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Worldly Distractions: The Simpsons 26.4 - Treehouse of Horror XXV


crazyforkate

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blog-treehouseofhorror.jpgtreehouseofhorror

 

Well, it's that time of year again! Perhaps the only episode of the season reliably worth checking out, Treehouse of Horror is a glorious celebration of all things creepy, kooky and altogether ooky. Some years have been funnier than others, but in general, the Halloween episodes boast a high quality and a tremendous novelty factor. In fact, it's hard to imagine Halloween without them. So tonight, fun-sized candy bars and mini-bags of chips in hand, let's all get together to mark a quarter-century of this annual macabre extravaganza. What terrors and treats will they have to offer us tonight?

We start with a variety-show style from Kang and Kodos' home planet, featuring clips from old episodes and a dizzying array of guest stars - all of whom are chopped up to form the title. The aliens laugh uproariously, and I would be if they hadn't done it already a few seasons back.

The first offering is "School is Hell", based on the art of Neil Gaiman. We begin with Bart being given an excessively long detention yet again. Bored, he begins to mess with the furniture. He wipes the dust off the desk and finds an old enchantment written in Ancient Aramaic. Lisa translates it with an app. Unfortunately, the curse they unlock drags them both straight to hell, which is their umpteenth such visit over both Canon and Treehouse-verse. Now turned into goat creatures, they meet all kinds of monster cliques, and for a while things are looking kind of good. Lisa even becomes popular, whereupon it promptly begins to snow. All the characters appear as various monster caricatures. Bart is taken to Hell Class, where he excels in coming up with horrific kinds of torture. The teacher admits to having a crush on him, because in hell that kind of stuff is possible.

Lisa soon comes up with a portal back to earth, but Bart is reluctant to go. They show up in their portal on Earth, which is located in Burns' office. Bart goes to his parents and asks to transfer to Hell School. Marge is thrilled that he wants to learn something, and Homer is glad it's free. However, at the first parent-teacher conference, they express some trepidation over the school's location. With assurance from Hell!Skinner/Chalmers (a two-headed deal), they agree to give it a try. Beelze-Bart proceeds to kick ass at an increasingly gruesome series of classes. At the final exam, he is asked to torture Homer. Since he never seems to die, this shouldn't be an issue, but Bart is worried anyway. Homer encourages him to at least try to succeed at something. Bart gives it a go, and is chosen to be valedictorian of his class.

Well, this one was a good starter. Though not really laugh-out-loud funny, they did put a great amount of effort into establishing the school, and the setting really was its strength. The Simpsons have had many visits to hell before, and Bart has been to many schools, but I wouldn't call it stale at this point. This is a great example of how old concepts can be twisted a little to create a perfectly serviceable episode.

"A Clockwork Yellow" is next, and looks fantastic. Moe, Lenny, Carl and Homer are all droogs in an Anthony-Burgess style gang, highly violent and well-choreographed. To my delight, Russian words and terrible British accents are everywhere. The movie is parodied in a manner most pitch-perfect. In 1970s-style futuristic London, Homer hooks up with Marge to the strains of classical music, falls in love with her, and decides to give up the gang. Moe is devastated at the loss of his friend "Dum". Lenny and Carl kick Moe out, and he becomes a lowly bartender.

Years later, watching TV with those eye-clamp things, Moe is startled to hear a knock on the door. Dolph, Kearney, Nelson and Jimbo break in and immediately proceeded to fuck his shit up. Bruised, Moe summons his respectable friends Dum and Marge. He expresses his desire to get revenge. Marge urges them not to return to gang life, citing their toddler  (Clockwork!Maggie), but Dum and Moe go back to the old ways. While jaywalking, they run into Lenny and Carl and convince them to return for a series of extremely insignificant crimes. Soon it investigates to crashing a party at the Mayor's house, a parody of Eyes Wide Shut that is racier than anything else The Simpsons has ever done. The gang goes to town on the whole place, committing mass murder.  Several other Kubricks are parodied in the process. Moe concludes that at least he is happy. The sequence is revealed to be part of Kubrick's editing process, where he expresses dissatisfaction with the result. He throws a pen in the air, just like 2001. It's glorious.

Though the Kubrick parodies were kind of funny, I would call this segment the weakest of the three. The setting did look great, as did the character design. However, as a segment it didn't really "hang", and the story was rather poorly developed. It would have benefited from an extra minute in running time. And honestly - considering the famous brutality of A Clockwork Orange, it would have helped if they had gone further with the old ultra-violence. Both the first and last segments were much more violent, which seemed strange given the film's history.

Last, but not least is a parody of The Others, which is apparent by an immediate shift in animation. The family begins receiving strange messages from the house, including writing on the mirror and a TV that only plays Married With Children. Soon, they are unable to sleep at night. When Marge leaves the room, Homer is molested by a ghost while the bed levitates. Homer summons the ghosts with "The Car-Sellers Bible" ("The power of Chrysler compels you!"), whereupon they are revealed to be the Simpsons from the 1989 Tracey Ullman shorts. Yup, those one where they look like they were doodled in the margins during a boring math class. Homer falls in love with 1989 Marge (she's not bitter about him yet, you see), 1989-Homer attacks present-day Bart, and things are getting chaotic. Present-day Marge, despondent, kills herself by putting her head in the oven (wait, WHAT?!) and appears to Homer as a ghost. 1989-Homer kills Homer with the toaster in the bathtub, Bart jumps out the window, and Lisa dies going after him. Groundskeeper Willie runs off with the bodies, and accidentally kills Maggie too. Two full Simpson families now haunt the house, and Doctor Marvin Monroe, now some kind of semi-ghost after his ambiguous status for many seasons, is called in to sort them out. The Marges suggest that Homer choose between them. Present-Marge tells Homer that even though she knows everything about him, she still wants to stay with them. Both Simpson couples reconcile. The families live happily in the house, and Lisa wonders whether more may not exist. On cue, a parade of Simpsons families show up, including Lego Simpsons, Anime Simpsons, Despicable Me Simpsons, South Park Simpsons, and 3D-animated Simpsons (their Homer played by perennial Pixar actor John Ratzenberger). A brief coda shows the original two families taking a family photo.

I really, really liked the concept of putting the two families together, and it was interesting to see the contrast between the show at the beginning and the show as it is now. However, this premise started getting a bit thin - so it was a relief when the deaths started. It moved at a brisk pace and continued to hold audience interest, especially with the visually arresting ending featuring multiple Simpsons incarnations. Aesthetically, this segment was quite strong, and it hearkened back to our sense of nostalgia, which was very fitting for this twenty-fifth anniversary episode. An effective parody of The Others it wasn't, but the rest of the segment made up for it, and I would definitely rank it as the strongest part of tonight's outing.

Overall, I would say that this episode was solid, but not classic. Last year's was much stronger, taking a ton of risks, and of course neither of them could touch the Golden Era. However, it had three creative segments with plenty for the viewer to notice, and worked well both on an artistic and entertainment level. In an increasingly shaky series, the ToH episodes reliably bring us the Simpsons' trademark sense of humour, though of course slightly more twisted than usual - and rarely disappoint. I'll hand the conversation over to the discussion thread, though - what did YOU guys think?

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