Season two is not part of Classic Simpsons. Generally, the main argument seems to be either season three or season four as the beginning of the Simpsons Classic era, where every episode was solid gold. Personally speaking, I skipped the entire first three seasons when collecting the series on DVD and I know for a fact that every episode of season four is Classic; my point here being that it’s easy to see why season two’s Classic status is more controversial, because the airing of episodes out of their production order means almost jarring cutting between episodes that throwback to the first season, and episodes more in the vein of the Classic era. “Bart Vs Thanksgiving” belongs to the former category.
As is more typical for early Simpsons, it’s not so much a plot as it is riffing on a theme for each act. Act I shows us the Simpsons getting ready for Thanksgiving – more accurately, Marge getting ready for Thanksgiving and Homer watching television right up to the moment that he can use a chore to escape the house when Patty and Selma show up. There are two good gags here – one satirising the inanity of commentary on events like this, and one meta gag where Homer observes making a balloon for every flash-in-the-pan cartoon would make it a farce, only for a Bart balloon to go across screen.
Meanwhile, Lisa is building a Thanksgiving centrepiece dedicated to women who built America, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who she specifically singles out as an unsung hero. We’ve seen the show explore feminism before in “Homer’s Night Out”, but this is an early example of the show actually exploring feminist history and namedropping women of the past. It’s always been to the show’s credit that it seriously explored Lisa’s beliefs and didn’t just use them for cheap jokes – lataer Lisa writes a sad poem parodying Alan Ginsberg’s Howl (she has a book of Ginsberg poetry on her shelf, so presumably she knows what she’s doing), and that’s where the historical references and parodies reveal a scope beyond feminist history. This show values deep and extensive knowledge and rewards viewers who share Lisa’s curiosity.
Conversely, we get some more jokes about the general awfulness of the Simpson-Bouvier clan. Bart is useless in the kitchen in that way only children trying to be helpful can, Patty and Selma passive-aggressively bring around food despite Marge doing cooking (which is weird, considering family usually brings food to a family dinner; perhaps my family full of chefs has given me a warped perspective), and Homer cheerfully ducks out of talking to them by picking up his dad at the wrong time.
We get a peek into the Springfield Retirement Home, and there’s a really dark joke about families who don’t care about their relatives enough to visit them, with a punchline of a fax coming in and lifting the spirits of one woman. Marge’s mother shows up and uses what limited voice she has from laryngitis to criticise her daughter. Homer completely botches starting a fire. This is all building up to the final setpiece, in which Bart and Lisa argue over her centrepiece, only for Bart to throw it on the fire, ruining Thanksgiving.
As the family try to start dinner without the children, Lisa interrupts by playing her sax. Marge talks to Lisa and yells at Bart, and neither really works – it’s not Marge Lisa’s mad at, and Bart is completely uncomprehending of what he’s done wrong. In a fit of rage, he escapes via the window – resulting in a cute gag where he accidentally lands on the flowerbed, then realises he can turn it into vengeance. Bart takes his dog with him to find a better Thanksgiving dinner.
Bart stumbles upon Mr Burns, and I gotta say, it’s hilarious seeing how integral he was to the show early on, before the town of Springfield became unwieldy – every time the show needs some townie for the main family to interact with early on, it always seems to grab him.. In this case, it makes sense, because his ultra-rich lifestyle leads to a joke where he eats barely a slice of turkey before throwing away an entire banquet (leaving room for Smithers’ delicious pumpkin pie!). He catches Bart trying to steal some of his food, and the boy barely gets away with his life.
Bart finds his way to the wrong side of the tracks (favourite detail – “massage” parlor), and sells his blood for a whole twelve bucks (“Hey, I can bleed!”). Of course, they take enough of his blood to make him pass out, and he’s rescued from the street by a pair of hungry, hungry hoboes. They take him to a rescue mission to get something to eat, and Bart recognises Kent Brockman. We get a quick satire of news media’s condescending attitude towards the homeless and poor – they’re filthy and disgusting, ignore them except for the one day where you must be glad you aren’t them! The show sneakily cuts from Brockman talking to the family watching him on TV, and they completely ignore a cry for help on the part of Lisa when they see Bart on TV, grifting Brockman (as always, grifter Bart is my favourite iteration of him).
When the feast is over, Bart sees how sad the homeless dudes are, and decides to give them his blood money and go home. But when he gets to the door (unaware how badly they miss him), he imagines going in, only for it to turn to a nightmare where they blame him for everything that’s ever happened, and he decides to flee to the roof. He overhears Lisa crying over how much she misses him, and calls her up to the roof. They have a heart-to-heart over the centrepiece incident, and we get something typical out of Bart – complete incomprehension as to why he does anything – I’m reminded of him in “Bart The Genius”, falling into despair over his own stupidity in school.
Lisa tells him to look inside himself and realise he’s upset over hurting his sister’s feelings. He reluctantly obeys until he stumbles upon his empathy for her, and sincerely apologises. Homer, watching on, decides he and Marge are great parents, and everyone digs into their better Thanksgiving dinner: sandwiches.
This episode is full of great individual gags, but the vignette-heavy plotting means there’s no real urgency or energy to the plot – this isn’t madcap, this is leisurely, and I think a big factor in The Simpsons Classic success comes from the absurd-yet-logical plotting.
Chalkboard Gag: “I will not do that thing with my tongue”
Couch Gag: The Simpsons run in, only to surprise Grampa who was sleeping on the couch
This episode was written by George Meyer, and directed David Silverman. Bart going up on the roof came from Meyer often doing the same thing as a kid, and Bart’s dream sequence is very typically Silverman in how much it breaks reality.
Bullwinkle of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Underdog are referenced in the parade. Mr Burns lives on the corner of Croseus and Mammon, two mythological figures of greed. One of Burns’ guards is reading Les Miserables. Greg Berg cameos as one of the homeless men.
First Appearances: “Release the hounds”.