In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, late-night television hosts spent Monday night discussing gun control. Jimmy Kimmel, for example, choked up as he said lawmakers “should be praying for God to forgive them for letting the gun lobby run this country, because it’s so crazy.”
Much as late-night hosts often react to mass shootings with emotional monologues and calls to action, the controversial topic of gun control is largely absent from scripted television — even on shows that try tackling current issues.
A brief look at high-profile shows that have taken on the thorny issue might explain why. Often the episodes alienate fans or try to please everyone, thus pleasing no one.
Here are three examples.
1. “The Simpsons” offers a muddled message
In “The Cartridge Family,” an episode that aired in 1997, Homer visits the “Bloodbath & Beyond Gun Shop” to purchase a pistol to protect his family. When told there’s a five-day waiting period, he responds, “Five days? But I’m mad now. I’d kill you if I had my gun.”
Eventually, he receives the gun but uses it irresponsibly — such as waving it in his wife’s face. The Springfield branch of the National Rifle Association soon gives him the boot.
Much of the episode appeared to be anti-gun, with Homer playing the role of a stubborn gun-rights advocate, who says: “If you still don’t think guns are great, we’ll argue some more.”
But then-showrunner Mike Scully maintained the episode was actually about responsible gun-ownership. The NRA didn’t see it that way and sent a strongly worded letter to “The Simpsons” writing staff.
“We were actually making their argument for them,” Scully told Slate. “We were trying to show that the NRA people were responsible and they followed the safety rules. And they kicked Homer out for being dangerous. The point completely went over their heads, which kind of reinforced my opinion of the NRA.”
2. “Grey’s Anatomy” angers conservative fans
In its “Trigger Happy” episode, which aired last year, “Grey’s Anatomy” was so blatantly pro-gun control that the program ended with a public service announcement from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The episode’s main plot revolves around an 8-year-old child who accidentally shoots and paralyzes his best friend with his mother’s gun. But for many fans, the show appeared to trivialize the topic because it also contained a story line about online dating.
Caroline Siede, writing for the A.V. Club., called the juxtaposition jarring. “Grey’s wants ‘Trigger Happy’ to be both a regular ole episode that touches on all the show’s ongoing plotlines and a ‘very special episode’ that ends with a gun safety PSA.”
Conservative fans of the show were infuriated at the episode’s “one-sided” message. Blogger Marybeth Glenn, for example, said the episode was sanctimonious — “a bunch of elitist actors and actresses with bodyguards” preaching about gun control.
But many fans appreciated the show’s message.
3. “Arrow” doesn’t seem to have a viewpoint
In February, the CW show “Arrow” aired an episode titled “Spectre of the Gun.” It begins with a mass shooting at city hall. The show’s hero is Mayor Oliver Queen, who moonlights as a superhero named the Green Arrow. He and his team of superheroes try to figure out who was behind the shooting.
Much of the episode features characters arguing about gun control in between action sequences. No particular position wins the day.
Executive producer Marc Guggenheim defended the episode even before it aired, telling Entertainment Weekly that after producing 22 episodes “of candy,” the show “earned the freedom” to create “one episode of vegetables.”
“I would never want people to watch under false pretenses, so I would probably be very upfront about the fact that it’s not a typical ‘Arrow’ episode,” Guggenheim told the magazine. “We do explore the issue of gun violence. I would tease it as the best tasting broccoli you’ll ever have.”
Critics hated the program.
The A.V. Club called it “ham-fisted and unsubtle.” Screenrant said the episode was “a parade of toothless, heavy-handed, trite, tired, and generally cliched exchanges that prove one thing: adding a political issue to a pop culture property isn’t worth the effort if the writers have nothing to actually say.”
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