The basic plot: Homer buys an RV. Chaos ensues. Also, Bigfoot!
This is the first episode I remember actively disliking. In hindsight, it’s probably because it’s a little too surreal for the show. The setup is brilliant; the execution flops. There’s so much promise at the very beginning — the envy, the RV dealership, “the little one” — it’s great stuff. Then it falls off the rails right around the point the RV goes over the cliff.
So let’s talk instead about Ned Flanders. Ned will eventually become something far different from what appears in this episode. The transformation happens pretty quickly, over the next couple of seasons; I’m not sure I’m able to pinpoint exactly when he turned from being an annoying neighbor who liked to go to church on Sunday to the pious Christian caricature we know and hate today. (TV Tropes tells me things have gotten a bit better lately, but… yeah, no, I’m not investigating that for myself.) In early seasons, he’s almost kind of, you know, normal — he’s got an RV (on credit, no less!), he’s installed beer taps in his house (but see what happens in “Duffless”), he gets into a stupid contest with his neighbor on a point of pride. Later-season Ned wouldn’t ever do that kind of thing; I kind of like this early Ned, if only because he’s more versatile as a foil to Homer in this kind of role than as a character in his own right.
Put another way, Early Ned is basically the polar opposite of Early Homer within the same socioeconomic bracket, and it’s easy to see why Homer can’t stand the guy. We’re not supposed to like him much, either; he’s representing everything Homer wants, but can’t have, and what’s worse is he makes it look effortless. Remember “There’s No Disgrace Like Home”? They were spying on Ned (not explicitly, but you have to figure they at least went next door and looked through the window) as the example of what Homer thought made for a good family life. No wonder Homer hates his guts. It’s a pity this didn’t continue on, because it would have been interesting to see how long Homer could have kept up the antipathy without the whole thing going all Frank Burns on us.
Then again, TV Tropes’ comments make me think that Ned would have evolved into the more pious version we see today anyway, if for no other reason than because the concept of a devout Christian in American society has changed significantly from 1990.