Sweets and Sour Marge
"Sweets and Sour Marge" is the eighth episode of The Simpsons' thirteenth season. It first aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 20, 2002. In the episode, Homer gathers several of Springfield's citizens to participate in creating the biggest human pyramid in the world. It fails, but they instead learn that Springfield is the world's fattest town, prompting Homer's wife Marge to sue Garth Motherloving's sugar company.
"Sweets and Sour Marge" was written by Carolyn Omine and directed by Mark Kirkland. It was dedicated to the memory of Ron Taylor. Omine conceived the episode after hearing about smokers who sued tobacco companies. While its plot is loosely based on Erin Brockovich, the episode also features references to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, What's Eating Gilbert Grape and Butterfinger. It also features Ben Stiller as Garth Motherloving. In its original broadcast, the episode was seen by approximately 7.5 million viewers, finishing in 34th place in the ratings the week it aired. Following its home video release, the episode received mixed reviews from critics.
Homer buys a book on world records published by Duff at a library sale. After boring everyone with world record trivia, Homer decides to break a record himself. He gathers the whole town to build the world's tallest human pyramid. After Jimbo and Kearney move their hands just before the record is claimed, the pyramid collapses into a giant sphere that rolls through town, taking in Agnes Skinner, Hans Moleman, and a suicidal man about to jump from a ledge onto the street. The entire town rolls to a truck weighing station and the Duff record book officials say that Springfield is the world's fattest town, ahead of Milwaukee.
The townsfolk are happy to have made it in the record book, but Marge is worried that the whole town is overweight. She discovers that there is sugar in nearly everything Springfielders eat. After complaining to Garth Motherloving, head of the "Motherloving Sweets and Sugar Company" (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marge decides to sue the sugar industry with the help of Gil and Professor Frink. Judge Snyder sides with her and bans all sugar products in Springfield (angering Homer and most of the town).
The whole town goes cold turkey and begins to suffer from intense sugar withdrawal. Homer joins a secret group led by Garth Motherloving to smuggle sugar from the island of San Glucos. After arriving back in Springfield, and evading a police boat, Homer brings the sugar to the docks. Marge pleads Homer to dump the cargo. There Homer is presented with two choices: to obey Marge and press the button Drop Cargo or bring the sugar to Garth Motherloving by pressing the button Obey Bad Guy. After contemplating, Homer drops the cargo and all the sugar falls to the Springfield docks' water. All Springfielders, even those who seemed happier and healthier without sugar, jump into the harbor and drink the sugar water. Judge Snyder then declares the ban over and dives in with everyone else. Marge is upset and she thinks about giving up changing the world. However, Homer tells her that he loves her when she tries to make a world a better place.
"Sweets and Sour Marge" was written by Carolyn Omine and directed by Mark Kirkland. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 20, 2002. The idea for the episode was pitched by Omine, who based it on a lawsuit at the time, wherein smokers sued tobacco companies for selling harmful wares. Omine found it "kinda weird" that the people did not take responsibility for their own health, and argued that, in the future, people might sue food companies for "making them fat", which eventually became the episode's plot. While making the episode, the Simpsons writers decided to compile a list of Springfield's fat residents. According to Omine, the list "never ended", and when the writers realized the amount of fat people there were in Springfield, they decided that the residents should try and "go for the world record" in the "fattest people" category. The writers then decided that the residents were trying to set the world record for largest human pyramid, and then accidentally set the record for fattest population. The episode features the first appearance of Cletus' cousin Dia-Betty. The character was animated by Kirkland's assistant Matt Faughnan, who has since become a regular director for the series. Garth Motherloving, the head of the "Motherloving Sweets and Sugar Company", was portrayed by American actor and comedian Ben Stiller.
At one point in the episode, the Springfield residents try to set the record for largest human pyramid, which fails when the pyramid collapses, causing the people to roll into a giant ball. According to director Kirkland, the scene, which the staff members refer to as the "people ball", was very difficult to animate, and it "almost gave [him] a migraine" determining how to implement it in the episode. While trying to figure out how to animate the "people ball", Kirkland spray-painted a globe with white primer and assigned layout artist Paul Wee to draw the Springfield citizens on it with black ink. Normally, the Simpsons animators each draw ten scenes per week, but because he drew the "people ball", Wee was excused from these duties. Since drawing the "people ball" by hand would have "murdered" the animators, they soon decided to photograph it for each frame of the scene. The photographs were taken in Kirkland's garage and were then photocopied using a Xerox photocopier. Executive producer and current showrunner Al Jean stated that the technique for animating the "people ball" was "extremely interesting", although it has never been used again in the series. The "master drawing" of the human pyramid, which Kirkland also stated was very complicated, took animator Matthew Schofield a couple of days to draw. The drawing then became a reference for the other animators to use when animating the scene.
"Sweets and Sour Marge"'s plot is loosely based on the 2000 drama film Erin Brockovich, which revolves around Erin Brockovich's legal fight against the US West Coast energy corporation Pacific Gas and Electric Company. The Duff Book of World Records is a parody on the annually published reference book Guinness Book of World Records. Cereal mascot Count Fudgula is a spoof on the General Mills cereal mascot Count Chocula (who, in turn, parodies fictional character Count Dracula). After sugar becomes banned in Springfield, the town's police force can be seen burning confiscated sugar products. However, when they throw an amount of Butterfinger candy bars in the fire, the bars start to glow and are left intact. Disappointed, police chief Clancy Wiggum explains "Butterfingers. Even fire doesn't want them." For a long time, The Simpsons characters starred in Butterfinger commercials, which helped the series get launched by earning revenue from the commercials. Around the time "Sweets and Sour Marge" was written, the series contract with Butterfinger was terminated, and the staff therefore decided to make fun of it. "If it had still been in existence, we wouldn't have done it", Jean said in the DVD commentary for the episode. Cletus' cousin Dia-Betty is loosely based on Darlene Cates' character Bonnie Grape in the 1993 film What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Before he agrees to hand the sugar cargo to Motherloving, Homer demands that he gets to see an Oompa Loompa, a character from the 1964 children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The Oompa Loompa's design is based on the version used in the 1971 film adaptation Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (the book's most recognizable adaptation at the time), which Kirkland watched in order to "get [the design] right."
Release and reception
In its original American broadcast on January 20, 2002, "Sweets and Sour Marge" received a 7.3 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research, translating to approximately 7.5 million viewers. The episode finished in 34th place in the ratings for the week of January 14-20, 2002. On August 24, 2010, "Sweets and Sour Marge" was released as part of The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season DVD and Blu-ray set. Al Jean, Carolyn Omine, Matt Selman, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Mark Kirkland and Matt Warburton participated in the audio commentary of the episode.
Following its home video release, "Sweets and Sour Marge" received mixed reviews from critics. Colin Jacobson of DVD Movie Guide gave the episode a positive review, writing "What would Marge do on the show if she didn’t stage campaigns to tell others what to do? Despite the risk of redundancy, 'Sweets' actually works quite well." He praised Stiller's appearance in the episode, as well as the "exploration of the records book." He concluded his review by considering it "one of Season 13's stronger programs." Nate Boss of Project-Blu was favorable as well, calling the episode "A funny take on class-action suits (particularly those concerning other consumer products willingly purchased, like tobacco), as well as prohibition." DVD Verdict's Jennifer Malkowski gave the episode a B rating, and wrote that the "library's 'Yes, we have pornography!' banner" was the episode's "highlight." Giving it a more mixed review, Ron Martin of 411Mania called the episode "uneven at best, mediocre at worst." Andre Dellamorte of Collider described it as a "redress" of the season 8 episode "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment", in which Springfield is faced with prohibition. Giving the episode a negative review, IGN's R.L. Shaffer wrote that "Sweet and Sour Marge", along with "Homer the Moe", "The Frying Game", and "The Old Man and the Key" "represent some of the worst of The Simpsons."
- Omine, Carolyn. (2010). Commentary for "Sweets and Sour Marge", in The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Kirkland, Mark. (2010). Commentary for "Sweets and Sour Marge", in The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Jean, Al. (2010). Commentary for "Sweets and Sour Marge", in The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Compiled by Jennifer Peterson with wire services (August 21, 2001). "The Simpsons' 13th season full of surprises". Dayton Daily News. p. 6C.
- Gammill, Tom. (2010). Commentary for "Sweets and Sour Marge", in The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Wire Reports (January 26, 2002). "TV ratings". St. Petersburg Times. p. 7D.
- Jacobson, Colin (September 2, 2010). "The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season [Blu-Ray] (2001)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
- Boss, Nate (September 8, 2010). "The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season". Project-Blu. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
- Malkowski, Jennifer (September 6, 2010). "The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season (Blu-Ray)". DVD Verdict. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
- Martin, Ron (September 15, 2010). "The Simpsons Season 13 DVD Review". 411Mania. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
- Dellamorte, Andre (September 17, 2010). "The Simpsons: Thirteenth Season Blu-ray Review". Collider. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
- Shaffer, R.L. (August 30, 2010). "The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season Blu-ray Review". IGN. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
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- "Sweets and Sour Marge" at The Simpsons.com
- "Sweets and Sour Marge" at the Internet Movie Database
- "Sweets and Sour Marge" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive