Now that we’re under two weeks away from the big day itself tv is starting to become besieged by Christmas specials, but The Simpsons has done something a little different this year by setting there’s in July, and the whole thing is a parody of a Hallmark movie. And even if you’ve never seen one most of the episode works as Hallmark films are essentially the cheesiest and schmaltziest of affairs, and surely no one has been lucky enough to escape from seeing something like that their whole lives.
Mirroring the structure of the movies it’s mocking, and featuring some almost annoyingly jaunty music of the variety they often have, it has an opening set far away from Springfield where producer Mary (Ellie Kemper) is offered a promotion at “Heartmark” if she can sort out problems at the shooting at one of their Christmas movies. There’s a problem in that she hates these things, for reasons that aren’t explained until they end, but she does her job and gets everything back on schedule. Yet despite this her boss demands she stay, which she regretfully does, and somehow manages to fall for Seymour Skinner.
The way they clumsily tie this in with The Simpsons is that Mary is staying at their home, as this week Marge, Homer and co are renting out rooms as an Air B&B. Marge is even more subservient than usual as she adores Heartmark movies, and Bart and Lisa reluctantly go along with even though it might mean Bart has to sleep in the bathtub, but there’s only so much he can take before he deliberately starts trying to ruin the movie and so regain his bedroom.
It’s an episode which is strongest when mocking the kind of tripe Hallmark makes, with Mary the producer of such movies as Murder She Braised: The Slow Cooker Killings and The Quilting Club Detective Club, and when the cast of the latest film screw up it’s cynically commented that they can just dub over it and the director (Richard Kind) realises “Oh yeah, right, none of this matters”. Indeed Richard Kind gets all of the movies best lines as he says things “So long as the attractive white people make with the closed mouth smooches nobody’s complaining” and “This is the worst thing to happen to this movie since someone wrote it” about the film, and his character is definitely the most fun.
Saddled with an unbelievable romantic subplot Ellie Kemper’s Mary gets the raw end of the deal, most of the time she’s rushing around trying to get the film made and occasionally flirting with Seymour, and it’s a waste of her talents. She does at least get one great gag when she explains why she hates Christmas movies because her father was killed while working as an extra on Jingle All The Way, but it’s a definite shame she wasn’t given a bit more to do.
As modern day episodes of The Simpsons goes this was a fairly likeable one, with some decent visual gags (The Golden Retriever Christmas Fashion Show being the one I was fondest of) and it’s at least a storyline involving Marge where she isn’t angry with Homer and considering divorce. But the subplot between Mary and Skinner is a weak old thing, as the latter character points out towards the end of the episode it would just make no sense at all for her to stay with him, and it’s a predictable affair too. Still, at least there wasn’t anything awful about it (unlike the second episode of this season, I, Carumbus, which was truly horrible) and if you’re in the mood for some mild Christmassy fun this’ll probably do it for you.