Brawl in the Family
"Brawl in the Family" is the seventh episode of The Simpsons' thirteenth season. It first aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 6, 2002. In the episode, the Simpsons family get arrested for domestic violence, prompting social worker Gabriel to move in and make the family functional. After the family is declared acceptable, Amber and Ginger, the cocktail waitresses Homer and his neighbour Ned Flanders married in Las Vegas, show up at their doorsteps.
"Brawl in the Family" was directed by Matthew Nastuk and was the first full episode Joel H. Cohen received a writing credit for. It was the first episode on which Al Jean served as sole showrunner. The idea for the episode was pitched by Jean, who wanted to produce a sequel to the season 10 episode "Viva Ned Flanders", which he thought had a "loose end." The episode features Jane Kaczmarek as Judge Constance Harm, and Delroy Lindo as Gabriel.
In its original broadcast, the episode was seen by approximately 12.8 million viewers, making it the 28th most watched program the week it aired. Later that year, the episode was nominated for an Environmental Media Awards in the category "Television Episodic - Comedy," which it ultimately lost to the Dharma & Greg episode "Protecting the Ego-System". Following its home video release, "Brawl in the Family" received negative reviews from critics.
The Simpsons end up staying inside during an acid rainstorm (caused by The Republican Party's latest decision to make caring for the environment a felony offense) and play a game of Monopoly. When it is revealed that Bart has been cheating by using Lego bricks as hotel pieces, Bart asks Lisa Who else is going to take care of her? Dad? and Homer chokes him. Marge and Lisa try to pry them apart, but this escalates to Marge fighting with Lisa. Despite her (presumed) inability to talk, Maggie calls the police on her family. With help from The Negotibot and an edible taffy-like substance used to incapacitate criminals, the entire Simpson family (including Maggie) is arrested for causing a domestic disturbance.
After a short time in jail, they are released by a man named Gabriel (whom Homer mistakes for an angel sent from Heaven) moves in with the family to help them be functional again. After observing the family's quirks, Gabriel takes the family to a forest (presumably far away from Springfield) and diagnoses the family's problems (save Lisa and Maggie) accordingly: Marge tries to prove her self-worth to the family by medicating them with food, Bart is addicted to doing crazy stunts for attention, and Homer is, simply, a drunken childish buffoon. Gabriel then sets up a challenge to teach the Simpsons the importance of teamwork by setting up a picnic basket in a tree. The object is for the family to work together as a team to get it down. After a harrowing rescue involving Bart driving the family car and Homer nearly becoming lunch for cougars and wolves, the Simpsons succeed and Gabriel congratulates them on working together as a family and becoming functional during their drive home.
Before the family can call it a day, they arrive home and find Amber and Ginger waiting in their driveway. Amber shows Marge and the kids video footage of a drunk Homer marrying Amber in Vegas (while Ginger is next door with a now-widowed Ned Flanders). Homer tries to get his marriage to Amber annulled by the court, but Judge Constance Harm refuses, stating that Homer married Amber in Nevada (where bigamy is supposedly legal), and the marriage still stands since Homer never formally divorced Amber. Marge is so upset that she throws Homer out of the house. Homer takes up temporary residence in Bart's treehouse with Amber, but Homer still loves Marge and refuses to sleep with Amber. He tries to sleep in Santa's Little Helper's kennel, but ends up getting its doorway stuck to his head and spends the rest of the night trying to get it off. When Marge wakes up the next day, she finds Homer asleep amid the broken remains of the doghouse. She tells Homer that she is still angry at him over what Homer did, but she has a plan to get Amber out of their house.
While Amber is lounging in a kiddie pool, she overhears Homer and Marge arguing, with Homer ultimately announcing that he is leaving Marge and the kids. Homer then invites Amber to Moe's for a night of drinking. The next day, a hungover Amber discovers that she is now married to Grampa Simpson (and the Simpsons have video evidence of the event, including her vowing to forsake all other husbands when married to Abe). Amber and Ginger (the latter of which escapes because she can no longer take the sugary sweetness of Ned Flanders) drive away, vowing never to return.
"Brawl in the Family" was directed by Matthew Nastuk and was the first episode Joel H. Cohen received a sole writing credit for. Cohen had previously received a credit for "Hex and the City", the first segment of "Treehouse of Horror XII" which aired the previous year. "Brawl in the Family" originally aired on January 6, 2002 on the Fox network. It was the first episode for which current showrunner Al Jean served as sole showrunner. It was the second of his episodes to air however, since the Christmas-themed "She of Little Faith", the second episode he produced, was chosen to air first as it would coincide with the holiday. The idea for the episode was pitched by Jean, who wanted to make a follow-up to the season 10 episode "Viva Ned Flanders". In it, Homer takes Ned to Las Vegas to teach him how to have fun. While there, the two get intoxicated and wake up the next morning to find that they have gotten married to two cocktail waitresses, Amber and Ginger. The episode ends with Homer and Ned walking home from Vegas. Jean felt that the ending to "Viva Ned Flanders" was "a bit loose" because "...if you leave a wife in Vegas, they track you down." He pitched "Brawl in the Family" in order to "resolve it [the ending to 'Viva Ned Flanders']." Amber and Ginger were portrayed by Pamela Hayden and Tress MacNeille respectively.
"Brawl in the Family" features British actor and theater director Delroy Lindo as Gabriel, the social worker. According to Jean, Lindo was chosen to guest star because of his "great voice." Gabriel was then designed to match Lindo's voice. In the DVD commentary for the episode, Lindo expressed dissatisfaction with the character's design. He said "Were I an audience member, looking at this [the episode] I'd think, 'That guy doesn't sound like he looks.'" However, he added that his appearance in the episode earned him "much cred" among his nieces and nephews. In an interview with The A.V. Club, he said "After I did that voiceover, I was very aware of the power of The Simpsons, because in certain quarters, I got instant credibility." The episode also features Jane Kaczmarek as Judge Constance Harm.
Release and reception
On its original American broadcast on January 6, 2002, "Brawl in the Family" was watched by approximately 12.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. It became the 28th most watched program of the week it aired, beating such shows as ABC's 8 Simple Rules and NBC's Crossing Jordan and Mister Sterling. Later that year, the episode was nominated for an Environmental Media Award in the category "Television Episodic - Comedy," which it ultimately lost to the Dharma & Greg episode "Protecting the Ego-System". Its nomination was based solely on a scene in which "a bigger fish eats a smaller three-eyed fish," according to Jean, and because the award show was short on nominees. On August 24, 2010, "Brawl in the Family" was released as part of The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season DVD and Blu-ray set. Al Jean, Joel H. Cohen, Max Pross, Delroy Lindo, Matt Warburton and David Silverman participated in the audio commentary of the episode.
Following its home video release, "Brawl in the Family" received negative reviews from critics. Aaron Peck of High-Def Digest criticized the episode for being unoriginal, writing "Homer is always doing something that jeopardizes his marriage to Marge. When Homer's 'Vegas Wife' shows up unexpectedly [...] the same thing happens. This is a storyline that has worn out its welcome, but it still continues." Nate Boss of Project-Blu was overall critical of the episode, although he praised the return of Amber and Ginger. He wrote: "For once, a one shot character actually plays a bigger part, though in the continuing rift in Homer and Marge's marriage, that always gets repaired stronger than ever, one can only sotp (sic) giving a damn after about the fiftieth such episode." 411Mania's Ron Martin described the episode as having a "ridiculous set up." Andre Dellamorte of Collider thought negatively of the episode as well, calling it "Mannered to the point of ridiculousness." While he didn't consider it the worst episode he's ever seen, he criticized the episode's pacing and lack of satire, writing "it’s just that the plates spin so fast and so pointlessly that it becomes just about the gags. [...] the satire is gone; it’s just incident after incident to set up gags (some of which are funny) and get the show to an end time."
Writing for DVD Movie Guide, Colin Jacobson wrote that the episode "seems like two story fragments combined into one; it’s like the writers couldn’t flesh out either tale for an entire 22 minutes so they just stuck two half-programs together." He added that it still "manages some laughs," and also argued that the episode was very similar to the season 1 episode "There's No Disgrace Like Home", which was also noted by Ryan Keefer of DVD Talk. Despite receiving negative reviews, "Brawl in the Family" is often considered a fan favourite, and R. L. Shaffer of IGN called it one of the season's "gems."
- Jean, Al. (2010). Commentary for "Brawl in the Family", in The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Lindo, Delroy. (2010). Commentary for "Brawl in the Family", in The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Ryan, Kyle (February 7, 2011). "Delroy Lindo". The A.V. Club. Retrieved May 28, 2011.
- Malkowski, Jennifer (September 6, 2010). "The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season (Blu-Ray)". DVD Verdict. Retrieved July 2, 2011.
- "THE RATINGS". Entertainment Weekly. January 24, 2003. Retrieved May 16, 2011.
- "12th Annual Environmental Media Awards". Environmental Media Awards. Archived from the original on May 24, 2011. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
- Jacobson, Colin (September 2, 2010). "The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season [Blu-Ray] (2001)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved May 16, 2011.
- Dellamorte, Andre (September 17, 2010). "THE SIMPSONS: Thirteenth Season Blu-ray Review". Collider. Retrieved May 16, 2011.
- Peck, Aaron (August 31, 2010). "The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season (Blu-ray)". High-Def Digest. Retrieved May 16, 2011.
- Boss, Nate (September 8, 2010). "The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season". Project-Blu. Retrieved May 16, 2011.
- Martin, Ron (September 15, 2010). "The Simpsons Season 13 DVD Review". 411Mania. Retrieved May 16, 2011.
- Keefer, Ryan (August 31, 2010). "The Simpsons: The 13th Season (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk. Retrieved May 16, 2011.
- Shaffer, R.L. (August 30, 2010). "The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season Blu-ray Review". IGN. Retrieved May 16, 2011.
- "Brawl in the Family" at The Simpsons.com
- "Brawl in the Family" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive
- "Brawl in the Family" at the Internet Movie Database