25 December 2012

The Long Halloween Vol. IV: Simpsons Edition - Marge Be Not Proud

Happy Christmas to all of you out there this fine December morning. Once again we are here to deliver to you the Long Halloween, our yearly look at the greatest Holiday Specials to pair with your marvelous festivities. This year we're taking a crack at an array of Simpsons episodes that match up with every holiday. There are plenty of great Simpsons Christmas episodes to choose from this day, including of course the very first episode, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" (S1;E1). The greatest Christmas episode, though, is "Marge Be Not Proud" (S7;E11).

I hated this episode when I first saw it, because I was 9 when I first saw it, and it's not the typically goofy episode that fills little kids with hilarity. There's a lot more to this episode, which deeply explores the relationship between Bart and Marge. Bart is tempted to acquire the latest, hottest video game for Christmas, Bonestorm, to the point where he appears to have no option but to steal it. He does so, is caught, and when Marge finds out it it's the worst kind of punishment - an air of tense, parental disappointment. Eventually Bart redeems himself by taking a nice picture of himself and giving it to her for Christmas.

It really touches on some great topics. There's the irrational childhood obsession with hot Christmas toys, but that really is just a way for the show to explore that mother / son dynamic. Bart generally treads a few lines between mischievous little boy, innocent child, and evil demonseed. He really runs that here, and part of the narrative tension here arises from his own shifting judgment of his stage in adulthood and the way it conflicts with Marge's judgment of just how innocent he is. It's heavy stuff for any kid to grasp, and while The Simpsons generally has some deep philosophy behind many of its themes, this episode lacks the coating of silliness that makes most narratives accessible, hence my dilemma as a 9-year old.

Still, looking back on it, there are some hilarious moments. There's Homer's riff on Police Academy movies, Thrillhouse, and Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge to name a few great moments. There's also Lawrence Tierney as Detective Don Brodka, who manages to be intimidating, wacky, and scary at the same time - really in perfect Simpsons fashion. Tierney is famed to be one of the scarier actors in Hollywood, and his voice works perfectly to put the fear into Bart.

What's great is that the other characters in this story really take a back seat to Marge and Bart's relationship. Lisa is really pushed to the background though she has a great line about not getting a Christmas Eve present the way Bart does. Homer, too, is almost only used for jokes, really surmised with his yokel "Get 'im, ma!" towards the end of the episode. This allows Bart and Marge to do the heavy emotional lifting while everything else gives what it can for that goofy dressing we love so much.

It's an intriguing episode and difficult to get through, but ultimately a heartwarming story with plenty of good jokes along the way. It all comes together for a spectacular Christmas time.

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