The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XXIX Review (TV, 2018) #31DaysofHorror
Every year for the last 29 years, The Simpsons have released a Halloween special. Why not 30 for the show’s 30th season? The standalone series began with the Christmas episode that aired in 1989, so it began too late for a Halloween special. Since then, however, The Simpsons have provided an anthology horror special for the season each year.
XXIX isn’t the most creative entry in the series so far. The jokes don’t feel particularly new and the social commentary is a bit too predictable. Still, this special keeps the pace up, goes for big action scenes in each section, and keeps the segments all the same length (save the intro).
The introduction is the only original story, a crossover between H.P. Lovecraft and your typical Simpson family vacation gone wrong. The family travels to a New England town where Homer signs up for an oyster eating contest. The locals reveal themselves to be transformed worshipers of Cthulhu who must sacrifice Homer to the elder god. Homer demands the eating contest against the ancient evil anyway. This is a silly spin on challenging the devil, like the myth of Jack of the Lantern, and it’s a nice change to see an intro in a modern Treehouse of Horror special where the Simpsons aren’t brutally murdered.
The first full segment of the episode, “Intrusion of the Pod-y Switchers,” is the weakest of the episode. After witnessing the launch announcement for the new Mapple MyPhone, an alien race of intelligent plants send spores to earth to take over humanity. Most of this segment is just silly gags inspired by the characters—Comic Book Guy comments on the episode being a parody of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Chief Wiggam is still a bad cop to his dying moments, etc. It’s not particularly clever commentary on the show or the source material. The turn in the final moments is good, but cheapened by a plant-based sight gag that closes out the segment.
The second full segment is “Multiplisaty,” a parody of M. Night Shyamalan’s Split. I can only imagine this parody came out this year instead of last because of the news and teaser trailer for the sequel Glass that probably debuted around the time they started writing this year’s episode. Regardless, it’s a Lisa-centered episode where she gets to play the villain. She kidnaps Bart, Millhouse, and Nelson and chains them up in a room in the basement while tormenting them with different personalities and threats about the Beast. The ending is certainly an improvement on the original film, though the initial moments spin in their tracks just to showcase more characters performed very well by Yeardley Smith. It’s a fair trade because Smith’s work is so expressive for each personality.
The last segment is the best, which has not always been the case since the 90s with the Treehouse of Horror episodes. “Geriatric Park” is what you expect from the title. It’s Jurassic Park crossed with all the retired characters in Springfield and it just works. They are being experimented on by a new company owned by Mr. Burns. His team of scientists have isolated dinosaur DNA and use it to strengthen and rejuvenate the bodies of Springfield’s oldest citizens. A snafu at the facility caused by Homer leads to the transformation sequences spoiled in the episode teaser. The show didn’t reinvent the wheel with this segment, but the jokes and horror/actions scenes land.
This is easily the best Treehouse of Horror episode in years. There’s a formula the show has relied on for far too long to pick their stories—a classic title, a lesser known title, and a pop culture phenomenon—that has felt forced many times before. Usually the lesser known parody turns out the best because the writers have more freedom to explore without betraying expectations for the references.
XXIX might not have the most biting commentary, but the quality of the jokes and animation is very good. Just a different spin on the all too predictable everybody dies-style intro made a world of difference. The specials haven’t been overtly scary since the early days, so just seeing a commitment to clear parody or homage is an improvement over the horror design tropes layered in just to look and sound scary in some recent editions. XXIX has a voice that says it’s okay to laugh at what we like.
The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XXIX is currently streaming on Netflix.
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