Simpsons Did It!: “Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”


The Simpsons is a cultural institution that’s run 27 seasons…and counting.

Seriously, it’s been on longer than my current batch of students have been alive.

Well, realizing I had FX Now, where they have Every Simpsons Ever, I thought I’d try to do some write-ups for the series and see how long I could go before I gave this project up.  I mean, I probably quit watching more than the occasional episode ages ago for a good reason.  How long can I possibly keep this going?

Let’s find out.  We’ll start at the beginning.

OK, we won’t really start at the beginning.  I don’t know where the various Tracy Ullman Show clips might be, and I don’t think I’ve seen most of them anyway.  We’ll start with that Christmas Special they did, “Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”.

This was my first exposure to the family, and I was hooked even then.  Originally airing in December of 1989 (I would have been all of 15 then), I really knew nothing about the characters.  Then we got a great, funny intro to Homer, Bart, Marge, Lisa, and Maggie Simpson.

What strikes me today is a couple things.  For one, Bart’s acting up isn’t overly clever.  I’m sure it isn’t supposed to be in the grand scheme of things, in part because Bart himself is only so-so clever, but when you consider the sorts of pranks Bart will play, or what truly nasty cartoon kids like Stewey Griffin or Eric Cartman will pull off in the future, Bart’s downright tame here.  He sings the Batman version of Jingle Bells.  Lisa is just as apt to change song lyrics as seen in the closing credits while still showing the brains she’s known for in politely telling off her Aunt Selma (or maybe it was Patty) for disrespecting Homer.

What else does Bart do?  He yanks the beard off a mall Santa (who happens to be Homer), and tries to get a tattoo.  Bart’s not that bad in the grand scheme of things.

Homer, meanwhile, seems to have defined himself as a loser, and his family by extension.  That’s a bit of a far cry from the more obliviously happy Homer he will become.  Homer as a more self-conscious character seems a bit off, but the thing is the characters have to evolve, just like on any show.  Why else would future super-Christian Ned Flanders hang Christmas lights that spell out “X-Mas”?

Really, by the standards of the show, this episode runs with some really by-the-numbers loser family jokes and some rather predictable humor all told.  It’s done very well, but it doesn’t seem to be very special with the sort of surreal satire The Simpsons is known for.  There aren’t any lines that really jumped out at me, the supporting cast (including Grandpa Simpson, Barney, Moe, and briefly Mr. Burns) are all more or less what we remember them as, but offer little more than some minor support to the main family.

But hey, everyone has to start somewhere.

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