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Recap / The Simpsons S1 E1 "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire"

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Marge: Isn't Bart sweet, Homer? He sings like an angel.
Bart: (close up) Oh, Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg. The Batmobile broke its wheel, and the Joker got awa- (cut off by Skinner pulling him off stage)

Original air date: 12/17/1989

Production code: 7G08

"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" (production code 7G08), also known as "The Simpsons Christmas Special", is the first full-length episode of The Simpsons to be aired, and the only one to air in The '80s, although it was originally produced as the eighth episode.

After going to the Springfield Elementary School Christmas pageant, Marge asks Lisa and Bart for their letters to Santa. Lisa wishes for a pony, while Bart instead wants a tattoo. When Marge, Lisa and Bart go shopping the next day, Bart slips away to the tattoo parlor and gets a tattoo that reads "mother". Counting on Homer's Christmas bonus, Marge spends the Christmas money getting the tattoo removed. However, at the Power Plant Mr. Burns announces that there will be no Christmas bonus for this year.

When Homer discovers that Marge has spent the Christmas money on removing Bart's tattoo, he decides not to worry the family by making them think that there might be no presents for the year, and so starts working as a Mall Santa. On Christmas Eve, Bart goes to the mall deciding to harass the fake Santa. When he pulls off the beard he discovers that the Santa is actually Homer.

Homer is paid less than he expected at the end of the day, and is convinced to go to the racing dog tracks. He bets all his money on a last-minute entry called Santa's Little Helper, who then loses. As they leave the track, Homer and Bart see the dog's owner abandon him for losing the race. Bart asks Homer if they can keep the dog as a pet, and Homer reluctantly allows him to. When Homer comes home, thinking he'll have to come clean, the family think that Santa's Little Helper is meant to be a present for the whole family and all is forgiven.

This episode contains examples of:

  • 13 Is Unlucky: Homer only receives $13 working as a mall Santa, and ends up blowing them all at Springfield Downs.
  • All Girls Like Ponies: Even the Wise Beyond Their Years Lisa is still very much a little girl, as seen when she asks Santa for a pony in her letter.
  • Always Someone Better: The Running Gag of Homer always being bested by Ned Flanders begins here, first with their Christmas decorations (Homer put up a few malfunctioning lights, while Ned put an elaborate display complete with animatronic Santa), then when they run into each other and drop each others' gifts (Homer's were in a single bag, while Ned had multiple well-wrapped packages).
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Santa's Little Helper's former owner. He is shown yelling at the dog for "coming in last for the last time". He even throws a rock at the poor dog and yells "Don't come back!". And that's just what we, the audience, actually see of the abuse.
  • Beehive Hairdo: Used as a minor plot-point, as Marge's 'do is where she hides the jar of Christmas money from the rest of the family.
  • Body Wipe: With Bart, as he, along with Lisa, runs over to Homer after escaping Selma and Patty's smothering.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: This episode has all of the Christmas tropes like the tangled-up Christmas lights, the next door neighbor who puts your lights to shame, crowded malls with overworked Santas and bored elves and taking your son to a dog racing track.
  • Characterisation Click Moment: Lisa's Wise Beyond Their Years speech to Patty about how trashing Homer in front of her could have a negative influence on her development. It's the first big break from her characterization in the Tracey Ullman Show shorts, where she effectively functioned as a lesser Bart.
  • Children Are Innocent: One kid at the mall patiently listens to Homer grouse about "Mrs. Claus's sisters" visiting and giving him grief. She says she hopes he feels better soon, which he appreciates.
  • Christmas Episode: The episode revolves around the Simpsons celebrating Christmas (or trying to, with Homer having to find ways to get the extra cash needed to get presents and whatnot). An odd example of the Christmas special being the first (full-length) episode (although it's actually eighth in production order).
  • Daddy's Girl: When Aunt Patty calls Homer a screw-up, Lisa pipes up that she shouldn’t talk that way about her father in front of her. Lisa goes on to explain how she is supposed to look up to her father at her age, and she doesn’t want her image of him to be ruined. Aunt Patty looks stunned for a brief moment, then tells Lisa lamely to go back to watching her cartoons.
  • Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Nixon: The Trope Namer. When Homer is being tested on the reindeer roll call when in Santa school, he accidentally says "Nixon" instead of Vixen and "Donna Dixon" instead of Donner and Blitzen.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Lisa's letter to Santa. She requests a pony six times on her list. That's how much she really wants one.
  • Description Cut: Marge says that Homer and Bart went caroling. Cut to Bart singing "We're in the Money" with Barney at Springfield Downs.
  • Didn't Think This Through: When Homer is told Santa’s Little Helper’s odds are 99:1, he sees only one of the implications: that 99 times his $13 bet would make a Merry Christmas for his family ($1,287 to be precise, not bad even by today’s standards). However, this ignores the other implication: Santa’s Little Helper needs to win for Homer to get that payout, and with 99:1 odds against, such a win is highly unlikely.
  • Dragged by the Collar: After Bart gets his tattoo, Marge grabs his arm and drags him off to the dermatologist.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Waylon Smithers' voice can be heard over the PA loudspeaker at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, although he won't be seen in person for another two episodes.
  • Early Installment Character-Design Difference:
    • Moe has black hair instead of grey, and his tavern has a different interior too.
    • Barney has blonde hair and a different burp.
    • Sherri and Terri are depicted with brown hair and yellow skin, as opposed to their lavender hair and eerie paleness.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Homer is actually relatively competent at his job, at least compared with later episodes. He also tries to teach Bart about the satisfaction of getting paid for a job well done. It's also rather jarring just how seriously he takes the lack of a Christmas bonus, and how worried he is about the family not being disappointed. Homer's more familiar later self would probably not think very hard about it until the rest of the family expressed its concern.
    • Todd Flanders acts more like a regular boy here instead of a caricature of Christian upbringing he would later become.
    • Mr. Burns has a different voice, and his office also looks different.
    • Barney refers to Homer as "Simpson", implying that they don’t know each other well. They would later be established as having been friends since high school.
    • Patty and Selma do not live in Springfield and are staying with the family over Christmas. They mention that they just got into town and while on the phone Patty talks about coming to see Marge for the first time in a while.
    • Lisa's personality is somewhat different from the later episodes;
      • Although Lisa is starting to show the advanced intelligence that now characterizes her, she still has the mischievous streak she showed in The Tracey Ullman Show shorts, as evidenced with her joining Bart in making teasing remarks during the sing-along in the end. This episode also aired before Lisa's environmentalist trait kicked in, evidenced by her sheer joy in the snow-melting resolution to the Happy Little Elves Christmas special.
      • Lisa's also shown as still believing in Santa Claus while Bart doesn't; in future episodes, Depending on the Writer it would either be the other way around, or they would disbelieve in Santa's existence for different reasons (Bart because he's older and more cynical than Lisa, and Lisa because she'd be smart enough to do the math and realise that it'd be logistically impossible for Santa to exist).
    • When we're introduced to Mr. Largo, he shows enthusiasm while introducing Lisa in her class's "Santas of Many Lands" presentation. This contradicts every subsequent appearance where he hates his job and stifles Lisa's creativity every chance he gets. This episode doesn't have the standard opening sequence which includes Mr. Largo's signature role: kicking Lisa out of class for adding a flourish to her saxophone solo.
    • Ralph Wiggum has a different, deeper voice, and doesn't seem as stupid as in his later appearances. He might just be reciting his lines in the presentation, but even that would be beyond the Ralph we come to know.
    • Ned Flanders isn't the "everything-is-religious" extremist we imagine him being today. Of course he and his family are shown celebrating Christmas, but all their decorations are of secular Christmas characters (like Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer). In the early episodes, Flanders was just a nice, church-going man who had a beautiful wife and well-behaved children (which made Homer jealous of him). Then came the, well, Flanderization of Flanders and the rest is history.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Homer does everything he can to make sure the family has a merry Christmas.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • When we're introduced to Bart in the series proper, he sings the "Batman smells" variant of "Jingle Bells".
    • Lisa does a Polynesian dance at the school program, showing her more artistic side. Her intelligence and precociousness is later demonstrated by her eloquently telling off her Aunt Patty for badmouthing Homer, also establishing her as a loving Daddy's Girl.
  • Eternal Recurrence: Al Jean has said on Twitter that if he had to end the series, he'd end it with the family driving to the Christmas show at the start of this episode. Having the Simpsons live in an endless loop as the show will be endlessly repeated on TV.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Homer didn't want to go to the dog track, as he thought it would be sleazy to take Bart there on Christmas.
  • Expy Coexistence: Just before the second commercial break, Bart tells Homer that miracles always happen on to everyone on Christmas Eve, citing The Smurfs as an example. Just after the second commercial break, the rest of the Simpson family is seen watching the Christmas special for The Happy Little Elves, the series' Captain Ersatz of The Smurfs.
  • Fantasy Pantheon: The foreign Santa Clauses that Lisa and Ralph play in the Christmas show were made up for this episode.
  • First-Episode Twist: The episode ends with Santa's Little Helper running away from his owner and becoming the Simpson family's pet. This is now a well-known fact about the franchise.
  • Foreshadowing: One of the really cheap gifts that Homer buys for Christmas is a dog's squeak toy for Maggie. By the end of the episode, the Simpsons adopt a real dog who can actually use the squeak toy.
  • Gift of the Magi Plot: Can be interpreted as this: when Homer hears that he won't be receiving a bonus, he says, "Thank God for the big jar," and Marge spends all the Christmas money not knowing that Homer didn't receive his bonus.
  • Hammerspace Hair: Marge hides the money jar inside her beehive hairdo.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Barney comes into the bar boasting of his Mall Santa job. When Homer asks if he could get such a job, Barney says they're very selective.
  • Imagine Spot: When he spots the "Mother" tattoo, Bart imagines Marge saying what a wonderful thing that she would appreciate. He's quite surprised by her real reaction to him getting a tattoo.
  • Internal Reveal: While playing Santa, Homer tells Bart that he didn't get his Christmas bonus. Later, when they return late from the dog tracks, Homer confesses to the rest of the family and apologizes for letting them down. But it doesn't matter, since they got a dog for Christmas much to everyone's joy.
    Marge: God bless him.
  • Irony: When Bart sits on Homer's lap, Homer announces himself as "Jolly Old St. Nick" in an angry tone of voice. For context though, it's because he's getting frustrated with Bart trolling him (unaware that's his father dressed as Santa).
  • It's All Junk: Homer attempts to cut corners in Christmas shopping, optimistic the kids will find joy in discount items like dog toys and drawing paper. He then bumps into Flanders who has bought tons of lavish gifts for his family. After he leaves, Homer looks at the cheap crap he bought his family and sheds a Single Tear.
  • I "Uh" You, Too: After hearing the whole story, Bart quite sincerely says that Homer must really love the family to put himself through all this. An embarrassed Homer suggests they not dwell on this mushy stuff and instead get back to the matter at hand.
  • Jerkass: Bart, against his own mother's wishes (and illegally, due to him lying about his age), gets a tattoo, necessitating a tattoo removal that drained all of Marge's savings.
  • Kick the Dog: Santa's Little Helper's original owner disowns him for losing the race, even throwing a rock at him. It all causes the dog to run right into the arms of Homer.
  • Licked by the Dog: After losing a race, Santa's Little Helper is chased off by his angry owner and jumps into the arms of Homer (who lost all his money betting on him).
    Bart: Aw, can we keep him, Dad? Please!
    Homer: But he's a loser! He's pathetic! He's... (the dog licks him and Homer smiles) a Simpson.
  • Mall Santa: Homer becomes one half-way through the episode in order to help pay for Christmas after he doesn't get his Christmas bonus. Barney is also one, though we never see him in action.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Because they think so little of him, Patty and Selma express certainty that Homer is running late because he's with another woman and will come home smelling of cheap perfume.
  • Mr. Exposition: Marge narrating her Christmas letter serves to help get first-time viewers up to speed on each main family member.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Patty and Selma make their first appearance and their roles as the snobby overbearing in-laws.
    Bart and Lisa: Dad, we're so glad to see you! You're finally home!
    Homer: What? Why? (sees Patty and Selma) Oh, yeah.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Having already lost out on his bonus, Homer, when he sees that Marge's savings jar is empty.
      Homer: We're ruined. Christmas is cancelled. No presents for anyone!
    • And again, when Marge suggests using Homer's Christmas bonus, which he didn't get.
    • Bart when he learns the Mall Santa he's been trolling is his own father.
  • One-Book Author: The only Simpsons episode written by Mimi Pond, a cartoonist and writer who was a friend of Matt Groening.
  • Popcultural Osmosis Failure: Homer is convinced by Bart's Rousing Speech (which references a few notable fictional characters), but he has no idea who Tiny Tim is.
  • Rapid-Fire Interrupting: When Homer confronts the clerk upon receiving his wage of thirteen dollars, he keeps getting interrupted as she lists off the deductions.
  • Rousing Speech: Homer refuses Barney's offer to bet their meager paychecks at the dog track, but Bart convinces him to not give up hope.
    Bart: Aw, c'mon, Dad, this could be the miracle that saves the Simpsons' Christmas. If TV has taught me anything, it's that miracles always happen to poor kids at Christmas. It happened to Tiny Tim, it happened to Charlie Brown, it happened to the Smurfs, and it's gonna happen to us!
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sickeningly Sweet: Abe's in-universe reaction to the Happy Little Elves.
    Abe: Unadulterated pap.
  • Song Parody: Bart sings the classic Playground Song version of "Jingle Bells" that includes Batman.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: When Homer learns that one of the dogs in the race is being replaced with one named "Santa's Little Helper", he takes the dog's name as a sign of a Christmas Miracle and decides to bet on him. Santa's Little Helper winds up finishing dead last as projected by the oddsmakers and Homer loses all of his money.
  • Tempting Fate: Marge twice in the first act.
    • Right after she comments that Bart "sings like an angel", he sings "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells".
    • After looking at Lisa's list where she requests a pony several times, she believes Bart's will be more realistic. Then, she sees a tattoo as one of his wish list items.
    • At the mall, Marge asks where Bart is. She then hears him screaming inside the tattoo parlor.
  • Titled After the Song: The episode's title is a reference to "The Christmas Song", also known as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire".
  • Touché:
    Milhouse: Get a load of that quote-unquote "Santa".
    Lewis: I can't believe those kids are falling for it.
    Bart: Hey Milhouse, I dare you to sit on his lap.
    Milhouse: Oh yeah? Well, I dare you to yank his beard off.
    Bart: Ah, touché!
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Homer not getting his Christmas bonus and Bart's tattoo removal, leading to no money for presents.
  • Vapor Wear: Lisa is seen dancing whilst wearing a grass skirt, with seemingly nothing under it. The creators said that she's wearing a skin-colored suit, but you can see her individual toes.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Zig zagged with Bart. He scoffs at the notion of Santa Claus, as he knows there's only one fat guy that gets him and his sisters presents. However, thanks to TV, he sincerely believes in the idea of Christmas miracles and that the family will get one. Even so, he's not so idealistic as to believe that Santa's Little Helper has any chance of winning the race, and unsuccessfully tries to talk Homer out of betting on him.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years:
    Patty: Where's Homer anyway? It's so typical of the big doofus to spoil it all.
    Lisa: What, Aunt Patty?
    Patty: Oh, nothing, dear. I'm just trashing your father.
    Lisa: Well, I wish you wouldn't because, aside from the fact that he has the same frailties as all human beings, he's the only father I have. Therefore, he is my model of manhood, and my estimation of him will govern the prospects of my adult relationships. So I hope you bear in mind that any knock at him is a knock at me, and I am far too young to defend myself against such onslaughts.
    Patty: Mm hm. Go watch your cartoon show, dear.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Homer spends what little money he has on the dog track in a last-ditch effort to afford Christmas gifts for the family. Homer ignores Barney's advice and chooses the last-minute addition, Santa's Little Helper, believing the name to be a sign of a Christmas miracle despite the dog's horrible track record. Ultimately, Santa's Little Helper comes dead last, the Christmas miracle doesn't happen, and Barney's pick ends up winning the race. And this is in the very first episode! However, the family gets a happy ending after all when the track owner fires Santa's Little Helper and the Simpsons get to take him home as a pet.
    Bart: It doesn't seem possible, but I guess TV has betrayed me.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Homer and the other "semi-skilled workers" are told mere days before Christmas that they won't be getting their bonuses.