"Black Eyed, Please" showed that The Simpsons can still be a really entertaining animated show, especially when it explores their eccentricites of its main characters instead of introducing zany newcomers or putting the cast in unusual settings.
More often than not, the sitcom will try to put the Simpson family into crazy situations that have to get more and more outrageous every season. But the real joy in watching The Simpsons is spending time with characters that have been a part of television history for over 20 years.
Tonight we got to see some classic Homer and Flanders fighting, as well as watching Lisa struggle to overcome a bully.
The main plot of the episode revolved around Flanders losing his ever-present patience and punching Homer in the eye. It was pretty unexpected moment since Flanders has taken quite a lot of abuse from Homer over the years, and rarely fights back (with a few minor exceptions). Interestingly, his ire was raised by Homer's closeness with his beatnik parents.
It must have really aggravated Ned to see Homer so easily bond with the two people Ned should be the closest too. But as we saw in Season 8's "Hurricane Neddy," that relationship has always been dysfunctional. Homer's mockery (backed up by his parent's laughter) pushed Ned over the edge.
Unsurprisingly, Ned's guilt over the incident takes over his life and led to one of the funniest sight gags of the night. Ned's dream about his own personal hell included delightful nods to his biggest pet peeves and nightmares, which included brief nudity, non-jesus-y beards, and monkeys with red behinds. In this vision of hell, the demons all worship Richard Dawkins and Massachusetts residents can marry anthropomorphous lobsters. Quite a hellish ordeal!
Naturally, Homer decided to be an even bigger jerk to his devoted neighbor and refuse to even things out by punching Ned. However, he did use Ned's wife to help Lisa out, so I guess that counts for something. Homer's no longer the better man.
I liked that Lisa's story did end up connecting to the major plotline tonight. Lisa's bullying story could have been a throwaway plot point, but using the substitute teacher Ms. Cantwell as the bully really worked to make the story amusing. Lisa is so used to being the teacher's pet that she can't understand Ms. Cantwell's hate, which starts the moment she arrives.
Tina Fey did a wonderful job voicing the snarky Ms. Cantwell, but I thought it was a bit of letdown that Ms. Cantwell was only mean to Lisa because she thought she was one of the pretty girls. Lisa might be an adorable eight-year old, but it seems weird to consider her a vain and popular, pretty girl. Did Ms. Cantwell notice that Lisa doesn't have many friends?
Other than the head-scratching nature of Ms. Cantwell's dislike, the episode delivered some solid laughs from both the sight gags and The Simpsons quotes.