The Simpsons has been around for decades but Springfield’s first family only celebrated Thanksgiving onscreen 5 times in the show’s lengthy duration
The Simpsons has been around for decades now but amazingly, Springfield’s first family has only celebrated Thanksgiving five times. With over 30 years on the air, The Simpsons can now boast an undeniably impressive 19 Christmas specials. Meanwhile, the much-loved ‘Treehouse of Horror’ Halloween specials ensures that The Simpsons is famous for its annual celebration of holiday horror even among viewers who have otherwise left the series behind.
But despite Thanksgiving being an American holiday and the eponymous family being an American institution, The Simpsons has barely celebrated the day. All in all, The Simpsons has done four Thanksgiving specials and a great Christmas episode, which overlaps with the holiday. While each installment is notable for its reason, it’s nonetheless surprising to see that the show features so few Thanksgiving episodes when The Simpsons is famous for parodying and satirizing everything sacred to American society.
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Like The Simpsons‘ uneven history of Christmas episodes and ‘Treehouse of Horror’ outings, the show’s Thanksgiving episodes veer between classic, standard, and disappointing according to fan consensus. Although there is a late-season standout in the mix and an early, classic episode from season 2, another one of the show’s Thanksgiving episodes is also commonly cited as one of the worst Simpsons episodes ever. This difference in critical reception between the show’s episodes seems to be caused in large part by a gradual shift in tone evident in The Simpsons‘ Thanksgiving episodes, which range from the zany cartooniness of later seasons to the more grounded character comedy of the first two seasons.
“Bart Vs Thanksgiving”
The earliest of The Simpsons’ Thanksgiving episodes is also the show’s most holiday-focused outing, and unlike a lot of the later-season installments listed here, it’s a fairly relatable slice of life with few flights of absurd fancy in its short runtime. Sure, there are some over-the-top moments (Carol Kane’s brief imaginary cameo as Maggie, in particular). But by and large, season 2’s “Bart Vs Thanksgiving” is a definitive example of the pre-“Homer At the Bat” Simpsons. In this early era, The Simpsons was a more level-headed and less anarchic family sitcom with darker, less zany humor and more focus on satirizing traditional family comedies than the larger cultural landscape.
The “Bart Vs Thanksgiving” story sees Bart accidentally destroy Lisa’s centerpiece and run away when the family blames him, only for the pair of siblings to eventually reconcile when Bart returns. It’s nowhere near as jam-packed with jokes as Golden Age Simpsons, but the slower pacing makes Bart and Lisa’s reconciliation after he wrecks her centerpiece all the more bittersweet and touching. Meanwhile, the episode’s brief glimpse of Thanksgiving in a soup kitchen serves as a subtle early-season indication of the pointed political critiques The Simpsons would soon start to focus on more directly.
“Homer Vs Dignity”
The first of the show’s two Homer-centric Thanksgiving episodes, “Homer Vs Dignity” is featured in the much-derided Simpsons season 12. One of the most-hated episodes in the hundreds produced by The Simpsons, the ill-judged “Homer Vs Dignity” sees the title character become Burns’ “prank monkey” in a plot which never should have made it to production. It’s a messy, oddly bleak episode that features a misjudged instance of bestiality played for laughs and a level of wanton violence befitting a “Treehouse of Horror” special. Critics and fans alike found little to like in this outing, and it still tops lists of The Simpsons‘ lowest points to this day. However, as deeply flawed as the episode is, it did at least set the bar agreeably low for The Simpsons‘ following Thanksgiving specials.
“Homer the Moe”
Jumping ahead to season 13, “Homer the Moe” could not be further from “Bart Vs Thanksgiving” in terms of tone. That’s a mixed blessing for most reviewers, as the episode’s busier storyline makes for more gags and a more madcap sense of humor but less emotional impact according to critical evaluations of this Simpsons episode. The outing sees Moe returns to bartending school to rekindle his passion for the craft, redesigning his iconic tavern on the advice of a bizarre mentor (who promptly walks into a lake).
Feeling unwelcome in Moe’s uber-hip new bar, Homer opens a hunting lodge as an excuse to serve Duff to himself, Lenny, Carl, and Barney. If the plot of this episode sounds only tangentially related to Thanksgiving, that’s because it is. As a result, when considered as a Thanksgiving episode this outing suffers from a lack of focus between its disparate storylines. That said, there are a few cute moments here centering on Moe’s barfly patrons sharing the holiday with their chosen family, and like so many later season outings, the episode features an out of nowhere (but thoroughly welcome) cameo from REM as themselves.
“Holidays of Future Passed”
Opening with a family Thanksgiving dinner, season 23’s “Holidays of Future Passed” skips ahead to the Simpsons’ future for a look at the kids’ later lives. This outing is mostly a Christmas episode, but its recurring thematic preoccupation with giving thanks – Homer thanking Grandpa for his flawed parenting, Lisa thanking Marge for the same, and Lisa and Bart’s children both thanking their parents for being there – make it a fitting tribute to the holiday it opens on, too. It’s also an unusually sweet and thoughtful non-canon Simpsons installment which won rave reviews upon release and remains a firm favorite among fans. The episode is so well-liked amongst fans that some have argued it should have been The Simpsons series finale. Not only that, but the sweet reprise of a now-adult Lisa and Bart hiding from their dysfunctional family during the holidays makes it a perfect companion piece with “Bart Vs Thanksgiving”.
“Thanksgiving of Horror”
The Simpsons‘ most ambitious Thanksgiving episode yet (and the only fully holiday-focused special since season 2), “Thanksgiving of Horror” cribs the “Treehouse of Horror” setup to tell a trio of terrifying seasonal tales centered around the eponymous holiday. It’s an odd decision to combine horror and the titular holiday, and it does mean this special captures less of the Thanksgiving mood despite its renewed focus. That said, the episode was well-liked thanks to its inclusion of a solid riff on Black Mirror’s White Christmas, a bloody and funny (if hardly timely) Apocalypto parody, and a surprisingly superb parody of Life and Alien starring a sentient, murderous blob of cranberry sauce. Interestingly, this one is also The Simpsons‘ longest episode yet, clocking in at 24 minutes 45 seconds.
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