(originally aired October 31, 1999)
Prove me wrong later seasons, but I believe this to be the last solid Halloween special. I’ll say one factor of my eventual departure from watching new episodes was my perpetual disappointment of each year’s Treehouse of Horror; of how even with the free license to have the characters do whatever they wanted, they still felt as banal and lifeless as the rest of the season. But I feel I’ve treaded this point many times before; for now, let’s enjoy these three great segments. First is “I Know What You Did-Iddly-Did,” where the Simpson family must cover up the fact that they accidentally mowed down Ned Flanders with their car, but someone knows what they did… It’s reminiscent of past specials in that it apes its premise directly from a media source (here, obviously “I Know What You Did Last Summer”) but adds its own spin and flourishes to make it its own. The bit with Homer acting as ventrioloquist with Ned’s corpse to create a fake death for his wife is wonderfully dark, and the inexplicable twist at the end with the werewolf is pretty excellent as well. Full of great jokes, succinct plotting, and just the right level of fright and violence (Homer being ripped to pieces by Werewolf Flanders off screen leaves it all to your gory, disgusting imagination), we’re off to a pretty good start.
Next is “Desperately Xeeking Xena,” which has one of the last truly classic bits the series has to offer: Stretch Dude, Clobber Girl, and Comic Book Guy as the Collector. Now superheroes aren’t exactly Halloweeny, as I’ve chastised the show for using non-spooky subject matter in these shows in the future, but at least they tried to tie it in at the beginning where the kids get superpowers through radiation inspecting trick-or-treat bags. Because that totally makes sense. But no matter, here, Comic Book Guy is the real star, in his greatest role ever as the evil celebrity-snatching Collector, this time getting away with Lucy Lawless, aka Xena. Everything about this segment is just so much fun, from Bart and Lisa’s new theme song, how they choose to best use their powers, the other kidnapped celebrities, and how CBG is finally outdone: in the heat of the moment, removing a limited edition lightsaber from its packaging (“No!! It is no longer a collectable!”) Lawless is also fantastic, from the very start in dealing with her bevy of nerd followers, to the great bit where she manipulates CBG into letting his guard down so she can get all Xena on his ass. An absolute classic; I’d say this can fit somewhere in top ten ‘Horror’ segments.
“Life’s a Glitch, and Then You Die” would seem like it wouldn’t age well, but it serves as an amusing time capsule of how insane people were at the turn of the millennium. Homer serves as Y2K compliance officer for the power plant, and of course his sole screw-up causes all hell to break loose on New Year’s Eve as all technology goes haywire and the end appears nigh. I remember how people were going apeshit, building fallout bunkers and stocking up on supplies, for an event that I as a child knew was absolute nonsense. So this episode is cathartic in showing the absurdist version of Y2K, how the entire world just goes to hell. If all that weren’t enough, they have the great ending where the planet’s best and brightest are sent off to colonize a new planet, and the planet’s worst are rocketed into the sun. Tom Arnold’s a great sport for voicing himself on that ship, amongst the likes of Pauly Shore, Al Sharpton and Rosie O’Donnell. Homer and Bart ultimately can’t be dead soon enough and eject themselves into space, where their heads inflate and explode off-screen. See, the violence can be horrifying and graphic, but here it works because it’s woven into the story and serves a purpose. But in summation, after the last two specials which were a bit rocky, we’ve got one last amazing one to go out on. Got a fair amount left to go through, and maybe I’ll be surprised, but for now, I’ll just reiterate, this is the last of a dying breed of awesome Halloween shows.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The beginning with Kang and Kodos is pretty good. It always must be a hassle to work them in every year, but it’s always great to see them.
– I love the start of “Diddly” where it seems the family is returning from a spooky adventure we didn’t see, fighting off vampires to relinquish their Sugar Crisp cereal.
– Homer propping Ned’s corpse up on the roof is so amazingly awful (“Relax, I’m fine! But when I do die, I don’t want any autopsies!”) He throws him off the roof (landing smack dab on the doghouse), but Maude goes inside and doesn’t see. So, plan B: “Hey Maude, I’m home! Uh-oh! I think I’m having a heart attack!” Throw the corpse in the foyer, wait for the scream and call it a day (“And that’s the end of that chapter!”)
– Ned’s funeral’s pretty great, with the family walking in with big smiles as to not look suspicious, and Homer’s eulogy (“When I think about Ned, I can’t help but remember the look on his face when Marge drove over… oh wait. What I’d like to say is, we’re still looking for the real killers. Anyway in conclusion, a man cannot be forced to testify against his wife.”) He proceeds to wink continuously until Marge tells him to stop.
– A great creepy atmosphere is built with the family sitting in the dark when the phone rings. I love how Homer whimpers and trembles in fear, then answers with a casual “Yello?” And the scary voice on the phone was just Moe. Then we get an awesome wrap-around shot of the family screaming in terror as lightning illuminates the room, with “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID” scribbled all over the walls.
– The car runs out of gas, so Homer must act quick as to where to hide (“Marge, you hide in the abandoned amusement park; Lisa, the pet cemetery; Bart, spooky roller disco; and I’ll go skinny-dipping in that lake where the sexy teens were killed a hundred years ago tonight.”)
– Love Milhouse’s Radioactive Man costume, reminiscent of old time Halloween kid’s costumes where you’ve have a Batman mask, then a weird over shirt that has the logo and a picture of him on it. Like, what’s all that about? Costume makers were weird (“I don’t think the real Radioactive Man wears a plastic smock with a picture of himself on it.” “He would on Halloween.”)
– Skinner’s great at the beginning; Lisa lifts up the bleachers that pinned her down with her super strength (“Hold the funeral, Poindexter!”) Skinner is shocked (“Poindexter?!”) I also like how he falls for Bart’s dumb hand trick when he stretches around to knock on the door.
– Classic bit at Xena’s Q & A, where she explains that whenever something in a show doesn’t make sense or seems illogical, the explanation is always “A wizard did it.” Works in any context. Also great when the Collector uses a giant magnet to attract her breastplate, but is hesitant to free herself, in more ways than one, in front of camera happy super nerds.
– CBG is so great in this, wonderfully over the top and ridiculous as any great campy supervillain should be. I quote “Ha ha! I am unbelievably amused!” quite often. And of course his last hurrah in struggling to strike a Battlestar Galactica pose before the Lucite hardens (“Best… death… ever!“)
– I really like Lawless’ performance when she’s tricking CBG, musing about being tall for her age and being mocked for it, and of course the great line “Xena needs xex!”
– Seeing Dick Clark’s skin melt off revealing his robot interiors, which turn to dust, seems slightly less appropriate now that he is deceased. But still funny though. I also love the more harrowing instrumental version of Auld Lang Syne as we see the world turn to disaster.
– Great appearance by Krusty, whose pacemaker is on the fritz (“It’s stuck on hummingbird! Nectar! I need to drink my weight in nectar!”) It’s a believable means to get the Simpsons to the rocket.
– Homer’s got a plan to get on the ship leaving Earth (“I am… uh, the piano genius from the movie Shine.” “And your name is?” “Uh… Shiney McShine?”)
– I like Homer’s increasing panic as he lists off more and more celebrities on the bad ship, until he screams in terror at the sight of Tom Arnold. Again, what a sport (“Only that ship’s going to Mars. Ours is headed for the sun.” “Yeah, ain’t that a kick in the teeth? I mean, my shows weren’t great but I never tied people up and forced them to watch. And I could’ve, because I’m a big guy and I’m good with knots.”) Also love his horribly off-tune singing along to “Clang, Clang, Clang.”