276. Brawl in the Family

(originally aired January 6, 2002)
We’re two episodes in and I’ve already given up hope of anything improving under the Jean era. Even as an indiscriminate teen who gave most shows a pass, I remember not liking this one, mostly for its third act. But there’s a big fundamental issue here, one I hope I can articulate into words, something that really rubs me the wrong way, and seems incredibly telling of the show’s new sensibilities. If this episode is who they think the Simpson family is, we’re in for a long, winding road… of shit. We start with our tangential opening where the Republican party repeals all environmental laws. The headquarters is in the same spooky castle as “Sideshow Bob Roberts,” but any shred of subtlety that was once there is gone, with Burns asking what eeeevvviill schemes the Republicans have up their sleeves. No real motives, just good old fashioned evil-doings. And Smithers is there, despite what we saw in “Roberts.” And how could they push these laws with the Democratic Quimby in office? We’re two minutes in and I’m already pissed off.

Hazardous and dangerous smoke levels create a downpour of acid rain. With a dramatic swell of music, we think that this may be important. But nope, it’s just the catalyst for the Simpsons to stay inside and play Monopoly. How do we make this leap? This environmental story is ten times more interesting than what plays out, and it’s dropped completely. So a petty squabble over the board game turns into an all-out brawl with the family… for some reason. A fight that seemingly is continuous for a good hour or so before the police arrive and use their negotiator robot to trap them in a giant wad of taffy. I feel I don’t even need to comment on some of this stuff anymore; writing the summary highlights the shittiness by itself. So a social worker is assigned to help them be a family again. Here’s the problem with all of this: the Simpsons have always been a loving family. Despite their squabbles and tiffs, they’ve always appreciated one another and been rather close-knit. Seeing them pushed to the point where they seem like a broken family feels disheartening and weird; the problems that are illuminated are ever present, but are played in an incredibly sad, unfunny light. So when Gabriel has them do their outdoor exercise, I believe the family would be able to figure it out. Instead, we have Homer acting like a wild man and bashing the tree over with his car. It just doesn’t work.

Okay, anyway, here’s the horrible third act. Just as the family seems to have been repaired, who should reappear but Amber and Ginger, the two cocktail waitresses Homer and Ned married in “Viva Ned Flanders.” Now, so many problems with this, starting with I never wanted to see these characters ever again. Second, it’s so out of left field, and especially so to those who haven’t seen that episode. Then it becomes another show, where Homer must deal with having two wives; it has nothing to do with the family working through a problem since this incident was all Homer’s fault. The ending of “Viva” was so sloppy and preposterous, like a terrible gag extended five minutes, but at least it was treated as such. Here, the idea of Homer’s second wife is almost given some seriousness, with Lisa and Bart talking to their “Vegas Mom,” and Ned embracing his new wife because that’s what God would have wanted. Then apropos of nothing, Marge not only forgives Homer, but concocts an elaborate scheme: get Amber drunk and have her marry Grampa. So basically the same dirty trick that the waitresses pulled on Homer and Ned is deplorable, but doing it back to them is okay. And the Simpsons did it as a family, so yay, togetherness! The others turn on a dime in favor of the lecherous, loudmouth monster Homer, and everything turns out fine. Disjointed, unfunny, outlandish and crude, this episode is many things, but its most egregious step is in handling the Simpson family. We’ve seen many characters be pushed in awful directions over the last few seasons, but this is the first we’ve seen where the whole family, the crux of the entire series, be pushed and pulled with no regard for who these characters are or how they interact. Our once loving family has been reduced to ruin, then put back into place within the last two minutes for no particular reason. I actually find that more offensive than any of the Scully stuff. Could this be the worst episode ever? I dunno, maybe.

Tidbits and Quotes
– How could they go so far as showing a catastrophic storm of acid rain and not think they would have to address it later? Or put that as the opening to a different episode? All we get out of it is this hysterical sequence: the rain melts the TV antenna, thus killing the reception. Homer screams bloody murder, then runs outside, and screams again upon feeling the acid rain. Runs back inside, sees the TV, screams. Runs back outside… and so on. Castallenata’s vocal chords gets another workout. …oh wait, did I type ‘hysterical’? Sorry, I meant ‘cringe-worthy.’
– One of the only good bits from the episode is listing the different types of Monopoly, including Rasta-Mon-opoly and Edna Krabapp-oly. Marge sticks with the original version (“The game’s crazy enough as it is. How can an iron be a landlord?”)
– The dialogue during the Monopoly game feels weird to me (“I’d like to trust you, Homer, but you’ve been in jail three times.” “They told me it would be like this on the outside.”) Like, Homer’s not play-acting, is the gag that he thinks it’s real? I don’t know. Plus how could Bart have put down fake hotels without anyone noticing? Although it looks like he’s the banker. …I don’t know, I just think they could have had a better instigator for this story than this… Or not do it at all. That would also have worked.
– Homer joins his son in childishly taunts his daughter about not getting into an Ivy league school. He basically becomes Bart Sr. if the scene/joke/whatever permits it.
– Again, how fucking dumb is Homer that he thinks Gabriel is an actual angel? He’s a moron, but he’s not a fucking idiot.
– Okay, so during the family exercise, Homer snaps and backs his car into the giant tree repeatedly, which falls forward towards him. Alright. Very slowly. We see Gabriel under it, who just stands there and doesn’t move. He gets caught in the branches, then the tree falls down a slope we never saw into a chasm. Okay. Then the family comes up with a plan. Some go down to the tree and secure Gabriel in a harness to pull him up, and the other drive the car to pull them to safety. Let’s have Homer do the complicated part; his extra hundred pounds won’t be a hindrance at all. Plus Marge twists her “driving ankle,” so Bart has to drive. She couldn’t have used her other foot? So really, only Homer and Bart saved the day, the Simpson women seemingly did nothing. Brilliant.
– “You know, we’ve been through some 280 adventures together, but our bond has never been stronger.” “Yep, our family is as functional as all get-out.” “Could this be the end of our series… of events?” Why must you guys tease me like this…
– Judge Harm reappears, which is annoying. Then we have discussion of “mouth-whoopie,” Homer’s lust-filled string of double entendres while Amber makes him a sandwich… everything just feels so disgusting and wrong. With no home to go to, Homer crawls into the doghouse, gets it stuck on his head, and runs around like a maniac. Marge looks out the window at this and smile admirably. This is the most pathetic and sorry thing ever, and that is why she forgives her husband. No fucking reason whatsoever. Then they pull the same dirty scam as the waitresses did and they’re heroes. Pah-thetic.

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14 responses to “276. Brawl in the Family

  1. It’s pretty damn sad when Al Jean takes over, promises everyone that he’s going to “bring the show back to the family”, and THIS is the shit he gives us for his very first episode, production-wise. I’ll never understand why Jean felt compelled to stick with Mike Scully’s interpretation of Homer. Do the writers actually think that we like this character because he’s an unloving, selfish pig? Or do they think that they can get away with having a flaming asshole for a main character if they just draw attention to it all the time, like they so often do in lieu of actual humor?

    Case in point: I was reading Simpsons World last night, looking at the pages for the later episodes I’ve never seen, and there was an exchange in Season 18’s “Ice Cream of Margie (With the Light Blue Hair)” that really got my goat. Marge yells at Homer for being an inconsiderate jerk who never thinks of anyone but himself, and Homer responds “Well, excuse me for having enormous flaws that I never work on!” So, the writers are fully aware that their main character is an unlikeable sack of shit now, yet they’re totally okay with that. It sickens me.

  2. Little Thin Man Accused in Robbery

    I’ve heard some people interpret this episode as an acknowledgement of how poor the Scully years had been – the family’s a mess (like the show was), but then they come together and improve, but first they have to get rid of the Vegas wives (again, supposed to be representing the Scully era). Kinda makes sense. Kinda presumptuous of them if true, since the show didn’t improve.

    • Yeah, I had the exact same thought. But the way they resolve the story is as sloppy and unfulfilling as any Scully episode, which makes this interpretation seem even worse.

  3. This is just another episode I don’t care about, but I do like the cougars huddling and the “two wives/knives” scene.

  4. I’m rewatching some of the episodes you review because I hardly remember them, and goddamn is it depressing. I feel bad seeing that the “smoke factory” gag is from this episode, because I actually remember that one really fondly… I’m sure I must have referenced it a million times.

  5. “Workin’ on it!”

    …hah. Nah.

  6. I don’t know if I’d call it the worst ever (you haven’t seen season 23, right?), but this one is definitely pretty dire. The good news for you is you’ll get a bit of a reprieve for the next six or seven episodes as Jean settles into the bland and forgettable style the bulk of his era will be known for.

  7. I totally can’t wait for your “The Lastest Gun in the West” review, I have a feeling it will be BRUTAL.

    The pot smoking episode that’s coming up actually is pretty funny in act one and part of two. . I’m not even a stoner and I think it has hilarious moments. Enjoy.

  8. I don’t really mind this one up until the end. I actually like the stuff in the Republican Party Headquarters (“You’ve done enough, Nader”), the stuff with the family working back together is OK with a good line or two (“The beef sandwiches are making them stronger, and the falafel’s making them angrier!”), but the third act is where it totally loses me. It just opens up old wounds while claiming to heal them. Fuck this show.

    Season 13 on the whole is pretty bad, though I do like “Weekend at Burnsie’s” for the most part and “The Old Man and the Key” has some moments.

  9. I just remembered that this episode had Homer saying, “You can’t kick me out! It’ll cause a miscount in the census!”, which is a pretty funny line. Mind you, I can’t remember much else of it…

  10. – “Again, how fucking dumb is Homer that he thinks Gabriel is an actual angel? He’s a moron, but he’s not a fucking idiot.”
    I thought it was kinda dumb, but it didn’t bother me much. Homer references movies for his reasoning, and Homer has had trouble distinguishing movies/TV with reality. Besides, given some the crazy shit he’d gone through in the past couple years, meeting an actual angel would be downright normal.

  11. – “Homer’s lust-filled string of double entendres while Amber makes him a sandwich… everything just feels so disgusting and wrong.”
    This scene was disturbing until Marge (who only hears Homer) immediately knows that Amber’s making him a sandwich. To me, that made it kinda funny.

    – “With no home to go to, Homer crawls into the doghouse, gets it stuck on his head, and runs around like a maniac. Marge looks out the window at this and smile admirably. This is the most pathetic and sorry thing ever, and that is why she forgives her husband.”
    I never quite understood this either. The only two reasons I can think of is Marge admires the lengths Homer is going to avoid Amber or she sees Homer being Homer and realizes she loves him enough to work things out. I call this an extension of the precedent set in “Secrets of a Successful Marriage.”

  12. This can’t be the worst episode as there is too many funny moments here for it to get that claim. The “Oh no, she’s making him a sandwich!”, Wiggum’s reaction to another Monopolluy related incident and of course the “Two Knives” joke.

  13. I agree that this was an absolutely atrocious episode, but there was one bit I thought was excellent:

    “So… wanna give old Honest Abe another term in the Oval Office?”
    “No!”
    “Oh thank God!” *falls asleep*

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