'The Simpsons' First Aired Episode: THR's 1989 Review

Courtesy of Everett Collection
'The Simpsons' in 1989

On Dec. 17, 1989, Fox debuted The Simpsons as its own stand-alone show with a Christmas special episode. The Hollywood Reporter's original review of the series is below.

The Simpsons may well be the most moronic middle-class family since the beginning of time. But, hey, that's what makes them so extra special. 

The fact that cartoonist Matt Groening has been able to get away with slamming the American bourgeoisie since last January has been a miracle, one of getting stuff past execs who live in a culture where the idea of a major experience is a backyard barbeque with the in-laws. Groening has gone beyond his deliberately annoying snippets from The Tracey Ullman Show and expanded them into a FBC Christmas special called Simpsons: Roasting on an Open Fire Christmas Special.

For those unfamiliar with this particular horror of a nuclear family, it consists of dad Homer (voice of Dan Castellaneta), mom Marge (Julie Kavner), kid Bart (Nancy Cartwright) and fellow munchkin Lisa (Yeardley Smith). Also in there are Harry Shearer, Penny Marshall and Marcia Wallace. 

In this particular episode, the family has run out of money because Bart has gone and had a tattoo removed, a procedure that costs them all their holiday money.

Homer has to get a job as a department store Santa — and of course, by incredible coincidence, his son discovers that the old man has had to resort to desperate measures.

Matters aren't helped any when Homer has to face the inevitability that federal and state deductions have reduced his paycheck to just about enough to feed a gerbil. 

This is not exactly a laugh riot by anybody's standard. But Groening has a talent for understating stupidity. 

That's a redeeming quality that overrides just about everything else. The animation is little better than what we get on Saturday morning cartoons. 

But, oddly enough, that generally works in favor of the show's satiric intent. The sort of stilted junk that the ordinary crumb-cruncher accepts as passable animation is all the more acceptable if it makes its point in understandable visual terms. 

As usual in the Simpson family, there's dialogue here that's enough to keep the average adult from jumping out of the nearest window. 

Lisa gives us a monologue on the meaning of life that should seem familiar enough to anybody who has spent any time exposed to the perils of psychotherapy. 

And Bart reminds us of one of the many falsehoods that get thrown at us every year: "If TV has taught us anything, it's that miracles always happen to some kids at Christmas." — Bruce Bailey, originally published on Dec. 22, 1989.

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