The annual "Treehouse Of Horror" anthology is usually a highlight of the season, where the writers and animators put logic and continuity on hold in service of the almighty joke. The best episodes have at least one segment that tears through a sacred cow or otherwise raises the satirical and comic stakes to a fever pitch. This year’s anthology, however, is not one of those. The targets are safe and easy. The humor is broad. The jokes are, for the most part, too feeble to land their punch. I’m not going to lie: It’s disappointing, especially since the episode is actually playing the night before Halloween rather than in its usual early-November, post-baseball slot.
The first segment opens with the Simpson children arriving home from trick-or-treating, only to have Marge, calling herself the Switch Witch, swoop in to trade their candy for healthier fare. Homer is dressed as Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen, a somewhat clever reference, but better is having Maggie, dressed as an alien, burst out of Bart-as-an-Astronaut’s chest. The next day, Homer is supposed to go give their candy to the troops, but he drives past the drop-off spot while Hitchcockian music plays. Despite the suspicious eyes of Chief Wiggum and Reverend Lovejoy, Homer heads out to a barren wasteland to enjoy his ill-gotten candy in private, only to have the show shift into a parody of 127 Hours. He reaches 911 easily, but when the dispatcher (voiced by Aron Ralston) tells him that the rescue will take 20 minutes, Homer decides that the rational choice is to bite off several limbs to reach his bag of candy. The kids have switched the candy out for vegetables, though. Stupid Homer moment: He tells the kids on Halloween night that their mother is the Switch Witch, but the joke in the very next scene revolves around him being unaware of this fact.
The next segment, titled “The Diving Bell And The Butterball,” parodies another movie that was based on someone’s real-life suffering. Homer has been paralyzed by a spider bite, and the only way that he can communicate with the world is through passing gas. Fart jokes aplenty follow. As he becomes satisfied with his lot in life, a second spider bites him. The segment proceeds to parody both Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, although the joke of seeing a paralyzed Spider-Man is simply not very funny.
The third segment, titled “Dial D For Diddly,” starts quite promisingly. Ned Flanders drives through a noir version of Springfield where the crazy cat lady sells “Barely Beagles” and Apu turns several species of endangered animals into hot dogs. In the best joke of the episode, Ned tells a prostitute, “Spend less time on your back and more time on your knees!” Deciding that she is no longer one of those who can do, she heads off to the Yale School of Prostitution (presumably to teach). Unfortunately, the segment veers into a parody of the Dexter credits and then a God-like voice is telling Ned to kill people. This segment had a lot of promise for the funny, but it started to sag fast and then sank altogether. First off, Homer is the voice instructing Ned to kill, then when Ned catches on, God kills Homer and blames Ned. Then God is subservient to the Devil (hey, the Simpsons live in a Gnostic world), and then Maude appears, begging the Devil to come back to bed. The entertainment world has come a long way to the point where a major network can air that sort of potentially offensive stuff in prime time, but it all seems beside the point when it doesn’t bring any humor or even satire to the plate.
The last segment is a parody of Avatar where Bart and Milhouse take on the appearance of the inhabitants of Rigel VIII, best exemplified by Kodos and Kang, as part of a mission to help Krusty locate the rare element hilarium. Bart ends up impregnating one of the local gals and takes their side when the rest of the mission comes stomping in. As Bart and his new in-laws (who may well be Kodos and Kang) survey the damage, they remark that they would have gladly given over any hilarium that the humans asked for. “In Rigelian,” says Kodos (or Kang), “there is no word for ‘yours’ or ‘mine.’” Adds Kang (or Kodos), “That’s the reason we didn’t enjoy the movie Yours, Mine, and Ours.”
It’s a shame that this wasn’t a better episode. Considering that there will be at least two more seasons of The Simpsons after this one, one would hope that the writers would, at least, nail the annual episode that is usually among their funniest. This episode is like watching someone try to punch soup, though. The writers seem unwilling to mock the more outrageous aspects of the movies they are sending up and settle for weakly batting at the obvious. Some of the jokes land, but none land too solidly. This does not bode well for the rest of the season, nor the next, nor the next.
- “Okay, I’m on the floor. I can’t move. So far, a normal Sunday morning.”
- “Now prepare to take an incredible journey across the room.”
- Lisa’s shirt says Stanford Elementary.
- The closing jokes about how people should go into debt and get drunk for Christmas seemed strangely off, too. Were they mocking Fox? Hollywood? Americans? Wall Street? I just don’t know. I did like Abe Simpson in his Black Swan outfit, though.