He was one of the first characters outside of the immediate Simpson family to appear on the show, and he has since been central to several episodes, the first being season two's "Dead Putting Society".
Ned Flanders, full name Nedward, is a genuinely well-meaning good-natured person and is one of the few in Springfield to whom that description applies. Though firmly religious, he can be timid and something of a pushover. He is a devout Christian and strictly follows the Bible as literally as possible and is easily shocked when challenged on any point of dogma. This has led to his frequent calls to Reverend Lovejoy, who has become increasingly frustrated with and uninterested in Flanders.
Flanders grew up in Springfield and was the son of "freaky beatniks" who did not discipline Ned and let him run wild. Eventually they took him to Dr. Foster, a psychiatrist, who put the young Ned through the University of Minnesota Spankalogical Protocol, which involved eight months of continuous spanking. The treatment worked so well that it rendered Flanders unable to express any anger at all and resulted in his trademark nonsensical jabbering at moments when he was particularly close to losing his temper, causing Ned to unknowingly repress his anger. Flanders worked as a salesperson in the pharmaceuticals industry for the bulk of his adult life. Having saved much of his earnings, Flanders decided to quit his job and invested his family's life savings into a store in the Springfield mall called The Leftorium specializing in products for left-handed people. Despite a meek outward appearance, Ned hides an exceptionally well-built physique, and is apparently extremely well endowed. He is in his early 60s and claims his deceptively youthful appearance is due to his conformity to the "three c's:" clean living, chewing thoroughly, and a daily dose of vitamin church..
Ned is extremely honest and sincere in carrying out the Christian doctrines of charity, kindness and compassion. He is frequently shown doing volunteer work, and is rigorously honest and upright, even going so far as to spend an entire day tracking down a Leftorium customer in order to give him the extra change that he had forgotten to hand over. He also is a good neighbor to the Simpsons, regularly offering his assistance. Ned’s dogged friendship inspires the loyalty of others; when his Leftorium appeared on the verge of bankruptcy shortly after it opened, Homer arranged a George Bailey-esque bailout with the help of many people in Springfield. However, he also embodies many of the intolerant aspects of the American religious right. He has shown occasional antipathy and even outright mockery towards Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and competing Christian denominations; has participated in "the walk for the cure for homosexuality"; and upon discovering that Bart and Lisa Simpson were not baptized immediately took it upon himself to (unsuccessfully) conduct the ceremony without their consent.
Flanders is a widower, having been married to the equally religious Maude. They had two children together; the sheltered and naive Rod and Todd. In the eleventh season, Maude dies an untimely death in a freak accident involving a t-shirt cannon, leaving Ned alone and grieving. While still married to Maude, Ned married Ginger, while on a drunken bender in Las Vegas. Ginger came to live with Ned and his sons for a brief period following Maude's death in a later episode, but she quickly grew tired of the Flanders' sickly-sweet personalities and fled. Flanders has also been connected romantically with a beautiful Christian-rock singer, Rachel Jordan, and Sara Sloane, a movie star.
In the early years of the The Simpsons, Homer Simpson generally loathed Ned, because of Ned's family, job, health and self-discipline are of higher quality than he could ever hope to attain himself. Homer has since come to have a love-hate relationship with Flanders, sometimes being his best friend, partly due to Ned's selfless tolerance of him, and other times treating Flanders with complete disregard. Homer seems to genuinely care for Ned, despite still expressing and often acting on feelings of loathing. Nowadays Homer seems to regard Ned as more of a nuisance. An early running joke was that Marge considers Flanders to be a perfect neighbor and usually sides with him instead of her husband, which always enrages Homer.
Flanders has been shown to call Reverend Lovejoy for advice quite often, even over minuscule things, to the point that Lovejoy has stopped caring and has even suggested that Flanders try a different religion. This was a running joke in the early seasons, but has been used less in the later episodes. In the eighth season, the episode "In Marge We Trust" would examine the relationship between Lovejoy and Flanders, and shows the history of their relationship and how Lovejoy became increasingly uninterested in Flanders' problems. Flanders is shown to have a room in his house filled with memorabilia of the Beatles. He claims that this is because they were "bigger than Jesus".
Ned Flanders and his son Todd first appeared in the season one episode "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire", which was the series premiere. The first episode in which Flanders and his family were prominent is season two's "Dead Putting Society", which also contained the first appearance of Maude and Rod Flanders. Flanders was named after Flanders St. in Portland, Oregon, the hometown of Simpsons creator Matt Groening. Groening described the inspiration for Flanders as "just a guy who was truly nice, that Homer had no justifiable reason to loathe, but then did". It was not until after the first few episodes that it was decided Flanders would be a faithful Christian. Mike Scully noted that Flanders is "everything Homer would love to be, although he'll never admit it". Flanders had been meant to be just a neighbor that Homer was jealous of, but Harry Shearer used "such a sweet voice" and Flanders was broadened to become a Christian and a sweet guy that someone would prefer to live next to over Homer. Flanders is known for his nonsensical jabbering, and his first use of the word "doodly" was in "The Call of the Simpsons".
There have been two occasions where Flanders was not voiced by Harry Shearer. In "Bart of Darkness", Flanders's high pitched scream was performed by Tress MacNeille and in "Homer to the Max", Flanders comments about cartoons being easily able to change voice actors and on that occasion he was voiced by Karl Wiedergott.
If there is ever a live action movie for The Simpsons, Mike Reiss wants William H. Macy to play Flanders. Flanders is one of executive producer Al Jean's favorite characters. Former Simpsons writer David X. Cohen has been compared to Flanders because they both "never criticize anybody".
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