Original airdate: December 15, 2019
The premise: Sideshow Bob gets employed as Santa Claus at a local holiday village park. When Bart threatens to disrupt his operation, Bob tries to convince him he’s made a turn for good by helping uncover who’s been stealing packages off people’s doorsteps in the nights leading up to Christmas.
The reaction: Sideshow Bob again? Honestly and truly, does anyone really care about this character anymore? As I’ve said many times, “Brother From Another Series” was the perfect denouement for Bob, genuinely turning over a new leaf, saving his arch nemesis, but being locked up forever anyway in a cruel twist of fate. Future episodes featured him flip-flopping his unwavering vendetta toward Bart (and by extension, the rest of the Simpsons) at least two more times, by my recollection. They gave him a wife and son, who have been conspicuously absent for the last ten years. But in none of these episodes did it feel like we ever learn something new about Bob, or see a different side to his character. He’s a snooty thespian, and he wants to murder a ten-year-old. That’s about all. At the start of the show when Bob’s lighthouse neighbor asks him if he’s ever thought about children (bizarrely forward of her), Bob imagines the murdered Bart ornaments adorning his tree, the draperies of tinsel bleeding profusely. It really is genuinely upsetting when you actually think about Bob and his blood-thirsty obsession with killing a small child. This of course was all born from “Cape Feare,” which only got away with it because the episode itself was so outlandish and silly. But later episode seemed to dwell on this too much. I recall the last episode “Gone Boy” had Bob talk to a therapist about it, he ended up not murdering Bart, and then gave it up forever? I think? Whatever. So what’s happening in this show? Once we get past all the Bob bullshit, he agrees to help out with the B-plot, in finding out who’s been stealing the town’s packages. Turns out it’s Mr. Burns, who wants the town of Springfield to be as miserable on Christmas as he was as a boy. Back in 1935, he told a department store Santa the only thing he wanted this holiday season was a hug from his cold, distant parents, but all he got was shipped off to boarding school. Li’l Burns as a precocious spoiled shithead is far more in character and more amusing than the poor little rich boy to spiteful, heartless parents who are the root of his emotional abuse. What, are they trying to be like fucking BoJack Horseman? Bob poses as Santa to give Burns a quick therapy session, Burns fucking cries (ugh), and he gives the town back their gifts on Christmas morning Grinch-style. Then I wake up because the episode is almost over. And then I fast forward Bob and his lighthouse neighbor singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” for no reason. As I’ve said many times regarding Bob episodes, there are definitely ways you could bring him back effectively, either as a genuinely reformed member of society, or still a scheming madman. But you have to do something new and interesting with the character. We’ve seen flashes and interesting elements in the past twenty years, most notably in season 14’s “The Great Louse Detective,” where he was released from prison to find the man trying to kill Homer. In retrospect, using Bob as someone who can think like a killer for good was actually a great idea. But the episode was more interested in having multiple scenes where Bob get electrocuted over and over again. Even back then, potentially solid ideas, buried under a pile of meaningless nonsense. Same with this episode. Except for that “solid ideas” part.
Three items of note:
– It was interesting this episode regarded how the last Bob episode “Gone Boy” left off, featuring his new life living in isolation in a lighthouse. Back then, I think it was left ambiguous if he had truly escaped his Bart obsession. An elderly Bob wrote DIE BART DIE in the sand only for it to be washed away by the current, like washing his former sins away, which felt almost kind of poetic if not for my belief that I knew the next Bob episode would feature him wanting to kill Bart again. And wouldn’t you know, the first fucking scene with Bob here features him cheerily making his own Christmas ornaments of Bart getting horrifically killed. Fuck. Later, Bob has Bart in his clutches, but announces he just can’t kill him, like he did the last three or more times this happened. His excuse then was that he’s a hardcore method actor, so he couldn’t possibly harm a child as Santa Claus. I thought this would play a part in the rest of the episode, but it’s dropped immediately. So has Bob really gotten over Bart? Who knows. But more importantly, who cares?
– Following a bloody mishap with a decoy package, a seriously injured Lenny writes the initials of the package-napper in his blood: SB. Bart is adamant it’s Sideshow Bob, and after examination, the police free their other suspects: actor Scott Bakula (voicing himself), LA Clippers owner and former disgraced Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer (also voicing himself), and Sandra Bullock, who says nothing because Sandy doesn’t need to do this bullshit. Or maybe it’s just because they wanted to do a Bird Box parody. By which she just puts a blindfold on and walks out of the scene, because that was a thing that she did in a movie that was somewhat popular in what feels like ten years ago. That, and the Simpson family singing the “Baby Shark” song, fall in the same familiar category of the show’s futile, undying attempt to directly reference modern pop culture, despite the show’s long production schedule to make any kind of specific topical humor completely pointless.
– At the end of the episode, Bob watches It’s A Wonderful Life on TV, as in the actual live-action black & white film. This has happened a couple times previously on the show, where we just randomly see the characters watching a live action movie, and it’s always very weird. Even stranger considering Wonderful Life is owned by Paramount (I think. The film has a storied history regarding its copyright, which reading about proved far more interesting than this episode), so they would’ve had to pay for the rights to use the footage especially for this scene, which doesn’t even have a good punchline. Though I guess it’s no different when the show licenses music, I don’t know how much different in cost it would be.
One good line/moment: At Santa’s Village, Maggie is stuck on the Gnome in the Home boat ride, an incredibly traumatizing experience for infants of devious robot gnomes terrorizing the riders. The scene gets pretty over the top, but one bit involves one-eyebrowed baby Gerald getting snatched up by a gnome, who then slowly and silently recedes into the darkness, and then the scene cuts. It’s a pretty dark joke that made me chuckle in how out of left field it was.