How appropriate! Covering the first Simpsons Halloween episode for President’s Day!
Wait, that isn’t appropriate at all!
As always, everything has to start somewhere. So it is with the now annual “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, where The Simpsons can experiment with short stories that can dispose of any number of characters in any number of gruesome ways. Heck, we’re still at the stage where the show felt the need to add a framing sequence so slower viewers wouldn’t know these horrible things were actually happening to the Simpsons, and most of it took place in an actual treehouse, justifying the name of the episode.
So, it may be a bit of a surprise to be reminded that this particular episode has a death toll of exactly zero. Despite Marge’s warnings during a rare Simpsons cold open, no one dies here. There’s some suggestion of possible violence, but the violence never comes. About the closest the show comes to being scary this time around is the Bart Raven fluttering around a tree outside Homer and Marge’s bedroom window, suggesting that the demonic bird from Edgar Allen’s Poe’s “The Raven” isn’t just a character in a poem Lisa reads to Bart.
Let’s just take a minute to appreciate that final sequence. Poe gets a writing credit, James Earl Jones is the narrator, and Homer and Bart provide the voices for both the tortured narrator and the Raven itself. And as much as Jones rocks the voiceover, I feel a special note needs to go to Dan Castellaneta, who not only plays Homer well but manages to stay in-character while reciting Poe. That’s no mean feat.
Another thing I noticed…besides James Earl Jones voicing someone in each segment…is how different syndication makes these shows. Older episodes of The Simpsons often have to cut some material for syndication to make more room for commercials (boo!), so I was pleasantly surprised during the first sequence to see the Indian Burial Ground joke I don’t think I’ve seen in a long time. Granted, I’m not sure I’ve seen this episode in a long time, but I’m sticking to my story.
Those tombstones in the haunted house’s basement are something else. One of the Indians buried there is Gandhi. It pays to keep a sharp eye on things.
Both the first and second segment seem to suggest the Simpsons are their own worst enemies. Marge’s scolding, Lisa’s psychoanalysis, and Bart’s request for bleeding walls drive a house to destroy itself, while most of the family eating like pigs make the aliens regret picking them up.
Maybe if Kang and Kodos, Halloween regulars, weren’t drooling all over the place, Lisa wouldn’t have been so suspicious. But, being a smart know-it-all is kind of Lisa’s thing, so seeing it bite her in the butt once in a while is funny.
This was a good fun episode. And quoth the Raven, “Eat my shorts!”