235. Grift of the Magi

(originally aired December 19, 1999)
Again, I don’t know if it’s a slight lift in quality or just my nostalgia taking over, but this season is full of a lot of iconic elements. Funzo is one of them, the result of tireless market research cobbling together every conceivably dumb want a kid could ask for in a toy. It’s an abjectly pandering, soulless corporate money-making machine, and as such, Funzo is creepy as hell. This is a pretty solid Xmas show, taking a look at the capitalist side of the holiday, aping on the then-recent frenzies over toys like Furby and Tickle Me Elmo. Our path to get here is a bit silly, but it kind of works. Bart ends up with his ass in a cast and Skinner is forced to finally make his school handicap accessible. And by ‘forced,’ I mean bamboozled by Fat Tony and his goons, who construct ridiculous ramps all around the building which subsequently collapse upon its grand opening. While it feels kind of dumb that they’d seriously make it out of bread sticks, and Skinner feels a bit too wimpy in not raising complaints earlier, it’s the level of stupid that is ridiculous, but doesn’t go too far as to not be funny.

In order to pay off the mob, Springfield Elementary must close its doors. But before long, it reopens, thanks to the efforts of Kid First Industries, who look to engage kids by talking about their favorite toys and why they love them. I really like this conceit; similar to how junk food and soda companies want their products and brand present in schools, this is the next step: completely usurping children’s education in order to do market research to make their dumb toys sell well. Lisa eventually discovers what’s going on, just in time for Kid First to get out of dodge and use their ill-gotten information to unleash a new toy unto the world. Enter Funzo, a precocious Furby-like creature who boasts everything a kid could want, regardless of any purpose to the toy itself. The marketing campaign is quite aggressive (“Funzo! Funzo! Funzo! If you don’t have Funzo, you’re nothin’!”) The toy of course is a humungous hit, with the two Kid First heads eating up the footage of people getting trampled at local stores trying to get their hands on the new hot toy.

As if its conceit isn’t bad enough, Bart and Lisa are shocked to find that the Funzo dolls are literally wiping out their competition as it proceeds to destroy all their other toys. A visit to Kid First ends up being fruitless, so they’re left to resort to other measures. They enlist Homer to sneak into everyone’s houses on Christmas Eve to confiscate all the Funzos and destroy them. Their plan goes off without a hitch, until the arrival of security guard Gary Coleman. It starts off as a superfluous guest appearance, but he gets a fair share of great lines and I love how the plot is “resolved” as he and the Simpsons have a long discussion over corporate hijacking of Xmas, before coming to a sound conclusion (“Lets just agree that the commercialization of Christmas is, at best, a mixed blessing.” “Amen.”) This is a pretty great episode, with a thoughtful core conceit and topic, lots of great bits, and kind of a heartwarming ending, as Xmas cliches fly hard and fast, including one to explain how the school will ultimately reopened. And especially compared to the last Xmas show, this one is pretty golden.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Not sure why Marge has a box of wigs in her closet. I like Homer’s thought process upon walking in on Bart and Milhouse (“What’s going on?! And I want a non-gay explanation!” “Uh… we’re drunk. Really drunk.” “Oh, thank God.”)
– Bart’s butt cast is pretty silly, but I do like the family laughing at hearing Hibbet say ‘coccyx’ (even Marge), and the medical interns vigorously taking notes staring at Bart’s ass. And good thing Hibbert installed that viewing window, how else would he… relieve himself?
– I do think Skinner is a bit too wimpy, but Fat Tony’s got some great lines here (“Do we really need all those ramps?” “Who’s to say? Does a peacock need all those feathers?” “Look, you’re getting a little philosophical for me.” “I suppose so. They say it happens in the autumn years.”) Also great, of course, is “I don’t get mad. I get stabby.”
– Great speech from Skinner at the groundbreaking ceremony (“This is a proud day. Now when people ask if we’re in compliance the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1975, I can say, we are closer than ever before! To inaugurate our ramp system, here’s the first of what I hope will be many disabled students, Bart Simpson!”)
– It’s pretty silly, but I do like the play they put on for Burns, and his reactions to it (“I never liked that Dr. Stupid.”) Not a fan of the gravity-defying trap door though.
– Love Milhouse’s explosive enthusiasm of describing his dream toy (“Its eyes should be telescopes! No, periscopes! No, microscopes! Can you come back to me?”)
– Great how the name that Lisa gives off the top of her head ultimately becomes the name of the toy. Shows just how little thought the company is willing to put into these things. Also great is the role reversal of Lisa having to write on the chalkboard as punishment for doing math in class. Bart eats it up (“Lisa’s in trouble. The ironing is delicious.” “The word is ‘irony’.” “Huh?”)
– Classic bit from Krusty as he signs off for the season (“So, have a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a kwazy Kwanza, a tip-top Tet, and a solemn, dignified Ramadan. Now a word from my god: our sponsor.”)
– Love the ridiculous accessories you can get for Funzo: Funzo’s dream fortress, Funzo’s lower back pain chair, Funzo’s European Voltage converter…
– More great Springfield mob mentality as Lenny breaks through the glass store door with a giant candy cane and the masses rush to get their Funzos. Lindsay Naegle watching on security feed would like it more if there were some trampling. Cue Moe (“Ow! Now why would you wear cleats to a store?!”)
– The best line comes from Coleman, pulling up to bust Homer, Bart and Lisa (“Well, what do we have here? Looks like the biggest rip-off since Webster!”)

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3 responses to “235. Grift of the Magi

  1. In retrospect, this episode is actually better than I gave it credit for (recently, I was thinking it was kinda meh). Acts 1 and 2 have the entertaining jokes, but Act 3 drags the episode down with the zaniness of the Funzo theft, and I never really felt Gary Coleman’s appearance added much, although he did provide the ‘Galaxy of Prawns’ bit.

  2. One thing bugs me about the third act: Surely this Funzo toy’s distribution isn’t limited to Springfield? Are we really expected to believe that they rounded up every single Funzo in existence? Seems unlikely, especially for one night’s work.

    Despite that plot hole, and a rather hurried pace, this is one of the better episodes in season 11.

    “I’m sorry, Gary, there’s no longer a place for you here.” “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Miss Neagle?” “That is SO adorable! You’re rehired!” “SUCKER. I knew -exactly- what she was talking about.”

  3. This one of the few episodes I actually can say felt like The Simpsons this season.

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