We had a Christmas special in Season 1 and a Halloween special in Season 2, so it’s not surprising that the Simpson family is going to tackle another one of the classic American holidays in the form of Thanksgiving. An interesting thing to note is that they have not touched the Thanksgiving holiday very much, if at all, since this episode (at least not to my immediate recollection anyway). I suppose Christmas is easier to make a story with and Halloween is such an annual tradition and fun story creation for the writing team, so it makes some sense in the long run that not many extra stories have come out of this holiday. With all that being said though, let’s get this thing started and take a look at “Bart vs. Thanksgiving.”
“Bart vs. Thanksgiving” is the 7th episode broadcast for Season 2 of The Simpsons and debuted on November 22nd, 1990. It was also the seventh episode written for this season as well, despite the fact that the preceding and following episodes were swapped in the broadcast order. The chalkboard gag for this episode is “I will not do that thing with my tongue,” (oh my) and the couch gag features the Simpson family storming into the house, approaching the couch and waking up Grandpa who was taking a nap.
“Son, this is a tradition. If they start building a balloon for every flash-in-the-pan cartoon character, you’ll turn the parade into a farce!”
It’s Thanksgiving day at the Simpsons household and the entire family is preparing for the holiday in their own way. Marge is preparing a feast for the whole family, Homer is watching the football game and Lisa is preparing her own centerpiece for the dinner table. Bart is meanwhile just waltzing around doing what every kid does on this holiday (or at least what I did anyway) by going to each member of the family and pestering them by asking nonstop questions or asking to help, not really contributing much in the grand scheme of things. In addition to the main family, Homer drives Grandpa to the house so he can also join in the festivities and Marge’s twin sisters Patty and Selma show up for dinner as well. Also, in a very rare appearance, Marge’s mother Jacqueline Bouvier shows up too; the character’s first present-day appearance and one of extremely few appearance overall if you exclude flashback episodes.
When dinnertime arrives, Lisa brings down her centerpiece, a tribute to hard-working women in American history. Everyone in the family is impressed with Lisa’s efforts, but while she is receiving praise, Bart comes into the room carrying the turkey. Because the centerpiece is taking up room, Bart tries to forcefully remove the centerpiece which angers Lisa and they both start fighting. In the struggle, the centerpiece lands inside the fireplace and is destroyed. This upsets Lisa and she runs up to her room crying. As a result of this, Homer and Marge punish Bart and send him up to his room without any food until he apologizes to his sister.
Bart refuses to apologize because he was only trying to clear the table and showing off his sense of humor, so instead of abiding by the rules of his parents, he sneaks out the window and runs away alongside Santa’s Little Helper. Any effort to get food fails, forcing Bart to get really desperate, so he ends up giving blood for twelve bucks. After doing this, Bart gets light-headed and faints, catching the attention of some nearby strangers who take him to the rescue mission to get some food. Back home at the Simpson house, the family starts to get fed up with waiting for Bart and Lisa channels her anger into a poem that she tries to read for the family. When she is about to start reading, the family notices a local news report on television and sees Bart at the rescue mission, knowing that he has run away.
Shortly after the news broadcast, Bart leaves the mission, but decides to give the twelve bucks he earned giving blood to the establishment, feeling they need it more than he does. It’s at this point Bart decides to go home. Meanwhile, the family called the police to pick-up Bart at the shelter, but they were too late and missed him altogether. It’s at this point that Marge and Homer feel like they may have been too harsh with Bart and they really start to miss him. Bart arrives home, but before he walks inside, he has a vision of the entire family taunting him and making him beg for his sister’s mercy for what he has done, holding him back once again.
Bart climbs on to the roof of the house and while playing around with all the toys that got stuck up there, Bart hears Lisa crying through a vent. He tells Lisa to come onto the roof and when she does, she informs Bart that the entire family has been worried about him; making Bart pleased at his actions. Lisa asks Bart why he destroyed the centerpiece and Bart continues to not show any remorse for his actions. She asks him one last time to dig really deep to look for a spot that might have guilt and when he realizes that he destroyed something she worked really hard on and made her cry, Bart finally realizes his actions and apologizes to Lisa. The two make up and Homer and Marge listen to the reconciliation through the window. The next day, the family celebrates and gets together for another chance at Thanksgiving togetherness and a happy ending all together.
“And lord, we are especially thankful for nuclear power, the cleanest, safest energy source there is. Except for solar, which is just a pipe dream. Anyway, we’d like to thank you for the occasional moments of peace and love our family has experienced. Well, not today, but…you saw what happened! Oh lord, be honest! Are we the most pathetic family in the universe or what?”
~Homer’s pre-dinner prayer
I always found it interesting that this episode wasn’t included on my Simpsons VHS tape just because it aired right in the middle of a giant line of episodes that were on it. It makes me wonder if the episode got recorded over because the first episode on the tape was the episode where Burns ran for governor, but the second episode was an episode that came several weeks later, but that also wouldn’t really explain why Dead Putting Society was so late on the tape and it would have been the third earliest episode if the order did actually matter. It makes me wonder if my parents just decided to record the episodes on a day where a marathon was going on and the episodes were broadcast out of order or something. It’s a hard thing to judge because I doubt my parents remember what prompted the ordering on something that was likely done, at most, 28 years ago, but it’s something that always intrigued me when I did actually learn the official episode ordering. Anyway, don’t have really a lot to say about this one, just because I don’t think I saw this one until the Simpsons Season 2 DVD came out, but I was very interested in the episode after how well the Christmas and Halloween specials are generally received. Did it meet the same hype? Let’s find out!
Bart: “Uh, listen guys, I was thinking. Unless you feel weird about taking money from a kid, I thought maybe…”
Guy 1: “I wouldn’t feel weird.”
Guy 2: “I’m comfortable with it.”
It is always nice to get glimpses of the Simpson family when they are doing traditional family stuff; particularly things that you can compare with your own family and see how the two compare. It’s also interesting to take a look at the extended Simpson family with the inclusion of Grandpa Simpson, Patty & Selma, and even Marge’s mother in this case. We’ve seen a lot of Patty and Selma at this point, arguably more so than Grandpa, but this is the first time we see them kind of interact with Marge more. We see that while Homer and the sisters don’t have a great relationship, the relationship with Marge and the two twins isn’t perfect either with the gruesome twosome bringing food for the feast despite knowing that Marge had her own meal planned. You also get some interaction with Marge and her mother too, which really only showcases that her mother isn’t incredibly thrilled with Marge’s family choices as well, as her only words in this episode are incredibly blunt and not at all reassuring to the situation. In a way, it makes me kind of sympathize with Marge because she is clearly happy with her family, despite its problems, and yet her own family doesn’t seem to approve of it at all. We’ll see more of these interactions (at least with Patty & Selma anyway) as we get further into the show, but it does create some initial interest in what exactly is going on here. Jacqueline is a character we won’t see too much of, because it was revealed that Julie Kavner (who also does the voice for Marge and any other Bouvier women) was never really crazy about doing the voice for her, so it’s understandable how writers never really brought her back much.
The Thanksgiving stuff at the beginning of the episode is kind of fun to watch. There’s a funny little gag of Bart helping Marge prepare the cranberry sauce which is literally just Bart pouring a giant cranberry mold onto a plate and leaving it alone so it immediately collapses. It’s also a bit humorous when the writer’s do some self-referential humor when Homer and Bart are watching the parade on TV and they remark about the parade balloons and how just about any cartoon character gets a balloon. While they are both turned away, you can quickly see a Bart Simpson balloon floating over the screen and it’s a pretty funny considering that there have been plenty of Bart Simpson balloons in the Thanksgiving Day parades over the years.
The main focus of this episode though is quite heavily on Bart, and quite rightfully so considering the title of this story. And honestly, I’m not quite sure whose side I’m on when it comes to the main conflict here. There’s no question here that Bart needed to be punished for what he did; he was rude, inconsiderate and uncaring of the feelings for his sister, yet by the end of the episode, in a way they try to make Bart out to be the victim in this story because he ran away and almost starved to death because he was sent to his room without any dinner. I get the point they were trying to go for was more to build up Bart’s guilt, but that doesn’t really happen until the final thirty seconds of the episode. The final scene with Bart and Lisa is great, but I wish there would have been more to it and that he would have also apologized to his family for making them worry so much. It’s almost like there was potential here for some really nice character growth, and while they did obtain that, they could have done a lot more with it as well.
With that being said though, it’s still a good moment and I’d almost say the ending scenes of the episode in general are probably this episode’s greatest positives going for it. The sequence of Bart’s horror vision of the entire family putting him was very well directed and animated and is almost kind of creepy in a way, but I think it fits the mood completely and if anything, kind of gives us some insight into Bart and how he sees his family; as authority figures who only want to punish him and in a way, almost get pleasure from it. It speaks to me in a way where, although I know Bart is deserving of punishment, he also just doesn’t understand the full picture either, so without that context, I can see where he might feel that he’s just an easy target for punishment. But when he starts talking to Lisa, you start to see him understand the situation a lot better and reality finally hits him. It’s a good moment and something I wish was built-up a bit more throughout the episode and not just the ending.
Homer: “It’s your fault I’m bald!”
Grandpa: “It’s your fault I’m old!”
Maggie: “It’s your fault I can’t talk!”
Uncle Sam: “It’s your fault America has lost its way!”
(Bart’s Nightmare vision)
So yeah, if you couldn’t tell from the last section and the general length of time it took to get this episode out for you guys, I’m actually not too big of a fan of this episode. As usual, I’ll stress that it’s not because I think the episode is necessarily bad as it has a good conflict and resolution plot line, it just takes a really long time to get to that resolution and I feel like a majority of the episode kind of takes away from what could have been stronger supporting material. For example, almost the entire second act and most of the final act focuses on Bart’s adventure away from home and him trying to find food, and throughout the entire endeavor, he doesn’t exactly show remorse or regret for what he has done. He does give the money he earned giving blood to the rescue mission, which is a pretty noble thing of him to do, but even still when he goes back to the Simpson house to potentially make amends, it just doesn’t really stick and it isn’t until he has the exchange with Lisa where things really start to click for him. Unfortunately that was the stuff I was really interested in seeing, personally, and it just took a little too long to get there. Thanksgiving is often seen as a holiday where the entire family gets together and spend the day interacting and basking in the glow of togetherness, and it just felt like there was a bit too much disconnect for my own liking.
I think I would have rather seen a case where maybe while Bart was out and about, the family discovered on their own that Bart was missing and the TV and news crew were interviewing them on Bart’s disappearance. Then, Bart could discover a TV somewhere to see the news report and then have an internal struggle of whether or not to return home, not being sure if they actually did miss him, or in his mind, if they just felt bad because they had no one to punish anymore. I think that would have still worked with what the writers and producers were going for and still could have given us the really nice Bart and Lisa scene at the end. Instead, we got a bit of filler content with Bart being chased by dogs at the Burns mansion, and then Bart passing out after giving blood for twelve bucks (which was a bit of an odd choice for story progression, I must admit). It’s not that what we did get was bad, I just think it could have been a bit better, and that’s really my only objection here.
You could compare this story to the likes of the first season’s Christmas special. That episode followed Homer around, much like this one followed Bart around, and you feel Homer’s struggle throughout the entire episode. Bart has a struggle, but it’s kind of unrelated with what is actually going on with the rest of the family, and that kind of leads to that disconnect that I was talking about a bit earlier. I just think the Christmas episode is better constructed and written compared to this one, and while I do see instances of brilliance in this episode, they just feel kind of underwhelmed compared to what made the Christmas episode so great in the first place.
It’s a shame that they didn’t really do more Thanksgiving episodes. There may be a couple of episodes that I am forgetting about, particularly in more recent seasons, but they seem largely unrepresented when you consider the number of Halloween and Christmas ones. This was an episode that had great potential; you had the entire family and some members of the extended family around to play off of each other, you had a conflict that threatened that togetherness, and you had a great resolution to the story where the affected characters learned their lessons and the story could end on a more positive note. All of those great elements are there, but there was just a period of 5-7 minutes in between that just kind of got lost on how to reach that destination. Again, that’s my issue with this episode and if it doesn’t bother anyone else, more power to you, but for me, it’s just really hard to get past that and it’s hard for me to enjoy this episode because of it. This is why we all have different viewpoints and opinions though, as someone will always see things differently, and that’s perfectly okay.
My apologies once again for the lateness of this episode. With the holiday season quickly approaching and lots of things for me on the horizon to get ready for that need my attention, this one did take me awhile to sit down and write up a post for. It also didn’t really help that I’m not a huge fan of this episode as it is, so it was kind of hard to get into the mood of wanting to work on it as well. The next few episodes should be a different experience though, as we have some more episodes I remember quite fondly from my youth and I’m looking forward to taking a gander at the next episode especially. Next week, we have Bart the Daredevil! See you guys then!