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Worldly Distractions: The Simpsons 26.9 - I Won't Be Home for Christmas


crazyforkate

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blog-frozimpsons.jpg 

frozimpsons

It's the annual Simpsons Christmas Episode! Come on, everyone, let's Simpsons Christmas Boogie!

We get a snowy title, with the Texan riding past on a sleigh flown by bulls. Chalkboard gag: "Reindeer Meat Does Not Taste Like Chicken". Springfield appears to have turned into the North Pole, though curiously, the nuclear plant/toy workshop seems to be counting down to Orthodox Christmas. Everyone has elf ears, Maggie gives baby Gerald a Christmas gift instead of threatening him, Marge and Burns (?) re-enact the chariot race from Ben-Hur in sleighs. The Couch Gag is an "obligatory Frozen reference", starring Lisa as Elsa and Homer as Olaf. So we start the episode on a fun note.

It's Christmas Eve, and Comic Book Guy and his wife (oh, good, they remembered she exists this time) watch the "Cosmic Wars Holiday Special", no points for guessing that one. Homer leaves work, with the power plant in dubious condition as usual. Marge messes up the decorating at home. Mr Burns, whom Homer actually calls "Mr. Scrooge" (I love how this show has always kept that as a sort of marginal reference without ever stooping so low as to retell the story), informs Homer that instead of a bonus, the plant has donated to the Salvation Army on the workers' behalf. On the way, Homer gets into a minor accident, which prompts him to stop at Moe's for some comfort. Marge watches Miracle on 34th St. at home, and yes, they actually spliced live action footage onto a cartoon television. I think this may be a Simpsons first! The movie is also showing at the bar, and hey, Moe still has the Love Tester. Cool. For once showing a conscience, Homer tries to ditch Moe, apparently forgetting about the barkeep's annual suicide attempt. Moe guilts him into staying for a few extra drinks. Meanwhile, Marge gets increasingly angry. Patty and Selma back her up, of course. Homer winds up dashing home in the dead of night. When he arrives, his irate wife throws him out.

Driving past ads for Simpsons Lego (no, really), Homer reflects on the evening and concludes that Marge has to forgive him. Meanwhile, Marge is thinking exactly the opposite. Moe, having a karaoke session with himself (that's not a euphemism), finds Homer's wallet, and has a terrible idea. Homer goes to the Kwik-E-Mart and attempts to win Marge's heart by winning the lottery, but only gains a bunch of losing tickets. Feeling sorry for the man, Apu stops him from gambling anymore, and instead lets him in on all the Kwik-E-Mart's secrets.

Bart and Lisa stay up on Christmas Eve, Bart in anticipation of the next day and Lisa out of fear for her mother's emotional health. After some coaxing, she enlists Bart in helping make Marge's Christmas as perfect as possible. You know, with a marriage falling apart for the umpteenth time and everything. They go down to talk to their mother, but just as they broach the topic of bringing Homer back, Moe falls down the chimney.

In an uncharacteristic moment of honour, Moe admits that he forced Homer to stay at the bar out of loneliness. Marge immediately forgives Homer and thanks Moe. He takes the moment to steal a kiss, being a pervert of the highest order. With Christmas saved, Marge tries to call her husband, but finds him unreachable.

Homer has wrecked his car and phone, and wanders alone downtown among the abandoned storefronts. He winds up seeing a Seth Rogen-Jonah Hill concentration camp drama (it makes sense in context, I promise). Also in attendance are Springfield's usual losers, including Gil, the Crazy Cat Lady, Kirk Van Houten and Groundskeeper Willie. After the movie, he finds Flanders closing up the Leftorium kiosk. Widowed and lonely, Flanders claims he is happy, but really can't keep it together. FINALLY. We know they killed off Edna from a few hints and the episode with the jackass replacement teacher, but we've barely acknowledged that Flanders has lost a second wife and is probably suffering deeply. Out of pity, Homer buys some left-handed items he doesn't need. Flanders is thrilled that he has a new best friend, which terrifies Homer into running away. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

Curled up on a bench, Homer reflects that he made others happy, but is still miserable. He cries himself to sleep. Jesus, this is the most depressing episode we've had in years. I love it.

Marge and the kids go to see Grampa, who is delighted to have visitors. All the old folks gather round to see Abe's family, and Marge doesn't have the heart to tell them they're just looking for Homer. (Why they think Homer is with his near-estranged father, I don't know.) They settle in for some rambling, casually racist stories. Meanwhile, Homer is awakened by a giant Nutcracker, who turns out to be a costumed mall security guard looking to kick Homer off the property. When he hears Homer's plight, he invites him to the mall employees' Christmas party. It's beautifully animated, I have to say. Really, aesthetically speaking, this episode is tops.

The rest of the Simpson family continues to search, this time in a neon sign store. Which happens to be in a mall. The store clerk directs her to the mall party, where Homer is having a great time with a bunch of people in terrible food costumes. They make up pretty quickly. The mall workers applaud. We finish with this year's Christmas message, "The Place to Get Drunk is At Home".

The next morning, Bart and Lisa go to open their presents, even though their parents aren't up yet. In fact, they're dozing peacefully upstairs. Even further upstairs, God (five fingers and all) gives a sullen Jesus a Christmas gift, and tries to pretend it isn't a combo Christmas/birthday gift.

Over the end credits, we get a preview of the next episode, airing January 4th. Looks like the Simpsons are going to outer space, and Kang and Kodos won't be limited to the Halloween special this year. Which the show lampshades mercilessly, of course.

Okay, season twenty-six decline aside, this was a great episode. Not the funniest, not the most original, but incredibly touching and well thought-out  - even nuanced. Standout scenes go to Marge at the old folks' home and Homer and Flanders rekindling their friendship. Remember when the show was vaguely realistic? When its appeal came from the strength of its characters and their world rather than a constant state of meta? That's what happened here. In fact, I'd even compare it to that long-ago Christmas special that started it all, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire". Sure, the quality was a bit meh, just like the pilot, but it had tremendous heart and drew you into the story. This episode just let the characters shine. It was enough. The show got a little nicer this year, a little less gimmicky, and we all benefited. This year, the writers and creative team behind the show gave us a great gift indeed.

 

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