On The 6th Day of Christmas: The Simpsons-“Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”

It all started with a Christmas episode, and because of that it makes this iconic episode of the most revered show a surprisingly not obvious choice. It’s easy to dismiss the first season of The Simpsons with its crude drawing, Homer’s Walter Mathieu voice and stock characters who had yet to evolve into the rich tapestry of a universe that would change television. However, this sweet, and genuinely, acerbically funny debut episode from over thirty years ago stands the test of time and reminds us that the world’s affair with this family wasn’t a slow burn; America fell in love with the show right from that first episode of that first season.

Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!

The cold open is the familiar Christmas tradition of the elementary school recital where we are introduced (or re-introduced if you were a fan of The Tracey Ullman Show) to Homer, Marge, and Maggie in her A barely recognizable Mr. Burns announces, among other things, that there will be no Christmas bonus this year. Of course, we smash cut to the rest of the family, where Marge has to spend the family’s savings to erase Bart’s ill-gotten tattoos, leaving Marge to say “at least we have Homer’s Christmas Bonus.” And the Magi-giftin’ stage is set.

Stupid, Lousy Gender Roles!

After deflecting Marge’s questions about why he has not given her his bonus so she can do the holiday shopping (it was 1989 after all), he sets to go discount shopping a la Alex Keaton (and we’ll get to that one in a few days in this feature), but when he crashes into Flanders and the latter’s gaudy gifts are mixed up with his panty hose and plastic pork chop toy, he resolves to get money somehow to give his family the Christmas they deserve–and show Patty & Selma of course.

He’s a Simpson!

Thankfully, as Homer dips into Moe’s and–in perhaps the greatest first season difference–nurses a single beer, Barney stumbles in with a Cliff Clavin voice and a full Santa get-up. So, from there, Homer enrolls in Santa school, becomes a Santa, and seems to have it all solved until on Christmas Eve he gets his final check… for 13 dollars. Distraught, his son having discovered his secret, he falls as low as to take Bart to the dog track and when one of the dogs is named Santa’s Little Helper, he knows it’s a Christmas miracle, and it is, but not in the way he thinks. When the emaciated greyhound comes in last, in a dark scene, the owner throws the pup out on the street. Glumly, Homer decides to keep the hapless puppy while delivering the line in Episode 1 that would sum up the charm of what would become the longest running scripted show by a “Whirlwind”-mile: “but he’s a loser, he’s pathetic, he’s {dog licks face}… a Simpson.” He heads home with Santa’s Little Helper thinking he’d ruined Christmas. Of course, it turns out he has done what would later on in the show as the Universe built become known as “pulling a Homer,” as once the family sees he’s brought home a dog for Christmas, there are no further questions. The big dumb lug has saved Christmas after all.

One of the reasons the episode is so effective actually has to do with its primitive state. In commentaries, the writers have commented that part of why The Simpsons has become less effective over 32 seasons is that every time Homer did something stupid, they were immediately tasked with having to top that. As the show moved on, Homer got dumber and would grow into a caricature. However, in Episode 1, Homer hadn’t settled into that and while he’s certainly a schmuck, there’s a genuine innocence to how much he wants to see his family happy and how far he would go. He does not “fail” in this episode because he’s a dope, but because Mr. Burns is evil and the mall Santa racket is a rip-off scheme, and most importantly because he is blindly set on a course because of the love he feels for Marge, Lisa, The Boy, and That Other One.

Memorable Quotes

Homer: “How many grades does this school have?”

Barney: “I got me a part-time job working as a Santa at a mall”
Homer: “Wow! Can I do that?”
Barney: “I don’t know; they’re pretty selective” {belches}

Homer: “Dasher and Prancer and… Nixon? Comet… and Cupid? Donna Dixon?”

Bart & Lisa: “Daddy, daddy, we’re so glad to see you”
Homer: “What?! Why?!”

Bart: “Hey, Santa, what’s shakin’ man?”
Homer {Dressed as Santa}: “What’s your name, Bart… ner? Uh, little partner.”
Bart: “I’m Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?!”

Homer {Dressed as Santa}: “Ho, ho, d’oh!”

Patty: “Oh, nothing, dear. I’m just trashing your father.”
Lisa: “Well, I wish that you wouldn’t. Because, aside from the fact that he has the same frailties as all human beings, he’s the only father I have. Therefore, he is my model of manhood, and my estimation of him will govern the prospects of my adult relationships. So I hope you bear in mind that any knock at him is a knock at me. And I am far too young to defend myself against such onslaughts.”
Patty: “Mhmm, go watch your cartoon show, dear!”

Bart: “It doesn’t seem possible, but somehow TV has betrayed me.”

Watch The Simpsons‘ “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” (Season 1, Episode 1) here

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