When I was a kid, I considered this episode to be one of the best there was. For some reason I was able to wrap my head around the emotionality of this episode better than other, objectively better episodes like “Moaning Lisa,” and used this as the example to people (like my parents) who hated on the show, calling it stupid. Watching it now, I don’t exactly connect with it the way I did as a kid, but it’s still a pretty good episode.
I love that when it starts, Bart is just straight up smothering Lisa, and Homer just scolds him like he was picking on her. I mentioned in the “Some Enchanted Evening” article that whenever it’s an episode about Marge feeling neglected, the family is super shitty, and I’m finding that the same can go for episodes about Bart being bad. Normally Bart would just be a brat, but they have to establish that he’s mean enough to do the things he does later in the episode, so they have to notch up his assholery in the beginning of the episode. So Homer tells him to stop attempting murder on his sister, and Bart joins him on the couch to watch some generic Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade. It made me laugh way harder than it should have when the Bullwinkle balloon sprung a leak, and Bill and Marty said that he finally got a taste of his own medicine. Then we got a very weird meta-joke of Homer saying that they don’t give balloons to every flash-in-the-pan character, as a Bart balloon goes by on the screen without them noticing.
The crux of this episode revolves around a centerpiece that Lisa is making for Thankgiving dinner. While Marge is finishing the meal, Lisa is putting the finishing touches on the centerpiece, which celebrates feminist icons. I thought it was super sweet that she calls Maggie in, and asks her to contribute as a Simpson woman, and after she just scribbles on the side, they hug. I feel like a lot of the sibling sweetness usually comes from Bart and Lisa, and I love when they treat Maggie like a real character, and not just kind of a background object like Santa’s Little Helper or Snowball II. Meanwhile, Bart is attempting to help Marge in the kitchen, and man did this scene seem familiar. I’m sure my mom, and probably even my wife, can attest to the fact that I’m pretty much useless in the kitchen, and whenever I offer to help, I end more of a hindrance than anything. Bart offers his help finishing the dinner, and gets assigned to get the gross cranberry sauce out of the can, but needs help finding every little step, then just leaves it on the counter for Marge to finish anyways.
Around then Patty and Selma show up, with food that they weren’t asked to bring, which seems super shitty to me. I’ve never hosted a dinner, but I feel like if someone just brought a different dinner for themselves, I would be pretty pissed. I feel like Marge sticks up for the two of them way more than she should, unless it’s an episode about the two of them, they’re pretty crappy sisters to her. And on cue, as soon as his sisters-in-law show up, Homer books it out of the house to go pick up Grandpa. I’ve never had a grandparent in a nursing home, but a set of my wife’s are in one, and it’s way nicer than Grandpa’s so I’ve always found the Retirement Village to be a super weird place. I’m sure there’s crappy one like it out there, but man is it depressing. There was even a sign that said “thank you for not discussing the outside world.” And all the old people waited around the fax machine to see if their children had the decency to fax them a Thanksgiving wish. Yikes. We also get our first look at Marge’s mother, Mrs. Bouvier, who is also a straight up bitch to Marge, claiming that she has laryngitis, and will only say one thing to her, which is “you never do anything right.” Jesus. It’s episodes like this that really show why your parents were crabby on holidays when they hosted, everyone’s a judgy jerk
So Thanksgiving starts, and Marge has Lisa bring down the centerpiece, which everyone admires. But then Bart comes in with the turkey, and since there’s no room for it, he throws the centerpiece away, and it lands in the fireplace, destroying it. Bart and Lisa fight for a little bit, but she breaks down crying and runs to her room. Bart is then sent to his room without dinner and told that he ruined Thanksgiving, which I’ll be honest, he did, but still, that’s a little harsh. Bart is fuming up in his room, and Lisa is crying in hers, as Homer says a very strange prayer that badmouths solar power, and ends up calling the family the worst ever. Bart decides to run away, and takes Santa’s Little Helper with him as they head off to find a life without consequences. The two start wandering around town, and end up at Mr. Burns’ mansion, where he throws out and entire feast that Smithers made just for him. Bart attempts to steal a pie that was cooling on Burns’ windowsill, since this is a cartoon after all, and ends up getting chased by hounds. I love that Santa’s Little Helper growls at Bart’s rumbling stomach.
The two end up in the bad part of town, and they come across a place that will give Bart $12 for plasma. He gives them a fake ID, gets his plasma taken out and his money and a cookie, then promptly passes out in the gutter while Santa’s Little Helper eats his cookie. Two bums show up, and instead of the episode taking a shockingly dark turn, they wake him up, and bring Bart and Santa’s Little Helper to a shelter to get some dinner. While at the shelter Kent Brockman gives a super insulting monologue about homeless people for the news, which of course the family sees while Lisa is reciting a poem she wrote about the trauma of the evening. They see Bart at the shelter, and freak out, calling the police. Back at the shelter, the dinner is over, and they’re all being kicked out, and Bart finally starts to show some human emotion, and sympathizes for the two bums who helped him, and gives them the money he got from the plasma.
Bart heads home, but when he gets there, he has a weird fantasy that if he comes in the house, the family will mock him for apologizing, and blame everything on him from there in out. It was a very “little kid” moment. So instead of coming home, Bart decides to climb onto the roof for some reason. I guess he’s just going to live there. But as he’s running around the roof playing with toys that had gotten stuck there he hears Lisa crying about him being lost. So he tells her he’s on the roof, and she joins him, and they have a pretty good conversation about what Bart did. Bart can’t explain why he did what he did, but he begins to sympathize with Lisa, and he gives her a heartfelt apology, and the siblings hug which Marge and Homer are listening from their room. The family then reunites and has turkey sandwiches in the middle of the night, finally getting their Thanksgiving dinner.
This was a pretty sweet episode, with some great development of Bart and Lisa’s relationship. I like that Bart finally learns empathy by the end of the episode, and that he just couldn’t explain why he had destroyed her centerpiece. Sometimes siblings just need to mess with each other. I also found the fact that Bart was able to realize that his life is pretty great, and that there are other who are in need, and freely gave up the money he had earned to the two bums who helped him out of the goodness in their heart. I didn’t love this episode as much as I did as a kid, probably because then I could put myself in Bart’s place and feel the indignity of being told to apologize for something you didn’t think was wrong, but it was still a good one with some genuine heart.
Take Away: There are people out there who don’t have life as good as you. And an apology doesn’t mean anything unless you really feel like you did wrong by someone, fake apologies do nothing more than hurt.
“Bart vs. Thanksgiving” was written by George Meyer and directed by David Silverman.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons