Episode 1: Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire
Director: David Silverman
Couch gag: None.
Synopsis: The Simpson family are preparing for Christmas. Marge has a stash of money stored in her hair to buy presents with and Homer is expecting a bonus from work. Bart wants a tattoo for Christmas and gets a heart with ‘Mother’ written in it, thinking this tattoo would be something Marge will appreciate. Marge is shocked and spends the family’s savings to get it removed. Homer doesn’t receive his Christmas bonus and starts working as a department store Santa in order to raise funds, but when the pay cheque isn’t as much as he hoped, he and Bart go to the dog track. Their punt comes in last and is rejected by the owner. Santa’s Little Helper becomes the family’s Christmas present.
First appearance* of:The Simpson family (Marge, Homer, Lisa, Bart and Maggie)
Principal Skinner (unnamed)
Patty & Selma
Ned Flanders and one of his sons (unnamed)
The Simpsons were one of the first families of the dysfunctional 90s, rebelling against the societal values of the previous decade (Glynn 1996). During the 1980s, television families were fully functional and everything was resolved nicely within half an hour. Think Family Ties and The Cosby Show. These shows resulted from political aspirations of the time: then-president Ronald Reagan cited Family Ties as his favourite television program (Haglund 2007). The Cosby Show was being criticised for not being realistic; nearly half of African-American families were living in poverty at the time (Hamamoto 1991 in Crawford 2009). Along came The Simpsons which showed some realism despite being an animated program. Creator Matt Groening deliberately showed the wear-and-tear of the Simpsons’ house, addressed issues such as scarcity of money and taking the Simpsons’ characteristics away from traditional animation: their eyes don’t pop, their jaws don’t hit the floor and anvils don’t squish their heads (Crawford 2009). In short, The Simpsons were breaking away from both functional family and functional America stereotypes.
This episode serves as the Christmas special and was the first full-length episode featuring the Simpson family. Although it was not first episode in production, it was the first shown and is therefore classed as the first episode of the series. For those unfamiliar with the Tracy Ullman Show (such as most people in Australia at the time), this episode was the very first introduction to the yellow-skinned family.
Crawford A 2009 ‘”Oh Yeah!” Family Guy as Magical Realism?’ Journal of Film and Video Volume 62 Issue 2 pp 52-69
Glynn K 1996 ‘Bartmania: The Social Reception of an Unruly Image’ Camera Obscura Vol13 Issue 2 pp 60-91
Haglund D 2007 ‘Reagan’s Favourite Sitcom: How Family Ties Spawned a Conservative Hero’ Slate
*first appearance in the series; some of these characters appeared in the Tracy Ullman shorts but for the purposes of this blog, we’re focusing on the series only.