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Worldly Distractions: The Simpsons 25.2 - Treehouse of Horror XXIV






Yes, we are twenty-four Halloween episodes into this show. And somehow, it never feels like enough. EVERYONE loves The Simpsons when it comes to Halloween. They get to break the rules, play with form, wreak havoc in a way never imagined on the regular show, and generally have the time of their lives, while paying lip service to the series we know and love. What's not to enjoy?

Some of the most classic moments of the show have taken place in these episodes ("The Shinning", anyone?), and though they've had a clunky segment or two, they are usually entertaining at the very least. This year's episode has had a lot of buzz itself. I hereby invite you to sit back, grab your pumpkin-shaped candy bucket, and be prepared to be scared!

We start out dark and spooky in the much-hyped intro by Guillermo Del Toro, and what can I say guys, it's spectacular. Springfield has turned from a couple of spooky changes (in previous episodes) to an all-out apocalyptic nightmare. There are more references to movies (Pan's Labyrinth, Blade, Hellboy, The Birds, The Shining - complete with Stephen King appearance) than I can put down, but I really liked the little references to previous ToH episodes that crept in. Maggie with tentacles, walking Lard Lad mascots, that sort of thing. We get the traditional Frankenstein-Mummy-Dracula lineup to remind us where it all began. Maggie is driving the car this time for real. My personal favourite reference is Ghost Homer with blood floating out of his head in the couch gag, like Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone (2001), one of my top horror movies ever. Everyone is a different horror character except Lisa, who gets sucked into the couch Alice in Wonderland-style and faces Pan's Labyrinth-like trials. The title comes up.

Well done, Mr. Del Toro, well fucking done. This is maybe the best opening credits the show has ever had. It was busy and spooky and had more references than you could shake a stick at, blending Del Toro's style effortlessly with The Simpsons. Oh, I am in love. I hope the rest of the episode shapes up as well. Just WOW. WOW.

Our first is "Oh, the Places You'll D'oh!", a Dr. Seuss parody. Now, okay, Dr. Seuss? A Halloween episode? That's a kid's writer! Surely they've run out of ideas. Well...the best children's literature often explores our fears, and Seuss had a creepy undertone in much (if not most) of his work. Let's give this a try.

They did a great job on the animation, tweaking Springfield just so. The Seussian style really sticks out. Also, the entire segment is in rhyme. Okay, so the premise - Marge goes off to a Halloween party dressed as Catwoman, along with all the moms in Springfield, though she is definitely the hottest. The kids, meanwhile, are the only children not trick-or-treating because they have the mumps. Who even gets the mumps anymore? Oh, anti-vaxxers, amirite? (Back away slowly...)

Miserable and even banned from munching on candy, the kids prepare to be bored. In comes - The Fat in the Hat! (Yes, played by Homer.) He gives them vaccines, which stops the mumps - yeah, vaccines totally work that way - and takes them off to cause chaos. Grampa tries to stop them, but is of course too feeble to do anything. Also, if Homer's not their dad, why is Grampa still their Grampa?

To stop the mess, Homer tries to get his little helpers out of his hat, but they've all suffocated. Oh well. He leaves the tiny corpses on the ground and they bike away. The "Borax" interrupts their journey with an environmental plea/marketing pitch, but he is dubbed a sellout and tossed away. There's little in the way of plot here, but I don't care! We journey through the land of Simpsons/Seuss, where there are more Seuss references than your average Nostalgia Critic review and everything is topsy-turvy. The rhymes are delightfully cynical while maintaining the Seussian wonder of it all. The animation, as I mentioned, is perfect. It's subtle, but it works just enough to make you feel like you're in one of the books. Their eyes! Their eyes! Damn, they nailed it.

If you know the story (don't kid yourself, you do), you know what comes next. The Fat gets out of hand. When people refuse to give them candy, he blows up their homes. Mr Burns makes an appearance as "The Buzzard" and gives a typical Seuss moral, but can't finish before the Fat kills him. They then serve him to "Homeless Hoos". Their streak of violence continues, along with some underage drinking for fun. Lisa, of course, pipes up that maybe they're going a little too far. Homer's response is to rob the Kwik-E-Mart for more candy. Worst of all, he makes Apu take the afternoon off to spend time with his wife and octuplets. The horror!

They continue by murdering Patty and Selma, freeing the zoo animals, and blowing up City Hall in Guy Fawkes masks. The kids are getting increasingly tired of this, but Homer's just gearing up. So they escape via a series of increasingly preposterous animals, which is of course told in rapidfire rhyme. Once they get home, they are horrified to find the Fat waiting for them, a scary gleam in his eye. He declares himself to be their "new daddy", but before he can do more damage, he is killed - by Maggie wielding an umbrella. Of course. As she stumbles away, he gives a dying soliloquy asking that he never be played by Mike Myers.

Just then, Catwoman/Marge gets home, suspecting nothing, despite the new rug shaped like the Fat adorning their home. The kids still have puffy cheeks (stuffed with candy), and declare that children will do anything to get sweets. The End, though we are informed that "The Fat in the Hat Pledges A Frat" will come soon. Perfect. Just perfect. THIS is the way to use seven minutes of animation.

"Dead and Shoulders" open with Milhouse and Bart flying kites at the airport, just to mess with the pilots and put hundreds of lives at risk. However, screwing up military exercises gets dull. Bart realizes he has nowhere to tie his kite and no scarf for a cold day. So naturally, he ties the rope around is neck. Okay, that's kind of dumb - it only solves ONE problem, kid - but I'll let it go. Arnie Pie In the Sky, intrepid helicopter reporter, accidentally snags the kite and decapitates Bart.

Yes, a ten-year-old boy just got his head cut off. As his butt falls on his face, he passes out, only to wake up in a hospital bed. He is now attached to Lisa, after some pretty dubious consent on Lisa's part. Oh, no you didn't. You fucking DIDN'T. This was like the entire plot of a Treehouse of Horror II segment! Come on, this is lazy. However, I will concede that it was played out differently and functioned more as a tag. Okay, let's see what happens when the Simpson kids are stuck together forever. Especially since as Dr. Hibbert points out, Lisa's brain still controls them both. And with Bart keeping his neck, Homer can even get a strangle in!

So Bart is condemned to tea parties and being brought to school as show-and-tell, while losing his bedroom and being denied rights to the "mancave" Homer turned it into. Actually, this little interchange plays up some interesting gender issues - is a boy attached to a girl still a boy, and how do you handle the inevitable restrictions on his boylike activity? - but I'm too lazy to argue with the social justice part of the Internet again. The school makes minimal accommodations, and the fights break out pretty fast, allowing for some truly grotesque animation (two heads licking a globe stuck between them). This gets them sent to a psychiatrist. Oh HELL no, this is ToH II again! Their two minutes with her gives them a new and improved relationship, and they live happily once more. However, one night when Lisa's asleep, Bart discovers he can control her limbs, too, which is a new level of hell for all concerned.

This gives Bart the idea that he can have control all the time, so he puts sleeping pills in Lisa's food to keep her constantly asleep and/or groggy. When Skinner's car is about to drive off, he ties a rope to the car and around Lisa's head in order to decapitate her, ignoring the fact that this will kill her and presumably make him bleed out, too. And this is why we don't create abominations of nature, folks.

Of course, since The Simpsons must be meta at all times, he mentions all these possibilities while riding on a log towards a circular saw, his next big scheme. However, Lisa then wakes up and asks why he's so cruel when she thought they were friends. This causes Bart to pause and think, which allows her to twist his head so it gets cut off. She is triumphant - until the logs go through another saw, which decapitates her. Yup, two children decapitated. SO pleasant. Bart and Lisa wake up and find themselves attached to Selma and Krusty, respectively. They are joined by the attached Drs. Nick and Hibbert. Be careful what you wish for, kids!

In the next "brilliantly executed parody", we get "Freaks No Geeks", which is - sadly - not about a bunch of grumpy 80's teens, but instead a parody of 1932's Freaks, long a classic of the horror genre. To say I am freaking out is an understatement. I officially love this episode.

It's the 1930's in Springfield (they just did this about nine seasons ago with a War of the Worlds thing, and in Season 4 with the infamous King Homer, but I digress). The Burnsum and Bailey circus is in town! Everyone goes to see it. Marge is a trapeze artist, Krusty is a clown who keeps trying to warn people about Hitler, Homer's a strongman, Skinner is the "Spineless Man". However, the chief attraction is the freaks. Nelson's a human/donkey hybrid, Bart-stuck-to-Selma is the "Terrifying Callback", Kang and Kodos make their obligatory appearance as "Creatures from Another Galaxy". Burns saves the best for last. Moe - no changes, just Moe - is the scariest thing that ever existed. People faint at the sight of him. Holy crap.

After the show, an armless and legless Barney (heh, legless, I get it) helps cook. The Human Snail (Comic Book Guy) bitches and moans. Burnsum comes in and yells at them to get back out there, but Marge intervenes, demanding that he treat the freaks with respect. Homer insists that she should not concern herself with them - she belongs to him now, after all (they're engaged). We get the grossest makeout ever, because Homer uses his tongue for feats of strength. They argue over whether the freaks deserve respect, Hermione-and-Ron-over-SPEW style. Homer carries Mr Burns off in a huff. The freaks congregate around Marge to thank her. Their leader is Moe. She tells them that she, too, is a freak - one eye is blue and the other brown - so they should never give up hope. Awww.

Anyway, she kisses Moe on the cheek, so he's instantly in love. Inbred Lenny and Carl tell him to keep fighting for her. He decides that in order to compete with Homer the Strong Man, he will have to sell his mother's emerald ring. Just to complete his dickery routine, Homer decides to steal it. He doesn't even know about Moe's designs on his fiancee at this point. Just...WOW. Instead of, you know, stealing it, he'll have Marge marry Moe, then he'll kill Moe and marry Marge himself, with the ring coming with her! Then they can get out of the circus for good. It's foolproof. No-limbs Barney advises him not to do it. But who's Homer to listen to the freak?

He kicks Barney down the hill and convinces Marge to marry Moe, telling her he's dying and it will make him happy. She's skeptical but agrees. They are married to the traditional chorus of "Superfreak", and everything seems great. On their wedding night, Moe takes a shower under an elephant's trunk while Homer sneaks in to poison his drink. However, Marge catches him in the act. She is horrified and calls him the true monster. Homer is unceremoniously kicked out of her trailer. The freaks are waiting for him. They're fed up with their lot in life, have killed Burnsum and are now out to turn Homer into one of them. As they close in, we cut to limbless, tarred-and-feathered Homer telling the kids that "This is how I met your mother." BAHAHAHAHA, brilliant. We get the HIMYM theme over a montage of Homer's torture, tenure as the "World's Strongest Duck", wartime service, and death on the same day as Stalin. If only the real HIMYM could end like this. Closing credits.

Best Treehouse of Horror in years. Yeah, I said it. The creators took some massive risks this time, and hell, it really paid off. I don't think I've seen such quality since - dare I say it - the first eight seasons. The Fat in the Hat was hilarious and an excellent homage. The kids-getting-decapitated segment was the weakest, but remained thought-provoking and wonderfully macabre. The Freaks parody rocked, with a great homage to an overlooked film and a truly unexpected (and funny) ending. However, nothing can top the Del Toro couch gag. That's gold, buddies. This year's episode was spooky, witty and full of delight. Forget the complaints - I'm glad this show is still here. Halloween wouldn't be Halloween without our good old Treehouse of Horror.

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