"Treehouse of Horror XX"/"Birth of a Salesman"/"Brains, Brains and Automobiles"

"Treehouse of Horror XX"/"Birth of a Salesman"/"Brains, Brains and Automobiles"

The Simpsons’ annual Halloween episode is regularly the precursor to one of Fox’s strongest nights for animation ratings year-round. As much as The Simpsons is no longer the ratings powerhouse it once was, their Halloween special has become something approaching an American tradition. Good or bad, the episode is usually quite a bit of fun, and the hat tips to assorted horror movies and subgenres are always welcome. Especially as there are fewer and fewer traditional sitcoms to put all of their characters into wacky costumes for the holiday, it feels like nothing else on TV. In addition, “Treehouse of Horror” isn’t burdened by the series’ storied past like a lot of other episodes are, as it’s primarily there as a goof that’s not in continuity. If the Wolfman shows up dressed as Harry Potter, diehard fans aren’t going to complain about how everything was better when the stories were more realistic because “Treehouse of Horror” has never bothered with realism.

So, naturally, Fox chose this week to make Family Guy a repeat (though, at least, a holiday-friendly repeat, what with it being that Stephen King homage from last season). It seems every season that the first repeat of the year comes earlier and earlier, and, so far as I know, this is the first repeat of the new TV season since it began just a scant four weeks ago. While it often feels like Family Guy produces fewer episodes than the other shows (since it seems to be in repeats more often than the others), I thought we were finally out of the enforced lack of episodes that the 2007-08 writers strike forced on the show. But that doesn’t really matter aside from being irritating. The other episodes all had their moments, though The Cleveland Show continues to be confused as to what it wants to be.

On to the grading.

The Simpsons: It’s really not worth grading any “Treehouse of Horror” episode as a single thing but, rather, as a collection of segments. So let’s do that!

Cold open with the assorted Universal horror monsters: This wasn’t all that bad. It was relying really heavily on the sight gag of Dracula, the Wolfman, etc., all appearing in costume as other people (and not really doing a good job of it) and the random image of their wives beating on them with rolling pins and such like they were ‘50s housewives. But it was amusing enough, and the final gag, of Homer’s lifeless eyes making up the XX in the episode title was a pretty good one. Grade: B-

Dial “M” for Murder or Press # to Return to Main Menu: One of the nice things about the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes is that they can essentially leave behind The Simpsons’ roots as a comedic cartoon and go for broke on style every once in a while. This Hitchcock parody wasn’t especially funny, really, but it was gorgeous to look at, especially in HD. The Simpsons has always been the most attractively designed of the Fox animated shows, and when it goes for broke on just looking like a million bucks, it usually succeeds. This segment had that principle in spades, as the use of Hitchcockian motifs and the black and white of it all added up to a segment that was legitimately fun to look at. The plotting was not what it could have been, but for the sheer want-to-watch factor, it couldn’t be beat. Grade: B+

Don’t Have a Cow, Mankind: As a 28 Days Later parody specifically, this probably didn’t work as well as it might have. As a parody of zombie movies in general, though, it was really funny, even though the show has gone to this well many a time before. There’s just something about the gleeful, cartoonish violence the show indulges in when it goes the zombie route that adds up to some glorious mayhem. While, again, the plotting was a little poor here (that final solution to the whole problem was pretty stupid), the way the show used the people of Springfield and, especially, Apu as a survivalist in a giant truck was inspired, and I laughed more at this segment than anything else tonight. Grade: A-

Moe’s: The idea of tossing an all musical segment into the “Treehouse of Horror” is a pretty good one, but Moe’s isn’t it. Here’s a case where the source material hurts the segment, because the segment gets cold feet about being a Sweeney Todd parody. For a show that had no compunctions about mocking Evita in the past, it’s too bad that the episode didn’t bother making more of its connection to Sweeney. Moe is a good character to turn into a vengeful killer who spices up his sales by adding a taste of human blood to the beer, but the storyline itself is a little meandering, never quite working as it attempts to decide just how much it wants to be like the musical. I liked the trappings of the whole thing being a stage production, though, particularly when you can see Homer blinking, as his “dead” body lies beneath the stage at the opening of Act Two. Grade: C

Grade for “Treehouse of Horror XX” overall: B

The Cleveland Show: OK, at some point, the show is going to have to stop trying to tell two coherent stories in one episode or it’s going to have to stop doing cutaway gags that remind one of its parent show. Because while having Cleveland encounter an old friend from high school and getting in trouble at work because of him AND having Tim be jealous of him, all the while having Cleveland, Jr. trying to deal with his emotional trauma from his parents’ divorce back and home AND having a series of long cutaway gags just made the episode feel overstuffed and curiously uninvolving at the same time. I laughed at Cleveland engaging in a lengthy parody of my favorite YouTube video of all time, sure, but the parody didn’t add anything to either storyline and just took up a bunch of time that could have been spent on the actually interesting emotional material in both storylines. The series increasingly feels like it’s got too many cooks in the kitchen, with some pushing for random humor and the others pushing for storylines. I’ve laughed at least a couple of times at every episode, but they increasingly feel incoherent. Grade: C

American Dad: Stan is really not my favorite character on American Dad (as he worries, he’s actually a little boring), but I like the way his straight edges come into conflict with the show’s other characters, particularly Steve and Roger. So tonight’s episode was one half of a really good one, as Stan’s fears that he’s so boring Francine won’t want to be with him anymore collided with Roger leaving the house to go off on his own and led to the terrifically surreal segment inside of Roger’s brain, which felt like a mash-up of The Phantom Tollbooth and every Salvador Dali painting ever. I didn’t write down any quotes from this segment, but the sheer visual lunacy of it kept me laughing, particularly when Stan and the chocodile got into a fight. The Steve subplot, however, was a little less involving, playing off of old camp movie clichés and never really rising above them. Grade: B

Stray observations:

  • "Like mom and dad say snuggle when what they really mean is let's lock the door and hug."
  • "Eh. I'll just high five her."
  • "You can apologize in Hell." "I guess I could!"
  • "Bart, Linda and the Other One."
  • "You saying I'm as large as a municipality."
  • "No, Francine. He needs a prince."
  • I still have no idea how to grade this using the new grader sliding thingy. I guess I'll just keep giving it a B until I get a better idea.