Original airdate: October 18, 2015
The premise: After getting traumatized by Krustyland’s Halloween Horror Nights, Lisa decides to sit the holiday out, but terror comes home thanks to a trio of disgruntled thugs who are out for Homer after he got them fired from Apu’s Halloween pop-up shop.
The reaction: It’s interesting that after all this time, we never got a “proper” Halloween episode. Outside of brief glimpses we’ve seen in the first few wraparound segments of Treehouse of Horrors, we’ve never been privy to seeing how the Simpsons celebrate the holiday, until now. This show is also a rarity in that it seems like the writers actually gave a shit, crafting a logical story with an emotional payoff and some real tension, albeit at the expense of laughs. One of the best things is seeing Lisa actually act like a child for once: she’s super psyched to be old enough to go to a Halloween event, but ends up getting scared out of her mind by the realistic looking monsters and ghouls. Things get real bad from there; Homer and Marge are dismayed to find Lisa has retrieved “Tailee,” an old stuffed raccoon tail she used for comfort when she was younger. As a result, Homer stays home with Lisa for a Halloween-free night. But unfortunately, the house ends up besieged by three jerks who got fired from their cushy temporary Halloween shop gigs thanks to Homer’s idiocy. We get a lot of dramatic music, stingers, some use of shaky cam, and some pretty great acting from Dan Castellaneta and Yeardley Smith being genuinely out of sorts and scared. They surmise that they can alert others for help by using other holiday decorations, namely 4th of July fireworks. Unable to light the fuse, Lisa offers up Tailee to help (“This ratty piece of polyester has been soaking in face oil for eight years.”) This ending feels straight out of a movie, as Clausen’s music drops out as Lisa offers up her sacrifice, then swells again as the fireworks start going off. The framework and story progression is pretty solid and it’s a sweet Lisa story, but the problem is that it’s not really all that funny. There’s long stretches in the second half where the tension, scary moments, and Homer spouting the moral of the story completely eclipse attempting to be funny. The episode held my attention, and it’s definitely the strongest episode story-wise we’ve seen in almost a decade, but ultimately, it just makes me wonder what a true Halloween episode from season 4 or 5 would have been like.
Three items of note:
– We open with a meta moment with Homer and Flanders explaining that Treehouse of Horror is in fact next week (“It’s gonna be Psycho with Skinner’s mom, Muppet Wizard of Oz, I’m Scarecrow Fozzie, and then one where furniture gets smart and takes over the world or something.” “Sounds chilling!” “Eh. People love it.”) Homer’s apathy toward the annual specials feels very representative of the writers, given how awful the Halloween shows are nowadays. Also, Kermit was the Scarecrow in Muppet Wizard of Oz. And it’s the shittiest Muppet movie ever made.
– The Simpsons are all gung ho about Halloween at the start, elaborately decorating their house in preparation of the night. But after Lisa’s big scare, everything frightens her, which leads Marge to sadly request Homer take down their display. A barren house incites Bart, which motivates Marge to drive him around Halloween night in search of the perfect place to trick-or-treat, leaving Homer to care for Lisa. This all may seem fairly simple, but it was pretty stunning to me to watch an episode where logical plot progression resulting from characters acting believably.
– Marge and Bart end up staying out too late, and they end up bearing witness to sexy adult Halloween, featuring the denizens of Springfield in risque costumes and getting into PG-level shenanigans. They even have a Rocky Horror-esque song to go along with it. This scene fell completely flat for me. What scathing commentary, some people use Halloween as an excuse to dress sexy? These guys are on the cutting edge here.
One good line/moment: For once, this section is not a chore. I had a few chuckles, but I laughed aloud at a line from Homer as Bart gets upset at them taking down the decorations (“Lisa goes nuts and you turn us into… into skippers?!” “I know what this makes us.”) He’s seething in his delivery of this. Plus this ties into the beginning with Homer and Marge admonishing neighboring homes who don’t celebrate. Again, plot and jokes threads that connect. Just like a real story!