(originally aired December 21, 1997)
Hey, another Christmas episode! We sure have come a long way since “Roasting on an Open Fire,” haven’t we, and this episode, which apes a few elements from the previous two Xmas shows, is sure indicative of that. With its ridiculous premise and overt pushing of manufactured drama, it’s a bizarre episode with not much present to redeem it. Getting up early to sneak a peek at his gifts, Bart inadvertently burns down the Xmas tree, presents and all. He covers up the evidence, and to absolve his family from the truth, makes up a cockamamie story involving witnessing a burglar robbing the house blind. When news of this spreads, the people of Springfield open their hearts and wallets to the family, which makes Bart even more remorseful. It isn’t long before Bart’s lie is exposed to the family, and later to everyone else, making the Simpsons abused town pariahs. But in the end, the citizens of Springfield make things right, by stealing every item in the Simpson house to repay their debt.
Absurdities are abundant from the get-go, as the broken car heater spews snow into the car for some reason and Jerkass Homer selfishly bamboozles shoppers out of their gifts (at least he shoved some money in the cash register, but it doesn’t absolve that apparently he’s a thief now). There are some parts of the Simpson family Christmas that are actually kind of nice though, like Marge’s two different kinds of Xmas cookies, and the extra-stretchy plastic tree. But most telling is Homer setting up the exterior decorations, like he did way back in the very first episode. Contrast, if you will: in “Open Fire,” Homer takes a minor spill off the roof (to adorable applause from his children), plugs in the lights, and only one or two works. This is then greatly contrasted by the Flanders’ incredibly elaborate and garish display. In “Miracle,” reindeer plummet from the roof, followed by Homer, then followed more scaffolding in a loud, violent mess. Bart and Lisa laugh derisively. What was once a quieter, more subtle moment is now more bombastic and obvious, and it’s just not as funny. I’m not saying that no comedy should be overt, some of the best bits on the show have been over-the-top, but it’s interesting to see the two styles of joke telling over nine years and how much has changed. Though we did get the word “craptacular” out of it. Silver linings, folks.
Speaking of jokes, there aren’t many to be had here. Act two is dominated by Bart’s ever-increasing guilt as the town’s gratitude gets ramped up more and more. I guess how pushed to the extreme it is, like the orphans giving Bart their only dollar, should be funny, but his tremendous remorse kind of dampens it. People complain “Marge Be Not Proud” is insufferable due to Bart feeling bad for most of the episode, but at least there it’s for a reason that’s relatable and logical. Everyone’s disappointed their parents, but no one’s sold a bullshit story of this magnitude. And in the end, the Simpsons get theirs, but it’s really such a strange end. The townspeople are stealing picture frames, silverware, medicine, stuff that really won’t sell for much. So is it just vindictive nature that they’re doing this? Apu stealing the family pets? Ned participating in all of this? It’s such an unbelievably sour end, and not just because it’s a Christmas show. For all the ridiculous stuff in this episode, there was just a weird emptiness to it, compared to the richness of something like “Open Fire,” or even “Marge Be Not Proud.”
Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer parking across three handicap parking spaces led Marge to arrest him. Here, she just murmurs and goes along for the ride with her craaaaaazzzy husband.
– Minor point, but it seems here that Bart believes in Santa Claus. Remember the great line in the first Xmas show? (“There’s only one fat guy who brings presents and his name ain’t Santa.”)
– Bart’s dream lasts so long, and is relatively joke free. I guess except for the firemen wildly flailing their hoses, which seemed surprisingly graphic to me. But in all, Homer’s toilet fantasy in “City of New York” was shorter, funnier and more efficient.
– I did kind of like paranoid, panic stricken Bart disposing of the evidence (“Snow covers everything. Pure, white snow…”)
– I like Lou’s Christmas tie. Little detail, but it’s not like I have much to quote here.
– Kent Brockman is pretty good in this one, with his news reports about the robbery. I like his goading Marge for a quote on how she feels, then just making one up for her on the spot (“So when you realized Christmas was ruined, how did you feel?” “How’d you think I felt?” “Absolutely devastated? … ‘absolutely devastated’: the words of a heartbroken mother.”)
– Like this exchange between Sideshow Mel and Apu (“You only live once!” “Hey, speak for yourself.”)
– The time frame of this episode is a little odd too, it seems to happen over the course of a few days, but it must be a bit longer since we see Lisa back at school. But then there’s still Christmas shit up everywhere.
– To try and raise the money to pay back the town, Marge goes on Jeopardy… and loses a few thousand. Besides the fact that apparently the family just drove to California and that this is another harbinger for five-second celebrity cameos, I like Alex Trebek in this and how ruthless he is (“I asked you before the game if you knew the rules and you said you did.”) After chasing the family out, I love his smirk and twinge of his mustache (and one of his goons gruffly commenting, “She ain’t gettin’ the home version.”)