(originally aired December 17, 1995)
Six years following the first Christmas episode (and first episode ever), we get our second: a show with an Aesop-heavy vibe, but never gets too seeped in unearned sentimentality. Bart is hell bent on getting the new Bonestorm video game, but Marge believes it’s too violent. Out of options and tempted by a recklessly open display case, Bart swipes the game from the local Try-N-Save (is there any Simpsons store that doesn’t have an brilliant name?) His efforts are thwarted by gruff no-nonsense security guard Don Brodka, voiced by Lawrence Tierney (of Reservoir Dogs fame, one of my favorite movies).
Eventually Marge finds out and becomes very disillusioned about her son, unsure how she should treat him from now on. This creates a sizable rift between mother and son, and Bart has to find a way to make things right by her.
If you read this blog then you’re probably familiar with Dead Homers Society, and their attesting that this is the sole blemish on seven flawless classic seasons. I can’t claim some of their gripes aren’t valid; when you boil it down, this is a “very special episode” played fairly straight, with no real twist or subversion. But what keeps it engaging and impacting is its honesty. When you’re a kid, you’re afraid if a parent getting angry at you, but then you find the worst thing they can be is disappointed, especially your mother. Here the characterizations are perfect; Bart isn’t a bad kid, he was tempted, as we all were to steal a little sumthin’ sumthin’ in our childhood. When his actions are exposed, Homer can only get mad, but Marge basically shuts down emotionally, not believing her special little guy could steal. Bart, who complained about Marge’s over-mothering earlier, misses it, and starts to yearn any kind of parental affection, even if it’s not from his own. The overtly emotional moments of the show work because they feel genuine, and we are completely invested with these characters we love. Some may feel Marge getting the portrait and hugging her son is too saccharine, but I thought it was totally earned.
Besides all that, this show has just as many laughs and classic moments as any other classic episode. Most effective are the video game parodies: the over-excessively violent Bonestorm is a ten-year-old boy’s wet dream, complete with an aggressive marketing campaign (“Tell your folks, ‘Buy me Bonestorm or go to Hell!'”) Contrasting with that is Lee Carvello’s Putting Challenge, which Bart has to feign interest in to appease his mother at the end. The game footage over the credits is absolutely one of the funniest bits of the series. Everything is perfect, the digital effect and choppiness of the voice, and the fact that the game developers included a parking lot graphic. Even when things get heavily emotional in the third act there’s still lots of jokes, like Homer’s list of punishments and Bart somehow managing to improperly place marshmallow in cocoa. So I’m not bothered at all by this show, I think it’s got a lot of great bits and a good heart. What’s a little bit of schmaltz every now and again, huh?
Tidbits and Quotes
– Gotta love Krusty’s horribly Christmas special, “A Krusty Khinda Kristmas,” sponsored by ILG chemicals, and Li’l Sweetheart Cupcakes (a subsidiary of ILG). Of course the show is half-assed, with an open window exposing the fake set, and Krusty’s inability to pronounce the name of one of his guests. Lisa questions why Krusty, a Jew, would be doing a Christmas show, to which Bart wisely responds, “Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ.”
– A tour de force performance by Comic Book Guy (this is really his shining season), overflowing with mockery in Bart’s belief he can purchase Bonestorm for 99 cents (“Net profit to me, negative $59. Oh, oh please, take my $59. I don’t want it. It’s yours.”) Still confused, Bart reaches for the money, but CBG stops him short. (“It seems we are unfamiliar with sarcasm. I shall close the register at this point.”) Hank Azaria does such a fantastic job, each line of his just drips with utter contempt for his customers.
– Bonestorm is one epic game, as when Milhouse plays it it seems that it creates a wind tunnel in his living room. Also great is his game handle, “Thrillhouse,” which only appears as THRILLHO. And also great is Milhouse throwing Bart out, claiming he’s swearing, and then later again claiming he’s smoking.
– Arriving at the Try-N-Save, Bart comes up with a logical plan on getting the game (“Maybe if I stand next to the games looking sad, someone will feel sorry for me and buy me one.”)
– Love the bratty kid and hot uncaring mom, who happily buys her son a Bonestorm (“Get two. I’m not sharing with Kaitlin!”) Bart overlooks in awe (“That must be the happiest kid in the world.”)
– Great daydreaming with Mario, Luigi and Donkey Kong convincing Bart to take the game (“It’s the company’s fault for making you want it so much.”) Lee Carvello shows up to protest; that game’s not going to help his putting. Then a manic Sonic the Hedgehog seals the deal (“Just take it! Take it take it take it take it take it!!”)
– More foolproof logic from Bart, when Detective Brodka stops him on his way out and asks him to unzip his coat (“I don’t think this is the kind of coat that opens.”)
– Another great tape for the Troy McClure video library, “Shoplifters Beware!” where he openly admits it to be a completion of his plea bargain “with the good people at Foot Locker of Beverly Hills.” He explains stealing originated in ancient Phonecia (“Thieves would literally lift the corner of a shop in order to snatch the sweet, sweet olives within. Oh, Shakazaramesh, will you ever learn?”) Before he goes to ancient Babylonia, Brodka shuts off the tape. A dual joke in showing Brodka’s impatience and contempt for showing the tape, and that the video must be incredibly lengthy.
– I love Tierney’s performance, a man of absolutely no mercy, taking his job at a lame retail store very seriously (“You know, that kind of mush might fly at Lamps Plus, but don’t peddle it here.”) His monologue calling the Simpson house, only to be revealed it was just an answering machine is hysterical.
– Homer is puzzled at his answering machine (“We didn’t have a message when we left. How very odd.”) But Bart had managed to switch the tape to Allan Sherman’s “Camp Granada,” which confuses Homer further (“Marge! Is Lisa at Camp Granada?”)
– The steam out of Bart’s ears actually being two teapots is such a cheat, but I’ll give credit where it’s due.
– Love Bart’s paranoia in the car, with the car locks sounding like prison doors, and imaging Brodka’s imagine on the seatback, complete with his continued ignorance of “Capiche.” (“Catfeesh?”)
– I really like that the Simpsons are excited at a fun day out at the Try-N-Save, basically the equivalent of a WAL-MART now. It speaks to their upper-lower-middle class roots.
– Wonderful bit with Marge gazing at a watch, and Homer implying maybe somebody will get her it for Christmas. He obliviously thinks that’s a great cover; now she’ll really be surprised when she opens the iron board cover he got her. Also great is Homer annoyed at the photo center’s fake TIME magazine cover, with Flanders as man of the century (“Must have been a slow century.”)
– Kind of like Homer having knowledge of Supreme Court justices, I like that Bart apparently knows who Ansel Adams is.
– God, I love Det. Brodka, he’s one of my favorite one-off guest stars. Every line of his is great (“Sure, now he’s just a little boy stealing little toys. But some day, he’ll be a grown man stealing stadiums and… quarries.”)
– Homer’s angry rant at Bart is hysterical; first he can’t remember Reverend Lovejoy’s name (“Captain Whatshisname,”) then he gets side-tracked in his second blast against Police Academy of the series, then caps it off with, “Stay out of my booze!”
– I like how Lisa is able to decipher Marge’s emotions (and cute bit where she admits she hasn’t known Mom as long as Bart has), but is still kid-like in giving a meek shrug when Bart asks if she’ll be mad at him forever. In a later show, Lisa would just flat out tell Bart (and the audience) what to do with the decorum of a forty-year-old.
– I love Homer’s list of punishments (“First, he’s grounded. No leaving the house, not even for school. Second, no egg nog. In fact, no nog, period. And third, absolutely no stealing for three months.”) We then find the paper he’s been writing actually just contains a drawing of a robot grilling a hot dog.
– I like the subtle dig at the limited appeal of video games, that Milhouse quickly gets tired of Bonestorm in favor of a cup and ball game (“Man, you never know which way this crazy ball’s going to go!”)
– Great reading when Homer blocks Bart off with the pet gate (“Get ’em, ma.”)
– “Welcome to Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge. I am Carvallo. Now, choose a club. You have chosen a three wood. May I suggest a putter? Three wood. Now enter the force of your swing. I suggest feather touch. You have entered ‘power drive.’ Now, push seven eight seven to swing. Ball is in: parking lot. Would you like to play again? You have selected ‘no.'”