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When Homer defended Ned at the climax of ‘Homer Loves Flanders’, he observed ‘this man has turned every cheek on his body’.And it’s a pretty accurate summation – Homer has indeed lashed out at Ned on many occasions, only to be met with continued love and tolerance.In a way, this is less an interstitial stage of Ned’s character, than it is some weird mutation along the road to being a religious kook – where the emphasis of one specific Christian value, rather than Christian values generally, creates a weird beast all of its own.An explanation for this side of Ned’s psyche came in ‘Hurricane Neddy’, where we learn that he misbehaved as a young child.Bill Burr’s recent F Is For Family, on the other hand, had an exemplary better-off neighbour in Vic, a perpetually zen dude-type with a plum job on the radio and a string of gorgeous girlfriends.That said, Vic is not a dead-on analogy for Ned – rather than competing with the patriarch-protagonist on the same field (and outdoing him there), Vic is more of an aspirational male fantasy made flesh.
Still, it is hard to imagine Ned as originally conceived laughing off Homer’s scheme to give his “noggin a floggin’” with a lead pipe and steal his tickets to the big game.
This brought the revelation about the ‘spankological protocol’ he suffered, and ultimately, the deep resentment he felt towards his parents, not for the borderline abuse they prescribed him, but for being ‘lousy beatniks’.
Ned, like so many of us, is obviously a product of his upbringing – his parents’ laissez-faire attitude to parenting and incessant be-bop poetry seem to have caused Ned to become a kind of anti-rebel, just as it is the right-on culture of Silicon Valley that has spawned so many neoreactionaries.
Appropriately enough, this provides Vic’s feet-of-clay moment in the first season finale, when he confesses to jealousy of Frank’s family togetherness on Christmas.
The first crack in Ned’s immaculate image came in, appropriately enough, the episode ‘When Flanders Failed’, where Homer wished for Ned’s left-handed store to fail – initially happy to see just that happening, even helping it along, until ultimately realising he’d gone too far when Ned nearly lost his house.
Ned was, by and large, cheerfully oblivious to the way he showed up his neighbour, which could have been played as greasy, faintly sinister smugness (and doubtless would have on the more cynical shows that followed in The Simpsons’ wake) but, at worst, seemed a little too good to be true.