It’s not often that we get a new tradition for Halloween. Trick or treating, scary movies, these were established long ago, but one modern day tradition that most people look forward to each year is the airing of The Simpsons annual Treehouse of Horror episode. Despite what everyone’s opinion of the rollercoaster ride the quality of the show has taken (something that should be expected for a show in its 28th season) fans still flock each year to see the new installment even if they don’t show up the rest of the season.
It’s undeniable that the first decade of the show produced some of the most memorable hours of television put on the air. The Treehouse episodes were smart, original, and hilarious. As time went on the show began to draw criticism from even its most die-hard fans, and people wrote off every episode as low quality. This is a mistake. Some great episodes came in the years after the “golden era” and this includes the Treehouse of Horror episodes. So let’s examine the best and the worst that the series has produced. I for one am looking forward to at least a few more Treehouse episodes (please note, all the bits are purposely left out so you can go (re)enjoy them all over again.)
In perhaps the most iconic Treehouse of Horror episode we get the best 3 stellar segments. One of the reasons this episode works so well is because there are 3 completely different stories. Stephen King’s classic The Shining perfectly parodies the book and Kubrick’s film. Once the segment ends, you have to admit to yourself, this may have been better than its source material…maybe not, but certainly hilarious none the less.
Time and Punishment sees Home going back in time after fixing the toaster (the toaster he broke because he got his hand stuck in it twice). Home tries his best to heed to the fatherly advice he received on his wedding day, but he fails, most spectacularly several times. Admittedly this episode feels more like a Sci-Fi tale than horror, but you can say the same for many of the The Twilight Zone episodes that are used for inspiration.
The final segment, Nightmare Cafeteria is simple; the staff at Springfield Elementary is eating the children. When you think about it a little terrifying, but thankfully you don’t have to think about it because you are too busy laughing. This can be said for every segment in this prefect episode. When lines from the Halloween episode begin to make it into popular culture, it’s a good episode.
These early episodes are great because the writing staff was on top of their game (including Conan O’Brien) and they had not yet exhausted their ideas of genres and classic movies to spoof. Later episodes will parody movies for the sake of parody (Hunger Games, Spider-man) and do a terrible job.
Thankfully this early episode is firing on all cylinders. Homer sells his soul to the Flanders-devil for a doughnut. This segment actually has a lot of heart in the end. Homer and Marge’s relationship has always been a safe place for heart, and we get that in all the craziness of this segment. In Terror at 5 ½ Feet takes place mostly on the school bus, but it’s never noticeable with all the chaos and hilarity of a gremlin terrorizing Bart. That says a lot about the writing. In the final segment we once again get a Bart centric segment, but this time with vampires. Mr. Burns is “Dracula” and after he terrorizes the family the episodes ends as all good Halloween special ends, with the cast of characters “loo-looing” ala A Charlie Brown Christmas.
The earliest episode on the list edges out any of the first couple Treehouse of Horror episodes. The reason is because this episode has some of the most quoted lines of the entire series. The animation may not look as clean cut and beautiful as it does now, or even a few seasons later, but the laughs are there and in full force.
We get Homer as King Kong, the Krusty the Klown doll trying to kill Homer, and Springfield over run by zombies. For most fans, that simple sentence brings all the great lines to mind. That is the power of the show and the writers at the time. This episode is exactly what Treehouse of Horror is all about a little mix of everything, a movie spoof, a Twilight Zone spoof and a genre spoof. All the while, the writers make the story their own and add gut busting humor.
Speaking of great spoofs this episode has some absolutely great ones. I include this episode mostly for the pitch perfect Hitchcock homage. There is so much love in the treatment of the source material that it’s hard not to love this segment.
It’s helpful that the other two segments are strong. Sure we’ve seen zombies done before by The Simpsons but this is a different take done well. This time it’s not the family’s fault and they are in the heroes. The last segment is a spoof of Sweeny Todd it’s unique, hard to do, and very funny. Overall the entire episode it well written and most importantly, it’s funny.
This newer episode shows that all criticism that the show is all bad now and needs to end is completely unfounded. The show goes into new areas that we have not seen completely fleshed out before. Characters have gone to Hell before but only briefly. Here we get Bart going to school in Hell. If there is one thing we’ve seen in a Halloween episode, it’s references to A Clockwork Orange, but we’ve never actually seen the whole story played out, until now.
The real stand out segment here is The Others a spoof on ….The Others. Only a show that has been around for as long as a quarter of a century can bring delight to its devoted fans in such a way by showing the original incarnation of the characters, and it’s a real treat. What all these segments have in common is that they are funny and very well told. There are times when story is sacrificed for laughs, or vice versa. It is a difficult thing to find that perfect blend and this episode, along with the previous four, have done this perfectly. There is a lot of life left in this old series to bring us more tales from the Treehouse.
Treehouse of Horror XXII
I know I said this list is not in any specific order, but I declare this to be the worst Treehouse of Horror episode. Not only is this a bad Treehouse, it might be the worst episode The Simpsons put out. Okay, first the Avatar spoof made sense at the time and any expanded role for Kang and Kodos is a plus, but the story here lacked any real substantial humor.
The second segment, Dial D for Diddily was the closest segment to be considered good. Putting stupid Flanders in the role of serial killer Dexter is pretty inspired. Unfortunately it falls apart pretty fast and any redeemable moments are tarnished by the other 2 segments
The real problem here is The Diving Bell and the Butterball. Homer is bitten by a spider and becomes paralyzed but can communicate through farting. (Why?). Then he gets bitten again to become a paralyzed Spiderman (What?). Not only is it disjointed, it also seems to be actively trying to lose its faithful audience. It’s a shameful moment from a show that once had a lot of class and wit.
Treehouse of Horror XXIII
In this 23rd installment we get three stories, one retreading a concept done to better effect previously, another just lazy, and a third that has a good premise but falls short of the laughs.
The first segment is a take on Paranormal Activity. The writers took a chance with this concept and it felt like it was going to pay off. After the initial setup it just fizzled out, and ended in a fire of garbage. Homer having a three-some with two Moe-demons is far from the best the show can be. When the show goes low-brow, it has never worked.
The second segment involves the creation of a black hole. In all honesty, after I watch this segment I think to myself, “What was the point”. It just wasn’t funny. There really wasn’t much to do with this concept so I don’t fully blame the writers.
The last segment is out of place for a Halloween episode. It’s a spoof of Back to the Future. Not only is this far from timely (27 years after the movie premiered) it also retreads on the time travel theme that was perfectly done in a superior episode seasons before. That’s why we watch these annual episodes, because we want to revisit the glory to days. Well, I guess it’s true, you can’t go home again.
I have a real problem with this episode. It has some pretty solid ideas, but extremely bad execution. It’s not all completely bad either. Perhaps the worst offense is the first segment that borrows (and muddles) from a Family Guy episode. Homer becomes the Grim Reaper. It’s hard to watch this and not think of what’s come before it. With a little tweaking and originality, it could have been great.
The second segment is something of a big deal. We get to see the inspiration for a character interact with the actual character. I’m speaking, or course of Jerry Lewis and Professor Frink. Lewis plays the Professor’s father brought back from the dead, to kills the citizens of Springfield in order to steal their body parts for his own. It’s not funny and Frink is a character that is better served in the background.
The last segment features Bart and Milhouse in a parody of a Twilight Zone episode where they can stop time. It has some pretty funny moments and it has a pretty good concept. The problem is the writers seemed to not really know how to end the segment and episode. It’s very clunky, like most of the episode.
Treehouse of Horror XXVI
It seems that the theme of this year’s Halloween special was “Unoriginal Ideas”. The writers knew what worked in the past and tried to dress up the show to look like a classic episode. Unfortunately, I’m not buying it.
Ok, let’s start by saying the first segment where Sideshow Bob kills Bart, multiple times, mostly delivered. It certainly could have been a lot better, but for what it was and when it aired, it was just right. Fans of the show are very familiar with Sideshow Bob and his thwarted attempts at…well everything. So it is nice to see him finally succeed. Unfortunately it gets old fast, even in a 7 minute story line.
The Homerzilla episode is simply a much worse version of the superior King Homer segment. Maybe a different character as Godzilla might have worked, or at least would draw fewer comparisons. Either way it’s too familiar with worse quality.
Finally the Chronicle parody. Now if you have to ask yourself “the what parody” then I rest my case. A bad movie about kids getting supernatural powers shot in a “found footage” style should have been enough for The Simpsons to take a second look. Especially when we saw Bart and Lisa get superpowers previously with hilarious results. A word you won’t hear when describing this episode, “hilarious”.
Treehouse of Horror XIX
One-third of this episode is great, the rest is a chore. Let’s start with the best. The Simpsons take on another Halloween tradition; It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. The animation is beautiful, the jokes are solid, and the story gets a nice twist at the end. I see no wrong with the segment. It’s a real treat.
Unfortunately we have two more segments. The first is a Transformers parody. What a mess. It’s not funny, or even interesting. It has some extreme low points (like a sex toy joke) and at its best, it’s nonsense (Although I will admit to laughing when a transformer airplane vomits a bunch of passengers after being punched in the stomach). I found myself rooting for this segment like a die-hard fan watching their favorite team just blow it in the final inning.
As much as that segment didn’t make any sense it was nothing compared to the final segment. It starts with a great Mad Men opening, but then the writers did not know what to do so they came up with Homer killing celebrities so their likeness can be used in advertising. No, I reject this premise. Please continue to try again.