Halloween is basically a perfect holiday. Any event that allows me to acquire free food, attempt to offend people with a costume and pass it off as a joke (FEMA costume: check), take a knife to a hallowed-out gourd and constantly eat miniature cones of sugar in the guise of corn has my support.
But the Halloween tradition most near and dear to my heart is the annual “Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror” episode. Composed of three short segments apiece, each of the 17 “Treehouse” episodes has its own merit. Together, though, they stand as the greatest collection of Halloween comedy in existence. Even as the show has declined over the past 12 years, the “Treehouse” episodes are still some of the series’s best.
There is no quintessential “Treehouse” episode. “Treehouse of Horror V” is largely regarded as the best, but a weak final third holds it back.
I’ve boldly taken it upon myself to compile the perfect “Treehouse” collection. There are a lot of good shorts that didn’t make the cut, and there’s always a chance a future episode will crack the list, but with 17 “Treehouse” episodes in the bag and an 18th coming Sunday, here’s the definitive “Treehouse of Horror” special:
Opening title: Every traditional “Simpsons” episode opens with a couch-gag right before the credits, but the Halloween special bucked that trend years ago. To kick off the best of “Treehouse” episode, I’m looking to “Treehouse of Horror XVI,” where “Treehouse” hallmarks Kang and Kodos lament over baseball’s inherent boredom and having to wait for the World Series to end before the “Simpsons” Halloween special can begin. Eventually they speed up time because, you know, they’re aliens, and they can do that kind of stuff, though they accidentally destroy the fabric of the universe in the process of kicking things off.
Act 1: The first act in the definitive collection is borrowed from “Treehouse of Horror V,” and it’s my personal favorite. “The Shinning,” an obvious parody of “The Shining” that clones most of Kubrick’s trademark shots, has Homer trying to kill his family after losing his mind without entertainment or alcohol. Besides Homer’s classic “No TV and no beer make Homer go crazy” bit, which is on regular rotation at Joe Louis Arena and other sports venues, this one gets bonus points for notable appearances by Mr. Burns, Groundskeeper Willie and Moe – three of best peripheral characters on the show.
Act 2: Here’s where it starts to get tough. “The Shinning” was a shoo-in, but now we’re left with about 10 other worthy shorts that won’t make the list. I’m putting “Attack of the 50-Ft Eyesores” from “Treehouse of Horror VI” in the second slot for its celebration of obnoxious advertising and Paul Anka. In “Attack,” oversized corporate characters come to life after Homer steals a massive metal donut from a street-side Lard Lad Donuts mascot. Eventually, the crisis is averted when Paul Anka kills the giant mascots via song by instructing the residents of Springfield to stop paying attention to the ads.
Act 3: My initial thought was to put “The Night of the Dolphin” from “Treehouse of Horror XI” here, but after going back and re-watching the others, “Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies” from “Treehouse of Horror III” stole the last spot. The plot is fairly simple – Bart wakes the dead while performing spells with the Thriller album on his head – but the execution and writing are flawless. Ultimately, Homer’s shotgun rampage takes care of zombie Shakespeare, Einstein and Ned Flanders, allowing Bart and Lisa to reverse the spell and send the undead back to their graves before the entire town is wiped out. We’re left with the family talking about how they’re gracious for not turning into zombies, all the while sitting motionless on the coach in front of their television.
It’s worth noting that with the exception of the opening titles, all of the content comes from the first half of the show’s run. Still, legions of “Simpsons” fans including myself are still eager to see Sunday’s new “Treehouse” episode, just as we have for nearly 20 years.
My calendar says Halloween is tomorrow, but I’m pretty sure it’s not till Sunday this year.
– We English majors can’t believe Passman didn’t include the “Raven” bit. E-mail Passman at email@example.com.