171. Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment

(originally aired March 16, 1997)
Springfield is a really boozy town if you look at it. So just like depriving our main character from beer in “Duffless,” this episode depletes the entire city limits of alcohol. It all starts with an over exuberant St. Patrick’s Day parade, where in the midst of the calamitous celebration to Lady Liquor, Bart accidentally gets drunk in the most preposterous of ways. The footage of a shitfaced ten-year-old makes waves of outrage to the conscientious busybodies of Springfield, all demanding that the town enact prohibition. Upon discovering there’s already an unenforced two hundred year old law on the books banning alcohol, Quimby puts it into effect, making the entire town dry as a bone. Now, not only does this throw the title into question, but wouldn’t the twenty-first Amendment, national law supersede this? But ’tis a minor quibble; I’m sure Quimby is clueless of it, and any of the town’s drunks who could have protested with this argument are just as in the dark.

Within no time at all, Moe’s becomes a hush-hush speakeasy, under the new guise of “Moe’s Pet Shop.” It’s quickly discovered by the aforementioned busybodies however, and upon seeing Wiggum graciously partake in its wears, make further demands to Quimby to get an actually competent law enforcer. Enter Rex Banner, a smart suited fed straight out of the 1930s, who outs Wiggum and boots the booze bootleggers. Banner is voiced by Dave Thomas, a Canadian comedian who gives a great old timey performance (“Listen, rummy, I’m gonna say it plain and simple. Where’d you pinch the hooch? Is some blind tiger jerking suds on the side?”) With supply cut off, Homer steps up with a plan, unearthing the dozens of buried beer barrels and swindling them into Moe’s himself, through an clever and elaborate plan involving hollowed out bowling balls and an elaborate piping system. I’ll accept that someone as dim as Homer could come up with this idea (even Marge is impressed), but that he actually efficiently constructed it and put it into action? I dunno, but it’s not incredibly bothersome.

There’s a lot good about this show, but some parts don’t exactly fit right with me. I like Homer’s bravado attitude upon being dubbed the Beer Baron, and upon running out of supplies, starts brewing his own liquor instead, with dozens of basement bathtubs all on the brink of explosion. Marge discovers Homer’s operation, and is unusually supportive of it. I could see her thinking the law is silly, but I don’t think she would support Homer in something like this. There’s also the matter of Rex Banner, who’s tough as nails, but also kind of ineffective, unable to apprehend Homer even with him right under his nose. But I’m not a fan of his outro by catapult; it never really bothered me until now. As one commenter astutely pointed out, this season is full of one-off characters getting killed, but I guess there’s a certain finesse you need to have to pull it off. Shary Bobbins was a cruel ironic joke at the last second of the show, the undoing of Frank Grimes is something the whole episode is building towards, but here, Banner is hoisted out merely for convenience only. It gives the ending a sourness that doesn’t feel necessary. But despite that, I like the overall story, and there’s a lot of great funny bits in here, so in light of the cruel, cruel death of Mr. Banner, this show gets a pass.

Tidbits and Quotes
– All the St. Paddy’s Day at the beginning is great, from Bart’s fatal mistake of not wearing green (“No one’s pinching his legs!”), Moe booting out the designated drivers (“I got no room for cheapskates,”) the Irish cops float, Marge’s green hair, and Kent Brockman’s shock at seeing the parade descend into drunken disorder (“All this drinking, violence, destruction of property. Are these the things we think of when we think of the Irish?”)
– Drunken Bart is pretty disconcerting and hilarious at the same time. I like his friends cheering him on, and Brockman’s cold echo of his drunk statements (“‘What are you looking at?’: the innocent words of a drunken child. Well, I’ll tell you what we’re looking at, young man. A town gone mad. A town whose very conscious was washed away in a tide of beer and green vomit.”)
– Marge feels she’s the worst mother in the world for what happened with Bart, and Homer assures her she’s not, citing “that freezer lady in Georgia.” Anyone want to shine light on what this is a reference to?
– When the marms of Springfield demand prohibition, I love the responses from Quimby (“It tastes great, makes women appear more attractive, and makes a person virtually invulnerable to criticism.”) and Wiggum (“All our founding fathers, astronauts, and World Series heroes have either been drunk or on cocaine.”)
– Quick look at Dr. Hibbert’s wife Bernice’s latent alcoholism. We don’t hear, or see, much from her, and perhaps there’s a reason.
– Wonderful call-back between acts: at the end of the first act we see a newspaper sub-headline dovetailing the prohibition main story, “Bums Threaten to Leave Town.” Then at the start of act two, we see “Bums Extend Deadline.”
– Great bit with the CEO of Duff insisting that customers will stick with the brand now that it must release a non-alcoholic brew. Minutes later, the company is out of business (“Well, that’s the end of me.”)
– The animation of the partying at Moe’s is crazy; Wiggum dances with Princess Kashmir, with a top and breasts that laugh in the face of gravity. This leads to a great moment where Helen Lovejoy gets increasingly horrified when a tipsy Wiggum walks closer to her, and in a powerful line reading, screams, “PERVERT!!”
– Rex Banner’s brick wall in the middle of the highway, with cars crashing and piling up is pretty dumb, but the reaction shot of him pleased with his work as jagged metal flies around by him is great. I also love his warming up to, then denial of Fat Tony’s bribes (“Okay. You win. From now on, we’ll stick to smuggling heroine.” “See that you do!”)
– The chase scene between Homer and Banner is kind of silly, but the over-the-top music helps it, this jangly ragtime number that sort of fits the era Banner walked out of.
– Moe tells Barney a bowling ball beer’s gonna cost him a pretty penny (“Forty-five bucks?! This better be the best tasting beer in the world!”) Sip. “You got lucky!”
– I love how ruthless Banner is, smashing through the diner window to accost Barney. Then later we get the great scene with Moe’s safety switch, rotating the bar and stools for bird cages and aquariums to keep up his pet shop ruse (“What kind of pet shop is filled with rambunctious yahoos and hot jazz music at 1 am?” “Duh… the best damn pet shop in town!”) Banner is suspect, but leaves with a warning (“Baby turtles and alligators may seem like a cute idea for a pet, but they grow up.”) Moe changes his bar back, only to find Barney had rotated as well (“Wow, those gears down there really hurt!”)
– Homer and Bart’s beer brewing operation hits a snag when the stills start exploding. I love their scream in shock at the first one, and Homer’s cover to Marge (“I think it must have been that bean I had for dinner.”) Bean, singular.
– Great moment where Banner insists the “Beer Baron” was a concoction of the media, and the concept to be laughable. He attempts to laugh to demonstrate, but is physically unable (“Well, you all know what laughter sounds like!”)
– Upon being released, Quimby asks Homer how long it will take to get alcohol back to Springfield, but he insists he’s done with the business. Fat Tony swoops in insisting it’ll take four minutes. Five minutes later, the town’s full of liquor again, giving us the classic final line from Homer: “To alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”


9 responses to “171. Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment

  1. This is one of the first episodes I can remember watching during my youthful days of catching up with The Simpsons via syndicated reruns in 1999. Maybe I’m biased for that reason, but I do love this one. Dave Thomas as Rex Banner is one of the most perfect guest stars they’ve ever had, if you ask me. “It’s not up to us to choose which laws we want to obey! If it were, I’d kill everyone who looked at me cock-eyed!”

    The animation of Barney slobbering against the window is freaking hysterical. The Season 8 DVD has an animation featurette where they freeze-frame that scene, and they can’t contain their laughter any better than I can.

  2. I remember my history class watched this episode when we were talking about prohibition. I also remember watching “Fear of Flying” in another class when we were discussing Freudian psychology. It’s always great when you get to watch something in class, particularly something as hilarious as “The Simpsons”.

    • I agree. We watched “Much Apu About Nothing” in my 10th grade writing class as an example of political satire.

    • I was observing a psychology 101 class when I was a senior in high school and the teacher showed his class the first episode with Marvin Monroe.

  3. The bit where Marge discovers Homer’s operation: Homer and Bart start to set off with a wheelbarrow of beer-filled bowling balls, having not checked whether or not the coast is clear. Sure enough, the coast isn’t clear – but more than that, Marge and Lisa are standing right in their way, arms crossed, as if they’re about to say, “You two are not going anywhere until you give us some answers.”

    They don’t have to say this, because at once Homer screams in fright and drops the wheelbarrow, causing the balls to spill their contents onto the carpet.

    Then he says, “I can explain, Marge. Please let me explain! Oh, why won’t you let me explain?!?” Marge asks him how he’s been getting away with his alcohol-related activities, and he begins, “Well – and I can explain, remember?” before he does indeed explain.

    Marge’s supportive response to this shocks and appals Lisa, who starts to voice her objections, prompting the others to yell at her to go to her room.


  4. i Love this episode. thanks to this episode i got a B- on my story exam about Prohibition’s years. i obviously didnt study, and i remember i thought: “what i have to lose?”, and i practically wrote the exact plot points of this episode(the law, the reaction, the bribes, the contraband), just putting them in an historical realistic way. yeah, it was not really detailed about the argument itself, but was correct and clear enough to earn me a B-. Fuck yeah!

  5. The 21st Amendment only ended prohibition by the federal government. States, counties, cities, etc., still have the authority to ban alcohol within their geographic limits. Section 2 of the amendment (implicitly) acknowledges this. There are plenty of “dry” cities throughout the country today.

  6. “Another gutter ball. Gee, dad, you sure do suck tonight.”

    “Suck like a fox!”

  7. “But I’m not a fan of his outro by catapult; it never really bothered me until now. As one commenter astutely pointed out, this season is full of one-off characters getting killed,”

    Uh Mike… you do realize that Rex just killed a cat like 20 seconds beforehand, right? He lost all respect to not be killed at that very instant. 🙂
    Plus, we don’t exactly know if Rex was killed or not. After all, Homer fell down a gorge twice and survived. I’m sure Rex could handle being launched across the city.

    I really love the performance for Rex. My favorite moment is when he is looking over Springfield saying he will catch the Beer Baron and you hear Homer’s voice in the distance, “No you won’t.”

    I also disagree about it being weird that Marge supports Homer. He’s doing something ingenius for the first time in his life, so of course she is going to support him. As for how Homer came up with the scheme, it deals with alcohol, which is one of Homer’s major passions. When you are passionate about something, and someone tries to take it away, you will find away to come up with a solution now matter how dumb and lazy you are.

    On the other hand, I also love the moment when Rex tries to laugh.

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