This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 31 Episode 10
D’oh, ho ho. The Simpsons, season 31, episode 10, “Bobby: It’s Cold Outside,” is a double-stuffed bag for the chimney. It is their annual Christmas episode, and these halls are decked. The episode features evergreen favorite recurring villain Sideshow Bob, who trims his tree with ornaments of bleeding Barts. And it bottoms out with Springfield’s favorite Grinch.
After what appears to be another ingenious escape from the revolving door penal system in Springfield, Sideshow Bob winters by the sea, where he tends a lighthouse. I heard the song “I want to marry a lighthouse keeper,” from Clockwork Orange in my head the whole time he is visited by a distant neighbor who is very pleased he is single. Whether it’s his mop of red hair, tall thin frame and big feet, or the idea that anyone who lives in a lighthouse is pretty much a shut-in, Sideshow Bob gets picked to be the local Santa Claus in Springfield’s Santa’s Village, already overcrowded at Christmas.
Bart’s history with the men in red is problematic as it is. Even, and maybe especially, when Homer had the lap with the most. Bart is fond of pulling fake beards off mall Santas, so we know there is going to be a reunion. We know it will be fraught with some kind of tension, Sideshow Bob has been singing about stringing up Bart from the very opening, but we’re not guaranteed lethal intent. Damn those method actors, they have to feel it.
For this episode, the unlikely duo feels like performing a Christmas miracle, though of course, they’d never call it that. They work side by side saving the Yule season. Bart and Sideshow Bob’s relationship goes far beyond nemeses. That’s the role rakes play in Sideshow Bob’s life. Bob has also been a mentor to Bart, a guardian, close friend, singing partner, co-conspirator and comrade in arms. They’ve each saved the other, or cleared the other of crimes they didn’t commit. Their relationship is complicated.
Sideshow Bob’s appearance coincides with a rash of stolen UPS packages. Tis the season. Christmas in Springfield is the usual shopper’s nightmare. They don’t need Black Friday to darken their retail environment. Lenny gets caught in his own booby trapped attempt to catch the thieves, but is able to write the initials in blood, or paint from a paint gun. Springfield’s police round up all the usual suspects, from Selma Bouvier to Scott Bacula, they even pull Sandra Bullock out of her bird box.
Because it is a holiday episode, everyone in the community makes a quick appearance, from Rainier Luftwaffe Wolfcastle to Krusty the Clown. Even Lisa Simpson almost gets a second line in tonight. Yes, she and Krusty are both brushed off like so many garlands on a tree, when they are obviously close to the main players. At least Marge has little projects she can get caught up in.
Maggie gets her own segment, and it is a truly revelatory one. Dreamlike, with more than a touch of nightmare, the one ride at Santa’s Village is a kiddie ride parents don’t fit on. That means the gnomes can have at them as they will. We are not sure whether this is Maggie’s perception of the dangers of gnomes, or if the carneys who put it together are really taking advantage of the lack of parental supervision, but it is genius. The ride’s song, sung so merrily with that “It’s a Small World” buoyancy, sinks into a river of subversive threats and promises of more said doom.
The music is festively eclectic on this seasonal choir. Good King Wenceslas continues to make his ominous iciness known, while new chestnut Baby Shark Diddy keeps the family roasted during car rides. The episode must have been written during the winter of discontent with Dean Martin because the closing sequence reclaims “Baby It’s cold Ouside” with such over the top legalistic disclaimers I wish they’d slapped me with a nondisclosure citation. We get some light political gags, like burning the Bill of Rights on the Fox News yule log, along with the Constitution and quite a few books which might have made thoughtful holiday gifts.
Of course, the Christmas present crime wave is just another one of Mr. Burns Grinchy indulgences, which is the other holiday miracle. Sideshow Bob, who in another life was Seattle’s favorite radio psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane, gets Mr. Burns on the couch. Or is it in his lap, as he’s doing it in a red suit? Either way, their scene is much more touching than creepy even though the lesson at the center of it is a nightmare in itself. You’re a mean one, Mr. Burns, and everybody knows.
Robert Underdunk Terwilliger Jr., Ph.D., is as much a tradition as The Simpsons’ annual Christmas show, or “Treehouse of Horrors,” although not annual guarantee. Kelsey Grammer may or may not have beaten James Arness’ record for playing one character the longest, but he will forever be Sideshow Bob, unless David Hyde Pierce also guest stars on the episode and things blur. Come to think of it, though, haven’t all the principles on The Simpsons played their characters longer than Arness’ Marshal Matt Dillon character? Maybe it doesn’t count if they’re artistically rendered, or perhaps it stopped counting after the animation began to be drawn by committee.
The Sideshow Bob episodes also have quality in common with the “Treehouse” and Christmas episodes. It might be the writing is sharper to match the character. It might be Grammer actually reads the whole script before signing on. It could be simply Sideshow Bob is a great character, in moderation. There’s only room for one Fonzie on The Simpsons and that’s Bart. Served hot, cold or on the rocks, Sideshow Bob is gourmet meal which is actually filling, maybe not to Homer, who goes fishing when all-you-can-eat-shrimp runs out, but to viewers.
This year’s Simpsons Christmas episode is a full holiday meal with the good pastry place closed. “Bobby: It’s Cold Outside” combines the annual seasonal favorite with the always-anticipated Sideshow Bob appearance and wraps it in a Mr. Burns bow. It has all the elements of a top-tier favorite, but it’s not quite the perfect gift. It’s not that it tries too hard, because it really does work subtle into zany well and consistently. The plot and pacing are perfect, with a lot of extra sight gags thrown in throughout, and it will be one of those episodes Simpsons fans will re-watch happily, but they will know a few other episodes would have made them happier.
“Bobby: It’s Cold Outside” was written by Jeff Westbrook and John Frink, and directed by Steven Dean Moore.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, Krusty the Clown and Groundskeeper Willie, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Comic Book Guy, Kirk Van Houten, Chief Wiggum, Professor John I.Q. Nerdelbaum Frink Jr., and Moe. Harry Shearer is Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Pamela Hayden voices multiple parts. Guest voices: Steve Ballmer as himself, Scott Bakula as himself and Kelsey Grammer as Sideshow Bob.
The Simpsons episode “Bobby: It’s Cold Outside” aired Sunday, Dec. 15, on Fox.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.
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