FOX’s The Simpsons presents their 22nd season finale, “The Ned-Liest Catch.” In it, Edna Krabappel (Marcia Wallace) does the unthinkable – she slaps Bart (Nancy Cartwright)! The teachers’ union will not allow her to be fired, so instead, she is forced to report to a holding room every day, with full pay, to await a hearing in fifty-seven years for her actions. Bart feels bad and springs Edna, who falls into the arms of Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer). The two begin dating, but Ned is disturbed when he learns that Edna has slept with nearly every guy in town. Homer (Dan Castellaneta) does his best to salvage the relationship, and as the episode ends, viewers are asked to vote for whether the pair should stay together, promising the answer in next fall’s season premiere.
The idea to have fans vote on whether a couple should stay together is hokey and lazy. It is nearly completely unheard of in network television circles. While normally something original would deserve kudos and applause, in this case it comes across as a cheap gimmick to get people to the show’s web page. It is the ultimate disappointment at the end of the finale, worse than the standard cliffhanger because it is known that there is no current plan on how things will resolve. There is also no listing for when voting ends, which is important, because obviously the shows’ writers will need some lead time to work on the season premiere, no matter which way the voting goes.
Also worth complaining about is the way the power of the teachers’ union is portrayed. There is no real dingy holding room, of course, and it doesn’t take six decades to get a hearing. The union is nowhere near that powerful, nor is the school board that mean. Edna slapping a child should be enough to get her fired, end of story. The governor dissolving the union is a neat resolution, though quite sad, because it rings true in several states at the moment. But then Edna is fired, only to be rehired immediately, as long as she agrees to take some prison guard shifts on the weekends. It’s a really bleak outlook at the whole school system, and perhaps a little too painful, regarding current events, to be very amusing.
Other than that, it’s a pretty good episode. Ned needs some love, as does Edna, and while she has sometimes been shown to be a bit of a partier, she seems to enjoy the calm stability that Ned offers. There is some real emotional pain present when Ned speaks of his wife, the only Simpsons recurring character to be killed off and stay dead during the run of the series. It would be nice to have the two of them as a permanent couple, and also welcome that some characters undergo serious change after twenty-two seasons. So, admittedly, I did go and vote for them to stay together, despite my better judgement about the whole stunt.
Bart also shows remorse, something always welcome. When he doesn’t, he just comes across as an unlikeable brat. His willingness to admit he deserves the slap, as well as help make Mrs. Krabappel’s suspension more tolerable, is heartwarming and a good twist. Of course, Bart is merely a kid, so he can be forgiven for later complaining about how Edna’s dating life affects him, as she begins hanging out next door. Should the relationship continue, this plot offers at least a couple episodes of story.
The Simpsons has been renewed, and will return to resolve the cliffhanger, pending viewer votes, next fall on FOX.