TV Review: The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XXIV (2013)

“Now hop on my cycle, there’s nothing to fear!  And we shall have candy…and maybe some beer.”

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Is it just me, or does The Simpsons always air its Halloween specials either too early or too late?  Yeah, yeah, I know I’m a few weeks late on this review…but, hey, if it’s before Halloween, Treehouse of Horror is still fair game!

The Simpsons…it’s her 25th year, and she ain’t the show she used to be.  We all know this.  If you’re a regular reader, you know about my sentimental attachment to this show: it’s a childhood favorite that, I’m sorry to say, I just don’t follow anymore.  Let’s just the say, some of the writing in recent seasons have made me go:

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That’s an exaggeration.  Still, it ain’t good.

But, when I was searching for a Halloween-centric topic for our final weekend in October, Treehouse of Horror seemed like the obvious choice.  It was like visiting an old friend (as unbelievably cheesy and sad as that sounds).  And, amazingly…the visit wasn’t awkward at all.  It was actually a really chill time…in other words, THE EPISODE IS GOOD.  LET’S DANCE.

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Lol Milhouse.

And, no, I’m not playing a Halloween trick on you.  The episode is as good if not better than some of the classics.  Speaking of which, let’s talk Simpsons greatness…what makes the show such a national icon that just won’t die?  For one thing, The Simpsons was one of the first sitcoms to satirize American consumerism and pop culture on a weekly basis, through clever dialogue, endearing character relationships, and perfectly timed animation.  Culture, family, and satire…to me, those are the bare bones of a great Simpsons episode.

So, naturally, when the show started “running out of ideas” and making episodes about Marge becoming a foodie, Moe starting a business with Smithers, and Bart dating Zooey Deschanel (he can do better), it all just became…tired.  And, you know what, who wouldn’t be tired after 25 years?  I give the show credit for having any creative juice left at all.  Still…yikes.

Yet, somehow, The Simpsons found its way home with their 24th installation of the autumnal Treehouse of Horror series.  And it’s good to have The Simpsons back…if not for only one episode.

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THE EPISODE

I can’t even WAIT ’til we get to The Good: BEST. COUCH. GAG. EVER.  Thank you, Comic Book Guy.

Fantastical film director Guillermo del Toro took the reins for this one: his couch gag takes us through a Springfield that’s infested with horror film characters, as we follow Bart on his skateboard, Marge at the supermarket, and Homer at the nuclear power plant through the Simpsons opening sequence we all know and love.  This intro has EVERYTHING, from references to old horror classics to a SPOT-ON appearance of the Pale Man from del Toro’s masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth.

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Burnsy’s never looked better.  Plus, Futurama‘s Hypnotoad makes a cameo.  In my opinion, this intro was everything a Treehouse of Horror couch gag should be: clever, creepy, and, you know, FUNNY.  In the past, some of the cultural references are too specific or the gag runs for way too long, but del Toro hit a sweet spot here.  I won’t spoil anything more, just see for yourself.

As in all the other Treehouses, we get three stories: a Cat in the Hat/Dr. Seuss spoof, an original story where Bart’s severed head is sowed onto Lisa’s body, and a BRILLIANT parody of the chilling 1932 horror film, Freaks.  But, hell, why should I waste time diving into plot…I’m just gonna diverge into The Awesome.  Without further ado, this is why all you wayward Simpsons fans need to head on back for this episode:

THE GOOD

The animation, specifically in the first and third stories, BLEW MY MIND.

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The Freaks segment featured a dull, toned-down aesthetic and circus costumes a lá the 1930s – with Matt Groening-style animation, it’s always a welcomed surprise when there’s a little deviation from the cartoony norm.  The animation here fit perfectly into the film noir style of the original movie.  I’d even call it beautiful.

The Cat in the Hat segment, on the other hand, has a look that’s right out of your favorite Dr. Seuss story.  They even drew the pupils to resemble Seuss’s handiwork.

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But, let’s face it: while the animation is iconic, The Simpsons has never been about looks.  Good thing the content kicks ass too.

A Seuss/Simpsons mash-up could’ve been really predictable and corny…no doubt about it.  But, the satire is ON POINT.  In fact, throughout the entire episode, the satire is on point: this is why I dub Treehouse of Horror XXIV worthy of the Simpsons classics.

We have Homer doing the Cat in the Hat – the “FAT in the Hat” – and it’s perfect because his portrayal highlights what the real Cat in the Hat actually is: an absolute JERK.

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My childhood, it hurts…

From giving liquor to children to robbing the Kwik-E-Mart at gunpoint, Homer’s embodiment of that despicable character is a thing of beauty.  Plus, the appearance of a “Borax” with a distinct, New Jersey accent pays homage to the  travesty that is Danny DeVito’s Lorax.   In fact, all of the cinematic Seuss sell-outs are brilliantly parodied here…I especially appreciated the jab at Mike Myers.

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I will never get tired of that.

While we’re on satire of American pop culture, we might as well skip ahead to the third segment: the Freaks parody.  I think I especially fell in love with this chapter because I studied the original film extensively during my junior year at Fordham…who’d guess The Simpsons would think to poke fun at this FREAKY little ol’ film?

As in the original movie, a beautiful acrobat (Marge) befriends a secretly wealthy circus freak (Moe).  Her strongman boyfriend (Homer) conspires to inherit the freak’s money by letting him marry Marge…and then murdering him.  Yeah, the film definitely has a weird, confusing plot…and the episode ridicules that, which is awesome.

treehouse_horror_24_06To any Simpsons fan, the segment is HILARIOUS because of its twist on the characters’ usual traits and personalities.  Moe, who’s typically surly and sexually aggressive, is actually the good guy here.  Sweet and squishy Homer is portrayed as wicked and calculating…and IN SHAPE.  For Freaks fans, the segment offers scene-by-scene imitations of some of the film’s most iconic moments – even the SETS are exact replicas.  I absolutely adore the detail here…again, kudos to the animators.

For me, the BEST scene of the entire episode parodies the famous “Gooble Gobble” wedding scene.  Especially when Mr. Burns mutters, “Why is it company parties get so weird?”  Great writing, great parodies, great animation – needless to say, I LOVED segments 1 and 3.

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Finally, the second segment features an original story from The Simpsons.  And lo, the gross-out humor that’s guaranteed in every edition of Treehouse of Horror appeared thusly.

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Need I say more?

The fun begins when Bart’s head is sown onto Lisa’s shoulder.  Clever hijinks, cutaway gags, and a Homeric gem that goes, “We shoulda chopped off Bart’s head years ago,” make this chapter a winner.  As silly and painfully gross as it is, it’s HILARIOUS and chockfull of a ton of physical comedy.  It may not be as polished as the other two segments, but, still, I can’t find anything about it that would fit into The Not-So-Good.  On the whole, this episode is funny, gross, brilliant, awkward…and a little creepy too.  Like I said before, it’s everything a Treehouse of Horror should be.

THE BAD

Please.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Simpsons is no longer an edgy sitcom.  It’s no longer new and avant garde…it no longer “crosses the line,” at least in a way that would shock us.  It’s a show that people – somewhere out there – must still watch…yet you don’t really hear anybody talking about it.  It’s a show that’s become as universally familiar and comfortable as I Love Lucy…except it continues to come out with new episodes.  With Homer Simpson among the likes of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, the intrigue of the show is replaced with nostalgic fondness…an American staple, right up there with apple pie and baseball.

Is it too late for The Simpsons to reinvent itself?  To become a topic of conversation again, like Futurama or even South Park?  In this critic’s opinion, The Simpsons shouldn’t try to become something it isn’t…which is maybe why the more recent seasons have been lookin’ a little lackluster.  Through this year’s Treehouse of Horror, The Simpsons succeeded simply because it remembered its roots: comedy, parody, and satire.  While these Halloween specials are always outlandish, between the writing, the character relationships, and the physical comedy…it all just clicked.  Lisa doesn’t need to become friends with Lady Gaga for The Simpsons to remain funny and relevant…there’s no need to cram in as many contemporary pop culture references as you can to make us laugh.

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Treehouse of Horror XXIV is a much-needed throwback to The Simpsons doing its own thing.  All we need is Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, and, of course, the incredible ensemble of Springfieldites…and this episode manages to include everyone.  We focus a little on the kids, a little on the adults, and A LOT on the comedy.  Well-balanced, well-written, well-received…welcome back.  Happy Halloween, guys.

5/5

It’s also worth sharing this bit of related but tragic news: Marcia Wallace, the voice actress behind Bart’s teacher, Mrs. Krabappel, passed away this weekend at the age of 70.  Executive producer Al Jean released the following statement:

“I was tremendously saddened to learn this morning of the passing of the brilliant and gracious Marcia Wallace.  She was beloved by all at The Simpsons and we intend to retire her irreplaceable character.  Earlier we had discussed a potential storyline in which a character passed away. This was not Marcia’s Edna Krabappel.  Marcia’s passing is unrelated and again, a terrible loss for all who had the pleasure of knowing her.”

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Here on animate this, I wanted to express my condolences too.  Goodbye to the funniest 4th grade teacher we ever had the pleasure of knowing.  RIP Marcia Wallace.

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