Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 10: "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace"

Airdate: December 21, 1997

So apparently, burning a plastic tree turns it into a solid with presents still sticking out from it, possibly intact. Did Ron Hauge pay attention in Chemistry?

Synopsis: Christmas has arrived yet again for Our Favorite Family. This time, Marge wants to ensure that everybody wakes up at the same time (7:00 AM) on Christmas Day to open their presents. Who else but Bart would sneak down to play with his gifts? One problem, though; he burns down the tree. He manages to hide it under the snow, blaming thieves when the family wakes up to an empty den. The townspeople rally around the family and give them a whopping $15,000, which they promptly blow on a sedan (which wrecks). When Bart confesses about the tree, however, the town turns the family into social pariahs… again.

Review: As I’ve mentioned before, the fine folks at Dead Homers Society are not exactly fans of Season 7’s “Marge Be Not Proud”. They argue that it was schmaltzy, sitcom-ish, clumsy, and quite slow. I am willing to agree with that; it does feel somewhat more like a “special” episode than anything else, and one that’s quite formulaic to boot.

However, Dead Homers also points out that “Marge Be Not Proud” is, at least by modern standards, comically efficient and funny. I’ll take it a bit further- “Marge Be Not Proud” is almost as funny as the rest of the episodes of that season; it’s just dragged down by the overt emotion and slower pacing. Maybe it was a parody of the “very special episode”, or maybe it was genuine. Who knows?

Why do I bring up that episode? Well, “Miracle” is essentially “Marge Be Not Proud”… with the schmaltz cranked up to “wham-o”, a good 50% of the comedy siphoned, and the cynicism turned up to outright unbearable levels.

Now, keep in mind, The Simpsons is in and of itself a rather dark series. However, it managed to set the tone at the right amount to not only make it hysterical, but also allow for character development and sweetness. Here? It’s just depressing and cruel.

I don’t think it would be as bad if the characters weren’t so screwed up. Blast “Marge Be Not Proud” for sapping up the characters and making Bart a bit too sensitive, but not only were the sappy moments still filled with funny lines, the rest of the characters were perfectly crafted for the plot. In this episode, not only do you have the entire town becoming just a bit too cruel to OFF for a lie Bart told, but the second the family wakes up on Christmas morning, Bart’s character just seems off. I mean, it’s alright to show some character development to try and not make Bart one-note, but the problem here is that it was controlled by the plot. Characters no longer control the plot; plot controls the characters.

Not to mention the first minute of this episode is dedicated to making Homer as much of a law-skirting buffoon as possible. There’s him kicking the heater (which spits out snow, not kidding there), parking across three handicapped spots (stolen from “The Springfield Connection”, only there, Homer’s jerkassery lands him in jail), masquerades as a cashier to steal gifts for Christmas (which I suppose might have been there to set up the irony of him blasting the “thieves” when he himself stole the Christmas presents, but was more likely there to show Homer acting reckless), and he falls off of the roof (stolen from “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”, only dragged out).

I also loathe the “Liar Revealed” cliche; I’ve mentioned it several times before. This episode embraces that cliche, for the most part.

I do think the plot makes a little sense. Of course, people are going to be irrational if they find out about potential theft of cash. I do, however, think that going to Los Angeles to go on Jeopardy was a bit much (as well as done simply to get Alex Trebek on the show). At least they kept the Jeopardy bit relatively short (and decently funny).

The ending with the town “reimbursing their losses” is admittedly a decent idea, and fits in with the show’s tradition of mocking TV cliches. Too bad there were few laughs, and it required a good chunk of the characters to act, well, out of character (again, irrationality, but still).

It’s a shame, since this episode did have some funny lines. There’s Patches and Violet, the family buying an ill-fated car for more than it’s worth only to have it wreck, damn near every scene with Brockman (“Little Homer’s sausage?”), and anything with Alex Trebek. Still, it’s not enough to save this episode. The trope of “Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy” is in full effect (the episode tries to come off as a “very special episode” when everybody is close to being unlikable), there seems to be little sense of timing, and the show was just too dry. It’s a pretty empty episode, to the point where it’s almost unwatchable.

In other words, this is the first Scully-era episode that gets a failing score. And it won’t be the last.

Tidbits:

  • Just one, really. This episode seemed to eschew logic and physics when the tree caught fire. For one, the rest of the den should’ve caught fire. There’s no smoke coming from the tree, either. And instead of totally disintegrating, the tree melts into a wheel, with the presents merged inside. Also, how the smeg was Bart able to dig in one spot to cover up the remains of said tree and barely leave a dent in the snow?
  • Oh, I forgot. I know Homer is an idiot, but wouldn’t insurance have covered the car? Look, I know that’s a very minor point, but still. Bugs me a bit.
  • Flanders also says “there goes Christmas dinner” when seeing OFF after the truth is revealed… despite this being well past Christmas.
  • I did like the Springfield Shopper headline; “Angry Mob Mulls Options”.
  • This was written by Ron Hauge, responsible for one of my favorite Season 8 episodes, “Homer’s Phobia”. Kinda tragic that he can veer between that and this boring mess.
Favorite Moment: In an episode as dry as this, the Jepoardy bit was pretty funny.
Least Favorite Moment: I just can’t bring myself to even remotely smile for the entire first act. I can’t bring myself to do so. I can’t pick one moment in that first act that’s worse than the other; it’s just dull and stupid.
Zaniness Factor: 1.5 Note the demise of the Christmas tree above. Nothing in there makes sense.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 2.75. I’d give it a 3, but Homer’s jerkassery mostly evaporates by the second act. While not the worst act he committed in the episode, I pick him parking across three handicapped parking spaces. Why? Well, as mentioned above, Homer did that in “The Springfield Connection”, wound up starting a conflict with Marge, and Marge wound up arresting Homer. Here, Marge just goes along with the zaniness.
Score: 4.5. This episode just bored me.
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