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It takes real balls for a show to premiere with a Christmas episode. But the first episode of The Simpsons aired 25 years ago today, “Simpsons Roasting on An Open Fire” best known as the Santa’s Little Helper origin story. After rewatching it today, it is the perfect little capsule of the major relationships we still love today, even if their voices are a little bizzaro.
In the episode, Homer has to somehow earn extra money for Christmas presents after their savings is spent removing Bart’s new tattoo and Mr. Burns decides not to hand out Christmas bonuses. He gets a job as a mall Santa and earns $13 after all of the deductions for social security, unemployment insurance, Santa training, costume purchase, beard rental and Christmas club.
Then, under Barney’s influence, he decides to bet that money at the dog track on a lil pup named Santa’s Little Helper. He loses horribly, so when his owner throws him out into the track’s parking lot, he just has to be adopted by Homer and Bart. Can you imagine The Simpsons without Santa’s Little Helper? #DownWithLaddie
Throughout the episode we meet a few of the hundreds of side characters we have grown to love; Principal Skinner, Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Grandpa, Moe, Milhouse, Patty and Selma, Barney and a tattoo parlour guy who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Comic Book Guy.
We even get an introduction to the word D’oh!
It was actually an accident that The Simpsons started in December with a Christmas episode. The series was originally supposed to premiere in the fall of 1989 with “Some Enchanted Evening” but due to major problems with the animation of that episode, the series began with “Simpsons Roasting on An Open Fire”. The special earned two Emmy Award nominations.
Small things from this episode changed throughout the series, like Homer’s voice, the placement of their couch in the living room and where Patty & Selma live (not in Springfield apparently since Homer asks them how their trip was). The animation, although definitely not in HD, is closer to what it is now than what it was in Matt Groening’s animated contribution to The Tracey Ullman Show where the dysfunctional family first appeared. The episode had no opening sequence or couch gag, which premiered in the second episode, “Bart The Genius”.
But, it is in this episode where, looking back, you notice that not a lot has changed. The way Homer is immediately apologetic when he demands something from Marge. The way Flanders’ angelic perfection is so grating on Homer. The way Homer is more like one the kids than a parent when he pokes at Bart’s tattoo scar. Marge’s adorable contribution to the family Christmas letter, “Lisa got straight A’s and Bart… well, we love Bart.” Those relationships are still defined by those qualities even after 25 years.
Also, we must not forget when Lisa delivers THE MOST Lisa Simpson line of all time. After her aunt Patty is trashing Homer from being out late on Christmas Eve, Lisa says:
“Well, I wish that 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.”
The story telling frame of The Simpsons where the place that you end up has little to do with where you started, has become a test for a comedic writer’s ability. Shows like 30 Rock had some of their prospective writers provide a spec script of The Simpsons to prove their ability to hit comedic and plot beats. “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” is where this formula really began.
The Simpsons have since had memorable holiday episodes like “Miracle on Evergreen Terrance” and “She Of Little Faith”, but this one really laid the groundwork for everything that has come since. Plus, has there ever been anything more adorable than Maggie in that star shaped snow suit? No, there has not.
Happy 25th Birthday Simpsons fam!
Check out a marathon of The Simpsons Christmas episodes on Much in a Holiday Wrap Marathon, December 24 from 4E/1P to 6E/3P.