561. I Won’t Be Home for Christmas

Original airdate: December 7, 2014

The premise:
Marge kicks Homer out on Christmas Eve for coming home late, but when she finds it was only because he stopped to keep a terminally lonely Moe company, she and the kids go out to look for him.

The reaction: I was mildly intrigued to see Al Jean has the solo writing credit on this one, the first since “Day of the Jackanapes” over a decade ago. I wonder what in particular made him want to jump back in and take charge of writing this one. But whatever the reason, it feels no less lackadaisically awful as the rest of the lot, this one feeling even more purposeless than normal. The conceit is that Homer’s getting off work on Xmas Eve, and Moe both causes him to crash his car in a snow bank by the bar, and then begs and pleads with Homer to not leave him all alone. It’s less of the actually effective and endearing sad Moe, and more of the pathetic and cloying sad Moe, throwing himself at Homer’s mercy, and perching on his… head? But Homer has to get back home to his family, or Marge will be quite cross. What is he to do? Well, Moe’s predilection to suicide is well known to everyone in town; there’s even been at least two past holiday episodes featuring “hilarious” sequences of him attempting to take his own life. So, why not give Marge a ring or a text and tell him his ol’ buddy needs him for a couple of hours. Or, better yet, take the poor man home so he can have a nice, warm Christmas with some caring loved ones. Instead, Homer is radio silent all night, returns home, and before he can give any sort of explanation, Marge boots him out of the house. Homer attempts to return to Moe’s, but the doors are locked, for some reason. A little later, Moe drops in through the Simpson chimney for some reason, and despite not knowing Homer got in trouble and is currently out missing, explains what happened that night. This freak appearance by Moe is enough to make Marge do an instant 180 (“This is what I was hoping for, for it not to have been completely his fault!”) On Homer’s end, we just get a random assortment of scenes of him wandering around places open late at night: talking with Apu at the Kwik-E-Mart, going to a late night movie with other lonely freaks, bonding with Flanders by his Leftorium kiosk for some reason… it’s all like him trying to find a place that will have him for Christmas, or somewhere he can do some good, or something? Then Marge finds him and everything is okay, as she gives another one of her patented joke excuses for her husband’s terrible behavior (“I’m not going to always assume that you screwed up, because I realized that maybe there’s a good explanation for what you do, or a crazy one that’s pretty entertaining.”) I don’t think I’ve seen an episode this aimless since the iPad show a few seasons back. The simplicity of it would almost be charming if it were actually building to something and was, y’know, well written. And with jokes. Jokes would’ve been nice.

Three items of note:
– There’s a gag here that’s exactly like one from “Super Franchise Me,” where a thought bubble appears to extend a joke out further for no reason. Upon learning the lottery is a big sham that helps no one, we get this exchange from Homer and Apu (“Doesn’t the money go to schools?” “You have been to our schools, what do you think?”) Not a bad joke on the sad state of public education. But no, I guess because we need to spell the joke out further, or we need to kill more time, or both, we get a thought bubble from Homer featuring he and Marge at the school and them having to bring their own toilet paper or something. Was that really necessary? We’re in season twenty-freaking-six, we’ve seen how shitty Springfield Elementary is, I can connect the dots without you scribbling it in for me.
– Thinking back on it, in creating such an elaborate set-up to keep Homer out late, including tampering with the bar clock, it almost seems like Moe was intentionally keeping him out so Marge would be angry. Later on, at the Simpsons, he seems just fine, fine enough that he attempts to lock lips with Marge not once, but twice. What’s that all about? And Marge doesn’t seem too perturbed about it either. I guess the suicidal angle wasn’t much part of it after all, Moe was just being a huge asshole.
– We get our first mention of Edna officially being dead in the Homer-Flanders scene, which feels especially deep and overall kind of saccharine. I feel like it would hold more weight if the episode was actually about something, instead of just wandering from vignette to vignette. Is it a parody of empty, schmaltz-filled Christmas specials with overplayed morals of kindness and brotherhood? Or is it one and the same with those trite exercises of pseudo-entertainment?

One good line/moment: When the Simpsons arrive at the retirement home to see if Abe has seen Homer, the old people are all up and about to swarm the new visitors and request things of them. Crazy Old Man demands, “Make them turn the TV to CBS!”

6 responses to “561. I Won’t Be Home for Christmas

  1. This is the best Christmas episode of the HD Era, as well the best since season 11 (or 15).

    And the Al Jean’s return was nothing, the most bizarre was Jeff Martin and David M. Stern having come back after two decades to write episodes of seasons 27 and 28 (though I admit I liked the Martin’s episodes).

    • The Anonymous Nobody

      Jeff Martin and David Stern coming back to do episodes was interesting, but disappointing to me. They both felt like average modern-day Simpsons to me, especially Stern’s episode. I understand the whole writing by committee thing helps make sure episodes get done on time and gives them a consistent tone, but it feels like everything is being done by a factory now. I mean, imagine if John Swartzwelder came back for an episode. I probably wouldn’t even know he wrote it.

      I wonder if Mike Reiss would want to come back and work on an episode with Al Jean again. He’s always been blunt about the show not being as good or realistic as it used to be.

  2. This episode was a bit of a curio, but was fairly forgettable. I agree it was probably the “best” after a long series of bad Christmas specials since the Al Jean era began, though it still has many of the problems that plague the current series.

  3. Curious to see how Mike responds to the next episode. It is easily the season’s biggest oddball.

  4. The Anonymous Nobody

    I remember catching this episode the night it aired and just thinking it was really weird. I hadn’t watched too many episodes before that and the HD animation felt cold and lifeless. Looking back, this episode felt like they were trying to do a season one episode but had to ignore the show’s history in order to do it. I mean, Marge really thought nothing happened to Homer and it was just him being an asshole? I mean, after the last 15 or so years before that, I get it, but the whole thing just had a strange tone. Also, that speech at the end was terrible. It almost feels like a parody of these episodes at this point.

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