The holiday season is once again in full swing and in what’s become a yearly tradition of mine since writing on The Simpsons we take a look at one of the classic Christmas episodes of the series.
This year we look at Marge Be Not Proud which stands not only as a great Christmas episode but one of the classic Simpsons episodes overall in my opinion. In hindsight, I remember Proud as being more dramatic than funny. When I re-watched it though I was surprised at how many jokes they were able to slip in between all the heavy stuff of Marge and Bart. I was also taken aback by how moved I was and I can say that this is one of those episodes that truly gets better with age and experience.
I think we can all remember a time (or at least I certainly can) when we wanted something so bad (usually a toy or game) that we would literally do anything for. The setup in Proud encapsulates this sentiment perfectly first with Bart literally drooling when he sees the ad for Bonestorm. Then every scene after is like a weight that keeps getting added to Bart. His parents can’t afford the game, the rentals are all out of stock (cue sarcastic Comic Book Guy who does have a lot of copies of Lee Carvalho’s Putting Challenge), Milhouse won’t share the game, the bratty rich kid gets two copies and to top it all off the bullies are stealing and getting away with it.
By the time Bart is presented with the opportunity to steal we’re already fully on his side and even though we know it’s reckless, we understand where he’s coming from as a child. When he gets caught it’s like a deer in the headlights. Everything gets turned upside down and the tone immediately shifts from one of childhood whimsy to the harsh realities of punishment.
Enter ‘detective Brodka’, who’s actually just security at the Try n’ Save. A no nonsense letter of the law type of guy with a rough exterior and authoritative voice ups the ante on Bart’s dilemma. The best part of this exchange is when he shows Bart the Troy McClure episode on stealing which is more of a history lesson (“and now lets fast forward to ancient Babylonia”) than anything else. He leaves a message on the Simpsons answering machine as if it were an actual conversation and then gives the threat to Bart to not step foot in that location ever again.
In the meantime, we’ve seen Marge show her affection to Bart via her nighttime ritual which in the moment plays like her being overly motherly. It takes on more significance later. Bart rushes home after his debrief with Brodka to replace the voicemail on the answering machine which he does with a copy of Camp Granada. Homer mistakenly thinks Lisa is actually there. Bart thinks he’s won but the next day the family decide to take Christmas photos at none other than the Try n’ Save.
We know what’s coming, Bart’s reckoning, and the episode knows it. A host of incidents mark the impending doom from the dramatic music as Marge announces the plans, to Homer lifting Bart onto his shoulders as they walk in, to Bart taking refuge on the giant lawn chair which is rigged with lights and music, to the photographer taking his time and lastly with the spectre of Brodka walking up and down the aisles. Bart gets caught and Brodka decides to play the surveillance footage and in a moving moment Bart, out of desperation blocks the screen. This was perfect as you could sense the fear and shame in him and what’s telling is that he addresses Marge. He doesn’t want her to see the footage because he knows it would break her. But in Simspons fashion the screen pans out and the footage is being displayed on the wall of TV’s.
It did break Marge and the next scene she’s basically frozen as she doesn’t know how to react. She tries to hang up the picture but it slants too much, a visual representation of the state of the family at the moment.
We then get a quick reprieve which I forgot about before re-watching. Bart and Lisa are brushing their teeth together and the two comment on Marge. Bart is surprised that Marge did not blow up but Lisa surmises that she’s absorbed the anger and has moved to a stage far worse: pain. This exchange is so wonderful because it’s exactly what would happen between siblings. Its sweet and its an inside look at their relationship, not judgmental but one of understanding.
This leads to the devastating and terse “good night” from Marge to Bart. She skips the bed time ritual and Bart now knows the effect of his actions. The episode then does a slight pivot to get Marge’s perspective which is the perfect move for an episode this dramatic. In her bedroom talking it out with Homer Marge ponders what she’s done wrong. She practically blames herself for what Bart did. She thinks she coddled him too much and in this moment we realize that she’s not so much upset at Bart as much as she is disappointed but ultimately confused. She still loves him but like any parent must come to grips with the fact that she may not fully understand her own child. From this perspective the ‘good night’ takes on new meaning. Marge’s response was to try and correct, what she sees, as her mistake and do a 180 degree turn.
The remainder of the episode goes back to Bart and serves as the punishment phase. Marge doesn’t wake him up or put marshmallows in his hot chocolate and the family build snowmen without him and force Bart to use the remainder of the snow under Homer’s car. Bart even tries to get validation from Milhouse’s mom by spending time with her. He eventually begs her: “please tell me I’m good” which is played for laughs but is also heartbreaking. All of this eventually leads to his outburst “I’ll show em what a black sheep can do”.
At the end of the episode Bart sneaks into the house clearly hiding something in his coat. Marge sensing another disappointment now becomes angry and with Homer’s help get Bart to reveal what he’s hiding. It turns out to be a framed picture of himself with the receipt for Bonestorm paid in full. Marge is instantly happy and you feel the weight lifted off both their shoulders. She places the picture on the family portrait and it balances out. Marge can once again trust her son and Bart gets the reassurance that his mother still loves him.
Then the final scene is classic Simpsons. Marge lets Bart open his gift early and as he’s doing it she remarks that she got him the game everyone’s talking about. It looks like its going to be Bonestorm but it ends up being Lee Carvalho’s Putting Challenge. Bart is surprised and does his best to hide his disappointment and in the end thanks his mom for the gift. He ends up putting her happiness ahead of his in what is both a funny and touching moment between mother and child.
A superb episode literally from start to finish. Not a time is wasted and every scene is poignant. The opening ads on TV from Krusty to those cupcake girls were quite funny. Comicbook Guy was a gem as always and Homer was at his best when he proclaimed that Bart was prohibited from stealing for 3 months. Even the final tag showing the gameplay from Putting Challenge was the cherry on top.
A classic, through and through. So much depth and with just the right amount of levity makes this one of the more memorable episodes. It cannot be recommended enough.