281. The Lastest Gun in the West

(originally aired February 24, 2002)
It’s important when you’re writing a TV show, a movie, a song, anything, that you should… care about it. Or at the very least come across like you do. This has been a problem of recent years, but there are a few parts in this episode in particular that are really jarring to me; the show is so aimless and lackadaisical, and when the writers point out how stuff makes no sense, it just illuminates the laziness even more. This episode is kind of a first in that it literally has no story. There have been thin shows in the past, but this is the first one where I really couldn’t tell you what this episode is about. We open with an angry dog chasing Bart across town, who seems to only have an out for him. And that’s not just the first scene, that’s the entire first act. It’s almost like the Bart digging a hole thing at the start of “Homer the Moe,” except that was half the length, and was bizarrely intriguing; this is just empty, vacuous time-killing, a clear indication that the episode has nowhere to go.

Bart ends up meeting veteran Western actor Buck McCoy, voiced by Dennis Weaver, and develops a shining for him and cowboys in general. That’s basically act two. This episode feels really strange, they centered the whole show around Buck, as if he were a big star they had to cater to, and while Weaver is a known celebrity, it’s not like he’s big currently. The writers seem to find Buck a lot more interesting and entertaining than we do; some of the bits are amusing, but a lot of it feels very dry and boring. And again, there is no story to be had. There’s an odd runner of Homer feeling betrayed that Bart idolizes Buck instead of him, which feels kind of bizarre. It’s like a throwback to the very early seasons where Homer wanted his son’s respect more than anything, but after the complete desecration and tarnishing of his character up to this point, it doesn’t really make any sense. It’s just to grasp at anything to try and trick the audience into thinking something is happening.

So the closest I can grasp at a story here happens at the end of the second fucking act when Buck goes on Krusty’s show drunk and reveals he’s an alcoholic. Then Homer and Marge try to get him to sober up… for some reason. It kind of makes sense for Homer to step up to restore his son’s hero, but through this whole episode Marge has sat on the sidelines spouting hollow, expository lines (“I think Westerns are due for a comeback!”) The scene that really sticks out to me is when Buck leaves the rehab center, and says this to Marge: “Look, I worked long and hard, got rich and now I’m retired. Why shouldn’t I be able to drink all I want?” Excellent point. Buck’s not some sadsack old man desperate to reclaim his fame; he’s just an old actor who lived in the limelight and now is living a comfortable retirement. Marge responds, “Well, I don’t know. I just naturally assumed it was some of my business.” So, to translate, when asked what the point of this story is, the writers say, “We don’t know.” At that point what does any of this matter? I don’t even hate this episode; it’s like being mad at a kid who didn’t even bother writing answers on his test paper. I’m just disappointed.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The dog opening is astounding. Like, that’s really what you’re going to draw six minutes of material out of? And then they bring it back at the very very end for absolutely no reason? It’s hands down the worst first act of the series.
– “Little Grampa Simpson” on Abe’s childhood badge bothers me. It’s just a gag, but it always bugs me in the show when characters outside the family call Abe “Grampa.”
– There are some Buck bits I actually chuckled at: riding the horse the short distance to the laundry room, touting his films as good wholesome family entertainment (“No drugs, no nudity, no cussin’, just drinkin’, fightin’, and trippin’ horses with wires,”) getting excited about refried whiskey, and his in-show endorsement of Drunken Cowboy Whiskey (“I’m not sure I approve of selling whiskey to children.” “Well that was aimed at children who were already heavy drinkers.”)
– When we get to Brockman’s pathetic newscast and Apu’s singalong, I’m just exhausted. I can’t stress enough how this episode literally has no story. It’s twenty two minutes of filler, and no amount of them referencing their many flaws excuses them of that.
– Krusty and Buck have a momentary smalltalk before the show. Buck comments how much things have changed since his day, to which Krusty gruffly responds, “I don’t care…” My sentiments exactly.
– So Buck gets drunk and shoots Krusty in the stomach on stage. Does he get put up on charges? Arrested? Indited in any way. Nope! (“This is horrible! All my spit takes have blood in them!”)
– Homer’s Farrah Fawcett poster… my God. Any attempt at making this pathetic runner of Homer wanting to be his son’s hero genuine in any way plummets to the earth.
– The ending with the robbery makes absolutely no sense and is stupid in every which way, but it gives us the only two great lines in the show. First when the criminals attempt to thwart Buck (“I’m shooting at the lasso, but the bullets just go right through the middle!!” “It’s the ultimate weapon!”) Castalleneta’s read on the first guy is so panicked and shocked, it’s great. Then we get Buck’s outtro (“Goodbye, Bart! Never bother me again!”) It gets the idea across that Buck’s this old guy who never wanted to be bugged by this stupid kid, and makes him, and Homer and Marge, seem more like irritants to intruded on his life and tried to change him. If the episode commented on this at all or made that more of the point of the show, it would kind of work, but instead we get this uninspired schlock. Way to go, writers.

10 responses to “281. The Lastest Gun in the West

  1. Guy Incognito

    By this point Jean was just picking out random words from a hat. Don’t even know why John stayed around this long.

  2. Pretty much everything about this episode annoys me, even the downright awful pun in the episode title (and there were still worse to come!). This is probably the point where my patience of the ‘unrelated first act tangent’ was wearing incredibly thin. Whatever happened to Groening’s insistence that animals actually ACT LIKE animals? Everything the dog does is ridiculous.

  3. John Swartzwelder’s Season 13 episodes seem to delight in what I call “humor of the lame”. They’re fully aware that this episode makes no sense and has nothing going for it, and we in the audience are supposed to laugh at it because of that. “The Sweetest Apu” is very much in the same vein. The show used to get great laughs out of intentionally lame stuff (“A master craftsman can build three mailboxes an hour!”), but those were just isolated jokes. Here, it’s the entire damned episode.

    Also, there’s two jokes in here that might just be the biggest non-sequiturs Swartzwelder has ever written: “Mom, a dog ate my clothes!” “Nice try, but we’re still going to Riverdance!”, and “Oh, I’m sick of this Tarzan movie!” “Dad, it’s a documentary on the homeless.” The first one almost makes sense, but the second one just sails clean over my head.

    • As brilliant as Swartzwelder clearly is, I always assumed he was handing in joke scripts by the end that he did really quickly and maybe even assumed they’d be edited into something useable later (I mean “an alcoholic ex-cowboy star” COULD turn into something… the evil dog part, not sure, but you know, maybe… who ever thought one of the best episodes of this show would involve a dental plan or a teddy bear?)… I’m a big fan of how abstract and CLEARLY under-the-influence his later scripts are, even if the shows themselves kinda don’t work…

      Speaking of scripts, HAVE Simpson scripts ever come out, aside from the Treehouse one with the 3D segment? I don’t mean the SNPP synopsises, I mean official scripts…

      • Oh yes, “Goodbye, Bart! Never bother me again!” was my fav. line too. I thought it was the creators basically saying, “Well, glad that episode is over with, don’t worry folks you’ll never see this guy again.”

        Anyway, this episode should have AT LEAST had Lester and Eliza in it. Just sayin’.

      • I actually own a script for a Season 15 episode (“The President Wore Pearls”).My dad used to work in radio, and I guess he had a co-worker who knew somebody on the staff. I’ll talk more about that one when Mike gets around to it.

  4. the one thing that’s always stuck with me in this episode (which i haven’t seen for probably 5-6 years) is at the second act break, when buck reveals he’s an alcoholic. (i believe the line is “i’m an alcoholic!”) and bart GASPS IN HORROR

    it’s always struck me as one of the most out of place things i’ve ever seen in the show. it’s not like it’s horrible joke (or even a joke at all), but it’s just so hopelessly earnest.

  5. Amazing how many people stopped watching around this time. This is the first episode you’ve reviewed I’ve never seen (‘She Of Little Faith’ was I think the one I first missed the first time around).

    ‘Helpfully’, Channel 4 in the UK are showing series 13 now, so I saw this one today. I really like Buck as a character, and quite like Bart’s hero-worship of him, but Homer’s whiny crybaby act really ruins it, leading up to another action set-piece finale. And the dog segment is such a cut-and-shut of terrible sketches (which they don’t even bother to hide – Bart’s clothes come and go, Homer makes contradictory comments immediately after each other). Better than a lot of series 11-12, but overall pretty poor.

  6. I can’t believe no one’s mentioned these exchanges… two of my favorites…

    “Have you ever tried to catch a boar with a teaspoon?”
    “Then what do you kids do all day?!”
    “Right now, I’m supposed to be in school.”
    “Ah, I quit after the 4th grade and I ain’t never not going back!”


    “Could you lasso me a banana?”
    “Now how in the hell am I supposed to do that?!”

  7. To me, this episode is the spiritual successor to “Burns, Baby Burns”, in that it is built on a character who only makes sense if you’re familiar with the celebrity voicing him. Growing up in Germany, I was unfamiliar with Rodney Dangerfield, which is why to me, Larry was just a guy constantly making strange jokes which didn’t fit into the dialogue of the Simpsons. In the same way, since I’ve never heard of Dennis Weaver, to me Buck McCoy is simply some random cowboy character speaking in an irritatingly slow manner. And since the staff seems to love him so much, he’s getting sooooooo much screentime, delivering lines which just aren’t funny or interesting in the slightest.

    As you’ve pointed out, there really isn’t any story here. It’s just: Bart gets chased by a dog for ages, then McCoy shows up, making the whole town suddenly love cowboys for some reason, then Homer and Marge meddle around a bit, Buck leaves, the end. Say what you will about episodes like “Kill The Alligator And Run” or “Saddlesore Galactica”, but at least things happen in those episodes. And even the plotless gimmick episode “Bart Gets An Elephant” (my personal worst episode from the classic years) still had enough good jokes to make it watchable, while this one is just 22 minutes of boredom.

    There’s one redeeming feature though: McCoy’s habit of riding off into the sunset, immediately followed by mundane everyday tasks. That’s why the ending, which has him riding into his mansion, tying his horse in the garden, lowering the blinds and taking out the trash – all set to cliché western music – is the only thing that works about the episode.

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