Miracle on Evergreen Terrace
"Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" is the tenth episode of The Simpsons' ninth season and originally aired on the Fox network on December 21, 1997. Bart accidentally ruins Christmas for the Simpson family by burning down the tree and all their presents. It was written by Ron Hauge, directed by Bob Anderson and guest starred Alex Trebek as himself. Ron Hauge was inspired to write the episode after learning of an orphanage that had been ripped off. The episode was selected among other Christmas-themed episodes of the series, on a 2005 Christmas special DVD boxed set. I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide criticized the episode as a rehash of older themes, but it was also described as one of The Simpsons’ more memorable episodes in a review of the 2005 DVD boxed set release.
Homer and Marge go Christmas shopping at the Try-N-Save, where frenzied shoppers are quickly snatching the holiday season's most popular toys. Homer, posing as a store cashier, buys toys that customers were attempting to buy from him.
At home, the family makes their last-minute Christmas preparations. At bedtime on Christmas Eve, Marge tells everyone nobody can open presents until 7 AM, and just to make sure there is no cheating, she confiscates all of the alarm clocks in each bedroom. However, Bart, relying on an old Indian trick, drinks 12 glasses of water in order to wake up early to use the bathroom and get an early look at his presents. He awakens at 5:04 AM and secretly unwraps his gifts. One of the presents is the coveted Inferno Buster 3000, a remote-controlled fire truck. Bart has fun playing with the truck, until it sprays water on an overloaded electrical socket, and the Christmas tree bursts into flames. The flames immediately engulf the plastic Christmas tree and all of the presents beneath it. Bart manages to extinguish the fire before it spreads, and hides the burned evidence outside beneath the snow in the front yard.
When the family come downstairs at 7:01 AM and discover that the Christmas tree and presents are gone, Marge asks Bart what happened. Bart lies to them. He makes up a story about how he caught a burglary in progress, and the suspect made off with the tree and all of the family's presents. The police investigate, and Kent Brockman decides to do a human interest story on what he believes is the Simpsons' yuletide misfortune.
As a result of Brockman's report, everyone in Springfield shows their community spirit by giving them a new Christmas tree and $15,000. With the donations, Homer buys a new car. Driving it home Homer gets impatient when he gets stuck behind the Plow King and decides to pass. He unknowingly drives the car onto a frozen lake. The ice cracks, causing the car to sink and blow up.
The next morning, Bart's conscience gets to him, and finally he admits the truth when he disobeyed his family, which prompts Homer and Lisa to choke him. Soon, Kent Brockman and the Channel 6 news crew arrive to do a follow-up story. Homer slaps on a plastic smile and says everyone should stop looking for the "burglar" but that he does exist. The story quickly unravels when a cameraman, with help from Santa's Little Helper, finds the burned remains of the Christmas tree. The family is forced to explain, but it is too late for the viewers, who feel they have been scammed. The citizens shun and harass them until the family can pay back the $15,000.
Marge decides the only alternative is to try and win money by becoming a contestant on Jeopardy!, but she performs very poorly and ends up with -$5,200. After the show, Alex Trebek and two men approach the Simpson family demanding that they pay the $5,200 that Marge was in the red (which doesn't happen in real life), and the family runs away. When they get home, they find that everyone in Springfield (including Alex Trebek) has gathered on their lawn, and Marge thinks they have forgiven them. However, while everyone does forgive the Simpsons, they enter the family's house and steal things from it, except all the curtains and the living room and dining room window sill cushion seats, in order to cover the $15,000 debt. In the end, the family playfully fight over a tattered washcloth, the only thing they have left.
Writer Ron Hauge said he got the idea for the episode one day when he was headed into work. He was listening to the radio and heard of an orphanage getting ripped off, and they were getting back more than they gave. The spectators in the stands during Bart's dreams are various animators. When Krusty says "15,000 Missoulians" it is a reference to Ron Hauge having lived in Missoula, Montana. When the Simpsons' car says "I'll Keell you" this is a reference to a Wiffleball bat in the writer's office that said that. This episode is one of the first Simpsons' episodes to be rated TV-G.
The episode has several references to Christmas films. The title is a play on Miracle on 34th Street while the scene where everyone rallies around to support the Simpsons is reminiscent of the last scene of the classic holiday movie It's a Wonderful Life. The film is further spoofed when Homer tells Lisa to stop playing the piano which parodies a similar scene involving George Bailey. A Charlie Brown Christmas is also parodied when the senior citizens are dancing at the Springfield Retirement Castle—their dancing is based on the way the Peanuts characters dance. Marge appears as a contestant on Jeopardy! with host Alex Trebek guest starring. One of the stuffed animals Chief Wiggum is carrying is Binky from Matt Groening's comic strip Life in Hell.
In its original broadcast, "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" finished 23rd in ratings for the week of December 15-21, 1997, with a Nielsen rating of 9.8, equivalent to approximately 9.6 million viewing households. It was the second highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following King of the Hill.
The episode received mixed to positive reviews from critics. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide said "A deliberately mawkish Christmas episode that is low on good jokes (although the Simpsons watching their own fire on TV is a good start) and a retread of any number of episodes where Bart does wrong, feels guilty and eventually has to fess up. The only real ray of sunshine is the closing moments when the neighbours get their revenge but the Simpsons find the family spirit after all." In its review of a 2005 Christmas special DVD boxed set of the series, The Journal described "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire", "Miracle On Evergreen Terrace", "Skinner's Sense of Snow" and "Dude, Where's My Ranch?" among memorable episodes of The Simpsons. Andy Dougan wrote in Evening Times that the episode is "one of the darkest, blackest Christmas cartoons ever animated." In his review of the episodes on the DVD Christmas With the Simpsons, Digitally Obsessed critic Joel Cunningham wrote that "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" is "a good one [...] A nice combo of humor, satire, and heartwarming holiday fuzzies."
- Gimple, Scott M. (December 1, 1999). The Simpsons Forever!: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family ...Continued. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-098763-3.
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace". BBC. Retrieved 2007-12-10.
- "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace". The Simpsons.com. Retrieved 2007-12-10.
- Hauge, Ron (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Anderson, Bob (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Groening, Matt (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Scully, Mike (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Associated Press (December 25, 1997). "NBC basks in holiday spirit". Rocky Mountain News. p. 18D.
- Martyn, Warren; Adrian Wood (2000). I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide. Virgin Books. MiracleonEvergreenTerrace (section, online version).
- Staff (December 16, 2005). "Rent". The Journal. pp. Page 40 (The Simpsons: Christmas Double Pack).
- Dougan, Andy (November 12, 2005). "andy dougan's DVDs of the week". Evening Times. pp. Page 20 (Christmas with The Simpsons Double Pack).
- Cunningham, Joel (2003-11-24). "Christmas with the Simpsons". Digitally Obsessed. Retrieved 2011-11-05.
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- "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive
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- "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" at TV.com