocking one another at Dr. Marvin Monroe’s clinic, etc.), The Simpsons eventually became the smartest, most insightful, most important TV show probably of all time.

How did they go from “funny” to an unmatched intergalactic phenomenon with legions of devoted fans?

I think a key to the program’s rise to greatness can be found in Ned Flanders’ ascendance from one-dimensional goofballery, to the complex, nuanced man that eventually emerged.

Some of you may be skeptical. Many people regard Ned as an annoying ancillary character whose sole purpose is to be a foil for Homer’s boorish behavior and/or a vehicle for mocking up-tight, dorky religious people. While Ned was essentially an unlovable embodiment of Christian hypocrisy in the early seasons, his character was eventually developed in a way that caused us to root for him in all his fuddy-duddy glory. We saw him fight and reconcile with God and Homer, do bedtime prayer with Rod and Todd after losing his wife Maude (in a tragic T-shirt cannon accident), we watched him bowl with his buddies. We saw Ned reach out to Bart to make up for Homer’s parenting deficiencies, and we rooted for him as he opened “The Leftorium.” We witnessed him judging others and losing his temper, but also his faith, redemption and goodness.

Heidily-Ho Neighborinos!

Heidily-Ho Neighborinos!

HUMANITY, REDEMPTION

And this my friends represents the critical turning point of The Simpsons: The decision to move away from shock value, mockery without compassion, and one-dimensional characters, to embracing a more realistic, (generally) uplifting portrayal of “real” people worth rooting for. All great shows need to have some redemptive quality about them. This is why no one genuinely loves Family Guy the way people love The Simpsons. Cynicism, biting humor and jabs are fine, but in order for a show to be beloved, there has to be heart or some kind of meaningful message behind it. Otherwise it runs the risk of just being mean, hollow and hateful.

Not to let the cat out of the bag, but this is really the mega-secret to all great TV (cartoon, reality, sitcom, drama, whatever). You have to have realistic, compelling, empathetic characters like Ned Flanders, who can create emotional connections with viewers and cause us to care.* To me, this is a huge reason for the unparalleled, enduring global devotion to The Simpsons.

Before we wrap this up, I’d like to take a moment to personally thank the creators of The Simpsons and everyone responsible for bringing Ned into my life. Of course it’s just a TV show, and to be honest I haven’t really watched many episodes the last few years, but what a great guy. What a great show. God bless Ned Flanders.

*Whether or not we are pathetic for feeling genuine connections with fake TV characters is another essay for another day I suppose.

Advertisements

7 Comments

Filed under F Commentary, Faith, Film, F Entertainment

7 responses to “Flanders, Ned

  1. Cassie

    You’re watching a different show from me, I think! I have seen the Simpsons peak for three glorious years, start it’s slow decline in season 6, to a freefall in season 9 to being a parody of itself nowadays. In fact, since season 9 (when a lot of the talent defected to launch the far superior Futurama and the fanboys took over), I doubt there have been more than a handful of episodes of the Simpsons better than the worst episode of Futurama. And through it all, Flanders has still been the epitome of Christian hypocrisy. Lovejoy is worse, but Flanders is still as full of hate and rage as he always was (I blame his beatnink parents).

    • Interesting take, thanks for sharing. You say the golden era was season 3-6? I’ll have to do a bit of research to see if I agree. Pretty strong endorsement of Futurama as well! I’ve seen a few episodes of that show, it is woefully underrated but I’m not sure I could bring myself to say it surpassed The Simpsons in any regard. Though we did select Futurama as one of the greatest F TV shows of all time.

  2. I’ve visited some unique blogs, but this one may take the cake! Only F subjects? Marvelous! And amazing. All joy and I love Ned Flanders. HF

  3. Impybat

    I knew a guy who was the absolute spitting image of Ned Flanders. Not only was he the real-life incarnation of Ned appearance-wise, but he is also left handed and works in the pharmaceuticals industry. It was like Matt Groening came to our town when he was creating the characters, saw him and said “That’s the guy.”

What Say You?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s