Holidays of Future Passed
"Holidays of Future Passed" is the ninth episode of the twenty-third season of the American animated sitcom The Simpsons. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on December 11, 2011. Most of the episode is set thirty years into the future, when Bart and Lisa take their children with them to Homer and Marge's house over Christmas, while a pregnant Maggie goes into labor. Bart has divorced his wife Jenda and is struggling to become a better father for his two boys, while Lisa has trouble connecting with her rebellious teenage daughter Zia. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening made a minor uncredited cameo appearance as a sports commentator shouting "goal!" during a soccer game.
Originally written as a potential series finale, the episode has received highly positive reception from television critics who often cited it as the best episode of the season. It has been particularly praised for its humor and for its emotional scenes, such as one where Bart and Lisa sit in their old treehouse and talk about how difficult parenting is. During the original broadcast, "Holidays of Future Passed" was watched by about 6.43 million people. Since then, it has garnered attention in the media for a segment taking place thirty years in the future in which it is implied that the city of Dearborn, Michigan is "still under sharia law". Commentators have had mixed opinions on what the segment is mocking, whether it is the increasing Islamic influence in the US, specifically in Dearborn, or rather those who are thinking that Dearborn is under sharia law in December 2011, the time that the episode aired.
The title is a reference to the Moody Blues album, Days of Future Passed.
After stuffing themselves with turkey on Thanksgiving, it is time to take the annual Christmas card family photo, and when Bart and Lisa complain about it, Marge notes that they will grow to appreciate the photos when they become older and have children of their own. Lisa questions why Marge would assume they will even have children in the first place, and the episode jumps thirty years into the future via a series of Simpsons Christmas cards. The photos finally settle on a future where Bart is a deadbeat, divorced dad with two sons whom he does not see often; Lisa is a successful businesswoman who is married to Milhouse and has a rebellious daughter named Zia; and Maggie is the lead singer of a famous band and in the late stages of pregnancy. In his apartment, Bart is visited by his sons, who inform him that their mother Jenda teleported them to his place because she wants him to act like a proper father by having him spend time with them. However, he plans on dropping them off at his parents' house instead. Meanwhile, Lisa fears that Zia is spending too much of her time going into the "Ultranet", a digital world that people enter with their consciousness by plugging themselves into a laptop. Milhouse suggests to Lisa that she spend time with Zia in order for them to have a better connection, so Lisa decides to take Zia to her parents' house. Meanwhile, Maggie flies home from London to Springfield to celebrate Christmas with her parents.
When Bart and Lisa arrive at their parents' home, they stay there with their children. Unfortunately for Lisa, she only gets unhelpful advice from Marge on how to be a better parent, while Zia continues to go into the Ultranet. A furious Lisa ignores it and accuses Marge of being a bad parent. She tells her belief that it's the parents right to butt in their children's lives regardless. Marge gets mad at Lisa for her accusations and their conflicting styles of parenting causes a rift in their relationship. Meanwhile, Bart is heartbroken to find out that Jenda has remarried while he has not found anyone new. Feeling depressed, he tells Homer to take his grandsons out. The boys become angry with their father for not spending time with them, but the two have a great time with their grandfather. Bart and Lisa then encounter each other in their old treehouse, where they become slightly drunk and talk about how difficult parenting is. Lisa admitted she had an affair with Nelson a couple of times when Milhouse was away. After exchanging inspirational advice, they realize that they need to try harder to connect with their children. Lisa comes into Marge's room to apologize for her earlier behavior that made both of them get angry with each other. Marge understands how stressed out Lisa's been with a lack of communication she has with Zia and finally offers her some helpful advice. Meanwhile, upon arriving in Springfield, Maggie starts experiencing contractions and Kearney, now a taxi driver, drives her to the hospital.
Homer takes Bart's sons to a cryonics facility where Grampa has been frozen alive to prevent a disease from killing him. Although a cure has now been discovered, he is kept frozen by Homer because it is cheaper than paying for a nursing home and because Grampa has constantly been rude to him. Homer says to the boys that they should give their father another chance, since he knows Bart loves them. At that point, Bart arrives and apologizes to his sons, admitting how much he treasures them. Touched, the two boys forgive him for not having included them in his life much, while an inspired Homer decides to unfreeze Grampa and forgive him as well. Meanwhile, Lisa goes into the Ultranet to find Zia and discovers a door leading into Zia's private world. Entering it, Lisa is overjoyed to find that Zia has hung a poster of her next to a series of posters depicting historical women who have made a difference in the world. When Zia arrives, Lisa thanks her for looking up to her and the two reconcile at last, and secretly hides her life as a party poser. With the conflicts resolved, Bart and Lisa gather their children in preparation for a new Christmas family photo. Marge arrives with Maggie, who has given birth to a baby girl. The Simpsons gather into a group just as the family pets (who have evolved greatly over the past thirty years) take the new photo.
The episode, titled "Holidays of Future Passed", was written by J. Stewart Burns and directed by Rob Oliver. It was first announced to the press at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, California on July 23, 2011, during a panel with the producers of The Simpsons. "Holidays of Future Passed" is the eleventh episode of the series with a Christmas theme, and the fourth episode set in the future (the others being "Lisa's Wedding" from 1995, "Bart to the Future" from 2000, and "Future-Drama" from 2005). Originally there was a joke in the episode about a meltdown occurring at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant in the future; however, it was cut following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that resulted in several nuclear accidents in Japan.
The Simpsons creator Matt Groening made a minor cameo in the episode, though his appearance is not mentioned in the closing credits. In the episode, a robot examines the health of Maggie's fetus. Maggie's band is present, and one of the band members presses a button on the robot's "face", which is a screen showing its facial expressions, and a soccer game comes on instead. A sports commentator, voiced by Groening, gives a long "goal!" shout that is heard over the game. According to The Simpsons music editor Chris Ledesma, as the episode was being recorded, "there were only sounds of crowd cheering during that shot and Matt said we needed to spice it up somehow." After going through some different ideas, the staff settled on a commentator shouting "goal!". The staff members wanted Groening to provide the voice and he finished the recording in two takes.
In a 2013 interview with former show writer Conan O'Brien, Jean stated that this episode was intended to serve as a series finale in the case that cast negotiations earlier in the year forced the show to end.
"Holidays of Future Passed" originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on December 11, 2011. The episode was watched by approximately 6.43 million people during this broadcast, and in the demographic for adults aged 18–49, it received a 3.0 Nielsen rating and a seven percent share. This was a decrease from the previous episode, "The Ten-Per-Cent Solution", which received a 4.0 rating. However, that episode was preceded by a popular National Football League game that helped increase its rating. "Holidays of Future Passed" became the most-watched broadcast in Fox's Animation Domination lineup for the night in terms of total viewers, finishing higher than new episodes of the three series Family Guy (6.10 million), The Cleveland Show (5.07 million), and American Dad! (5.00 million). It also became the second highest-rated broadcast among adults aged 18–49, being exceeded only by the Family Guy episode which received a 3.1 rating. For the week of December 5–11, 2011, the episode placed twentieth in the ratings among all prime-time network broadcasts in the 18–49 demographic.
Since airing, "Holidays of Future Passed" has received positive reviews from television critics, particularly for its humor and emotional scenes. In his list of "The 50 Best TV Episodes of 2011", BuddyTV's John Kubicek placed the episode at number forty-nine, writing that the "various glimpses of how all the other characters have changed during the time jump was a cavalcade of comedy moments." Rex Huffman of The Times-Reporter cited it as "an amusing episode", and Ology's Josh Harrison described it as "legitimately funny". Harrison noted that "seeing so many futuristic versions of familiar characters put an interesting spin on the holiday season." He also commented: "The whole episode hinges on a surprisingly heartfelt scene that sees Bart and Lisa—both a bit sloshed—meeting up in the treehouse to discuss the challenges of parenting." Similarly, Hayden Childs of The A.V. Club wrote that "Holidays of Future Passed" found "a sweet spot that combined a barrage of non-stop jokes with a tenderness often lacking in latter-day Simpsons episodes. There is even a conversation between the adult Bart and Lisa that rings surprisingly true for adult siblings wrestling with their shared familial past."
Writing for HitFix, Alan Sepinwall cited "Holidays of Future Passed" as the best future-set episode of The Simpsons since the first one, "Lisa's Wedding". He noted that it was "the emotional side of things" that made the episode successful, such as the dissatisfaction Bart and Lisa feel because of their disconnection with the children, and also Homer's transformation into a "very wise, sweet guy after somehow surviving into old age." Sepinwall particularly praised the scene at the cryonics facility where Homer encourages the children to give Bart another chance as "really sweet", and he described the idea of a frozen Grampa as "a clever variation on the very familiar joke of how Homer and the family neglect [Grampa] because he's such a pain in the ass." Sepinwall also commended the episode for its jokes about the future, highlighting the scenes revolving around air travel as well as the scenes showing Krusty as "the Andy Rooney of 2041" and Ralph Wiggum as "an endless series of stupid clones who keep killing one another." In February 2012, "Holidays of Future Passed" was listed by Matt Zoller Seitz of New York magazine as one of "Nine Latter-Day Simpsons Episodes That Match Up to the Early Classics". He noted that the "reconciliations between Bart and Lisa and their kids are moving."
At the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards in 2012, "Holidays of Future Passed" was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program (for Programming Less Than One Hour).
Response to Islamic references
A segment of "Holidays of Future Passed" was inspired by a controversy over the growing Islamic influence in the city of Dearborn, Michigan, which, according to Bill Gallagher of WJBK, has "a significant Muslim community". The biggest mosque in the United States is also located there. During the segment in question, set in Milhouse and Lisa's future home, Milhouse tells Lisa that he has started to feel the symptoms of his seasonal allergies now that Christmas has arrived. He is apparently allergic to Christmas-related things such as holly, mistletoe, and the red part of candy cane. Lisa advises Milhouse to go and stay in Michigan over the holidays, where Christmas is not celebrated because it is "still under sharia law." Milhouse agrees to do this, but complains that they always make him wear a veil there, pointing to a photo on the wall in which he is standing outside of the University of Michigan–Dearborn dressed in a burqa.
In a news report about this segment that aired on WJBK, Gallagher noted that it "poked fun at the untrue and unfounded notion that somehow Muslim sharia law prevails in Dearborn." Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, commented in the report that The Simpsons "is a very prolific show. Now [it] is addressing this anti-sharia fear mongering issue, and perhaps it may gain some currency and ... more people will make fun of it." The segment was met with mixed reception from students at University of Michigan–Dearborn. A number of them were interviewed by Gallagher in his report. One student said: "It's pretty cool showing how ridiculous the hate is. I think it's pretty funny," while another noted: "I don't think it's a good thing [to mock anti-Islamic bigotry] because we can change it by talking, not making fun."
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