First Aired - 11/22/1990
The definitive Thanksgiving episode and the only true one in Simpsons' history is Bart vs. Thanksgiving, where Bart learns the meaning of the holiday, remorse and forgiveness after getting into a fight with his family and running away from home.
It is Thanksgiving Day, and Homer is watching Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on TV. Lisa is meticulously assembling a centerpiece to place on the family dinner table (with a little help from Maggie), while Marge is busy cooking and preparing for the guests Patty, Selma, Jacqueline and Grampa. Bart is basically getting in everyone's way. Later, as the guests assemble at the table, Lisa brings in the centerpiece and proudly shows it off, just as Bart brings in the turkey. When Bart tries to jockey for position in placing the turkey platter, he gets into an argument with Lisa about where her centerpiece should be set, resulting in a fight and, in the middle of the ruckus, the centerpiece lands inside the fireplace and instantly is destroyed in the flames. Lisa is devastated and runs to her room in tears, while Bart refuses to accept responsibility. An angry Marge with Homer (in a rare move) backing her up sends Bart to his room without dinner, and declares that because of him, "you ruined Thanksgiving!"
Bart is told that if he can legitimately apologize and mean it, he will be allowed to dinner, but a stubborn Bart is convinced that he has done nothing wrong and that Lisa was to blame. Scoffing at the directive and thinking he doesn't have to take his punishment, Bart decides he's going to show his family a thing or two by running away. Santa's Little Helper, who had been thrown out of the house, decides to join Bart as they wander through town. Bart first stops at a house that happens to be Mr. Burns' mansion, where he tries to swipe a freshly baked pie but is run off by Burns' bloodthirsty hounds. Later, after donating plasma at a local paid-donor blood bank (that happened to be open on Thanksgiving Day) for $12 cash, Bart passes out on the streets in a run-down part of Springfield. When he awakens is greeted by two street bums who bring him to a community Thanksgiving dinner for the less fortunate. There, Kent Brockman is preparing to do an insincere, self-serving commentary about the holiday and how society treats the poor and needy; during his live commentary, he interviews Bart, who claims he's homeless and "didn't apologize." Homer and Marge see the report and call the police, admitting to officers their fear that they may have been too harsh with Bart.
Meanwhile, Bart and the two homeless urchins begin to have a conversation, where Bart seeing that his two new friends have no family or anything else admits he has a family that loves and cares for him, and that he has plenty to be thankful for. He begins to feel remorseful and, after giving his $12 to the bums, decides to go home dejected and realizing he may have learned something about the meaning of the holiday Thanksgiving.
Upon returning home, he hesitates going inside after envisioning his family blaming him for everything. But when he hears Lisa crying in her room and conceding defeat, Bart calls her outside and after some initial struggles apologizes. Homer and Marge are relieved that all is okay between the two, and the Thanksgiving holiday at the Simpsons is saved. The episode ends with the family enjoying leftovers in the kitchen, with Homer thanking God for giving them "one more crack at togetherness".
This episode contains examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Marge's, Patty's and Selma's mother, Jacqueline. As soon as she arrives, she tells Marge she never does anything right. And when Bart gets sent to his room, she tells Marge that she's sorry she came at all.
- Adult Fear: Both Homer and Marge are terrified once they realise that Bart ran away from home with Homer himself asking if they will ever see him again.
- Adults Are Useless: When Bart and Lisa fight over the centerpiece, and then Bart throws said centerpiece into the fire, the adults just sit and watch—with Grampa even getting excited watching it. It isn't until after Lisa runs away crying that Marge and Homer come down hard on Bart, when it's too late to deescalate the situation.
- Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: At the end of the episode, when Bart finally apologizes for wrecking Lisa's centerpiece and she happily accepts it. She kisses his cheek, and Marge and Homer listen through the vent and remark that they are good parents.
- Brick Joke: A rather dark one. Homer is shown failing to light the fireplace earlier in the episode. When Lisa's centerpiece ends up thrown into there, it instantly sets the whole thing in flames.Abe: Hey, that got her going.
- Canine Companion: When Bart sneaks out of the house, he lets Santa's Little Helper tag along, sympathizing with him after he gets kicks out for his own misbehavior of snatching Homer's drumstick.
- Characterization Marches On: While she wasn't exactly the warmest of people in her subsequent appearances (especially towards her son-in-law and for the episodes that she actually appears), here Mrs. Bouvier is a Jerkass towards almost the entire family, even tells her youngest daughter that she never does anything right.
- Homer is also downright cordial towards Patty and Selma, even giving them both a kiss on the cheek. For their part, the two sisters are far nastier to Marge's face than usual. While they're not above bullying her, she's usually the only person they tolerate.
- Chekhov's Gun: At first, Lisa's centerpiece just appears to be part of the montage illustrating the Simpson family's dynamics of preparing for a Thanksgiving dinner with no more importance to the story than Marge cooking the food or Homer watching Macy's parade....but it ends up driving the entire plot of the episode.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Lisa tells Bart to look deep inside himself and see why he should apologize.Bart: Okay, okay. Lookin' for the spot. Still checking. This is so stupid. I'm not gonna find anything. Just because I wrecked something she worked really hard on and I made her cry—uh-oh.
- Forgiveness: The major theme of this episode is about Bart knowing remorse and what it's like to forgive.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: Bart tossing Lisa's centerpiece into the fire was no accident. If one pauses the scene at the right moment, he is seen smiling evilly as it gets thrown into the fire. Of course, there's no way he'd knew that would set the fire.
- Heel Realization: This is what finally gets Bart to apologize to Lisa. Though it takes Lisa badgering him to finally realize it.
- Hypocrite: The adults don't step in when Bart tries to move Lisa's centerpiece, nor try to save it when he throws it into the fire, but are quick to come down on him once it's destroyed.
- Imagine Spot: Bart has one as he's about to return home, thinking the family will blame him for everything if he apologizes.
- It's All My Fault: Bart hears Lisa crying in her room telling herself that she can't help but feel responsible for Bart running away. Homer and Marge also feel this way looking back at the nasty things they said.Marge: Homer, this is a terrible thing that's happened, but we can't blame ourselves. Children need discipline.Homer: We can and we will!
- Jerkass Has a Point: While Homer and Marge went too far for punishing Bart and declaring that "he ruined Thanksgiving" regretful or not, Bart did throw the centerpiece in the fireplace on purpose and without any remorse. Along with the fact that Marge has to deal with her sisters, her mother, and father-in-law, not to mention the preparation of the feast itself. One's patience can go so far, especially if one has Bart for a child.
- Just in Time: Bart escapes from Mr. Burns' attack dogs through the bushes just as they are nearing him.
- Kick the Dog:
- Homer has a literal case when he kicks Santa's Little Helper out of the house for swiping some food.
- When Bart was interviewed by Kent Brockman, he spitefully taunts his family on live television.
- After Homer's prayer about his dismay over the fight between Bart and Lisa, Patty then quips after he's finished, "Worst prayer yet."
- Legally Dead: Grampa Simpson says the retirement home will declare him dead and collect insurance money if he's not back by nine o'clock.
- Like Father, Like Son: Subverted. Abe says that Homer was never stubborn like Bart.Abe: He always folded instantly over anything. It was as if he had no will of his own. Isn't that true, Homer?
Homer: Yes, Dad.
- Loophole Abuse: Bart is forbidden from taking part in dinner until he apologizes for ruining Thanksgiving. As such, he runs away from home, stumbles across the homeless shelter's Thanksgiving dinner, and is allowed to have some. Or, as Bart puts it when he's featured on Kent Brockman's report on the homeless shelter:Bart: (with a plate of food, feeding some to Santa's Little Helper) Ha ha! I didn't apologize!
- Made Myself Sad: After calling himself the "boy nobody wanted", an excited Bart proceeds to look very downhearted.
- My God, What Have I Done?:
- The family has this when they find out Bart has run away. Homer and Marge in particular feel guilty for what they said to him, and Lisa breaks down in tears thinking she is responsible.
- Bart starts to feel remorse when he sees that he has more than the homeless men he had Thanksgiving dinner with and decides to go home. He changes his mind when he reaches the house thinking his family would scornfully mock him, but then a talk with Lisa causes him to realize how much he hurt her and he finally apologizes to her.
- Never My Fault: The driving force of the plot is Bart thinking he shouldn't apologize for what he did. In the end, it is reversed.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Dan Castellaneta's voice for one of the homeless men is an imitation of Bill Murray. Specifically, his Carl Spackler character.
- Off-Model: Kent Brockman, when leaving the homeless shelter. He looks more like Rainer Wolfcastle with white hair.
- Oh, Crap!: As far as everyone was concerned, Bart was still in his room, refusing to apologize for the incident at dinner. So naturally they are shocked to see Bart appear during Kent Brockman's report from the homeless shelter.
- Ordered Apology: This is the main reason why Bart ran away along seeing himself as a blameless victim.
- Pet the Dog:
- Literally. Bart is unambiguously nice to Santa's Little Helper, letting him tag along after he gets kicked out by Homer and sharing his meal at the homeless shelter with him.
- Later after observing the state of the real homeless during the holiday, he offers the twelve bucks he made from blood donations to the two that befriended him.
- Both Patty and Selma expressed concern when Bart isn't coming down the stairs to apologize.
- Rage Breaking Point:
- While it was rather harsh for Marge for declaring Bart that he ruined Thanksgiving, Marge was at her wit's end from dealing with her sisters, her mother, and her father-in-law, and the preparation for the feast itself. One can't be too hard on her, especially when her son is Bart.
- At the same time, however, Marge demanding that Bart apologize for what he did causes Bart to reach his point, prompting him to leave.
- Reality Ensues: Although Bart was able to fool the blood bank into thinking he was 18 (by using Homer's ID) to get $12 and a cookie, since he's only ten, he promptly faints upon leaving. And Santa's Little Helper eats the cookie himself.
- Recursive Canon: Probably one of the earliest examples of this trope, when Bart and Homer watch the Macy's Parade on TV, a Bart balloon can be seen, referencing the introduction of a real Bart balloon in that year's parade.Homer: If you start building a balloon for every flash-in-the-pan cartoon character, youll turn the parade into a farce.
- Rejected Apology: Bart's Imagine Spot where he begs and grovels for forgiveness but everyone mocks him instead as they blame him "for everything."
- The Runaway: Bart, primarily out of spite, opts to leave home when he is told he can only come back downstairs if he apologizes.
- Scape Goat: Bart imagines that everyone will blame him for everything from Homer being bald to America losing its way on him if he apologizes to Lisa.
- Something Completely Different: This has few laughs in it and the tone is more on par with what you would find in a less preachy Very Special Episode of a live-action sitcom.
- Special Guest: Greg Berg as Rory (a homeless man at the soup kitchen).
- Take That, Us: When watching the Macy's Parade on TV Homer tells Bart that you can't just introduce flash-in-the-pan cartoon characters willy nilly or you'll turn that parade into a farce. Immediately afterwards a Bart Simpson float can be seen on the TV.
- Thanksgiving Episode: While "Homer vs. Dignity"note and "Homer the Moe"note also have Thanksgiving in the plot, those episodes aired on Sunday instead of Thursday and had Thanksgiving shoehorned into the final act. This episode actually aired on Thanksgiving (which is on the fourth Thursday of November in America, while The Simpsons were competing with The Cosby Show on Thursdays. Canadian Thanksgiving is in October) and centered on a Thanksgiving meal gone bad. While many Thanksgiving episodes indeed are about ill-fated dinners, and there's plenty of in-jokes and gags, critics lauded this episode because it had actual sentiment and one of its central characters was enlightened about the meaning of the holiday (after he runs into two homeless men who have very little if anything).
- They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Mr. Burns who has a table of food that could feed people for months. He only eats a little of the slice of turkey and orders the rest to be thrown out, and is waiting for the pumpkin pie.
- Was Too Hard on Him: Homer and Marge feel this way when the police interview them about Bart. Lou and Eddie are clearly stunned themselves when Marge says she told Bart he ruined Thanksgiving.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Lou and Eddie are visibly shocked at Marge for telling Bart that he ruined Thanksgiving.
- You Answered Your Own Question: "Hello, operator! Get me the number for 911!"
- You Are Grounded: This is essentially what happens to Bart at the end of Act 1. The beginning of Act 2 has Bart feeling unloved and mistreated due to said grounding. The shot of Bart stating that he always gets blamed for everything while stewing in anger over what happened prior, sums up the whole notion of what being grounded is all about. In one single shot!