For the titles of these Christmas entries I like to just go with the episode/special title when possible. Most of the time it’s obvious what series the episode is from based on the title such as is the case with “Tis the Season to be Smurfy.” With “Marge Be Not Proud” I wasn’t sure. Is the name Marge now synonymous with The Simpsons? Perhaps. After all, I don’t think I’ve met a woman under the age of 60 named Marge. Obviously I decided to play it safe with the title for this one, but that by no means is meant to diminish what The Simpsons is to our culture. Even if the show’s glory days are long over, the show is still one of the most recognizable properties in the world. And even though the show is more known for its Halloween specials, they’ve done more than a few Christmas episodes and the most culturally relevant one just may be the one we’re talking about today.
The Simpsons premiered with the Christmas themed “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” It wasn’t drawn up that way, but production delays on the first season made it so. That episode is great and one I adore, but “Marge Be Not Proud” is full of jokes and bits that I still hear referenced today. When someone does a Sonic the Hedgehog impression it’s often stolen from this episode (“Take it!”). If you get a Christmas gift you did not want it’s basically your version of Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge. And “Buy me X or go to Hell,” is a pretty effective way to illustrate what you really want for Christmas every year. It’s also the first Christmas special since the infamous debut and that’s credited by show runner at the time Bill Oakley as being due to no one wanting to tackle the subject since it was famously done in the premiere. Since this episode, the show has gone back to the holiday numerous times, though arguably not with as much success as it did here.
While watching a Krusty holiday special, an ad for the video game Bonestorm is run that is aimed directly at Bart ending with the famous tagline “Buy me Bonestorm or go to Hell!” Bart makes a similar demand to Homer and is rejected by both he and Marge. Homer’s concern seems to be with the cost of the game, while Marge doesn’t want Bart playing such violent games (Bonestorm is clearly a parody of Mortal Kombat) forcing Bart to declare he’s not a kid anymore. Marge’s attempts at mothering Bart, such as tucking him in at night, are met with defiance from the spikey-haired boy as he views this affection by Marge as contributing to her perception that he’s too young for Bonestorm.
The next day, Bart sets out to acquire a copy of Bonestorm by any means necessary. He sees a sign at The Android’s Dungeon advertising it for 99 cents. Turns out, that’s the rental price and Comic Book Guy explains capitalism to the young lad after he tries buying a copy for 99 cents. He then tries renting it from the comic book shop, only to be told by Comic Book Guy that all copies are spoken for, but he can rent Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge if he wants. Obviously not interested in a golf game, and one focused on the most boring aspect of golf, Bart seeks out other means. While passing by the home of Milhouse, he hears the game from the street and immediately barges in (Milhouse had just entered his name: Thrillhouse). Bart tries to play the game with him, but Milhouse keeps inventing excuses why Bart can’t that Bart keeps pointing out are false prompting Milhouse to just yell to his mother that Bart’s swearing resulting in him being shown the door (it had been established in a previous episode that Milhouse’s mom has a very low opinion of Bart and thinks he’s a bad influence on her son).
Having been thwarted by the comic shop and rejected by his best friend, Bart decides to head to the Try-N-Save thinking if he gazes at the game with enough sadness on his face that some rich person might take enough pity on him that they’ll buy it for him. He runs into Nelson and Jimbo and they’re happy to show-off the goods they’re shop-lifting, planting the seed in Bart’s brain to do the same. He then witnesses a rich kid bossing his mother into buying two copies of the game, one for him and one for his sister because he refuses to share. When the clerk leave’s the cabinet of video games open by mistake to go ring-up their purchase, Bart starts to feel emboldened. Parodies of Mario and Sonic and other video game stars float around his head and are pretty entertaining for gaming geeks. Bart decides to do it and stashes a copy under his purple sweatshirt (so that’s why they actually gave him a jacket in this episode). He walks calmly through the store and reaches the exit. Thinking he’s home free he celebrates, only for a strong hand to find his shoulder and request he return to the store.
Security guard Don Brodka (voiced by guest star Lawrence Tierney) brings him to a security room and shows Bart surveillance footage of his thievery. He then makes him watch a tape on shoplifting hosted by Troy McClure while Brodka calls Bart’s parents. They’re not home, but he leaves a lengthy message on the answering machine before telling Bart he’s banned from the store. He then lets Bart go, who knows he has a small window of time to make it home before anyone hears that message. He races home in a Ferris Bueller parody as Homer and Marge do the same (Maggie has an exceptionally stinky diaper that needs changing, causing Homer to rush home) and manages to just beat them and switch the tape. Bart’s victory is short-lived however, as Marge informs him they’re all going to the Try-N-Save to get their family photo taken for Christmas.
Bart tries to disguise himself to avoid detection, but Marge makes him remove it. Despite his numerous protests and complaints, the family goes through with heading to the store. When Bart is reluctant to enter, Homer decides to playfully scoop him up and put him on his shoulders. Bart is exceedingly nervous, but they get to the photo section without detection by Brodka. As Bart impatiently insists they get on with it, the family sets up for the picture only for Brodka to yank Bart by the collar the second the photographer engages the shutter, ruining the picture. Marge is incredulous to see her special little guy being treated this way, and when Brodka informs her of Bart’s deed she insists he must have the wrong kid. Brodka produces the same surveillance tape he showed Bart and enters it into a store display TV and VCR. Just as he pushes play, Bart blocks the view of the television to confess his crime and tell his mother he doesn’t want her to see him this way. Unknown to him, the store display was also connected to the various television sets on the wall as well and all show his crime. Marge, clearly heartbroken, says little and the family leaves the store.
At home, Bart expects a swift, brutal punishment but is instead met with silence from his mother. When he asks what he can do she suggests he go to his room. He’s clearly affected by what he’s done to his mother which is a side of Bart we really don’t see often. He climbs into bed and, upon hearing his mother tuck in Lisa, outwardly grumbles about how she’s on her way to do the same babyish routine with him. Instead Marge simply appears in the doorway and says “Good night,” before shutting off the light. In their room, Marge confesses to Homer she’s not sure when she lost her son, but blames herself for mothering him too much. She feels she needs to do better by him and vows to treat him differently going forward. Homer, on the other hand, has been mostly furious with Bart this whole time and seems to be taking glee in devising various punishments for the boy.
When Bart wakes up the next morning he finds his mother hasn’t done the usual amount of things she normally would do for him. When he wonders why he has no marshmallows in his hot coco she suggests he can do it himself. Bart fails at doing so, and is pretty miserable. He heads over to Milhouse’s for some cheering-up only to find Milhouse playing with a simple ball in a cup toy after getting bored with Bonestorm. Bart seems to think he’s crazy at first, then demands a turn with the ball in a cup toy which only causes Milhouse to scream, “Mom, Bart’s smoking!” As Luanne goes to toss Bart out of her house again he stops her and asks if he can hang out with her while she does “mom stuff.” She’s a bit taken aback by the request, but agrees to let Bart hang around and he helps her mail Christmas cards, “Tell me I’m a good boy.”
When Bart returns home, he finds his family finishing up building a snow family. When he asks why they didn’t wait for him, Marge says she thought he wouldn’t want to spend time with them, but tells him he can build his own “snow Bart” with the leftover snow stuck on the underside of the car. He makes a crude, gray, slushy Bart and depressingly heads inside. Later he takes off, cursing his family in the process. He runs into Nelson once more, who taunts Bart with his latest stolen goods. Bart then heads back to the Try-N-Save angrily vowing to show everyone what a black sheep can do.
When Bart returns home he’s clearly concealing something in his coat once again. Marge sees him and immediately suspects the worst. When Bart tries to run away she gets angry and vows to get him. Homer jumps in and helps corner the boy. When he has no where left to go, Marge demands he open his jacket and he reluctantly does to reveal a framed photo of himself, along with the proof of purchase. Marge is a bit overcome with emotion, and affectionately showers Bart with all of the mothering she’s been withholding. She places the photo inside the frame of the family portrait from the other day, covering up the image of Bart being yanked out of frame. Since she got her Christmas present early, she tells Bart he can have his early and he excitedly rips off the wrapping paper to reveal a copy of Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge. He thanks her, mostly hiding his disappointment and gives his mother a warm hug. During the end credits, we’re treated to some gameplay of Putting Challenge and Bart amusingly elects to use a driver despite Carvallo’s insistence he select a putter.
“Marge Be Not Proud” is a sweet little story about an adolescent facing peer pressure and a mother responding to a child that is growing out of a lot of the things she used to love most. It’s a story most can relate to as we probably all can recall a time we disappointed our parents either through something like Bart’s shoplifting or just by expressing that we didn’t want to do something anymore because we were too old for it, despite how that made our parents feel. The scenes between Marge and Bart following the reveal of Bart’s shoplifting are uncomfortable and kind of heartbreaking to watch. And for parents, it’s something all will inevitably go through as our children grow out of things, be it their first favorite book, bedtime routines, or just simple play. The Christmas aspect of this episode is merely a framing device as opposed to a focal point. It serves as a reason for Bart to expect his parents to buy him something he wants and as an excuse for Bart to get his mother a gift. It probably could have been told during really any other time of the year, but it does add a little extra sentimentality to make it occur at Christmas. And it’s always nice to see Springfield dressed up for a holiday.
“Marge Be Not Proud” is from the show’s seventh season (first airing December 17, 1995) and thus can be found on the DVD collection for that season. Surprisingly, it was left off of both Simpsons Christmas DVDs in favor of non-Christmas, but winter themed, episodes. FX streams every episode of the show via its FXNow app and website plugin which is accessible for anyone with a cable subscription that includes the channel FXX so you can watch this episode whenever you want. And if you don’t have a subscription, I think you can actually gain access for an hour on a trial basis or something. FXX is also guaranteed to play this during the holiday season, though with it now being December 20th, your chance may have passed you by (Update: It’s airing Thursday December 21st at 11 PM EST). This is not only a good Christmas episode, but a great episode of The Simpsons in general. If you love the show, then you should probably just get the season 7 set as it’s basically a must own for all fans of The Simpsons.