When Flanders Failed
"When Flanders Failed" is the third episode of the The Simpsons' third season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on October 3, 1991. In the episode, Homer makes a wish for Ned Flanders's new left-handed store to go out of business. The wish comes true and gets the Flanders family into financial troubles. Ned is forced to sell his possessions, and Homer gleefully buys many of his things. When finding out that Ned's house is to be repossessed, Homer feels guilty and decides to get the store back in business by telling all the left-handed citizens about it. Meanwhile, Bart takes karate lessons but quits after discovering that it is not as interesting as he had expected it to be.
The episode was written by Jon Vitti and directed by Jim Reardon. It had an unusual amount of animation glitches because the animation studio was training a new group of animators. The episode features cultural references to playwright William Shakespeare and the film It's a Wonderful Life. The title of the episode is a reference to the title of the poem "In Flanders Fields". Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 13.9, and was the highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.
Ned Flanders invites the Simpson family to a barbecue party and announces his plans to open a store for left-handed people; The Leftorium. During the pulling of a wishbone, Homer, who has been constantly jealous of the material success of Ned and his family, wishes for The Leftorium to be a failure and go out of business. Homer frequently checks in on Ned to ensure that business is going poorly and is happy to see precisely that happening. When Homer sees left-handed citizens struggling with items made for right-handed people, he thinks about informing them about The Leftorium, but decides not to. Eventually the store does indeed close due to lack of business, plunging the Flanders' into debt and misery. Ned is forced to sell his possessions, and Homer gleefully buys many of Ned's things. Homer starts to regret what he did, but when he goes to return Ned's possessions, he finds Ned's house repossessed and the family living in their car. Homer wrestles with the guilt his wish has brought, and tells Ned to open the store for one final day. He then tells all the left-handed residents of Springfield about The Leftorium, and they all travel to the store and buy things. The increase in customers helps Ned keep the store open and get his house back.
In a subplot, Bart begins taking karate lessons at Akira's karate school. On his first lesson, he finds that karate is quite boring, so he decides to skip each lesson in order to play video games at the mall arcade. Whenever he is questioned by his family and friends about the techniques he has learned, he refers to the "Touch of Death", an ability he saw in one of the arcade games he played. He proceeds to terrorize his sister Lisa into doing his will by threatening her with the technique. His actions catch up to him when Lisa prods him to defend her from the school bullies and reclaim her saxophone. He ends up being pantsed and hung by his underwear from the basketball hoop rim by the bullies, as Lisa (having reclaimed her saxophone) wistfully notes that sometimes two wrongs do make a right.
The episode was written by Jon Vitti and directed by Jim Reardon. It featured an unusual amount of animation glitches because the animation studio in Korea was training a new group of animators, and this episode was one of their first efforts. Show runner Mike Reiss said he will always remember it as the episode "that came back animated with a thousand mistakes in it and was just a complete and utter mess." Reardon said there was "literally a mistake in every other scene" when the episode came back from Korea. Several scenes had to be re-animated in the United States because of these glitches, but according to Reardon, "you can still see the lesser ones that got through, such as line quality problems particularly in the first act." Though it aired in season three, "When Flanders Failed" was produced during the previous season. It was recorded in spring 1991 when the previous season came to an end, and was scheduled to air in autumn that year. The staff therefore had more time to fix the glitches during the summer.
"When Flanders Failed" features the second appearance of the character Akira, voiced by Hank Azaria. He was previously seen in the season two episode "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish", where he is a waiter at a Japanese restaurant. It is revealed in this episode that the characters Ned Flanders, Moe Szyslak and Montgomery Burns are left-handed, just like The Simpsons creator Matt Groening. The Simpsons writer George Meyer came up with the idea of The Leftorium when the writers were trying to figure out what Ned's failed business would be. The inspiration came from a friend of Meyer's who opened a left-handed store that was quickly forced to close down due to lack of business.
The title of the episode is a reference to the title of the poem "In Flanders Fields". Homer watches the Canadian Football League Draft on television. The Simpsons writers Jay Kogen, Wallace Wolodarsky, and John Swartzwelder appear on the draft list. Akira's school is located in the mall next to Shakespeare's Fried Chicken, a reference to the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare. Akira gives Bart's karate class the ancient Chinese military treatise The Art of War by Sun Tzu. The episode's ending in which Homer gathers the citizens to The Leftorium is a reference to the film It's a Wonderful Life, including Homer's toast and the way Ned and his wife Maude are dressed. Richard Sakai is seen in one of the crowd shots at The Leftorium at the end of the episode. The word schadenfreude became increasingly known in popular culture after it appeared in this episode. Lisa asks Homer if he has ever heard of schadenfreude after he expresses delight that Ned's business is failing. Defining it for him, she says, "It's a German term for 'shameful joy', taking pleasure in the suffering of others."
In its original American broadcast, "When Flanders Failed" finished 29th in the ratings for the week of September 30 – October 6, 1991, with a Nielsen rating of 13.9, equivalent to approximately 12.8 million viewing households. It was the highest-rated show on the Fox network that week.
In December 2002, "When Flanders Failed" was utilized in a Roanoke Presbyterian Church Sunday School class, to stimulate a discussion among both children and adults, about why unfortunate things happen to good people. Phil Brown, the teacher of the class, said the reason they used episodes of The Simpsons was "to get something that would get the kids excited and be more than just a traditional Sunday School lecture series."
Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. Kirk Baird of the Las Vegas Sun named it the fifth best episode of The Simpsons, and Central Michigan Life called it an "instant classic".
Pete Oliva of North Texas Daily said the episode "proves that it is possible to laugh and cry at the same time without being able to control either response." Bill Gibron of DVD Verdict said "When Flanders Failed" shows that even if The Simpsons is not dealing with famous celebrities or "high profile places", the writers can still "wring uproarious comedy out of their cast of regulars. Flanders is a special creation in the canon of humor, a regular guy who is funny because of how hyper-normal he is compared to his Neanderthal neighbors. The focus on people who are left-handed, and the whole idea of being a lefty, is an unusual basis for a television show. But then again, nothing about The Simpsons is ever common." Hock Guan Teh of DVD Town also praised the writers, stating that they "are able to craft a downtrodden tale for the perpetually clueless Flanders family that serves to illustrate how dark emotions can eventually be overcome by Homer's guilt. A memorable episode." Niel Harvey of The Roanoke Times called "When Flanders Failed" a "classic bit of Simpsonia." The episode's reference to It's a Wonderful Life was named the 26th greatest film reference in the history of the show by Total Film's Nathan Ditum.
Nate Meyers of Digitally Obsessed gave the episode a 3.5/5 rating and commented that "perhaps it is not profound in its examination of jealousy causing people to behave irrationally, but it handles the topic in a serious manner while not compromising the show's humor. The side story with Bart stems from the era of the series when Bart was the big star, but it still has some funny bits." DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson wrote: "Mean Homer equals Funny Homer, so 'When Flanders Failed' presents an above average show. He seems unusually crude here, which makes him amusing. The subplot with Bart and his karate class also adds good material, especially when he threatens to turn the 'Touch of Death' on Lisa. Another sappy finish slightly mars this one, but it remains generally solid." Kimberly Potts of AOL named it tenth best episode of the show and commented: "Schadenfreude is the theme of this tight episode about Homer's joy at the failure of Flanders' Leftorium store. There are few times Homer is more shamelessly smug than he was while imitating Flanders and using Ned's yard sale grill, and we haven't even mentioned Bart's 'Touch of Death' subplot." Winston-Salem Journal's Tim Clodfelter called it an "outstanding" episode.
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