Is it shameful if I admit that I had no idea Tina Fey was the guest voice in “Black-Eyed, Please” until I looked it up after the episode had ended? It was a strange thing to find out, considering how The Simpsons usually overuses its guest stars, if anything, but here she was, a high-profile actress (who I love, incidentally) almost disappearing into the background with a thankless role. It says a lot about that Lisa story as a whole, which was maybe supposed to be the center of the episode, but was so minimal that it almost didn’t exist.
It was also disconnected from the other half of the episode, in which Ned’s parents come over, and some weed-induced poking fun at him prompts him to punch Homer in the face. I guess, maybe, you could argue that Mrs. Krabapple was the link here, with one plot’s solution leading to the other, but that felt just a little tacked-on; it seems, really, like the show had two separate plots, and neither of them could fill a full episode, so they just put them together with no rhyme or reason. The sad thing is, I think this particular iteration of the Homer/Ned animosity worked fairly well, and I would have loved to see it supported by B and C plots that could hold their own weight. The particular idea of it, that Homer gets to hold moral superiority over Flanders for a while, was fun, and some of the gags really worked, like the idea of “partial nudity” being in Flanders’s personal hell.
There were also, of course, gags scattered about of the kind that show that the writers of The Simpsons are still capable of providing the laughs. I liked the opening bit where Skinner drew frowny and smiley faces in the O’s of his announcement that Mrs. Krabappel is depressed, and the long, absurd riff on sports announcers in the middle of the episode was delightful, especially once it got to speculating about how, exactly, ducks use their legs to swim. I just wish all this silliness could have been present throughout “Black-Eyed, Please,” and not just in some parts.