"Treehouse of Horror XXI"/"It's the Great Pancake, Cleveland Brown"/"Halloween on Spooner Street"/"Best Little Horror House in Langley Falls"

"Treehouse of Horror XXI"/"It's the Great Pancake, Cleveland Brown"/"Halloween on Spooner Street"/"Best Little Horror House in Langley Falls"

Fox getting the rights to the baseball playoffs and World Series has always played havoc with its fall season, bumping stuff around and occasionally ensuring its new shows all debuted in early November. The network has mostly avoided this in recent years by debuting the new shows (and most returning shows' new seasons) in early September, and this year, a happy accident of scheduling meant that most series had four or five episodes under their belts before baseball got under way.

Yet there's one fall event that always gets screwed over by baseball, and that's the annual Simpsons Halloween special, "Treehouse of Horror." (It was originally billed as "The Simpsons Halloween Special," and that name should have stuck, dammit!) Usually, the show is able to air the Halloween episode just a couple of days after the holiday, but this year, it and all of the shows following it are celebrating Halloween a full week later, when most everyone else has moved on to eager anticipation of Thanksgiving feasts (except for those damned Canadians). On the other hand, "Treehouse of Horror" has been one of the most consistent things about The Simpsons, even in those brutally unfunny seasons of the early to mid-2000s, so maybe it doesn't matter when the episode airs, if it's funny enough.

The Simpsons: This year, sadly, it wasn't. There were laughs in all three segments, but the episode as a whole left something to be desired. The first, a vague parody of Jumanji (really?) and Ouija board panic, eventually descended into a long string of mostly lame board game jokes, as if the writers had been coming up with board game puns for the last 15 seasons or something and wanted an excuse to unload a bunch of them all at once. The idea of Bart and Milhouse playing with a Ouija board ripoff was promising, so to see it descend into gags about Marge getting sucked into Clue was disappointing. The second segment was probably enjoyable for diehard Dead Calm fans, but that segment of the populace is surprisingly low (though the film does feature Nicole Kidman at her most attractive, so that's something). There were fewer good gags here than in the board game segment, but it was balanced out by a fairly solid Hugh Laurie performance. Fortunately, the last segment, the inevitable Twilight parody, was funny across the board, both in how it took the piss out of the Twilight films and how it satirized vampire mania. These aren't exactly fresh topics, but it felt like something that might have fit in a stronger "Treehouse of Horror" episode, and it made me laugh more than a couple of times. Still, it wasn't the best "Treehouse" ever, and you could make a good claim for it being the worst, particularly if the Twilight segment wasn't in there. Grade: C

The Cleveland Show: Cleveland, Jr., is the only character on The Cleveland Show who works at all consistently. The portrayal of the poor kid as an overweight nerd stuck between a dad who's alternately horrified and protective of him and a school full of kids just waiting to make fun of him always rings true, even when the other elements of the show are spiraling off into nonsense. So focusing the show's Halloween episode on the idea that Cleveland, Jr., was at that awkward age between being young enough to go trick or treating and old enough to dress up for Halloween parties was a good choice. On the other hand, the rest of the episode was essentially the thousandth time the show has done a King of the Hill-esque story about how Cleveland doesn't really understand his son, but he loves him anyway, dammit. When The Cleveland Show started, I'd hoped the talent working on it would eventually skew the show more toward those sorts of King of the Hill stories, but I didn't expect warmed-over Hank and Bobby Hill stories to be the only stories they COULD tell. So despite some nice moments, like Cleveland and his friends dressing up like breakfast foods to help out his son, too much of the episode was only worth a bored shrug. Similarly, the story about Rallo losing his tooth after eating too much candy didn't have enough laughs (or any, really) to justify its existence. I did like Roberta as a slutty ghost, though. Grade: C

Family Guy: Here's a case of one good storyline getting dragged down by everything around it. I very much enjoyed nearly everything in the A-story, which involved Brian taking Stewie trick or treating. Stewie got his candy stolen, and Brian resolves to help him out, which only results in him getting spray painted pink. The two hatch a scheme to get the candy back using advanced weaponry, but they eventually have to turn to Lois talking to the ringleader's mother. There are some good running gags here, like Brian getting angry at the dog in the patio door, and the bit with Lois brow-beating the kid and his mom for more candy and, eventually, money was funny. On the other hand, the other two stories eventually went to some very odd places that just didn't work. I liked how Peter and Joe's prank war against Quagmire started out, and the joke about Joe and Quagmire having sex was the good kind of envelope-pushing gag, but then it turned really strange with Quagmire insisting he was one-quarter Japanese, then dive bombing a ship, kamikaze-style, before laughing about pranking Joe and Peter. A solid majority of the gags in this storyline had uncomfortable racial overtones, mostly because they weren't funny, and the viewer just spent the majority of the time thinking about their uncomfortable racial overtones. Finally, the show's obsession with incest reached another tipping point, when it had Chris and Meg make out at a Halloween party. I think the show thinks making viewers squeamish with this is funny, but at this point, so little about it is unexpected or shocking that it would have the ability to produce even horrified laughter. It just kind of sits there. Still, I liked the storyline that made up the bulk of the episode. Grade: C+

American Dad: As always, it fell to American Dad to try to prop up the rest of the night, and fortunately, the episode was capable of doing so. Stan being obsessed with having a scary haunted house was a perfect character choice, and I liked all of the material about the even creepier haunted house across the way. (The bit about what Francine saw when she went upstairs was the biggest laugh of the night.) Throwing Roger into the mix in a story like this is always a good way to make things better, and his suggestion of tossing real serial killers into the mix (and his eventual decision to let them out) made for an appropriately funny dissection of every slasher movie cliché ever. I enjoyed him trying to egg the serial killers on, Stan's entreaties to the crowd drawing the crowd into the house, and Francine's disgust with the whole thing. The Steve and Akiko storyline had less amusing about it (though Doug did an overlong dance while dressed as Gizmo), but it did conclude with Toshi sending the holiday off in style, by chopping all of the serial killers in two. This wasn't the strongest American Dad ever, but it had some very funny bits and a coherent storyline that didn't try too hard to shock. That's enough to make it the best of the night. Grade: B+

Stray observations:

  • Thanks to Rowan for taking over the last two times these shows aired (which feels like millions of years ago). He'll likely be the regular fill-in for when I can't get to these, since he did such a good job.
  • "Dunder Mifflin just like monster's workplace."
  • "It's gotta be good if Satan put his name on it!"
  • "Hey, Mr. Positive. Shut the hell up."
  • "Is it ... three?"
  • "Unfortunately, he had the strength of 10 businessmen."
  • "Well, it was rhubarb!"
  • "Whaddaya mean 'this one?'"
  • "She just wanted to ride bikes through New England, but those seats hurt my ass."
  • "I love your power."
  • "Why is there a steering wheel in my bedroom?"
  • "Let's move between the trees the way a bat does: by jumping."
  • "What the hell restaurant is that from? IHOP, because diabetes took one of my legs?"
  • "Imagination doesn't cost anything, but whatever."
  • "We can enjoy this, because we're all wearing our safety belts."
  • "It gets her hot when I dress up as big food."
  • "Now go upstairs and put on that Indian chief costume I bought you."
  • "How do you not know that your reflection in the patio door isn't another dog?"
  • "That jerk dog from our patio door somehow got inside a hubcap."
  • "I guess I'm takin' the pumpkin car, since my Mazda's blocked in!"
  • "You do that. I'm gonna find out who these black people are."
  • "Usually when I see men in cages, they're kissing each other, and I'm throwing pesos at them."
  • "I ... enjoy ... dolphins."
  • "I hate you, you fat grey pear."

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