It’s fair to say that my expectations were low for this episode, given that it was built around the “Nedna” idea The Simpsons constructed for its finale last season. I’m not exactly sure why the show’s writers decided this was a good idea—the most cynical part of me suspects it’s the effectiveness of the portmanteau—but they went ahead with it, with middling results. That episode invited viewers to vote on whether to keep Ned and Edna together or not, and “Ned ’N’ Edna’s Blend” demonstrates the results of that poll: they’re not just together, they’re secretly married. And, to my surprise, this revelation goes along with an episode that generally works well in spite of the premise.
To get to that point, The Simpsons relies on one of its most consistently effective tropes: poking gentle fun at Christianity. Springfield community theater is running its apparently annual passion play, and the new director isn’t keen on Flanders as Jesus. Homer impulsively declares his interest in the role and receives it, which seems great until Lisa tells him that Jesus is in every scene. “Whaat? Why do I succeed in everything I audition for?!?” he declares, in one of the episode’s many self-aware moments.
An expected result of Homer’s success: Flanders grows jealous of Homer, and wishes he weren’t, which is as entertaining as ever. Even better: the subversion of the trope where Homer actually plays Jesus with respect, dignity, and competence. Religion plus community theater is as no-brainer as you can get for Simpsons plots, and “Ned ’N’ Edna’s Blend” does well by the premise.
It’s still just a lead-in to the main event, where Homer inadvertently breaks the cross and falls on Ned, sending Flanders to the emergency room. Edna jumps on the ambulance, revealing that she’s married to Ned. This public revelation somehow seems to also mean that she starts caring about her interactions with Ned’s children. (Had she not noticed them before? Did they just decide that this meant it was safe to move in? Is it just a bunch of crazy stuff that happened?)
Regardless of the internal logic, I liked Edna’s active role in parenting the Flanders boys. Their total lack of understanding results in some easy jokes, sure, but it also helps lead to some genuine emotional examination. First, Edna goes to a parent-teacher conference at the religious private school the kids attend, and is shocked by their lack of science curriculum. It’s an easy attack against the worst impulses of certain forms of Christianity, but it also allows Edna to appear as something other than the jaded, horny teacher persona she’s inhabited for the bulk of her Simpsons appearances.
Ned’s anxiety about Edna’s bigger role in the boys’ parenting also leads to some genuine emotional examination of step-parenting. Edna’s arrival into Rod and Todd’s life helps break them out of their Christian-sealed existence. More could have been done with the kids’ experience here, but the episode was already busy enough, and there’s no reason to complain about a storyline that finds the space for Flanders to have a Christian television-style claymation “nightmare” about seeing one of his kids graduate from an elite university with a degree in Comparative Religion.
In retrospect, it’s easy to say that The Simpsons marketed the “Nedna” relationship in an unfortunate fashion. By creating the relationship name immediately, and turning it into a finale/voting gimmick, the show made it look like a desperate cry for relevance (Marge tacitly admits as much, when she snaps “No voting!” at Homer). But as tonight’s episode demonstrated, had the Ned/Edna relationship been allowed to develop more organically, away from the extra-textual bells and whistles, it could have been, and could still be, something that doesn’t immediately induce cringing.
- “Ooo, licorice!” Joke of the night, when Homer gets called on to eat his “hat,” the crown of thorns used in the passion play.
- “There it is. Another story in the classic three-act structure. Good enough for Aristotle, good enough for the Simpsons.” A strong contender for the most self-aware line I’ve ever seen on The Simpsons.
- “I guess I never really truly cared about children before.” There’s the Edna Krabappel we’re used to!