I was first introduced to “The Simpsons” on December 17th, 1989 at the age of six, when I spent all day with my dad and brother visiting my grandparents for the Christmas season. After arriving in the evening to my aunt’s house, my dad ensured we’d be there a while and I sat down with my big cousin to watch “The Simpsons” special “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” Little did I know this simple yellow skinned family of underdogs and losers would become one of the biggest comedic and creative influences of my life. It’s a show that’s stuck with me well in to my thirties, and it all started “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.”
It took me years until I learned that “The Simpsons” was actually a spin off from a live action comedy show called “The Tracey Ullmann Show.” While the series itself ended up only lasting a season, the animated segments “The Simpsons” spun off in to a series. And you know the saying: The rest is history.
I loved “Simpsons Roasting on An Open Fire,” hell we all did. My cousins and I sat and watched, laughing constantly at the antics of this unusual family, and rooted for their father Homer to succeed at getting his children gifts for Christmas. Sure, he was loud, rough around the edges, and kind of dumb, but he really loved his family. That’s one of the reasons why “The Simpsons” has remained so prevalent in pop culture. Despite the brilliant writing, and goofy characters, the show has always had a big heart underneath every episode of the series, and “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” is not afraid to be heartfelt.
“The Simpsons” had an almost immediate influence on its entire audience creating dialogue you could quote for hours. My cousins and me would mimic the “Ow! Quit it!” moment from the special where Lisa and Maggie keep poking Bart’s freshly scarred arm after he had a tattoo surgically removed.
The Simpsons are about to have the perfect Christmas, as Homer is preparing the Christmas decorations, and is anxiously awaiting the Christmas bonus from his boss Mr. Burns at the power plant he works in. Sadly, Homer discovers that he will not be receiving his bonus for the year, and now has to rely on the family’s emergency money for gifts for the children. Just his luck, his bratty son Bart stops off at the mall tattoo parlor to one he wants for the holidays.
When Marge discovers it, she has to spend the money on removing the tattoo from Bart’s arm. The sad dilemma is that Homer is relying on the Emergency money, and doesn’t know Marge spent it on Bart; as well Marge is now relying on Homer’s bonus, and has no idea that he didn’t receive the bonus for the year. “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” is the unconventional tale centering on the holidays, and sets its sights on the inherent bad luck the family suffers day in and day out.
Homer, though envious and petty in his rivalry with neighbor Flanders, still feels like a disappointment, and scrambles to earn money for the holiday celebrations. Homer has to suffer through a training course to become the local Mall’s new Santa, and has to endure dozens of obnoxious kids for the sake of claiming his pay. In one instance, he even eats a donut off of a child’s hand, after spending many hours working. After Bart pulls a prank on Homer (unaware he’s a mall Santa) he’s let in on Homer’s desperate attempts to make his family happy for the holidays.
“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” took the very unique step of endearing us to the Simpsons family, before making us laugh, as it begins on a down to Earth and comical note. Homer and Marge are suffering through a Christmas pageant at Springfield Elementary where they’re forced to listen to their children Bart and Lisa perform Christmas carols. This gives us a clear idea of the characters, especially young Bart Simpson, as he sings “Jingle Bells” in his own satirical verses “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, Robin Laid an Egg, the Batmobile Lost its Wheel, and the Joker Got Away–!”
Suffice to say we at school sang that song a thousand times a day, and giggled every single time. Bart truly was a menace when the Simpsons stormed America. The special props up many future character arcs, with Bart being bratty, and Lisa being unconventional. During the gallery of various nationalities’ Santa, she plays a South Seas’ Santa, performing a tribal dance, and of course,
Maggie watches with her trusty pacifier. The episode is filled with laughs, and gags that would become recurring jokes for years (including Homer’s obnoxious sister in laws, and his rivalry with his upright Christian neighbor Flanders). “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” ends as a tale of Homer and The Simpsons, a perpetual loser heading a group of underachievers, who finds solace in another loser; the other loser of course being “Santa’s Little Helper,” Bart’s best friend and pet Greyhound. “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” marks the first appearance of Bart’s future best friend, a losing greyhound who jumps in to the Homer’s arm for safety, and finds a home among five damaged but loving characters.
“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” is in the spirit of “The Grinch that Stole Christmas,” where a materialistic brood discovers that material goods matters nothing as long as you have family. Although they don’t have much during Christmas, the Simpsons find the joy in being with one another, and that in and of itself is a great gift.
Originally Published Dec 11, 2013 on Pop Optiq.