The Holiday season is upon once again, meaning The Simpsons have graced us with yet another Christmas episode. To celebrate, let’s take a look at past Christmas adventures with the Simpson family, and see which episodes stand the test of time, and which ones were yuletide disasters.
13. “Kill Gil Volumes 1 & 2” – Original Air Date; December 18, 2006
Okay, this is just really stupid. Things start out promising enough, with the Simpsons taking Ol’ Gil in for the holidays. Then, he stays way too long, and Marge goes insane but can’t say no to him. Then, he leaves before she gets a chance to, and Marge decides to travel all the way to Scottsdale to yell at him, costing him his job in the process. I can’t for the life of me figure out how this makes any sense. Of course, Marge feels bad, and buys a house from Gil to get him his job back, which makes even less sense. Really, this was just a whole lot of not making sense, and it’s easily the worst Christmas Simpsons episode.
12. “The Fight Before Christmas” – Original Air Date: December 5, 2010
A disjointed collection of stories centered around the concept of Marge being angry on Christmas Eve. This one just doesn’t really fit into anything coherent, with the only strong segment being Bart attempting to kill Santa Claus. Elsewhere, Marge fighting Nazis in an Inglorious Basterds parody falls flat, while Marge’s rivalry with Martha Stewart is super-predictable. Oh, and the bit with Katy Perry and the Muppet Simpsons at the end was just a bad idea.
11. “Simpsons Christmas Stories” – Original Air Date: December 11, 2005
This was right around the point where all the three-part episodes The Simpsons were doing started to really get tiresome. There just isn’t enough time to tell a story, so things tend to get rushed. The opening scene tells the story of the Nativity, but frankly, Family Guy did it better, and the appearance of Dr. Nick was the only thing I enjoyed. Grampa’s story about his lost war buddy is interesting, but it deserved a full episode. Really, the only truly good thing here was the final segment, which is presented entirely as a poem. Overall, though, a fairly forgettable Christmas episode. To be honest, before I started putting this together, I barely remembered it.
10. “White Christmas Blues” – Original Air Date: December 15, 2013
The idea of Marge opening a bed and breakfast for everyone, and then being taken advantage of makes sense, and is actually a much better iteration of the plot of “Kill Gil Volumes 1 & 2.” Likewise, the saga of Lisa buying Christmas gifts that she subconsciously knew the family wouldn’t is an interesting and revealing development for her character. So, why not put this one higher? Well, it just isn’t all that funny, with Homer mistaking his gift for weed being the only thing that registered more than a chuckle. Solid characterization, but more jokes would have been nice.
9. “I Won’t Be Home For Christmas” – Original Air Date: December 7, 2014
This year’s Christmas episode had a solid emotional core, as it’s hard not to feel bad for Homer as he wanders through the mall on Christmas Eve after Marge kicks him out for coming home late. Still, there’s some unignorable plot holes here — why couldn’t Homer just tell Marge what happened? Better yet, why not just call her at Moe’s and explain the situation? He has a cell phone, right? And if he doesn’t, we know there’s phone at the bar after all those prank phone calls. This was a nice episode with some genuinely sweet moments, but in order to fully enjoy it, you have to ignore some really questionable plot developments.
8. “She Of Little Faith” – Original Air Date: December 16, 2001
The idea of Lisa ditching Christianity for Buddhism is a nice enough concept, but they don’t start exploring it until the third act, and the storyline feels a bit lacking. The opening scenes with Homer and Bart building a rocket are fun (especially the “pie pants” joke), but they take away time that could have been spent further explaining Lisa’s decision to become a Buddhist. Like, why does she leave Christianity in the first place? Doesn’t she just have a problem with one particular church, and not the religion as a whole? Not a bad episode, but it really should have spent more time on the main story.
7. “Skinner’s Sense Of Snow” – Original Air Date: December 17, 2000
There’s a pretty obvious formula for chaos here — trap Skinner and the kids in the school as a giant snowstorm hits, and watch things quickly lead to rebellion and anarchy. The best bit here was the awful Christmas film Skinner shows the students, particularly when an elf walks on the screen, says “I’m happy,” and walks off. The scenes of the kids taking over the school are a bit predictable, but funny nonetheless. Plus, who doesn’t love hallucinating Homer and his ranch dressing hose?
6. “Tis The Fifteenth Season” – Original Air Date: December 14, 2003
An underrated and hilarious episode from one of the later seasons. First off, all the different versions of A Christmas Carol that Homer watches are great, particularly the Star Trek one. Best of all, though, we get an excellent subversion of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, in which Homer steals everyone’s presents, and the town forms an angry mob. If you ever thought the ending of everyone holding hands and singing even though they have no presents was a load of crap, this is the episode for you.
5. “Holidays Of Future Passed” – Original Air Date: December 18, 2011
Considering there had already been three future episodes at this point, “Holidays Of Future Passed” had to do a lot just to justify its existence. Thankfully, it was up to the task, as this is one of the best late-period Simpsons episodes. The stories of Bart’s sad life, Maggie giving birth, and Lisa’s divorce from Milhouse all resonate. Naturally, things end happily with everyone having a Merry Christmas. This one showed us that even 30 years in the future, the Simpsons family wouldn’t be all that different, and we would still care about them.
4. “Miracle On Evergreen Terrace” – Original Air Date: December 21, 1997
The most underrated Christmas episode, in my view anyway. As with “Marge Be Not Proud,” Bart screws up big time just before Christmas, but this time, it’s played strictly for laughs, as the family has to keep up the charade that a burglar stole all their presents (“Hello jerk. We may never find you, and we should all probably stop looking. But one things for sure, you do exist.”). Plus, we get Marge’s ill-fated appearance on Jeopardy (“she ain’t gettin’ the home version!”), and one of the best Drunk Homer lines ever: “Yeah, you’re right Moe. You’re always Moe.”
3. “Marge Be Not Proud” – Original Air Date: December 17, 1995
Depending on your perspective, the idea of Bart wondering if Marge still loves him after he’s caught shoplifting could either be seen as heartwarming or schmaltzy (hasn’t Bart done worse things in previous episodes?). But in any event, this is certainly a hilarious episode, with the great Allan Sherman bit (“Marge, is Lisa at Camp Grenada?”), as well as the immortal slogan “Buy me Bonestorm or go to hell!” Plus, it’s hard not to get a little choked up at the final scene, with Bart giving Marge her Christmas present, and Marge finally making up with him. Oh, and Bart playing Lee Carvallo’s Putting challenge over the end credits is great, too. A well-deserved classic.
2. “Grift of The Magi” – Original Air Date: December 19, 1999
I know it’s a bit surprising to have this ahead of the beloved “Marge Be Not Proud,” but it’s just so damn funny, I had no choice. First off, Gary Coleman’s cameo appearance is hilarious (“let’s just say he’s a few prawns short of a galaxy”), and the entire concept of Funzo is fantastic, particularly when he starts destroying other toys. Oh, and don’t forget the play the kids put on for Mr. Burns (“I never liked that Dr. Stupid!”). While “Proud” has greater emotional resonance, this was just too funny for it not to get the #2 spot.
1. “Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire” – Original Air Date: December 17, 1989
The original takes the cake this time around. This episode combines the dark realities of the Simpsons’ lower-middle class existence with tons of great jokes. The scene with Homer buying cheap gifts for the family is sad, but also pretty funny, especially the exchange with Flanders (“they’re all yours!”). Of course, things work out in the end, with the arrival of #8…. I mean Santa’s Little Helper saving the day, but this episode was unafraid to show us the harsh reality of a family trying to afford Christmas, while also bringing the jokes. And hey, who can forget “Jingle bells/Batman smells/Robin laid an egg.”