183. The Cartridge Family

(originally aired November 2, 1997)
“Homer’s Enemy” put forth the template for a boorish, more obnoxious Homer, one I knew we’d see put into action in regular episodes as the years went on. Now here we are, the first episode of the ninth production season, a show that has dramatic uses of those jerkass qualities. This episode actually has a lot going for it, an interesting story and many great gags throughout, but its prominent sore spot is Homer’s behavior throughout. Following a violent and destructive city-wide riot, Marge beseeches Homer to get something to protect the family with. Homer interprets this as buying a handgun, which Marge is staunchly against. There’s a great balance between the comedic elements and the dramatic, where Marge is very seriously against the situation, urging Homer to get rid of the gun. Amidst the craziness of the NRA members and Homer using his firearm to open his beer and turn on the TV, Marge’s concerns are incredibly valid. She gives the episode sort of an emotional weight, which is mostly successful, as Homer must choose between his gun and his family.

As I mentioned earlier, Homer seems too out of control in this episode. Once we get the smash cut joke of him wanting to get a gun, that’s his complete focus for the rest of the episode: anxiously awaiting getting the gun, using it in the most reckless of ways, and then repeatedly lying to his wife about getting rid of it when she desperately asked him to. Now, some of this follows standard Homer protocol, with him having a one-track mind and being thick and stubborn about his convictions. It also could be that he prides and obsesses over his gun as he believes others to do, which gives us the great scene toward the end where the pre-established gun nuts of the NRA are shocked at Homer’s usage of his gun. But there’s just something about his behavior on the whole that feels like it’s too much. Shooting Lisa’s ball out of the tree, then blasting the lights out in the house, all that stuff feels a little too dumb. That and I didn’t care for Homer’s repeated lies to Marge; you never want your protagonist to become unlikable, so lying to your wife on a rather grave issue… twice is kind of pushing it.

It seems I’ve placed a dark cloud over this show, but there’s certainly a lot going on that works. Like I said, it is an interesting issue that plays out with a level of gravitas, Homer losing his family thanks to his gun purchased to protect said family. Then around it you have all these absurd elements indicative to the series, like Homer’s “potentially dangerous” moniker limiting him to only three handguns, and Moe’s jury rigged five gun contraption. We also get the Sleep-Eazy Motel (or Sl-e-azy Motel as the malfunctioning neon on the sign reads); it makes the Ye Olde Off-Ramp Inn look like a pleasure palace. The show’s still strong in these regards; in the middle of this huge show about guns they take the time to viciously satirizes seedy motels as well, and the town’s equally as seedy mayor (“Are you planning to stay the whole night?”) Between that and a good old-fashioned riot scene in the first act, this episode has a whole lot going for it. Despite Homer’s outlandish actions, this one’s got way too many funny jokes and scenes for me to besmirch it for long.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The Continental Soccer Association is coming to Springfield, with all your favorite soccer stars (“Ariaga! Ariaga II! Bariaga! Aruglia! And Pizzoza!”) Homer pays this no mind, until he hears they’ll be signing autographs. The commercial is so convincing, he’s reduced to tears at the thought of attending this wondrous event.
– Lot of great small jokes before game time: Marge commenting on how the stadium used to be an internment camp, the walking paella vendor, and one soccer star announcing a plug for wax paper, and getting handed a giant sack of money with a dollar sign on it very discretely. Or rather, very blatantly.
– The sorry animation of the players kicking the ball to each other is hilarious. I love how long it lingers as the crowd is in a frenzy… then dies down. Brockman reports the plays quite bored, while the foreign announcer is in a frenzy (“Halfback passes to center, back to wing, back to center, center holds it! Holds it! Holds it!!”)
– Love Homer’s homemade burglar alarm, which I’ve stared at for a bit and have no idea how it’s supposed to work. Someone tries to open the door, then reaches through the mail slot and takes the fish out of the bowl. How would they know it was there?
– I’m not crazy about the home security salesman; he at first seems to be a crooked guy as he’s stealing items from Homer and Marge under their noses, but toward the end he seems to be genuinely concerned about them getting security. Or maybe he just wanted them to give him money. That’s probably it. I dunno, but I did love the exchange at the end (“Surely you can’t put a price on your family’s lives.” “I wouldn’t have thought so either, but here we are.”)
– The gun shop owner, the sarcastic guy (one episode revealed his name to be Raphael, so I’ll just call him that) is fantastic in this show; he’s the perfect foil for Homer (“I’d kill you if I had my gun!” “Yeah, well, you don’t.”) Also like all the standard features that come with a handgun: silencer, loudener, speed-cocker (Homer likes the sound of that), and something for shooting down police helicopters (“Oh, I don’t need anything like that… yet.”)
– Homer reveals the gun to the family. Marge is of course horrified. Bart is interested (“Can I borrow the gun tomorrow? I want to scare that old security guard at the bank.” “Only if you clean your room.”) Lisa rebuffs Homer’s assertion to his constitutional rights about the antiquity of the second amendment, to which Homer is quick to respond (“You couldn’t be more wrong, Lisa. If I didn’t have this gun, the King of England could just walk in here any time he wants, and start shoving you around.”) Then proceeds to shove her around until she concedes the point. When Marge refuses to budge her stance, Homer lays down the sweet talk (“Tell you what. You come with me to an NRA meeting, and if you still don’t think guns are great… we can argue some more.”)
– The speeches at the NRA meeting are great: Lenny’s support of assault weapons to take out today’s modern super animals, like the flying squirrel and the electric eel, and Moe’s heroic story of a would-be robbery (“It could have been a real ugly situation, but, I managed to shoot him in the spine. I guess the next place he robs better have a ramp!”)
– Love the fantasy of what Homer’s life would be like if he robbed the Kwik-E-Mart: he’d live in a mansion wearing fancy clothes, a monocle and a sash reading “Mayor,” and Marge would be his dancing trophy wife in a pink bikini. It’s such an absurd vision, like he thinks a local convenience store has millions of dollars stowed away. Before he can come to a decision though, he’s already driving away (“Oh well, I’ll rob it next time.”)
– Great sequence of Homer shooting the plates (“See you in hell, dinner plate.”) Reminds me of clay pigeons in Duck Hunt. Or… just shooting clay pigeons in real life. Regardless, the family is relegated to eating spaghetti out of other dishware, such as a strainer, cookie sheet and glass (“Does anyone know where all my dinner plates went?” “You probably left them at work.”)
– The scene at the table with the repeatedly firing gun is pretty disconcerting, the great set-up for Marge’s ultimatum for Homer to get rid of the gun. I especially love the opening where she starts off, “Homer, I think you’d agree that I’ve put up with a lot in this marriage…” Homer goes to respond, but notices the kids sternly shaking their heads.
– Bart comes upon the gun in the vegetable crisper and prepares to jerk around with it, shooting an apple out of Milhouse’s mouth. My God, would that have ended badly…
– The NRA is shocked at Homer’s recklessness with his firearm; he turns on the TV with his gun, the third shot is successful, conveniently turning on to a clip from a Western of a man falling off a ledge. Even Cletus knows better (“Are you some kind of moron?”) Krusty sets Homer straight (“Guns aren’t toys. They’re for family protection, hunting dangerous or delicious animals, and keeping the King of England out of your face.”) As such, he’s forced to tear up his membership card, and get his tattoo removed with a grater. Moe is disappointed that Homer hadn’t gotten his tattoo yet.
– Great stuff at the motel: the coin-operated Bible, racing vibrating beds, the dead man in the pool, the camera above Bart’s bed, the take-home continental breakfast… the show is still going strong in terms of jokes, there’s no doubt about that.
– I could be wrong, but I think this episode pioneered “Vote Quimby!” Maybe it’s because he says it a good three times in this show, but I don’t remember it being used prior to this.
– I like the very end with Marge deciding to keep the gun. Perhaps it reminded her of her old police officer days. Great music and sashay as she walks out of the motel.


16 responses to “183. The Cartridge Family

  1. There are some great jokes but you can already feel the slide in terms of the stories they are using to frame the jokes. The easiest example of bad times ahead? ‘The cartridge family’ is the exact sort of a weak ass episode title play on words they’ve been grinding down for a decade now.

  2. This is the beginning of the end.

  3. Good call on Homer’s characterization here. I want to laugh at him, but he teeters too much on the edge of being an irredeemable asshole. I guess you could argue that it’s simply the power of the gun (which would explain why Marge suddenly does a 180 at the end when she sees her reflection), but it’s just as easy to believe that the writers were just cranking up Homer’s stupidity because they thought it’d be funny. This is another love-hate episode for me.

    I was surprised when I heard the DVD commentary and learned that Mike Scully himself had issues with the ending because of Marge’s characterization. I honestly didn’t think Scully ever gave a shit about that sort of thing.

  4. Funniest episode of the series…

  5. I remember this episode wasn’t shown, or was only shown once, originally in the UK. It was listed in one of those episode guide books and I always wanted to see it.
    Then when I did I was like “Meh” but there are some good bits in it.
    Homer’s muttering and the King of England bit for example.

    But yeah, Homer didn’t feel much like Homer in this episode.

  6. It was on the UK tape Too Hot For TV, where they said it wouldn’t be broadcast for a few months after the tape was released.

    • Why would they not air the episode in the UK? There is nothing wrong with it. Hell, there are some BBC shows that are way worse and they air without issue.

  7. Well this one did eventually get aired on the uk on sky or at least I’ve seen it a couple of times. Really though this one just makes me actively uncomfortable, and not because of the king of England thing.

    Maybe it’s the hole guns thing and the fact that growing up in a country where people don’t have a family gun this one just looks super dangerous to me, maybe it’s the idea of homer being stupider than usual with an offensive weapon and then lying to Marge, or maybe it’s the final bit with the burglary and the back handed “guns are awesome when not being used by Homer” message when the rest of the Nra, including the spine shooting Moe walk in and take out a robbery.

    funny bits? yes, but tonally and in terms of theme this one just felt off to me.

  8. Homer is definitely bordering on Jerkass territory here, but i really like this episode. The contrast of the American and Hispanic soccer announcers is so funny, and I love Homers excuse – Marge, I swear, I never thought you’d find out!

  9. Ererrrrrrrrrrrr

    You, Ben, may have liked Marge keeping the gun, but I don’t. After spending the entire episode being against it, only to heel turn at the end? After indirectly threatening her and her family’s lives by getting angry at Homer about that damn gun at the time it could’ve been used for good? After being held at that VERY SAME GUN after Homer is distracted by her and Snake steals it away? When I see that scene, after seeing how she complains about it the whole episode, it pisses me off, because she comes off as hypocritical.

  10. I’m not a big fan of this episode, but like most of Season 9, the viewing I just did was my fourth time ever watching it, and it wasn’t that bad of an episode. It’s features a lot of great jokes, makes some legit social commentary about how people assume they have a right to own a gun just because of an oudated document, and how people are irresponsible with them.

    I don’t look at Homer being a jackass out of being mean spirited, he was just letting the power of a gun control him. Kind of like the sugar back in Season 6.

    The ending with Marge does make sense too as she suddenly has a gun in her hands again after being a cop, and it brought back her surge of power.

    All in all, it will never be in my top 165 episodes, but it is a fun one.

    Oh, and I love how Homer put the gun in the vegetable drawer expecting Bart to never go in there.

  11. GOD DAMMIT!! I really wish there were a way to edit comments. I forgot to talk about the soccer bit at the beginning. That was hilarious as it perfectly portrays how I feel about soccer and then how nuts people get (like the announcer dude) over something so boring.

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