To begin, let’s take a moment to congratulate The Simspsons for being renewed for its 26th season. Say what you will about the show, and the inconsistent quality of recent years, but that’s a remarkable and rare achievement for a television series. With each passing year it seems likely that The Simpsons will never end, or will otherwise have to get ratings so low that even syndication and merchandising sales wouldn’t even make it worth Fox’s while to keep cranking out new episodes.
But now let’s talk about “Treehouse of Horror XXIV,” the 24th time that the show’s put together a Halloween spook-tacular. You may think that October 6th is a little early for a Halloween special, but considering that more than half of the “Treehouses” of the last decade have run in November, at least we got it before the holiday that it venerates.
As an added bonus to this year’s “Treehouse,” Pacific Rim filmmaker Guillermo del Toro scripted the opening sequence, which I believe is a first for the show; others have produced couch gags before, but never the entire opening. Del Toro’s opener features a great many cameos including the Universal monsters, Cthulu, Godzilla, and famous authors Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson. The director also honours his own work here, including Groundskeeper Willie as Hellboy, Carl as Blade and Mr. Burns as the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. Obviously, there are a lot of references painstakingly worked into the animation, and to list them all here would be to rob you of the fun of rewinding and re-watching, but if you want to catch them all, check out the video below, courtesy of Movie Pilot:
The episode itself kicked off with the segment “Oh, the Places You’ll D’oh,” a psychotic take on Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat. Bart, Lisa and Maggie are the kids who are left home to their own devices, only to find themselves under the sway of Homer as “The Fat in the Hat.” The animators went to great pains to duplicate the Seussical style with many of the author’s famous characters putting in an appearance, including the Lorax.
The writers do an admirable job of replicating Seuss’ lyrical rhythms with frequently funny results. Of course, this being “Treehouse of Horror,” the Fat’s “pranks” include holding up Apu and firebombing city hall wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. In the end, Maggie as always, takes care of business, as the Fat’s dying words echo the wish of 2003 moviegoers, “Don’t ever let me be played by Mike Myers.”
The weak link of the episode was the middle segment, “Dead and Shoulders,” which seemed like it was all about taking a singular gag from a previous “Treehouse” segment, No. 2’s “Homer’s Nightmare,” and turning it into its own unfunny centrepiece. Basically, Bart loses his head and it gets sewn on Lisa’s body, extending his life by a year and shortening Lisa’s by 30. The two siblings find a way to work together until Bart realizes he can control Lisa’s body when she’s asleep. Unlike “Oh, the Places You’ll D’oh,” there’s no clever hook to the story, nor are there that many zingers. Way back in “Homer’s Nightmare,” the two heads thing was the hilariously bizarre capper to a very funny spin on Frankenstein, but here the gag goes nowhere fast – even if it is to Springfield’s finest double cut saw mill.
The final segment was a take-off of Tod Browning’s landmark horror film Freak, called “Freaks, No Geeks,” which seemed to give the writers a lot of material to work with. After a brief tour around the freak show, which included a call back to “Dead and Shoulders” and the obligatory Kang and Kodos cameo (and remember, they’re from a globular cluster), we’re introduced to the most hideous creature of all, Moe. Strong man Homer pushes his fiancé, the trapeze artist Marge, into marrying Moe in order to steal his emerald ring and buy their way into a better circus. The episode paints Homer as the bad guy, and thus he gets the tar and feather treatment at story’s end, along with a totally fair dig at How I Met Your Mother.
Overall, “Treehouse XXIV” proves that The Simpsons is still durable and capable of mining significant creativity and hilarity from the show’s writing staff. Sure “Dead and Shoulders” was a letdown, but it was sandwiched between two very strong entries that were both well-written and packed with a lot of good jokes, while the animation proved inventive as it played with the Simpsons style to create something that better invoked the spirit of the story. In fact, now that I think about it, that might be why “Dead and Shoulders” didn’t connect – it was just very generically Simpsons in terms of its look.
But most importantly, this episode overall was entertaining, and while last week’s premiere certainly had laughs, it couldn’t keep up the consistency all the way through. Of course, it’s always been easy to mine laughs with the “Treehouse” format, the real trick for the rest of the season will be if the show can keep up that quality without relying on gimmicks, like, say, killing off a long-running character….
And by the way, did anyone notice if Milhouse died in all three segments. We saw him kick the bucket in parts one and two, but the third part looked Milhouse-less. Is that a hint about this season’s coming death, or was it just a best two-out-of-three spin on “Treehouse V’s” repeated axing of Groundskeeper Willie?