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The Revelation of Maude Flanders

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 1 Sep 2014 16:00
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simpsons maude flanders

Maude Flanders was never the most important character on the show, even among her own family. Ned, as a foil to Homer, was always the "top" Flanders, and a consistent (though very-much "of its time") downside to the early years of The Simpsons was that female characters outside of Marge, Patty & Selma, or Mrs. Krabapple generally didn't have much initial identity outside of being the wives/mothers of other, more prominent male or child characters. Maude's character was "Ned's wife," and she mainly tended to get used outside that context only for scenes that required a group of female semi-regulars for plot purposes.

Of course, Maude's most famous moment in the show was her death in Alone Again Natura-Diddily. It's retroactively transformed her into a Springfieldian Saint given the dimension it adds to Ned's usually comedic spirituality and the humanity it affords to the innately-sympathetic Rod and Todd. When she's glimpsed in flashback (or in Heaven) it's for sentiment, when she turns up as a ghost (or the bride of Satan, once) in the Treehouse of Horror specials it's The Simpson's version of soft-blasphemy -- putting a funny hat on the Virgin Mary.

But a strange thing happens if you re-watch the show from the beginning and pay attention to what the storylines actually did with her character before anyone ever knew they'd be killing her off: You start to notice that Maude Flanders... just wasn't very nice. Even once the show had decided on hyper-religiosity as the Flanders family's defining trait, she kept the acidic edge opposite Ned's unflappable nicety. All that has been wiped away by her death in the modern series, but watched in proper order she manages to exhaust sympathy almost immediately -- almost to the extent that Alone Again... starts to feel like the impending end for one of the bad guys.

Just a sampling of Maude's more-infamous moments:

  • She's among the mob whose attempt to censor Michelangelo's David bewilders even reflexively-prudish Marge in Itchy & Scratchy & Marge.
  • In Marge in Chains, she's all too eager Helen Lovejoy (the more unambiguously-catty of the show's female foils) in spreading gossip about Marge's accidental shoplifting arrest.
  • Though believed to have been killed (long story) in Bart of Darkness, it turns out she was away at Bible Camp -- "Learning to be more judgmental."
  • She more-or-less attempts to annex The Simpsons' children in Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily (granted, all the Flanders are technically antagonists in that one).
  • Unsurprisingly, she's on team "Let's destroy La Maison Derri√®re" (the Burlesque House) in Bart After Dark.
  • Along with the other Investorettes (Helen Lovejoy, Agnes Skinner, Luanne Van Houtten and Mrs. Krabapple), she eagerly ousts Marge from the group for being overly-cautious in The Twisted World of Marge Simpson. Later, she displays a working knowledge of the Japanese Yakuza.
  • Yup, she's once again right upfront of a Springfield morality-mob, this time aiming to break-up Principal Skinner and Edna Krabapple in Grade School Confidential.
simpsons maude flanders angry mob

Not exactly grand-scale villainy, to be sure. But there are precious few "nice" moments to balance it all out, and when there are she was usually acting in-tandem with Ned or silently as part of a group effort. For the most part (and especially whenever she appears as part of a "Marge Story,") there are almost no real traces in the actual "Maude Era" episodes of the kind, benevolent character the post-death mentions of her have painted.

What does this mean? Not much. Is it significant? Not especially. But in knowing in advance that I (and a lot of other TV critics, I'll wager) would be writing-up "post-marathon" impressions of the stature of The Simpsons, it was hard not to keep one eye open for an "angle" -- and, to be honest, "Huh. I'm almost sort of looking forward to Maude getting killed off" was not a thought I was expecting to cross my mind...

...good thing it did, though, because otherwise you'd be reading about how Apu Nahasapeemapetilon somehow became less of an ethnic caricature the more India-specific traits were added to his character -- and I promise you, it wasn't going to be as interesting as that might sound.

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