The War of the Simpsons
"The War of the Simpsons" is the twentieth episode of The Simpsons' second season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on May 2, 1991. In the episode, Homer gets drunk at a party and embarrasses his wife Marge, so she decides to sign them up for a marriage counseling retreat. Homer finds out that the retreat will be held near a lake and packs his fishing equipment, despite Marge telling him that all they will be doing is resolving their differences. At the lake the next morning, Homer tries to sneak away to go fishing, but Marge catches him and he takes a walk instead. On the dock, Homer grabs hold of a fishing pole only to be yanked onto a small rowboat by the fish. When he notices an upset Marge is looking at him, he immediately lets the fish go to prove his love for her.
The episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Mark Kirkland. It was the last episode Kirkland directed during his first year on the show. Although not named until season three's "Black Widower", the character Snake Jailbird appeared for the first time in this episode. "The War of the Simpsons" features cultural references to songs such as Tom Jones's "It's Not Unusual", Dusty Springfield's "The Look of Love", and KC and the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way (I Like It)". Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 11.6, and was the second highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.
At a party thrown by himself and his wife Marge, Homer humiliates himself by getting drunk, telling off strangers, and leering at Maude Flanders. The following day at church, Marge signs up for a weekend retreat of marriage counseling hosted by Reverend Lovejoy and his wife Helen. Homer finds out that the retreat will be held at Catfish Lake and packs his fishing equipment, despite Marge telling him that all they will be doing is resolving their differences. On the way to the retreat, Homer stops at a bait shop and learns of the legendary catfish General Sherman.
Back at home, Grampa babysits Bart and Lisa, who take advantage of their grandfather by tricking him into letting them throw their own party. At the lake the next morning, Homer tries to sneak away to go fishing, but Marge wakes up first. Marge is upset that Homer would choose fishing over their marriage, which Homer fails to understand as he visualizes Marge turning into a catfish. Homer takes a walk instead of returning to bed. On the dock, he finds an abandoned fishing pole. The pole, with General Sherman on the line, yanks him off the pier into a small rowboat, and onto the lake. From their cabin window, Marge watches Homer battle General Sherman and gets frustrated. At home, Bart and Lisa's party has ended and the house is a total mess. Watching Grampa cry and fearing that he will get in trouble, they frantically clean up the house, unaware that he is faking it.
Marge attends the workshops alone while Homer triumphantly rows in with General Sherman. When he returns, Marge tells him their marriage is in serious trouble if he values fishing more than her. To prove his love for her, he lets the fish go and they return home. Once home, Marge congratulates Grampa on how clean the house is, to which he reveals his secret is "pretending to cry". Grampa laughs as he reveals to a shocked Bart and Lisa that he tricked them as he leaves, and Bart swears he will never trust an old person again. At the bait shop, General Sherman is still uncaught, but tales are told of a near-mythical figure who almost succeeded: "Went by the name of Homer. Seven feet tall he was, with arms like tree trunks. His eyes were like steel: cold, hard. Had a shock of hair, red, like the fires of Hell."
The episode was written by John Swartzwelder, and it was the last episode Mark Kirkland directed during his first year on the show. Kirkland and his animation team were relatively new to animation when they began working on the show, and to make the animation in this episode the best they had ever done, they incorporated all the techniques they had learned during their first year into it. Kirkland said animating Homer drunk was a challenge for him as he had to analyze how people behave when they are intoxicated by alcohol. He said of the animation: "I shifted [Homer's] eyes open and close, they're not working in sync. And of course Homer can't keep his balance so that's why he's shifting back and forth." Kirkland was raised in New York in an environment similar to the one where the marriage retreat was held. He therefore enjoyed drawing and overseeing the scenery for the episode, and the bait shop was based on the bait shops he visited when he grew up. Snake Jailbird, Springfield's resident recidivist felon, appeared for the first time on the show in this episode, though he was not named until season three's "Black Widower". He appears at Bart and Lisa's wild house party. A woman named Gloria who seeks marriage counseling at the retreat was voiced by Julie Kavner. It is one of the few times in the history of the show that Kavner has voiced a character other than Marge and her relatives. Gloria's hair was based on Kirkland's assistant director Susie Dietter's hair.
The Simpsons writer Mike Reiss said on the episode's DVD audio commentary that while the episode was "full of funny moments", it caused "nothing but trouble" to the staff of the show. One of the troubles was that after the episode had been written by Swartzwelder, an unsolicited writer sent the staff a script which contained a virtually identical story. To avoid a lawsuit, the staff paid him US$3000 and went forward with the episode. Material cut from the episode's script included many couples who were supposed to be at the retreat instead of the Flanders family, such as Mr. Burns and his mail-order bride, and Mrs. Krabappel trying to reunite with her estranged husband Ken Krabappel. Reiss said the scene played out "horribly badly", and it appeared as if Mr. Burns's mail-order bride was a prostitute. The Ken Krabappel character was supposed to be based on singer Dean Martin, but somehow he ended up with a southern accent that made him sound like a hick. The whole scene was rewritten with help from producer James L. Brooks and it was completed after several hours. A scene in which Moe asked Dr. Hibbert to cure his discolored feces was also removed during the first reading of the script after a complaint by Brooks. Series creator Matt Groening later expressed an objection to the ending, which sees General Sherman jumping out of the water and winking at the camera, believing it to be overly cartoony.
The way Ned Flanders prepares the cocktails at the party is similar to actor Tom Cruise's bartending stunts in the 1988 film Cocktail. Songs heard at the party include Tom Jones's "It's Not Unusual" (1965), Dusty Springfield's "The Look of Love" (1967), and KC and the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way (I Like It)" (1975). Homer's false memory of the party the following day (in which he imagines himself as being erudite and witty instead of drunk) is a reference to the Algonquin Round Table, a group of New York City writers, critics, actors, and wits. The "Mexican Hat Dance" song is heard when Marge turns on the radio in the car to mute the conversation between her and Homer so that the children cannot hear them fight. When Homer comes into the church late, while looking for his chair, a character who strikes a resemblance to Adolf Hitler is seen. In a flashback sequence, Bart remembers chasing away a screaming babysitter with the car as a toddler. This sequence and the music in it are references to a scene in the 1976 film The Omen, in which the Devil's child Damien makes animals shriek in terror as Damien approaches. The picture of General Sherman at the bait shop is a reference to the famous hoax picture of the Loch Ness Monster. John and Gloria are a reference to George and Martha from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Homer's attempt at catching General Sherman, his bludgeoning of the fish and the line "I love you but I have to kill you" are all based on Santiago's fight with the marlin in Ernest Hemingway's novel The Old Man and the Sea. The battle between Homer and General Sherman is also reminiscent of Captain Ahab's battle with the white whale Moby-Dick in the novel Moby-Dick.
In its original broadcast, "The War of the Simpsons" finished fortieth in the ratings for the week of April 29 to May 5, 1991, with a Nielsen rating of 11.6, equivalent to approximately 10.8 million viewing households. It was the second highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following Married... with Children. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. The Orlando Sentinel 's Gregory Hardy named it the twelfth best episode of the show with a sports theme (sport fishing). The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, thought the Homer vs. Marge plot was "good on its own", but it was also "Grampa's big moment. His final revelation to Bart and Lisa is inspired." DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson said the main concern with the episode "stemmed from its start. The scenes at the party were so terrific that the episode could have tanked after that. Happily, it didn’t, as the show provided a consistently high level of entertainment. Between Homer’s excesses at marriage camp and the kids’ antics while Grampa watches them, the program packed in a ton of great gags."
In a review of the second season, Bryce Wilson of Cinema Blend said "The War of the Simpsons" felt "a bit flat", but "even in [its] lowest points, humor is easy to find." Jeremy Kleinman of DVD Talk said it was "another great episode, featuring first, a new level of Homer's debauchery after drinking way too much at a party the Simpsons host, Reverend Lovejoy's marital retreat, and an epic battle with a legendary fish named General Sherman. Each of these portions of the episode are filled with laughs, perhaps the funniest being Homer's distorted high-society recollection of the previous night's events in which he is hailed as charming and a jolly good fellow."
- Kirkland, Mark (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "The War of the Simpsons" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Reiss, Mike (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "The War of the Simpsons" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Groening, Matt (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "The War of the Simpsons" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. ISBN 978-0-06-095252-5. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M. p. 55.
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "War of the Simpsons". BBC. Retrieved 2009-03-12.
- Kleinman, Jeremy (August 1, 2002). "The Simpsons - The Complete Second Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2009-03-23.
- "Nielsen Ratings /April 29 May 5". Long Beach Press-Telegram. May 8, 1991. pp. C12.
- Hardy, Gregory (February 16, 2003). "Hitting 300 - For Sporting Comedy, 'The Simpsons' Always Score". Orlando Sentinel. p. C17.
- Jacobson, Colin. "The Simpsons: The Complete Second Season". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved 2009-03-23.
- Wilson, Bryce (April 19, 2004). "The Simpsons - The Complete Second Season - DVD". Cinema Blend. Retrieved 2009-03-23.
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- "The War of the Simpsons" at the Internet Movie Database