It’s not Christmas without The Simpsons.  TV’s longest-running scripted series premiered with a Christmas episode and my favorite episode ever is one of the Christmas episodes.  It’s a proud tradition!  Today, we’re going all the way back to Season Eleven (and the previous century!) for “Grift of the Magi”.  Watch out for Funzo!

The Simpsons – “Grift of the Magi”

Original airdate: December 19, 1999

Man, I love The Simpsons.  I haven’t seen this episode in a good long while – with the more than 500 episodes out there, I can’t really keep the all fresh.  And I tend to focus my re-watches on the Golden Age (Seasons Three through Eight).  But after watching this episode, I went on a bit of a Season Eleven binge and I had a blast.

Right about this time, the first act of any given Simpsons barely connected to the main plot.  I was fairly certain I was watching the wrong episode for several minutes.  There’s some serious Rube Goldberg work required to get us to the main story, but we’ll get to Christmas.  I promise.

It begins with a hole in the ozone layer opening above Springfield (and actively chasing Milhouse at one point).  Since the kids can’t go outside to play, lest they catch fire, Bart and Milhouse have to amuse themselves indoors.  Which leads to the two of them dressing in Marge’s clothes and jumping on the bed.  Bart falls off the bed, lands on a bowling ball and breaks his coccyx.  He has to wear a fanny-cast and is confined to a wheelchair.  Since the school isn’t handicap accessible, he can’t get to class.

In order to comply with the law, Principal Skinner contracts the mob to build access ramps.  By the time they’re done, Bart is already back to normal.  Also, the ramps were built entirely of breadsticks and immediately collapse.  Since Skinner spent the entire budget, Springfield Elementary closes forever.

First, the students try to convince Mr. Burns to fund the school with a play about the perils of undereducated children.  It doesn’t work.  And just shy of the nine-minute mark, we get to the plot.  An organization called “Kid First Industries” re-opens the school and assumes educational responsibilities.  But the new teachers, like Tim Robbins as Jim Hope, are more concerned about finding out what kids like and what sort of toys they’d be likely to buy.  Lisa quickly discovers that KFI is actually a toy company exploiting the kids for cheap market research.

Using data from the kids, KFI creates “Funzo”, a cuddly toy with lots of firepower.  Bart and Lisa investigate KFI headquarters, eluding security guard Gary Coleman.  The execs buy Bart off with a free Funzo, and the kids quickly learn that it’s programmed to destroy your old toys.  But Funzo is the hit of the year despite the danger it represents.  Everybody in town buys one.  Bart and Lisa convince Homer to help them get rid of every last Funzo by breaking into houses while the kids create a diversion by caroling.

Surprisingly, their plan works and they bring the Funzos out to the tire fire to end the madness.  Gary Coleman shows up to stop them, and they end up debating moral relativism all night.  Coleman destroys one last Funzo with karate and the Simpsons invite him to Christmas dinner.  Mr. Burns changes his mind and finances the school.  Christmas is saved!

So, the thing I realize is that there’s really no conflict in this episode.  Bart and Lisa come up with a plan and they execute the plan without additional complications.  But if I had to choose between a seeing a Funzo attack or the school play, I’m picking the school play every time.  It’s a very funny episode, and a surprising amount of the lines from the “World of Springfield” playsets from a few years ago come from this episode.


Best Line – “I can’t wait until we’re teenagers.  Then we’ll be happy.” — Milhouse

Runners-Up:  “To inaugurate our new ramp system, here’s the first of what I hope will be many disabled students.” — Principal Skinner

“I don’t get mad.  I get stabby.” — Fat Tony

“Now that’s market research you can take to the bank.  The money bank.” — Lindsay Naegle

“Three prawns are hardly a galaxy!” — Gary Coleman

“This’ll make three Christmases I’ve saved versus eight I’ve ruined.  Two were kind of a draw…” — Homer Simpson



Holiday Tropes

Gift Exchange – Everybody gets a Funzo!

Christmas Caroling – Bart and Lisa go house-to-house to create a diversion, often having to sing especially loud to cover for Homer.

Santa Claus – Homer dresses like Santa for his breaking and entering.

Hanukkah Shout-Out – Krusty the Klown hosts a non-denominational holiday special, wishing the kids a “Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, a Kwazy Kwanzaa, Tip-Top Tet, and solemn and dignified Ramadan”.

Celebrity Guests – We’ve got Gary Coleman as himself, Joe Mantegna as Fat Tony, Tim Robbins as Jim Hope, and Clarence “Big Man” Clemons as the narrator.  It’s every star in the sky!  Krusty’s Holiday Special guest-stars Tea Leoni, Beck, the Dixie Chicks, and Patrick Ewing, but they’re just there for visual gags – no guest voices here.

A Christmas Carol – Three ghosts visit Mr. Burns to convince him to save the school with money he found in his tuxedo pants.

It’s a Wonderful Life – At the end, Moe learns what the world would be like if he’d never been born and decides not to commit suicide.  This is in sharp contrast to more recent seasons, when such a vision would only depress Moe further.

Holiday Cheer-O-Meter – I love The Simpsons, and re-watching this episode after so many years gave me so much pleasure.  However, the Christmas setting is just there so there’s a reason for everybody to buy Funzo at the same time.  So as much as I like it, the holidays don’t even come up until thirteen minutes into the episode.  I’m giving it a 5.

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