It’s October again, so that means Fox dishes up another serving of The Simpsons‘ annual Halloween…gumbo? Pie? Something. Something you serve. Anyways, this year’s Treehouse of Horror is being shown earlier in the month than usual due to the World Series being broadcast on Fox.
The episode begins with a rather unfunny little intro with the cast as ancient Mayans. To prevent the world from ending in 2012, Mayan!Homer is to be a human sacrifice. Naturally, he weasels his way out of it, and Mayan!Moe is killed instead. Cut to the present day with huge Mayan colossi flying around and destroying the planet. It’s stupid, but it’s brief.
Actually, there’s a small moment with present-day Homer handing out Halloween candy before being stomped on by one of the Mayan whatchamabobs. Remember when the Simpsons Halloween specials were at least vaguely about Halloween? Remember when the Treehouse of Horror episodes were scary stories actually told in the damn Treehouse?
Bah. Days gone by. Let’s get into it.
Our first tale of “terror” is The Greatest Story Ever Holed, where the brand new Springfield particle accelerator creates a tiny black hole, which begins to suck in random objects before Lisa takes it home. Of course, things take a turn for the worse as the residents of Springfield treat the thing like their own personal garbage disposal, feeding it more and more unwanted objects. The black hole grows larger and larger until it threatens to swallow the entire town.
What’s so Halloweeny about this, you may ask? Well, nothing, really. It’s an enjoyable segment, with a lot of nice sight gags and some very clever science humor, but it is anything but spooky. I’m almost certain there was a mix-up at the office somewhere down the line and a Futuramascript ended up in the Simpsons folder. The Planet Express crew could have made an entire episode of this concept, but in Springfield it’s amusing but out of place. Right plot, wrong show.
Next up is Unnormal Activity, and it’s certainly the weakest segment. In a Paranormal Activity parody, Homer installs cameras throughout the Simpson home in the hopes of catching the culprit of strange occurrences during the night.
We’ve seen this story before. Simpsons Halloween specials doing ghost stories is nothing new. This dates all the way back to the original “Treehouse of Horror” in Season 2 with an Amityville Horror parody. This particular rehash isn’t very funny and the surveillance cam gimmick doesn’t really add anything, especially when you’re working in animation. The segment does offer a few laughs, but the whole thing comes off as a parody of a popular thing just for the sake of it that brings nothing interesting to the table.
The third segment, Bart & Homer’s Excellent Adventure is another parody, this time of Back to the Future with elements of Bill & Ted, the difference being this was actually quite good. Bart, wanting to purchase a rare and expensive comic book, borrows Professor Frink’s time-traveling car to warp back to the 70s and buy the comic for the 25 cent cover price. I loved the way traveling back in time was represented by Bond move posters from Skyfall back to the Roger Moore era.
While in the past, Bart meets up with the 70s Homer, and in a great callback to “The Way We Was” he’s interrupting that fateful day in detention when Marge and Homer first met. When 70s!Marge sees 70s!Homer strangling Bart, she decides she wants nothing to do with him.
Bart travels back to the present to find Marge has married Artie Ziff. The family is super rich and living in a huge mansion. 70s!Homer stowed away in the time-traveling car and teams up with versions of himself from across time and space to try to win Marge over.
This segment is especially wonderful for old-school fans who were furious over “That 90s Show” retconning Marge and Homer’s past to be twenty years more recent than was previously established. I understand that shows like this kind of have to operate on a sliding timescale if they choose not to age their characters, but I found the notion that Bart was now born in the early 2000s kind of heartbreaking. Bart & Homer ignores all of that and puts things back to the way they was.
While “Treehouse of Horror XIII” is far from the best Halloween special The Simpsons has to offer, after twenty-three consecutive years of them I can understand why the concept is running out of steam. I think it might be a good idea to retire the Treehouse, or at least make it every other year. The Simpsons’ Christmas episodes are generally well-regarded and they are nowhere near annual. There’s a lot of fun to be had with the first and third segments, and despite a lackluster midsection there are worse ways you could spend your evening.
Your evening of HORROR!!