Classic Simpsons Reviews: “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”

Hi, everyone! With election season over and NaNoWriMo making me jealous of people who can actually write fiction, I’ve decided to re-watch and review every single Simpsons episode from the pilot to Homer’s Enemy in season 8 (I’ll get to why I’m stopping there).

It’ll be in the spirit of the politics with which I usually write, so, read it if you uh…want.

1.1 Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

In the series premiere, Homer doesn’t get his yearly Christmas bonus, so he has to take a risk at the Springfield tracks. He doesn’t win, but he ends up with the Simpsons’ new dog and the appreciation of his family.

The series doesn’t really take off, many say, until the third season, so I was pleasantly surprised that the premiere is both funnier and more genuinely heartwarming than I remembered it.

Homer doing the Christmas shopping on a shoestring budget is equal parts tragic, sweet, and hilarious. Same goes for his being outdone at Christmas by Ned Flanders at every turn. In later seasons, Homer’s hatred of Flanders seems unmotivated. His hatred of Flanders is not only more meaningful, but funnier to me when class privilege gives him a reason to hate Flanders.

(Incidentally, the social class/competition aspect of this episode bookended with Frank Grimes’ reactions to Homer in “Homer’s Enemy” strengthens my case for the latter as the spiritual series finale.)

Character development and social commentary all in one. Early Simpsons was more subtly critical of capitalism than I realized, which is impressive for, y’know, 1989.

Moments in this episode set up the soul of the series, which will make the laughs all the richer and more earned. Take Marge’s Christmas letter, which says, “Maggie is walking by herself, Lisa got straight A’s, and Bart…well, we love Bart.”

Later, when Bart acts out by getting a tattoo, he doesn’t go with a skull or anything violent, but a heart that says, “Mother.” We’re laughing the whole time, but the underbelly of both characters’ struggle is still present. These are imperfect people, and there’s something for each of us to identify with in all of them.

Okay this is sorta awkward.

What I love most about the episode is the feeling that even if Homer didn’t come home with Santa’s Little Helper, his family would still love him. Marge says “God bless him” when he arrives late at night with the new dog, but you know she’d be saying the same thing if he came home empty handed, saying only that he’d tried.

The end has the family singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” which I don’t see as accidental. Every Simpson is Rudolph, just wanting to fit in and have at least someone think they’re a champion. The Simpsons isn’t unaware of the challenges in the world, but gosh did it ever set a less cynical tone than a lot of today’s comedies, which act like they’re too cool for such things.

Funnily enough, I don’t think the episode works as well if the animation isn’t imperfect and a little crude.

Best Moment: Bart reveals Santa’s Little Helper to the Simpson family.

Best Quote: “But he’s a loser. He’s pathetic. He’s…a Simpson.” -Homer

Sap alert! This episode made Taylor cry. Lisa’s “So love at first sight is possible” upon seeing Santa’s Little Helper put me over the edge. People like Lisa (see: me) are incapable of feeling things without simultaneously providing commentary on what they’re feeling.

(As an additional tidbit, you can tell we’re really feeling it when we provide commentary on the fact that we’re providing commentary. *sniffle*)

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