“Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily” (season 7, episode 3, originally aired 10/1/1995)
While this is the third episode of the seventh season, it’s best regarded as the beginning of a new cycle for the show since it was the first with Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein as showrunners, a position they held through season eight before handing the show off to Mike Scully, which some (not all!) see as the beginning of the show’s decline. Enjoy your Simpsons heyday while it lasts, you TV Club Classic ingrates! “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily” is not a barn-burningly hilarious episode of the show, but it’s a very lovely, sweet episode about the family’s undeniable bond, as confusing as it might sometimes seem to outsiders.
The first act is a brilliant bit of plot setup, with tiny elements (old newspapers for a school project, an “I’m A Stupid Baby” sign Bart makes for Lisa, an errant soccer ball to the head) dovetailing into a horrifying picture for Principal Skinner and Springfield’s child welfare services, who quickly resolve to yank the Simpson children from their home and take them to the Flanders household because of their supposedly abject living situation. It’s of course impossible to enact such action so quickly, but within the reality of The Simpsons things make enough sense and it’s genuinely wrenching to watch the kids taken away from Marge and Homer, even after a bunch of silly jokes to set everything up.
That’s what I mean about this not being a side-splitting episode. The plot is a little too real and Marge’s pain in particular too searing to just laugh off, even as she and Homer go through a ridiculous parenting school with gun-toting yokels (Cletus included) and Bart and Lisa suffer through the incomparable squareness of living in the Flanders home.
To the episode’s credit, Ned and Maude are gently mocked for their milquetoast ways (“Nachos, Flanders-style” is cucumbers with cottage cheese) they are never shown to be bad parents—just different. Sure, Bart and Lisa are bored out of their minds, but Rod and Todd seem to have their own printing press! And Maggie’s delight at the attention she gets from Ned, attention even her siblings admit she doesn’t get from her father, is a clever way for the show to acknowledge that long-running gag in a way that feels real.
For a Simpsons episode, though, this is really light on plot. There’s the typical two-part structure: the first act setting up the picture of neglect, the next two following the kids’ life in Flanders purgatory and the parents’ efforts to get them back. But not very much happens, everything goes pretty smoothly, and the worst danger the kids ever face is being baptized by Flanders in the Springfield River. That’s an overreach, to be sure, but it’s well within Ned’s character. Anyway, it’s interesting to see an episode progress so realistically after the Rube Goldberg nuttiness that sets everything up, and I think it’s simply because the trauma of the kids being taken away is too big to really mess around with much further.
The same way that the episode gently mocks, but never castigates, Ned’s form of parenting, it also nicely reveals Bart and Lisa’s affection for their parents, not often expressed, particularly since they’re fondly recalling their actual parenting skills. No doubt Homer is an unorthodox father, but as we see in the opening scene, Marge pours herself into her role as homemaker and while it’s something we rarely see, it certainly doesn’t feel implausible.
The end of the episode is the real gut-punch. Homer blocks the baptism and ends up in the river with his kids, who are overjoyed to see him. Except for Maggie, who’s spent less time (in the floating timeline of this show) as a Simpson and seems ready to join the Flanders cult, including a creepy new first word delivered in Flanders style. Until Marge arrives over the horizon and rushes towards her with outstretched arms. It’s a hell of a moment, not remotely oversold, just the kind of material The Simpsons still nailed perfectly by its seventh season. This episode begins one of the most challenging and exciting periods in the show’s run, with a batch of episodes that messed with the formula and reality of the show in a really good way.
- Homer is adorably co-dependent. “Marge, there's a spider near my car keys.” “You did the right thing by telling me.”
- He takes a Bentley for a test drive as “Count Homer.” “What advantages does this motorcar have over, say, a train, which I could also afford?”
- Homer and Marge hit the sauna during a spa treatment. “If that mafia guy weren't staring at us, I'd take off my towel.”
- “Stupid babies need the most attention!”
- Abe always has the last word. “We leave you the kids for three hours and the county takes them away!?” “Oh, bitch, bitch, bitch!”
- “I used to let the boys watch My Three Sons, but it got them all worked up before bedtime.”
- Homer mistakes Margaret's name. “Oh, Maggie. I've got nothing against Maggie.”
- Homer thinks like Flanders. “I'm a big four-eyed lame-o! And I wear the same stupid sweater every day-“ “The Springfield River!”
- Reverend Lovejoy has no time for Ned, recommends any of the other religions. “They're all pretty much the same.”