The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom which first aired December 17th 1989. The beginning episode clearly sets up the relationships between the characters and introduces Homer as the clueless husband, Marge as the dutiful wife, their goody-two-shoes daughter, Lisa and rebellious son, Bart. The couple also have a baby daughter Maggie, but she is so young that she is more a filler to complete the family unit than an actual character.
Homer is given the most screen time and we quickly identify him as incompetent at his job and perhaps not the most perfect parent as he goes against his wife’s statement that ‘there is no way Bart will get a tattoo’ by saying that Bart can get a tattoo if he pays for it with his allowance. It therefore might be easy to discount Homer as a deadbeat dad but as soon as the issues in the episodes arise which threaten the happiness of the Simpson’s Christmas Homer leaps into action and tries to help his family.
This can be seen when, through a series of unfortunate events (including Bart having to get his tattoo laser removed), the Simpsons find themselves without money for Christmas presents. When finding out about this issue Homer immediately assumes the protective role over his family as he wants to give them the best Christmas possible. It is clear that Homer feels the patriarchal societal voice which commands him to manage his family’s problems on his own without reaching out for help as he hides his monetary worries from even his wife, Marge. This invites sympathy for Homer as money struggles is a big worry to take on by yourself as Homer has done.
After Homer discovers the extent of his family’s financial woes we then return to the familiar TV scene of a man drowning his sorrows at a bar and talking to fellow bar-goers and bartenders. Luckily his drunk friend, Barney, tells him about a job opening for a Santa Claus acting job at a mall and so Homer goes to train as Father Christmas. The scenes in the classroom, for example the students monotonously chant ‘ho ho ho’ provide comic relief to the slightly depressing mood which has been set before hand as we see how much Homer is struggling to feel like a good dad and husband.
When working as Santa Homer’s secret job is uncovered by Bart who, far from judging Homer or being angry at him for lying agrees to help him. This provides emotional relief to Homer’s constant stress as the support of his son means the world to him. This can be seen in perhaps the most touching line of the episode where Homer tells Bart that ‘sometimes your faith in me is all that keeps me going.’
The episode ends on a resoundingly happy note as although Homer and Bart do not succeed in winning money, they do bring home an abandoned dog, ‘Santa’s Little Helper’. This gift proves immensely successful as Lisa exclaims ‘you’re the greatest’ and Marge says ‘G-d bless him’. This provides Homer with security in his image of himself as a ‘real man’ as he has made his family have a good Christmas.
It is therefore easy to see why the first episode of the Simpsons was so well received; indeed when it aired it attracted 26.7 million viewers. It provides a family friendly show which shows real life struggles (e.g. money and wanting to make your family happy and proud of you). It also combines them with light hearted comedy and touching moments like that of the end of the episode where we see the Simpson’s as a happy yet dysfunctional family unit. This makes the audience want to watch more of the season and see how the family dynamics play out in other episodes.