Monthly Archives: October 2015

October 31st – “Halloween of Horror” (S27E04)

“Halloween at the Simpsons’, what a classic tradition! Are you headed up to the treehouse to tell three horrifying tales?”

“Ah, we’re doin’ it next week. Gonna be Psycho with Skinner and his mom, Muppet Wizard of Oz–I’m Scarecrow Fozzie–and then, uh, one where furniture gets smart.”

27-1So begins what is distinctly not a Treehouse of Horror, and yet I’m covering it anyway. Halloween of Horror, which aired only a couple of weeks ago, is the first canon Halloween episode of the series. Sure, we had small framing stories in early Treehouses featuring the Simpsons as they celebrated the most spooky of holidays, but even those ceased to be a part of the specials over a decade ago.

I’ve spoken again and again during this blog about how much I love seeing the Simpsons decked out in their Halloween get-ups, so hearing about this episode excited me. Still, while I don’t hate modern Simpsons, I don’t really keep up with the new episodes. I had no idea what to expect.

What did I get? One of the best Simpsons episodes I’ve seen in years, and one that can easily stand alongside some of the best Treehouses.

27-2

The plot is pretty simple. When Lisa gets too scared during her much-anticipated first visit to Krusty Land Halloween Horror Night, her excessive fright causes the Simpson family to take down their decorations, ruining Bart’s holiday. But when Homer and Lisa are menaced by seasonal Kwik-e-Mart employees (whom Homer causes to be fired), Lisa must face her fears  head-on.

While I loved seeing the Simpsons do Halloween stuff for a full-length twenty-two minutes, the seasonal trappings aren’t what make this an excellent episode. You can tell that the writers took time to make this a compelling, memorable story from beginning to end–something I rarely see when I turn on a modern Simpsons episode. Halloween of Horror jumps right into its story (no intro, no couch gag!) and sets up three plotlines–Homer vs the jilted employees, Lisa vs fear, and Bart trying to salvage his ruined Halloween–and gives all of its major players sympathetic motivations. Lisa and Bart’s holiday problems–Lisa’s especially–feel genuine, and when those problems are eventually overcome, the resolution feels earned.

27-3Piled on top of that solid foundation are great gags, both those that fit in the story and those that are more meta (like the quote at the top, or the ending scene featuring Kang & Kodos). I gave a lot of love to this season’s Treehouse of Horror (XXVII), but this episode tops it in every way, while also adding something unique and awesome to The Simpsons as a whole.

27-4I still haven’t seen last season’s “The Man Who Came to Be Dinner”, better known as “the non-Treehouse episode featuring Kang & Kodos”, so I can’t vouch for its quality. But if Halloween of Horror is any indication, the show’s recent trend of branching out into unknown territory has helped breath life into a series gone somewhat stagnant.

The song and dance number wasn’t great, though.

27-5

October 30th – “Treehouse of Horror XXVI” (S27E5)

Opening:

26-1This year’s opening takes the form of a short, spooky Simpsons story by guest animator John Kricfalusi, most well-known as the creator of Ren & Stimpy. I’m a sucker for these guest animator sequences (I’m obsessed with the Don Hertzfeldt couch gag from Season 26), and John K.’s totally-bonkers style is perfect for a Treehouse of Horror episode.

Wanted: Dead, Then Alive

26-2After twenty-four years of trying, Sideshow Bob finally murders Bart. But when life without his nemesis proves unsatisfying, Bob seeks to bring Bart back to life…so that he can kill him again and again.

It’s shocking to me that in the twenty-five previous Treehouse episodes, the show’s most violent and (sometimes) scary character hasn’t made any major appearance. If the plan was to save Sideshow Bob for a particularly great story, consider it a success: this is probably the best Halloween segment in years.

The writing for Sideshow Bob is on-point throughout. Some of his appearances in the past decade have been pretty underwhelming (remember his wife and daughter in Italy? Meh), but he’s much closer to classic Bob here. Seeing him in some new settings–like as an English professor teaching The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock to bored millennials–is a lot of fun.

I’ve complained on this blog about newer Treehouse segments being too gory and gross, but in this case, the over-the-top nature helps to sell the ridiculous story. Even knowing that it was coming (“Sideshow Bob kills Bart this year” was heavily publicized), seeing Bart suddenly shot through the heart with a speargun had me busting out laughing in shock. Bob carries the story well on his own, with other characters showing up in small appearances to great effect.

Wanted: Dead, Then Alive might be the longest Treehouse segment ever, running nearly nine minutes. My only complaint (other than a couple of weak moments, including yet another lazy music montage) is that I’d love to have seen this idea explored as a full episode.

Memorable Gag:

“[Bob]’s cool. Let’s move on to the next suspect.” – Homer

26-3Homerzilla

26-4In a small Japanese village, some vaguely-Japanese version of Grandpa Simpson floats donuts out to sea as tribute to a slumbering monster in the deep. When Grandpa dies and the donuts stop coming, Homerzilla rises and wreaks havoc…

…then the camera zooms out to reveal this story as a movie being watched by modern-day Hollywood execs, who decide to remake the film…

…which then unleashes a real Homerzilla.

Upon seeing the title card for this segment, I feared an already-too-late specific parody of the 2014 Godzilla film. I was happy to see the show riffing more on the original…until the mid-segment twist. I appreciate that the writers tried for something ambitious here, but it was too much, too many twists, and too disjointed a narrative. Had they stuck to one angle for this story, it might’ve turned out a lot more memorable and less of a mess.

Also, everyone has a weird Japanese accent. That…that wasn’t a great choice.

Memorable Gag: Moe continuing to deny Homerzilla’s existence, even after being burned alive by his fire-breath.

Telepaths of Glory

26-5After falling into a cavern and touching radioactive green ooze, Milhouse and Lisa gain telekinetic powers. Milhouse, as expected, goes mad with power and must be stopped. Wait, they’re doing a Chronicle parody? I’m happy, but confused.

As a result of the first segment running so long, this one only goes for about five minutes–you can notice the truncation, but the end result isn’t too bad. I may be biased as a huge fan of Chronicle, but the opening with the kids gaining their powers is solid, as is Milhouse’s brief reign of power. Having Bart touch the radioactive waste but receive no powers due to his lack of brain-strength was an inspired idea. It’s too bad this segment runs so short (and that the ending is, as a result, so rushed)–more time to tell this story definitely would have helped.

Memorable Gag: Dolph, being thrown into a volcano after giving Milhouse a wedgie: “This isn’t a proportional punishment!!!”

Ending

26-6Kang and Kodos are unhappy about being reduced to a cameo once again.

“Don’t complain, or they’ll put us in 4:3!”
“Just because it looks like Season 4 doesn’t make it Season 4!”

Overall Thoughts:

Even if it’s mostly on the strength of Wanted: Dead, Then Alive, I had a ton of fun with this year’s Halloween special. I wouldn’t mind adding Treehouse of Horror XXVI to my yearly non-blog-related rotation, and if you’ve fallen out of the show over the years or just haven’t caught this episode, I implore you to check it out.

Also, that’s it! I’ve watched and reviewed all 26 Treehouse of Horror episodes over the past 30 days of October. I hope anyone who has actually kept up with this blog has enjoyed it, even if the dark ages of Treehouses became a bit of a slog to write about (I’m sure it showed in the quality of posts). I’ll try to put up a review of this season’s non-Treehouse episode, “Halloween of Horror”, tomorrow.

Have a perfectly cromulent Halloween, everybody!

October 28th – “Treehouse of Horror XXV” (S26E04)

Opening:

25-2A strange award-show-intro parody announces Treehouse of Horror XXV as being “live from Rigel 7” while clips of past Halloween specials make their away across the screen. Nothing special, but I’ll take some nostalgia over the last two overlong openings.

School is Hell

25-1Reading the Latin carved into a Springfield Elementary desk sends Bart and Lisa to Hell, where Bart unlocks his academic potential by joining a school for torture-inflicting demons.

There’s a lot I really loved about this segment: the stylistic choices, like Bart and Lisa’s demonic forms or the principal of Hell’s school being half Chalmers and half Skinner; some great jokes, like Burn’s office being one of many portals to-and-from Hell; even callbacks to classic Treehouse episodes, like a citizen of Hell being force-fed donuts.

That being said, there are also glaring weaknesses here. Some jokes really bomb, there’s yet another time-wasting licensed music montage, and the story both goes on too long and lacks a strong finish. Still, this is probably my favorite segment since It’s the Great Pumpkin, Milhouse, and feels much closer in tone and quality to the “golden era” Treehouses than anything in recent memory.

Memorable Gag: I cracked up at one of the Hell School students just being a “screaming torso.”

A Clockwork Yellow

25-4It’s A Clockwork Orange, but with Moe, Homer, Lenny, and Carl.

My main issue with this segment: it feels like a Family Guy parody, rather than a Simpsons parody. Look at The Shinning–it follows the plot of The Shining, but with the Simpsons acting the way the Simpsons act, creating humor. In this segment–like in a Family Guy parody–it doesn’t matter that the characters are Moe, Homer, Lenny, and Carl. They could be anyone, because they’re just acting like the Clockwork Orange characters, but silly. Also, the awful British accents are back. A total miss for me.

The Others

25-3The Simpson house is haunted by a family of ghosts…who turn out to be the Simpsons themselves, in their Tracey Ullman Show incarnations.

This segment is a ton of fun–certainly it provided the most unabashed joy I’ve had watching a Treehouse segment in at least a week of this blog. This really is one for the fans, with solid writing backed up by tons of cute in-jokes–from frosty chocolate milkshakes to Dr. Marvin Monroe, who is “trapped in some sort of horrible limbo.” I’d recommend this segment as a must-watch for any Simpsons fan. The ending, in which more variant-Simpsons arrive on the scene, is annoying but not long enough to spoil things.

Memorable Gag: I never thought I would say this, but the circumstances of Maggie’s death were hilarious.

Overall Thoughts:

The first and last segments are some of the best stuff a Treehouse of Horror has produced in years. Definitely watch them both, and if A Clockwork Moe doesn’t jive with you after a couple of scenes, just skip it.

October 27th – “Treehouse of Horror XXIV” (S25E02)

Opening:

24-1This spooky version of the standard HD-era opening has some decent visual gags, but like the XXIII opening, it goes on for way too long–three minutes again. I wonder if this is a consistent creative choice or a result of the extra ad break in the later seasons. Still, some of the jokes–like Bart’s chalkboard writing being interrupted by Stephen King’s Jack Torrance-ing–hit hard.

Oh, the Places You’ll D’oh!

24-2Springfield takes on the style of Dr. Seuss as “the Fat in the Hat” (Homer) leads Bart and Lisa on one bizarre, rhyming adventure.

At least I can say this: while the quality of Treehouse episodes may be wavering, the writers are becoming more and more high-concept with their ideas. Oh, the Places You’ll D’oh! is written entirely (save for a line or two) in rhyme, and you can see dedication in the commitment to the Seuss style (both lyrically and visually). But once again, the jokes aren’t really there (example: the image above) and there’s too much mean-spiritedness for me to give this one a thumbs up. Also, a more dedicated writer would have composed this paragraph in rhyme. Oh well, I’m in Hell.

Dead and Shoulders

24-3A kite-flying accident leaves Bart decapitated, and so his head is sewn to Lisa’s body. Hey, this sounds familiar.

I’ve only got one thing to say: Dead and Shoulders just makes me wish we could’ve gotten a full segment of the Homer-and-Burns-sewn-together joke, written by prime Simpsons writers. This story is fine, but only serves to remind me of what we could have had.

Freaks, No Geeks

24-4This visually-striking segment puts the cast into an old-timey circus setting: Marge as an acrobat in love with Homer the strongman, and a number of others (namely, Moe) as freaks. A surprisingly-complex plot by Homer to kill Moe for his valuable ring leads to a freak uprising.

Mirroring the previous year, XXIV’s final segment is leaps and bounds ahead of its first two. Freaks, No Geeks combines an awesome look with a solid story and jokes, while parodying a creepy classic instead of whatever movie happened to be popular in 2013. Check this one out, especially if you’re a fan of Freaks.

Overall Thoughts:

My reviews may not have come off as glowing, but I’m gonna say it: give this one a look. Oh the Places You’ll Doh! is visually memorable, Freaks, No Geeks is solid all-around, and Dead and Shoulders is inoffensive filler. Treehouse XXIV didn’t blow my mind, but I found it much more deserving of a watch than the previous few Halloween episodes.

October 26th – “Treehouse of Horror XXIII” (S24E02)

Opening:

23-2This opening, riffing on the 2012 “Mayan Apocalypse” fear-mongering, goes on for three full minutes–and that length is noticeable in the worst way.

The Greatest Story Ever Holed

23-3Springfield builds a Large Hadron Collider, which quickly creates a mini black hole in the town. Despite warnings of danger, the Simspon family uses the black hole to dispose of everyday waste and causes a cataclysmic disaster.

Similar to XXII’s Avatar riff (and even more so), this segment has fun ideas and great visuals but is really brought down by a lack of any good jokes. The only moment to crack a smile is listed below as the memorable gag. As I’ve said before, I’m the farthest thing from a Dead Homer Society “the new seasons are trash” fan, but the lack of humor has a consistent element across these past few Treehouses. Also, they’re relying way too much on licensed music montages in the middle of every other story.

Memorable Gag:

“Lisa, do you have a stray dog down there?”
“Um, it’s a lot worse than a stray dog!”
“TWO stray dogs?”

Un-normal Activity

23-1An unseen demon haunts the Simpson house, possessing Marge and trying to carry Maggie away. Homer sets up video cameras to capture the spooky happenings on film.

Take away the cool visuals of the first segment, add in a couple more jokes, and you’ve got Un-normal Activity. While it made me laugh a couple of times (such as the demon being revealed to coincidentally look just like Moe), there’s very little memorable about the story…except for the vile ending, where Homer saves his family by agreeing to a threesome with two demons. Gross, unfunny, and gross.

Memorable Gag: “Oh, sweetie, sometimes an invisible demon from Hell waits for a family to fall asleep and then kills them. Now go to bed.”

Bart and Homer’s Excellent Adventure

23-4Bart Back-to-the-Futures his way to the ’70s to buy a classic comic book, but ends up preventing his parents from meeting…and accidentally brings a teenage Homer back to 2012.

You know what? Not bad. This segment is a huge improvement over the last two or any from the previous year. The plot kind of loses itself midway through, but seeing Homer enlist Homers from every era of time to win back Marge from Artie Ziff in an alternate timeline gave me some good laughs. And after some of the unbearable recent segments (Farting Homer, anyone?), that’s all I can ask for.

Memorable Gag:

“I was supposed to be with all of you! Even you, Caveman Homer.”
“That’s Renaissance Homer.”

Overall Thoughts:

A huge step up from the dreadful XXII, but that’s still only a step into mediocrity. With two forgettable segments and one I’d call “better than okay”, you’re not missing much if you haven’t caught Treehouse of Horrror XXIII.

October 25th – “Treehouse of Horror XXII” (S23E03)

Opening:

22-1Homer sneaks away to eat the kids’ Halloween treats at Candy Eating Peak, where he falls into a crevice and is forced to chew off his own arm. Oh and before that he’s dressed up like Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. Remember when these specials parodied classic horror stories instead of whatever movie happened to be popular that year? Yeah, I’m starting to forget, too.

The Diving Bell and the Butterball

22-5Completely paralyzed by a spider bite, Homer must learn how to communicate…by farting.

Well, I suppose we’ve hit a new low. When Homer started farting and Lisa began decoding his gas-passings into English, I got up from my computer, walked away, and made myself a drink before continuing. Let’s note that this happened around the 5-minute mark, before the opening credits had even finished. Also included in these first five minutes: a lingering shot of Marge’s cleavage, which as I’ve noted before, grosses me out.

Had this segment appeared, say, ten Treehouses earlier, it probably would have been enough for me to rethink this blog and decide to learn the guitar or something instead. These farts give me screams.

Oh, and the horror continues. Homer becomes some kind of stupid paralyzed Spider-man and farts on criminals. The word “ass-web” is used. The segment ends with a fart, and I’m not being figurative.

Memorable Gag: “My heart still beats and my brain still brains.”

Dial D for Diddily

22-4The voice of God implores Flanders to murder sinners in Springfield, but it turns out to be a prank by Homer, using poor Ned to take out his enemies.

I’ve started a lot of review blurbs here by saying “I’m not familiar with the source material.” This is a different case–I’ve seen tons of Dexter, but it wasn’t until a few minutes in–during a humorless parody of the Shotime drama’s opening credits–that I realized this was supposed to be a Dexter send-up. Dial D is barely a parody, provides no real jokes, and is weirdly mean-spirited. And this is a nitpick, but how many times are we going to do the “Dial _ for ____” title?

Memorable Gag: I smiled at the crazy cat lady selling “Barely Beagles”.

In the Na’vi

22-2Avatar parody.

I’ll give this segment the credit it deserves: the visuals are interesting, and the casting of Simpsons characters into Avatar roles is pretty inspired: Chalmers as the military villain, Skinner as his underling, Krusty as the leader of the operation, and Rigel 7 aliens instead of the Na’vi. I also enjoyed that they didn’t go with a hot alien girl in the Zoe Saldana role; the alien Bart gets into a romance with looks just like the others and has the same awful voice.

That all being said, nothing about this segment is funny or interesting to watch or Halloween-themed in the least. By tomorrow I expect to forget I ever watched it, just like I’ve forgotten that Avatar itself ever existed.

Also, hearing Bart Simpson say that he “got laid” disgusts me.

Memorable Gag: I’ve already forgotten this segment.

Ending:

22-3The cast gathers on-stage, imploring the viewer to spend too much money this Christmas and stimulate the economy.

Overall Thoughts:

Treehouse XXII is easily the worst Simpsons Halloween special of the first 22, and I really hope I don’t run into one worse than this. I’ve seen almost two dozen of these episodes in the last 25 days, but XII is the first one to not get a single laugh from me.

The farting first segment alone is one of the worst Simpsons things I’ve ever sat through, up there with that episode where Lady Gaga visits Springfield and sings a song with Lisa aboard her magical Gaga train. There is no reason to watch this; it isn’t even endearingly bad television, just irritating, embarrassing nonsense.

October 24th – “Treehouse of Horror XXI” (S22E04)

Opening:

21-1Prof. Frink introduces the show this year, instructing parents on how to use their DVR remote to skip the Halloween special’s violent material. He accidentally skips through the entire episode, “spoiling the end” for all of us. I like this opening a lot–it’s pretty clever, and easily one of the most memorable in a few years.

…then there’s a parody of The Office’s opening, with Frankenstein and other monsters thrown in. And we were doing so well…

War and Pieces

21-2Worried about violent video games, Marge forces Bart and Milhouse to try out some old-fashioned board games instead. Unfortunately, they stumble upon a cursed game and, Jumanji-stlye, unleash horrors across Springfield.

The board game motif provides a lot of good gags, but that’s really all this segment feels like–a long string of unconnected, board-game-themed gags. I guess that’s better than a long string of unfunny gags, but I’d still prefer more of a coherent story, rather than something that seems like a reel of deleted scenes.

Memorable Gag: “Here. I’ll be the demon, you be the thimble.” – Bart to Milhouse

Master and Cadaver

21-3While on a boating vacation, Homer and Marge pick up a sexy seaman floating adrift in the ocean. Paranoia over their new guest leads to murder, suicide, and poison pie.

Is this segment–referencing the 1989 thriller Dead Calm–the most obscure Treehouse parody yet? I’d never heard of this movie before this episode, and watching Master and Cadaver
with no context leaves the segment as strange, dull, and very out of place among spookier Halloween fare.

Memorable Gag: The ending, where Maggie dresses up like Alex from A Clockwork Orange for no reason–memorable as being one of the worst Treehouse gags I’ve encountered yet.

Tweenlight

21-4Lisa falls in love with the new boy at school, a handsome vampire named Edmund (Daniel Radcliffe). Edmund and his traditional-vampire father visit the SImpsons for dinner, but as is the standard for these stories, something innocent escalates to deadly seriousness.

While I’d love to rail against this segment for capitalizing on whatever happened to be trendy at the time, Tweenlight is easily the best of the bunch from Treehouse XXI. Making Edmund more James Dean than Edward Cullen makes things a lot more bearable, and the angle of his father being a traditional Dracula-style vamp puts a fun twist on the proceedings.

Memorable Gag: Homer’s cholesterol-filled blood fattening and killing the vampires who feed upon him.

Overall Thoughts:

Treehouse XXI averages out to be, well, average. Nothing amazing, but nothing (other than the awful Clockwork Orange bit) to really grind your gears. Barely-spooky fluff and little more.