314. Treehouse of Horror XIV

(originally aired November 2, 2003)
Another year, another Halloween show. John Swartzwelder takes the helm for all three segments here, and despite the decline in quality of his post-classic years episodes, I actually enjoyed this one, as it struck a fair balance between creepy and violent and delightfully silly. First in “Reaper Madness,” Homer offs the Grim Reaper, and by putting on his robe, ends up becoming Death himself. Things are wonderfully weird right away that Homer cracks the Reaper’s skull with a bowling ball, then when he dumps his deceased bones and other remnants into the trash can outside, gives his garments a try (“Check it out! I finally found a dead guy’s clothes that fit me!”) On his first assignment, we have an establishing shot of the Retirement Castle with Homer’s car parked out front, and I immediately chuckled thinking of him driving there in his robes, and walking through the front door as Death to kill Jasper. I’m sure no one batted an eye at him about that. The finale involves the powers that be commanding Homer kill Marge, but he gets out of it by tricking God and escaping on his motorcycle. It sounds really stupid… because it is, but it’s done in such a goofy fashion that it made it even funnier to me.

In “Frinkenstein,” Professor Frink finds he’s won the Nobel Prize, but is saddened that his father isn’t around to see his success… because his body is being kept alive in his freezer. Reanimated, John Frink, Sr. seeks to remove his new mechanical body parts with the real deal, ripping vital organs out of the people of Springfield. Seeing him rip Flanders’ heart out through his throat or tearing Skinner’s spine from his back are pretty horrifying to see, but it’s all so dumb and ridiculous that I still laughed at it, especially when we get to the point where Frink, Sr. is nothing but stolen body parts. He’s voiced by Jerry Lewis, in a great bit of casting considering he’s the basis of Frink’s voice. In his first scene when you go from Hank Azaria to him, it couldn’t be more clear, and just to hear Lewis go nuts and do the “hyuvin!” noises is pretty excellent. I wasn’t completely on board or understood what made Frink, Sr. such a maniac and go nuts at the end, but again, seeing him rip off people’s scalps and stuff brains into his head is such a bizarre sight, I just had to marvel at it.

Lastly we have “Clockstoppers.” Oh wait, I mean “Stop the World, I Want To Goof Off.” Bart gets a stopwatch from an ad in an old comic book that apparently can stop time, and wouldn’t you know, it actually works. He and Milhouse proceed to run wild, messing with the minds of everyone in town. Their pranks are all pretty entertaining to watch, going from pantsing Skinner (“My slacks! They’ve descended!”) to repeatedly putting costumes on Mayor Quimby, everything from a maid’s outfit to a gigantic sandwich. When the two are found out, an angry mob quickly forms out for blood. Bart and Milhouse stop time, but destroy the watch in the process. After reaping the benefits of being the only two moving people on Earth, they decide they need to try and fix things. Of course eight hours of watch repair takes the boys fifteen years to complete, leaving them worse-for-wear twenty-somethings. In a wonderfully cruel moment, they place Martin in front of the mob before they resume time, leaving him as the scapegoat to be pummeled mercilessly. All three segments were surprisingly strong, amusing and enjoyable; the best Halloween show since season 11.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I don’t care for the opening; unlike the rest of the episode, the violence feels uncomfortable and disconcerting instead of goofy. But I do like the tag with Kang and Kodos commenting how the episode is being aired in November (“Who’s still thinking about Halloween? We already have our Christmas decorations up!”)
– I like the Benny Hill chase of Death and the Simpsons throughout the upstairs hallway. This setting and context works a hell of a lot better than the same gag in “A Star is Born Again.”
– Great bit with Frankie the Squealer unable to die, not-so-great bit with Moe hanging himself.
– I love the ending of “Reaper,” with God unable to identify Patty right away, and chasing Homer as a beam of light, which ultimately is stopped by a train whizzing by. He quickly gives up with an excellent, quotable line (“Doggone it, I am too old and too rich for this…”)
– I like the idea of Frink, Sr. as a more rugged, adventure-seeking scientist, like an Indiana Jones to regular Frink’s Nutty Professor. I kind of wish there had been another episode that developed this relationship seriously in the series proper. We’ve never had a Frink episode before. Pity.
– They must have recorded Jerry Lewis somewhere with not-so-great acoustics; moments when he gets real loud, which is quite often, it sounds like he’s stuck in a shower.
– Frink wins the Nobel Prize for his hybrid hammer-screwdriver (“It was a slow year,”) and I love that that’s the crux of why he decided just now to reanimate his father, that it would save him the inconvenience of switching tools.
– Even a throwaway role from Jennifer Garner becomes memorable when teamed with a no-nonsense Nobel laureate (“This is the most exciting Nobel Prize ceremony ever!” “I disagree.”)
– Jerry Lewis really did a great job, with his crazy noises accompanying Frink on stage, and his labored death sequence. I also like that Frink, Sr. asserts he’s going to hell for sure so casually.
– I like the runner of Milhouse responding to Bart’s questions (“Yeah… but you say it first.”) It feels very in-character.
– Nice bit out front of Town Hall with the endlessly changing announcement board.
Another throwaway role for Oscar de la Hoya, but considering it involves him brutally punching a defenseless ten-year-old, I’d say it’s worth it (“Dios mio! This kid is fun to hit!”)

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6 responses to “314. Treehouse of Horror XIV

  1. Wow, we simply disagree here. I thought “Frinkenstein” was one of the worst THOH segments in the show’s history, and “Reaper Madness” just felt tired, since Family Guy’s “Death Is a Bitch” debuted a good three years prior.

    “Clockstoppers” was decent, though, especially “I’m gonna played naked basketball!” “NO, you’re NOT.”

  2. I liked this one too. It’s about as good as post-classic Treehouses get.

    I actually kind of almost like Season 15. It has some terrible episodes, but the good ones made me feel like the writers were trying to right the ship a bit, in terms of the show’s tone and characterization. If they had kept improving on this year, the show could have been great again eventually.

  3. My memories of Season 15 are extremely vague – I watched each of these episodes exactly once, on their original broadcasts. Let’s see if these reviews jog my memory…

    Oh yeah, this is the one with the opening where Homer rolls Bart and Lisa up in a rug and beats them with a baseball bat. That’s, like, not even in the same county as funny. (Though I admit, Abe bursting into flames and whining “I’m still cold!” got a laugh out of me.)

    All anyone could talk about for weeks on No Homers was how “Reaper Madness” was supposedly a bold-faced ripoff of the “Death is a Bitch” episode of Family Guy. And I’m sure the writers didn’t go into it deliberately thinking “Let’s rip off Family Guy”, but surely they knew a comparison was inevitable. The segment also contains one of the worst pop culture jokes I’ve ever heard: “I’ll curb him…but WITHOUT enthusiasm!” That’s the kind of shit I expect from a DreamWorks movie, not The Simpsons.

    For years, the writers were talking about how they wanted to get Jerry Lewis on the show to play Frink’s father. And I gotta say, I really wish they’d done it in a regular full-length episode, because squeezing him into a seven-minute THOH segment feels like a wasted opportunity. Seeing Frink Sr. run around like a madman cramming other people’s brains in his head just reinforces that opinion. (Also, that joke “It doesn’t make you any less of a man! …Except you have no penis”? I saw that coming a mile down Broadway.)

    I remember nothing about “Stop the World, I Want to Goof Off”. Aside from Milhouse’s “Yeah…but you say it first,” which I won’t deny is pretty good.

    This is about the point where I figured they must pick their guest stars with a dart and a blindfold. Was there any point in having Jennifer Garner, Dudley Herschbach, and Oscar De La Hoya in this episode? Just looking at that list, it reads like Tom Servo’s Celebrity Deposition from MST3K (“Tom Skerritt! Bell Biv Devoe! And the leggy Czar Nicholas II!”)

    • The “Curb Your Enthusiasm” line didn’t even register with me as a reference, but I guess it is. Even so, I wouldn’t be hard pressed to dig up a dozen pop culture jokes that are even worse, from this series alone.
      Also, I’m surprised that not only is Dudley Herschbach a real person, but they actually brought him in to say, “I disagree.” That’s it. I’m sure at this point the producers just have a list of celebrities who have expressed interest in doing the show, and the writers decide which episode to shoehorn them into. But for the small, insignificant parts the guests in this one had, I thought they worked and were funny.

    • The show at this point really, REALLY shouldn’t make references to stuff like Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is actually, y’know, funny, whereas this is…….. uhhh…

      The clockstopping idea was cool but the they didn’t do much with it. It all just was kinda… there.

  4. I don’t abolutely hate this THoH, but I really don’t think it is all that good either. Of course, no THoH is as terrible as 12 and 22.

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