“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.”
So 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.
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.
Piled 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.
I 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.