The Simpsons does not always do Christmas-themed episodes. Last year’s “The Fight Before Christmas” was a Treehouse-of-Horror-style segment show with the usual hit-but-mostly-miss success rate. The prior three seasons had no Christmas episodes. In fact, this is only the eleventh Christmas-themed episode and only the fourth time that The Simpsons has looked into the future out of 495 episodes over 23 seasons. That makes it two kinds of special, and a good one not to screw up. Fortunately, The Simpsons found a sweet spot that combined a barrage of non-stop jokes with a tenderness often lacking in latter-day Simpsons episodes. There is even a conversation between the adult Bart and Lisa that rings surprisingly true for adult siblings wrestling with their shared familial past.
It opens on Thanksgiving afternoon, with the family stuffed with turkey and Grandpa face-down in the mashed potatoes. Marge ushers the family into the living room for a Christmas picture, much to the chagrin of her kids. She tells them that they will understand when they have children of their own, and Lisa and Bart both protest that they will not have kids. Cue a montage of Simpson holiday pictures over the next 30 years. These images include:
- Lisa growing taller than Bart for one year;
- Preppie Bart and Goth Lisa;
- Bart in a Guy Fawkes mask and Lisa in a Renaissance Faire get-up;
- Bart dressed as the Fonz with Lisa dressed as Annie Hall;
- Bart with a State College banner and suitcase;
- Bart with a Flunked Out banner;
- Lisa with a Private College banner;
- Lisa with a girlfriend;
- Lisa with two girlfriends;
- Lisa with a diploma;
- Lisa with Milhouse;
- Lisa pregnant;
- Lisa with a baby and Maggie, now a teenager, appearing unhappy about it;
- No Lisa;
- Maggie with a guitar;
- Maggie with a Flying V dressed like Lita Ford;
- Marge holding a poster of Maggie’s band;
- Bart fat with an earring and drinking a beer;
- Bart slovenly eating potato chips while his parents look unhappy;
- Bart being kicked out (I love that this, too, is a Christmas photo);
- Marge and Homer looking happy;
- Marge and Homer snorkeling above a sunken New York City;
- Marge and Homer visiting the arid desert of the South Pole;
- Marge and Homer on vacation on Mars;
- Marge and Homer with the Martian child from the previous photo, who is now their pet; and
- Marge and Homer with a Christmas card from their children and grandchildren.
The screen closes in on these cards, first going to Lisa and Milhouse with their teenaged daughter. They are the Simpson-Van Houten-Simpson-Simpsons. Maggie is still a rock star with a Santa guitar. Bart is on the far side of a couch from Jenda, whom we saw in an earlier future episode, with two kids between. Their card is from “Bart and Jenda, per our Separation Agreement.”
The gold standard of these future episodes was “Lisa’s Wedding” from the sixth season, which was both sweet and hilarious. I probably do not need to remind readers of this review that it dealt with Lisa’s broken engagement to a young man from England who proves to be snobby about her family. The second future episode was “Bart To The Future” from the 11th season. It was not so good, although better than many of the real stinkers yet to come at that point. Still, it utterly failed to rise to the challenge of “Lisa’s Wedding.” The third future episode was “Future-Drama” from the 16th season, in which Bart chooses to salvage Lisa’s future over his own. That one was also full of sweetness and funny, but I will go ahead and say that “Holidays of Future Passed” is better than that one. As far as continuity goes (yeah, I know: continuity is a waste of time, but I get paid the big money to consider things like this), this episode makes no mention of Lisa’s engagement and Bart’s vision from “Bart To The Future” is off the table unless Lisa is about to become the President of the U.S. and no one bothers to mention it. The presence of Jenda as Bart’s ex suggests that the events of “Future-Drama” might have transpired, though.
After the montage, we cut to Bart, who is living at Springfield Elementary, which has been now barely converted to apartments. Skinner is his landlord. Jenda sends their sons to spend Christmas with him, and Bart decides to take them to his parents’ place. At Lisa’s house, Milhouse is suffering from his seasonal allergies to all things Christmas-related. He opts to spend the holiday at the University of Michigan, which is under Sharia law. Lisa also decides to take their daughter Zia to the Simpson house for the holiday, too. We cut to St. Beatles University, Big Ben rocketing into the sky, and Daleks on the street before the Benny Hilton, meaning that we must be in London. Maggie is pregnant and her MedBot insists that she remain quiet during the rest of her pregnancy. The other members of band refuse to reveal who the father is.
The Simpson house is the same, but the Flanders house has become a geodesic dome and the house on the other side is the Chemosphere. This is how we know that we’re in the future! Bart, quite depressed upon learning that his ex has remarried, pawns his kids off on Homer. Ned Flanders appears to give him love advice. It seems that Ned married Maude’s ghost after Homer accidentally killed Edna. The Ghost of Maude tells Ned, “There is no God, Neddie. It’s just an empty, meaningless void.” Ned laughs this off.
Maggie is attempting to transport home, following travelers to New New York and the Independent Republic of Texas. However, she cannot teleport while pregnant and so is forced to take air travel, which has become rather Road Warrior-esque. Meanwhile, Lisa is annoyed that Zia is bratty and spends all of her time zonked out online, but she resists Marge’s parenting advice. We learn that Homer’s Law prevents a citizen from strangling his or her kids.
In the most surprisingly realistic section of the show, Lisa and Bart get drunk together and bitch about their lives and their mother. Maybe I’m only saying this because of Bart’s court-mandated sincerity chip, but I found this section both true and poignant, especially Lisa’s apology to her mother. Since Bart and Lisa are children in the regular episodes of the show, we rarely get to see them interact like adults. Most adults are full of self-doubt and long-lingering bitterness, but most adults also know how to connect and express love and forgive. Their adult-size pain and misgivings ground this segment and keep it from spilling over into treacle, and the combination of these elements in the characters of Bart and Lisa is unlike anything this show has done before. That is some feat in and of itself.
In the meantime, Maggie has landed in Springfield and gone into labor in Kearney’s cab. Kearney gets her to Springfield Hospital with its new Montgomery Burns Institute For Soul Extraction, which we will later get a glimpse of Burns and the Devil entering. Getting down to the extra-Christmassy punniness, Maggie learns that there is no room in the inn-patient facility. Kearney tells the intake lady that Maggie just played a sold-out show in Beijing, and the lady ruminates to herself about the star in the East. She tells Maggie that she does have a little room in the manger, I mean mangier wing. To all these puns, I say: HA! While the nurse wants to start Maggie’s epidural, Dr. Hibbert (who is wearing one of Geordi LaForge’s eye visor things) prefers the much more effective pacifier. Maggie sucks gratefully.
Lisa decides to go onto the Alternet to see what Zia is doing. As soon as she arrives, she is greeted by a screen showing that a number of people want to friend her from her past connections at U.C.-Moon, S.U.N.Y.-Sun, Miami of Ohio of Pluto, and The Simpsons Go To... episodes. She wastes time on this briefly, but gets down to business by going through the Google door. Although Google has enslaved half the world, Lisa still believes that it is a damn fine search engine.
Bart searches for Homer and his kids, driving past District 9 and District 10, where the wealthier bug-aliens live. He has an encounter with some of the many clones of Ralph Wiggum, all of which die horribly. He visits Moe’s, which has not changed due to the many homicides, which includes outlines on the floor of Sideshow Bob and the Capital City Goofball. Homer takes Bart’s boys to see Abe, who is in a cryogenic facility below a gravestone. He de-suspends his father, and Grandpa Simpson predictably starts in on Homer’s shortcomings. This leads to one of Homer’s finest speeches: “Everyone thinks their dad is a jerk. And everyone’s right! But when you get older, you realize how much you love him.” Aw, man. I hope my own kids hear similar good advice some day. Bart arrives and has a heartwarming reunion with his kids.
Meanwhile, Lisa has also discovered that her daughter is basically a good kid who looks up to her. And Maggie had a girl. The episode ends with the whole family smiling for the camera while the pets, who have now evolved, take their picture. Happy holidays to Simpsons fans, well-wishers, and hangers-on! May you have drunken conversations a-plenty and bittersweet reconciliations with all of your loved ones!
- “Are we done yet? It’s A Wonderful Life is about to start. I wonder what my life would have been like if I’d never seen that movie.”
- The Hardy Borgs. Love Among The Asteroids. As a Walker Percy fan, I say: HA!
- Marge’s Christmas Cookie pill expands to a recipe when she adds water. Nice!
- “I am trying to deal with my disrespectful daughter, but you are too clueless to understand what that’s like!”
- “My daughter thinks I’m a ruthless tyrant. Like Hitler or Prince Harry!”
- The civic message on City Hall is ‘Liberty and Justice for Most.’
- First Church of Lard Lad.
- Krusty the Clown has turned into Andy Rooney.
- The crazy cat lady frozen in the cryogenic facility with all of her cats cracked me right up for some reason.
- “You’ve taught us the meaning of Christmas, which schools are forbidden to tell us anymore.”