The annual Halloween episode of The Simpsons is an institution by now, a way for the show to get wacky to an extent it usually doesn’t. (Although, some would argue, largely correctly, that in its old age, the show has been doing that in standard episode more often than not.) Nothing shows that off tonight better than the opening sequence, in which we’re treated to our familiar Springfield residents all dressed up in ancient Mayan garb as well as a present-day apocalypse.
Rather than parodying any one specific movie or cultural object, the show just takes an idea and runs with it, adding giant stone monsters as it sees fit, as well as our one Kang and Kodos sighting of the night. It’s fun, and doesn’t wear out its welcome, and the idea of nightmare end-of-days Mayan gods being immature enough to make the Mount Rushmore heads kiss, like a little girl with her Barbies, tickled me, so the episode was off to a good start.
The nonspecific news-event spearing of that opening continues with the first longer segment of the night, “The Greatest Story Ever Holed,” this time taking on the Large Hadron Collider. The animation here was consistently enjoyable, with hair and necklaces constantly being pulled slightly in the direction of the miniature black hole, and there were at least two jokes that got a genuine laugh from me, both coming from Marge; the first when she insists on putting a baby gate around a black hole, and the second when it sucks the middle out of her breakfast and she says, “Quit bageling my English muffin!” With such a short running time for each segment, the writers tend to fall back on the non sequitur ending for Treehouse of Horror episodes (understandably – a full plot is hard to establish in six minutes, when you’re also trying to fill it with gags), which can feel a little easy, but as far as that type of ending goes, aliens making a Zune joke is alright by me.
“Unnormal Activity,” the inevitable Paranormal Activity parody, was my least favorite of the episode, mostly because it fails to use its source material to its full potential. It barely even engages with any of the several possible ways to make fun of the series, instead just reenacting the idea of found-footage horror and hoping that’s funny enough by itself. The one good joke in the episode wasn’t even related; it came from young Patty and Selma, who apparently think “Rude Dude with a Bad Tude” is one of the many names of Satan. The ending here didn’t quite land with me; it felt weirdly risque for The Simpsons, and completely out of line for Homer’s character. Even in a Treehouse of Horror.
“Bart & Homer’s Excellent Adventure” suffered from the same kind of go-nowhere do-nothing plotting as the segment before it, but benefited from a much better ending. I can’t say it started off well, though. Back to the Future has been done to death, and I groaned as soon as “Close To You” started playing. This show has gone back to the well of Homer and Marge’s courtship a thousand times by now, and it never ends up as successful as the first time, in season 2′s “The Way We Was.” Fortunately, it undercut the sweetness quickly (as a Halloween episode should) and got to business creating an alternate future, where Bart’s dad is the insufferably grating Artie Ziff.
That whole middle chunk went nowhere for me, and the episode only picked up when Homer brought out the army of Homers throughout history, which was weird and delightful and should have been the premise of this entire segment, instead of just the wacko ending. It felt wasted to me, but at least brought the funniest part of the whole night, when Marge stares lovingly at a pile of beat-up Homers in all kinds of costumes, and “Close To You” starts playing once again.
So “Treehouse of Horror XXIII” started fun, and kind of deflated over the course of the episode. It feels hopeless to always be comparing the show to its former self, but when something has as long of a history as The Simpsons does, it’s unavoidable, and so here goes: this wasn’t a classic. But it didn’t need to be. It just needed to make me laugh, which it did, so I’m going to go ahead and chalk it up as a success. But how did you feel? Hit the comments and let me know!