This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 32 Episode 10
It’s beginning to look a lot like Dominion Day in “A Springfield Summer Christmas for Christmas.” That’s a Canadian holiday which falls in July, as Springfield passes for Canada passing for small-town America in The Simpsons season 32, episode 10. This is a festive dismantling of yuletide cheer.
The episode tells the heartwarming story of the making of a Christmas movie. The “Heartmark Channel” sends Mary Tannenbaum (Ellie Kemper), its top candidate to head their Homemaker Mysteries Division, to save A Christmas Ornament for Christmas. Christmas movies are the channel’s bread and butter, but Tannenbaum doesn’t eat bread, dreads Christmas movies, and prefers her big city life to the simple pleasures of bed and breakfasts, and tomato and lettuce festivals. She has a handsome surgeon fiancé (Chris Parnell) waiting at home, and he does everything but percolate.
The first crack in their idyllic façade is the coffee. Mary can’t believe her fiancé doesn’t remember how she likes it after two years together. He can’t understand why she still thinks it’s a big thing after two years. It is the perfect schism for the kind of movies Heartmark makes. Mary is a genre producer on the rise. Her surgeon fiancé sees her as a movie executive at a greeting card company. The background music is perfect. It captures the feel of the Hallmark pastiche with enough syrup for Homer’s morning pancakes.
The Simpson family has taken it upon themselves to co-star in the episode, giving Mary and Principal Skinner the gift of top billing. Most of the production crew is staying at the Simpsons’ place on Evergreen Terrace for $500 a night. Marge plays a hovering, sycophantic celebrity assistant to Homer’s entertainment-company-gouging mercenary, allowing Skinner to be the everyman at the center of all holiday rom-coms since Little Shop Around the Corner Got Mail.
Mary finds the people of Springfield to be quite quaint, at first, and is blithely dismissive. She tells Moe, who is a cab driver in this Christmas episode, that there are reasons for shooting Christmas movies in the summer. She doesn’t tell him what they are. She makes it sound like it’s over his head. Moe says “I get that,” meaning it’s out of his pay grade as a small town, middle American citizen of good standing, a dramatic stretch for Moe.
Marge is a marvel in this episode: so friendly she’s creepy, and so creepy she’s trustworthy, at least to Mary. Marge is an unabashed fanatic over the Christmas Movie Genre, some of her favorites being A Soldier from Mommy at Christmas and Flyover Country Christmas. Marge is a believer who knows everyone is jolly in Christmas tunes and Mary says, “The songs are wrong.” Marge’s entire vocabulary takes on a Christmas movie creative team hue. She invents gluten balls, finds the best places to insert Gwyneth Paltrow products, and finds new “everything” to smear on a bagel.
Mary carries a jaded disdain for the seasonal cinematic fare, as do most of the people who work on them, apparently. The director of the film, played by Richard Kind, consistently decks the halls with verbal barbed wire.
“They’re all the same,” the director lists as the very first thing wrong with the one he’s shooting. “This is the worst thing to happen to this movie since someone wrote it,” and “Heartmark doesn’t have the time, money, or creativity” to fix a scenario, are classic zingers. When the actors confuse character names Sandra and Jeff from a previous Christmas movie they worked on, we learn that dubbing changes is a hallmark at Heartmark.
“A Springfield Summer Christmas for Christmas” is one of The Simpsons’ best stylistic parodies. The stilted vocal reads, the subtle family-friendly references are all perfect, and perfectly ironic. The first section is pure Hallmark. It captures all of the worst aspects of cookie-cutter production Christmas movies and overdoes the wrapping.
Mary is the clichéd protagonist, waiting to get back to her gay best friend, and thankful she’ll never have to work on a Christmas movie again. She is unappreciative of the small-town gossip which is tossed across diners. Apu’s whole family was in the diner tonight, to share the seasonal greetings but also to join in on the laughter when Skinner mocks Mary for her big city appetites.
The sequence where Bart has to sleep in Lisa’s room with Maggie and all their toys is reminiscent of the earliest of Simpsons episodes. The three kids don’t get enough scenes by themselves. They capture a very eerie vibe from an unlikely source, all the “girly stuff” on the bed. Lisa’s sleep-nerding keeps Bart up, but the payoff is Maggie’s spittle. It doesn’t take much to send him running, and planning revenge.
While Marge casts herself as Mary’s quirky best friend, something Julie Kavner has had more than a lot of practice doing, “Prince Pajama Foot” crashes the production as the merry menacing type exemplified by Macaulay Culkin’s diabolical Kevin in Home Alone. Bart cuts down the Christmas treacle with the footage from a documentary Lisa is making on the production.
Homer’s descent into exploiting the production culminates in a brilliant scheme to grind white stuff up into fake snow. He tosses mattresses, papers, old men’s beards, asbestos, the L from the Springfield sign, and bones from the Springfield Museum of Natural History into a tree shredder and rakes in an avalanche of cash. Springfield has a history of gouging visiting entertainment productions. They bankrupted the Radioactive Man movie team with taxes and surcharges in season 7.
The arc parallels to light holiday fare by having the main character exposed to the town as an elitist, exposed to her handsome surgeon fiancé as unsatisfied, and learning the true meaning of Christmas movie trauma: the film Jingle All the Way. Arnold Schwarzenegger barely got out of that movie alive. Mary’s father was not so lucky, you can still see pieces of him from the Turbo Man mall riot scene in the trailer. The implications are brilliant, the logic is skewered, and the emotional effect is just as heavy as if it were on the Hallmark Channel — again, aided immensely by the soundtrack.
Mary loses the trust of the locals because of her blatant disrespect. Moe is particularly stung, having allowed himself to be so vulnerable, letting himself “be whimsical” with her. “How dare you not be charged by us?” the townspeople want to know. It can’t just be the irritable bowel syndrome. But it is the enlarged hearts of the people in town which brings the Christmas miracle. As the director says, they can now finish the piece of crap.
“A Springfield Summer Christmas for Summer” is a masterful send-up of holiday movies, demographically charged programming, and Christmas itself. Marge, like many lovers of the genre, thinks “Christmas movies are the best because everything always works out no matter how contrived.” The entire episode rides contrivances like reindeer. When the actual film runs on Heartmark, all the Simpsons but Marge think it’s the worst movie they’ve ever seen. This makes it a classic Christmas offering. It’s the coal in the stocking under the candy canes, which actually fell out of an art supply gift package. The Simpsons subverts the yule tidings entirely, with an enthusiastic cynicism guiding the merry melodrama.