The Cartridge Family
"The Cartridge Family" is the fifth episode of The Simpsons' ninth season, which originally aired on Fox in the United States on November 2, 1997. It was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Pete Michels. In the episode, Homer purchases a gun to protect his family, of which Marge disapproves. Homer begins to show extremely careless gun usage causing Marge to leave him when she catches Bart using the gun without their permission. The episode was intended to show guns in a neutral way, and faced some problems with the censors because of the subject matter. Critical reaction was mixed.
The Simpsons attend a soccer match between Mexico and Portugal. When the game starts, the crowd begins to lose interest, and under Groundskeeper Willie's direction, it turns into a violent football riot. The riot spreads throughout the town. Afterwards, Marge fears for the family and tells Homer to pay for a Home Security System. Finding out that the system will cost $500, Homer decides to save money by buying a firearm instead. After the five-day waiting period, Homer surprises Marge with his new revolver from a local gun store, Bloodbath and Beyond. She is horrified and demands that he get rid of the gun at once. Homer persuades Marge to come with him to the local National Rifle Association meeting to try to get her to change her mind, but after the meeting, she still remains unconvinced.
Homer starts to treat the gun as though it were a toy, casually carrying it into the Kwik-E-Mart and frightening Apu into thinking he will rob the store, firing bullets to retrieve items from the roof and shooting dinner plates as if they were clay pigeons with Bart. Finally, after a near-fatal accident at the dinner table, Marge reveals just how uncomfortable with the gun she is, and begs Homer to get rid of it. Homer promises to do so, but hides it, loaded, in the vegetable crisper instead. Later, Bart and Milhouse discover the loaded firearm and play with it in the kitchen. Marge steps into the kitchen just in time to stop them, and harangues Homer for breaking his promise. She then gives Homer an ultimatum: "Until you decide what's more important, your gun or your family, we can't live in the same house!"
After this, she promptly leaves with some suitcases and the children in tow and checks into "Sleep Eazy Motel" on Patty and Selma's recommendation. That night, Homer hosts an NRA meeting at his house but the other members are far from impressed by his reckless gun usage and he is kicked out of the association (and his own house). Realizing what his behavior has cost him, Homer goes to the motel where Marge and the children are spending the night, meaning to reconcile.
Homer and Marge make up, after Homer explains he has finally gotten rid of the gun. While leaving, Snake arrives to rob the desk clerk, demanding the cash register's contents while holding a knife to Mayor Quimby's throat. Homer pulls out his gun and foils the robbery. Marge is angry with Homer for lying again, but while he tries to apologize, Snake snatches the gun. The other NRA members arrive and stop Snake from shooting the Simpsons or decapitating Quimby, but he runs off with the money all the same. Homer finally says he does not trust himself and asks Marge to throw the gun away herself, because he feels sure that his attachment to it will just make him lie to her repeatedly. However, just as Marge is about to throw away the gun, she sees a reflection of herself holding it in the bin lid and likes what she sees in her reflection and decides to keep it.
This was the first episode to air (barring the non-canonical “Treehouse of Horror VIII”) which was executive produced by Mike Scully. Sam Simon pitched an episode for one of the first seasons which saw Homer getting a gun and nobody wanting him to have it. The episode concluded with Homer foiling a robbery and stating that although guns bring destruction, it worked for him. However, this episode was pitched by Scully for either season seven or eight, before being used for season nine. This provided the basic outline, and John Swartzwelder wrote the script. A lot of lines in the episode put guns in a positive light, as the staff felt that they could not just make an episode about how bad they were. Several of the staff, including Swartzwelder, are "pro gun" although others, such as Matt Groening, are completely against them. The episode was designed to be non-biased and to portray each side of the argument equally. Scully noted that if there is any message in the episode it is that a man like Homer should not own a gun. The censors were nervous about some of the episode's subject matter, such as Homer pointing the gun in Marge's face, and Bart aiming the gun at Milhouse with the apple in his mouth, but ultimately let it go.
The opening sequence where soccer is portrayed as the most boring sport imaginable was intended to show that soccer was more boring on television than live, but both Michels and Groening enjoy the game. The referee at the game is a caricature of the janitor at Film Roman, who supplied director Pete Michels with every piece of soccer information he needed to design the episode. Pelé also makes an appearance at the match, although he is voiced by Hank Azaria.
The episode closes with music from The Avengers. After the music had been recorded, Scully felt that it did not suit the ending and so wished to change it to something else. However, it was too late in production to get the full orchestra back to do a recording, and union rules meant that previous recordings could not be reused.
The gun shop is based on the shop that the Los Angeles Police Department went to during the North Hollywood bank robbery to acquire more powerful firearms. The title of this episode is a play on the name of 1970s television series The Partridge Family. The end music is the theme to the 1960s show The Avengers, and the song playing when Homer is sitting and watching things go by while he is waiting five days for his gun is "The Waiting" by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Petty rarely lets his music be used on television, but being a fan of The Simpsons, he allowed them to use it.
In its original broadcast, "The Cartridge Family" finished 26th in ratings for the week of October 27 – November 2, 1997, with a Nielsen rating of 10.5, equivalent to approximately 10.3 million viewing households. It was the third highest-rated show on the Fox network, following The X-Files and King of the Hill.
The episode received several positive reviews, being included in the Herald Sun's list of the top twenty The Simpsons episodes. It was also named the fifth best episode in the show's history in an article by The Florida Times-Union. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also praised the episode, calling The Simpsons "the only sitcom in memory to treat gun control with any fairness."
On the other hand, the episode has been criticized by several outlets. The staff received several complaints from the NRA about the portrayal of the organization in the episode, despite the fact that they take Homer's NRA membership card away from him when they see his irresponsible behavior. Ian Jones and Steve Williams criticized the episode, calling it "a messy, unfocused lampooning of gun culture." Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide found that it was "one of the most politically unambiguous episodes ever," but that "[it] is very dull and the plot isn't sustainable."
The episode was not initially aired on the United Kingdom satellite channel Sky1 due to scenes of flagrant gun misuse, yet was aired several times on BBC Two in an earlier evening timeslot. The episode was also included on the Too Hot for TV VHS and DVD, along with "Treehouse of Horror IX", "Natural Born Kissers" and "Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy".
- Gimple, Scott (1999). The Simpsons Forever!: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family ...Continued. Harper Collins Publishers. p. 16. ISBN 0-06-098763-4.
- Warren Martyn; Adrian Wood (2000). "The Cartridge Family". BBC. Retrieved 2007-06-12.
- Scully, Mike (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "The Cartridge Family" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Meyer, George (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "The Cartridge Family" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Groening, Matt (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "The Cartridge Family" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Michels, Pete (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "The Cartridge Family" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Associated Press (November 6, 1997). "'Cinderella' works magic for ABC". Sun-Sentinel. p. 4E.
- "The Simpsons Top 20". Herald Sun. 21 April 2007. pg. w09.
- Nancy McAlister. "A sassy 'Simpsons' celebration; Fox hits a Homer as it broadcasts the 300th episode of the animated sitcom tonight". The Florida Times Union. 16 February 2003. pg. D1.
- Jonah Goldberg. "The Simpsons: Bedrock American Values". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 14 May 2000. pg. E1.
- Ian Jones, Steve Williams. "NOW LET US NEVER SPEAK OF IT AGAIN". Off The Telly. Archived from the original on 2007-12-14. Retrieved 2007-08-14.
- Steve Williams, Ian Jones. "THAT IS SO 1991!". Off The Telly. Archived from the original on 2007-12-20. Retrieved 2007-08-14.
- "The Simpsons: Too Hot for TV". Fox. Retrieved 2007-10-25.
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- "The Cartridge Family" at The Simpsons.com
- "The Cartridge Family" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive
- "The Cartridge Family" at TV.com
- "The Cartridge Family" at the Internet Movie Database