Depending on what one classifies as “a Christmas episode,” The Simpsons have had somewhere between a dozen and a dozen-and-a-half holiday specials in their 25 plus seasons. Some might be winter-themed and just contain a special message (Season 12’s “Skinner’s Sense of Snow) while others are an all-out Christmas extravaganza (Season 9’s “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace). There have also been varying levels of success with these shows. Sometimes one that’s a bit of a drag can be completely tanked by a festive theme; but on the other end of the spectrum, involving “the most wonderful time of the year” can be a big boost. Last year’s “White Christmas Blues” was a bit of a stinker, so I came into “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” with a cautiously optimistic attitude.
The episode began with Homer getting into an accident (which was actually a trap set by Moe) and stopping into the tavern for a drink. Feeling sorry for his favorite bartender, Homer stayed longer than expected, and arrived home quite late (& drunk). An angry Marge kicked him out, before eventually learning that Moe was actually responsible for the tardiness. However, Homer couldn’t be reached for an apology via his phone, and wandered off on A Christmas Carol-esque journey about the town. After seeing how bad the holiday can be for a lot of people, but some (including Flanders) can still stay positive, Homer was reunited with Marge having a new sense of appreciation for his family, and realizing, “The best place to get drunk is at home.”
In Case You Missed It:
1) Chalkboard gag: Reindeer meat does not taste like chicken.
2) The introduction was completely redone with a Christmas theme, and included: the phrase “Days Until Greek Orthodox Christmas” at the power plant, a Festivus reference courtesy of Comic Book Guy, Otto smoking (and tripping out on) a candy cane, an appearance by the Crazy Cat Lady (who also had a cameo in the actual episode), and a couch gag that began with: “Now for the obligatory Frozen reference.”
3) Homer accidentally called Mr. Burns “Mr. Scrooge.”
4) Marge was preparing “Pineapple Plopper Ham,” which featured a picture of Spiderpig/Harry Plopper on it.
5) The “Christmas Music Channel” selections included Hip Hop Hasannas, Country and Wenceslas, Norwegian Death Metal Holiday Hymns, and A Vin Scully Christmas.
6) Moe’s Tavern had a photo of the Be-Sharps which was the exact same one featured two weeks ago in Apu’s dressing room in “Covercraft.”
7) Marge’s gingerbread scene included Sideshow Bob stepping on a rake, a fantastic & obvious throwback to Season 5’s “Care Feare.”
8) A banner in front of a Springfield shop read: “Lego Simpsons 90% Off.”
9) This episode contained another sad tribute to Edna Krabappel/Marcia Wallace. The characters are doing a wonderful & touching job of illustrating how much the cast & crew really miss her.
10) When the Santa-dressed hobo vomited into his sack, it sounded a lot like, “Ho ho ho,” right?
What does a good Simpsons Christmas special need to succeed? First, it has to have heart. The viewer needs to feel something, and there almost certainly needs to be some sort of moral or lesson or meaning. If the holiday is simply used as a gimmick or the episode goes overboard, the whole thing can go up in flames. Second, the episode needs to be funny. Like I said before, this Christmas stuff can get heavy, so the audience needs to be laughing. Finally, the story needs to be entertaining. This isn’t a holiday exception, it’s just a universal fact. Point #2 doesn’t have to be true for every episode, Christmas or not, but #3 does.
“I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” gets a checkmark in every box. Yes, Marge flipped out quite a bit on Homer, and that’s not usually fun, but it was easy to get over. (Realistically speaking, she has put up with way more in the past and not reacted as badly, so this was kind of a stretch anyway.) And it had a message about family and togetherness or some shit, so all our heartstrings were tugged just the right amount.
As for the story, it managed to stay pretty entertaining. I personally thought they could have done a whole episode with Homer goofing around with Moe and blowing off his family, and I would have been plenty content, but this worked as well. Homer got to go on his spiritual journey (which is a formula that has worked well in the past) and there were a lot of amusing & familiar characters to greet him along the way. It was supposed to be meaningful and all that, but it never got too heavy or boring. The episode even poked fun at the show itself when it spoofed its own past usage of the neon sign stroll sequences.
But the greatest strength of “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” was the humor (props to Al Jean!). Based on the episode’s preview description (and even my summary above) it would appear as if this episode could have waded in the territory of taking itself too seriously. This would be almost impossible with the amount of jokes that ended up being contained in last night’s installment. The laughs came quite often (especially in the first half), as is clear from the bullet points above, and there were some great jabs at religion (“God! …I mean, ‘You!’”) too – a type of humor which I especially enjoy.
Was it a classic like “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Flame” or a laugh-fest like “Grift of the Magi”? Of course not. It was certainly no “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace” either. Heck, it wasn’t even “Homer vs. Dignity.” But dammit if it wasn’t great. Last year’s attempt was an easy act to follow, but even compared to a lot of the others, it was much better. Definitely moreso than any of the tri-storyline episodes.
I don’t want to get too hung up on comparisons, but with a limited number of Christmas shows in the series’ 561-episode library, it’s hard not to. Let’s just say this was a solid showing, and one that I would gladly throw on the TV during the holidays, and wouldn’t skip over at any other time of year. In fact, I’ll probably watch it again on or before December 25th. So there.
Happy holidays, everyone!