“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” debuted on December 17, 1989, only about three months after I was born. I always felt it set the tone for the show’s sentimental side.
As a debut, it’s imperfect–Ralph Wiggum has the wrong voice, Moe Szyslak has the wrong hair color. But each scene perfectly situates Homer as our pitiful hero: Homer arrives late to Lisa’s hokey Christmas school assembly; Homer’s denied a holiday bonus at the Nuclear Power Plant; Homer goes to Moe’s Tavern to drown his sorrows; Homer steals a christmas tree because he’s broke; Homer takes a part-time job as a shopping mall Santa because he’s broke; Homer bets his measly paycheck at the dog track; Homes rescues “Santa’s Little Helper,” the loser greyhound he bet on at the dog track.
To get an idea of this show’s immense sentimental power, chew on this underrated exchange between Lisa and her twin aunts, Patty and Selma, when Homer is late to arrive home on Christmas Eve:
Where is Homer anyway?
It’s so typical of the big doofus to spoil it all.
What, Aunt Patty?
Oh nothing, dear. I’m just trashing your father.
Well, I wish that you wouldn’t. Because, aside from the fact that he has the same frailties as all human beings, he’s the only father I have. Therefore, he is my model of manhood, and my estimation of him will govern the prospects of my adult relationships. So I hope you bear in mind that any knock at him is a knock at me. And I am far too young to defend myself against such onslaughts.
I owe a huge debt to The Simpsons for my worldview and sense of humor, so it was a treat to talk to cartoonist Mimi Pond, who wrote the 1989 Christmas Special that launched the seminal animated series.
FUSION: How did you find yourself writing the Simpsons Christmas Special?
MIMI POND: I believe Sam Simon was the one who suggested they needed a Christmas episode, and I seized on that because I hated Christmas.
FUSION: One writer praised this episode for uniquely nailing both the magical/joyful and cynical/commercial aspects of Christmas. Do you look back and think yeah, that was kind of the point of “Simpsons Roasting?”
MIMI POND: Yes.
FUSION: Are any plot points of “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” derived from your personal life?
MIMI POND: Just the pony.
FUSION: Al Jean tweeted that in 1989, the show staff celebrated the premiere at an old school Bowling Alley–were you present? Was there a feeling that this was the beginning of a hugely influential show?
Yes, I was at the bowling party, and everyone got a bowling shirt. I might still have it somewhere. I also got a crew jacket and when I wore it on the subway back in NYC where I was still living at the time, I was mobbed by people who wanted one. It was then that I knew it was going to be gigantic.
FUSION: I always thought this episode really set the sentimental tone of the show. Why didn’t you continue writing there?
MIMI POND: I just didn’t do that much TV writing, and there’s a couple reasons for that. I wasn’t invited to be on staff at the Simpsons, because they didn’t want any women on staff at the time. Nobody told me that, it was something I found out through the grapevine. I was just sort of dropped like a hot rock, with no explanation from anyone there. It did remain a boy’s club there for quite a few years. And even since then, I think they’ve just had a handful of women writers.
Since 1989, The Simpsons went on to do okay. But in my opinion, not hiring Mimi Pond was their loss.
Check out “Over Easy,” Mimi Pond’s bestselling comic memoir on being an art school dropout waiting tables at a much weirder kind of boy’s club–a seedy 1970s diner.