Hey, guess what? The Simpsons found something new to parody: bog-standard Christmas movies. You know the type because you’re almost certain to have filled your eyeballs with them three months ago, since Netflix realised people will watch literally anything with ‘Christmas’ in the title. Typically, they involve a hard-hearted person being melted by the Christmas spirit in a chocolate box town somewhere in America. And in this episode, ambitious producer Mary Tannenbaum (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Ellie Kemper, playing against type) is that hard-hearted person and Springfield is the unlikely chocolate box town. Why? Because, as Heartmark Films’ boss explains, it’s the only town left that still passes for Canada passing as America. The only problem? It’s the middle of summer, and Homer is in charge of supplying the fake snow.
Now, here’s the weird thing. On July 31 last year, Nashville’s WKRN ran a report about how the town of Springfield, Tennessee was buzzing with news that the Lifetime Network was coming to make a Christmas film there, with filming due to begin on August 3. Just as in Springfield, the locals were excited to help out with decorations. Like TV’s Springfield, the Tennessee namesake has numerous claims to fame. “About two years ago, Tim McGraw filmed over there at Vintage Whimsy, which is right across the street,” said Sari Lawrence. “Then, there was the movie that was filmed quite some time ago back in the ’80s, I think it was a Western film. They brought in dirt, so it’s really exciting.”
Given the episode originally aired in the US on December 13, 2020, it’s safe to assume it was scripted considerably before July 31. So what’s the message? Confirmed proof that The Simpsons DOES predict the future? Or simply that life often throws up odd but incredibly inconsequential coincidences*. You decide!
*(it’s this one)
A crew arrives in Springfield to film a low-rent Christmas movie and the townspeople muck in, not least Homer and Marge, who Airbnb their Evergreen Terrace home out to crew. The film’s Christmas-hating producer finds her own Mr Darcy in the form of Seymour Skinner; shame she’s engaged to a mean surgeon back in the city.
What was good
An original-ish idea and a nice meta narrative in which the melty Christmas stuff happens to new character Mary Tannenbaum and Skinner. Not quite so melty, but laugh-out-loud funny, is Homer’s recipe for fake snow, which involves mincing up mattress stuffing, mayonnaise and one of the letters from the Springfield Sign. This is the first episode credited to newcomer Jessica Conrad, who cut her teeth writing for SNL, and the influx of new blood is clearly working – this is an unusually sharp latter-day episode with on-point satire of a specific type of cynically made televisual guff.
It’s good to see new characters pop up in Springfield, but it’s weird when the plot treats them as chief protagonist. It’s a bit like staging a nativity play that goes deep on the Innkeeper.
Best new character
The movie’s director is one of those amusingly unscrupulous shysters The Simpsons does so well, and he’s played by the excellent comic actor Richard Kind, probably best known as Larry’s irritating cousin Andy in Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Cultural reference of the week
Mary tells Marge her hatred of Christmas movies stems from her father dying in the department store scene in Arnie’s ‘90s classic Jingle All The Way. Seeing as Jingle All The Way exists in The Simpsons’ world, that means Arnold Schwarzennegger does too. So what does that mean for Arnie clone Rainier Wolfcastle?
The Simpsons vs Goop, part two
Marge makes a dig at Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle guru brand when she offers houseguest Mary Tannenbaum some Paltrow-recommended tea and says, “I think you take it orally”. Marge should know: two seasons ago, she opened her own Goop-like shop, Murmur (‘Crystal Blue-Haired Persuasion’, season 30). Showrunner Al Jean trailed the season finale by saying “Gwyneth Paltrow will not like this episode”. Actually, Paltrow has, herself, appeared in The Simpsons – she was Huncherella in the TV-show-within-a-TV-show Hunch (‘Marge and Homer Turn A Couple Play’, season 17). Wonder who she upset?
Progressive moment of the week
It’s Marge, enjoying some self-care watching Heartmark movies with a large red, an aromatherapy diffuser and a candle. This follows Marge turning a blind eye to more of Homer’s ludicrous behaviour. Remember when Marge was written as a highly strung buzz-kill with guilt issues around joy? We’ll have some of what she’s having.
History repeats itself (again)
Hard to see Homer renting out every spare inch of his house without being minded of the episode in which he lets fellow RV owners park up on his (and Flanders’) lawn (season 16’s excellent ‘Mobile Homer’).
History repeats itself (yet again)
Springfield is used as a location for filming, leading to an influx of Hollywood types… sounds familiar? That’s because it also happened in the season seven episode ‘Radioactive Man’.
Eye On Springfield
- Writer(s): Jessica Conrad
- Guest stars: Ellie Kemper (Mary Tannenbaum), Richard Kind (Director), Chris Parnell (Mary’s Fiancé)
- Couch gag: n/a
- Blackboard message: n/a
- Is it as good as the old ones? Yes!
- Like this episode? Try this one: Season 18’s Christmas episode, ‘Kill Gil, Volumes I & II’, is another great festive piece, this time focusing on the terminally down-at-heel third-tier character Gil. You’ll probably want to wait nine months though, unless you’re the kind of psycho who enjoys watching Christmas specials out of season.