Original airdate: October 19, 2014
The premise: In “School in Hell,” Bart and Lisa are transported to a school of the damned, where the former greatly excels. “A Clockwork Yellow” is a Clockwork Orange “parody.” In “The Others,” the Simpsons are surprised to find themselves haunted by their Tracey Ullman-era predecessors.
The reaction: Another season, another subpar Halloween. Though to be fair, “School” is actually the strongest segment I’ve seen in a while. It’s got some promising ideas, like the hell school being more supportive and nurturing to Bart than Springfield Elementary, and there’s something wonderfully disturbing about the idea of the ending, where Homer willfully lets Bart horrifically maim him for his graduation. But despite the promise, a lot of it goes unfulfilled, with our usual collection of expository dialogue and surface-level jokes. “Clockwork” I’m pretty much in the dark about, having not seen A Clockwork Orange. But of course, parodies on this show used to stand on their own; fellow Kubrick homage “The Shinning” worked just fine when I saw it as a young lad, having never seen the source material. I know the basics of the plot, but nothing here really stands out as doing anything beyond just recreating bits from the movie. By the end, it seems like the writers lost interest and just started cramming in references to other Kubrick films, then ending with the director himself throwing a red pen in the air, it hitting him in the head, and him staring at the camera for a few seconds before cutting to black. I guess this is a reference, but it certainly wasn’t funny. “The Others” is the most unfortunate, as the Simpsons meeting their crudely drawn and primitively behaved doppelgangers is a potentially neat idea. But, there’s absolutely no story; ghost Marge takes a shining to Homer, then Marge kills herself to get back at him, then the kids kill themselves, and it turns into a Homer-Marge schmaltz ending… and Marvin Monroe is there too. What an absolute waste. Wouldn’t it have been neat for the old Simpsons to want to take back their house and try to kill the family or something? Why were they haunting them to begin with? Upon the ghosts’ first appearance, Lisa claims that their time has passed, ghost-Bart belches, and she retorts, “That was unmotivated!” The show in its heyday could have excellently compared and contrasted the show from its roots, but nowadays, it’s a joke in and of itself. Character motivation, and other elements of good writing, have been hard to come by in this last decade of episodes.
Three items of note:
– Nothing’s better than a reference than you have to laboriously explain. In the hell segment, Bart pulls Hot Stuff out of a portal, an old Harvey Comics character from the creator of Richie Rich. As soon as he showed up, I was surprised, since he’s a pretty obscure character. But then he immediately talks about how lame his comic was, pulls out an issue and explains how bad it is. If you need to spend this much time explaining who this character is and why the joke is funny, wouldn’t it be better to just toss it and think of something else? I guess not.
– They use the famous Clockwork eye clamps to make a jab at how awful FOX is. How edgy. Not only have there been dozens of better digs at the network in the past, there have been plenty in classic Halloween shows alone. Plus, with stuff like “Empire,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Last Man on Earth,” there’s plenty on this network that are leaps and bounds above anything this show is churning out nowadays. Speaking of, there was another terrible FOX joke in the last episode too. So, so bad.
– The very ending is pretty cringe-worthy, when a parade of other Simpson families from other dimensions show up, in the style of Adventure Time, South Park, Archer, and others, including… [shudder]… the Minions. This show has inserted references to popular current shows and movies for the sake of just being references before, but this feels like the ultimate example, the most transparent instance of them trying to generate some light Internet buzz. Look, here’s a clip of Simpsons Minions! Homer as the Ice King! These are things that people like now! We can be like that too! Why isn’t anyone paying attention to us?
One good line/moment: Like I said, the hell segment has some good stuff in it. The designs of the creatures and the school are pretty neat, and there were some good jokes sprinkled throughout, like the hell chalkboard gag (Eternal Torment Is The Only Just Punishment for the Unbaptized) and the portal back from Hell being in Burns’ office.