Review -- The Simpsons: "Treehouse of Horror XIX"
Ariel Ponywether has been a fan of The Simpsons since the first time Bart was ten.View all articles by Ariel Ponywether
It’s that special time of year again – time for pumpkins, election jokes, and out-of-season Transformer parodies. Yes, it’s Treehouse of Horror time in Springfield once again!
We open on Election Day in Springfield, where Grandpa Simpson’s still likes Ike. Homer’s lined up to vote for “president, governor, and anything that takes money away from our parks and libraries,” but he’s forced to use the double-wide booth after his girth makes slipping into a normal-sized one impossible. He spectacularly fails at using the electronic booth to vote for Obama, resulting in his being mangled to death and registering six votes for McCain (“Hey, I only voted for McCain once!”). When his bloody corpse tumbles out of the booth, Hans Moleman pastes an “I voted!” sticker onto his forehead.
The first segment is entitled “Untitled Robot Parody” (which, cleverly, first transforms into several different variations on the title before heading into the episode). It’s just a few days before Christmas, and Bart’s finished his shopping for everyone but Lisa. He decides to hedge his bets and goes right for the bargain bin at “You Forgot Me Nots – Last Minute Gifts”. After rejecting, among other things, a Slunky, which he wouldn’t even give to his worst enemy (Lisa), Bart spies a toy truck. It’d be perfect, but “girls don’t like trucks”. He’s not suspicious at all when the truck suddenly becomes a Malibu Stacy convertible, and takes it home.
On Christmas morning, Homer’s bought Grandpa Simpson an extra three minutes of oxygen (Grandpa Simpson promptly runs outside and sucks it all down, passing out on the front lawn to his son’s nonplussed reaction). Lisa is surprised and delighted that Bart’s gift is a REAL gift, not a box of burps as she received last year (he makes it up by burping into her stocking). While Lisa’s busy giving Bart a thank-you hug, the car transforms into a robot and incinerates the angel tree topper – Maggie witnesses this and tries to point it out to Lisa and Bart, who think she’s just excited about the car.
That evening, the car transforms itself back into robot form, strangles Lisa’s talking Malibu Stacy with its own pull string, and summons the rest of his disguised-as-ordinary-household-items brethren. In the kitchen the following day, Homer’s oblivious to the sudden sentence of the toaster. He can’t ignore it when his car suddenly turns into a huge robot and gets into a fight with Ned Flander’s equally sentient auto, however. They pass the time talking about the holidays as Lisa and Bart rush out into the street and gawk. Lisa’s figured out pretty quickly that the robots are settling their feud on the neutral soil of Earth.
Try to settle things they do, as Springfield’s wrecked by a gang of giant fighting mechs. Marge, of course, steps out of the crowd and tries to get them to sort things out. Carnage Destructucus and Beseme Mucho can’t even remember why they’re fighting in the first place, and thank “human grandma” for helping them settle their differences – they quickly team up and enslave the Earthlings, turning the citizens of Springfield into players in a huge foosball table.
The next segment (which begins with an excellent parody of Mad Men’s opening credits) is entitled “How To Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising”. Marge and Homer drop Maggie off at a daycare center for the afternoon; she’s reluctant to be separated from them, until Homer shows her a mural made of images of Krusty the Klown. She’s enraptured until Krusty himself shows up to have the unlicensed representation of himself sandblasted down.
Homer soon shows up at Krusty’s house (Krusty’s taking a call at the time: “Entertain the troops?! No way!”) to give him a piece of his mind for upsetting Maggie. Krusty’s unrepentant, and Homer shoves him, which results in his death-by-Rube-Goldbergian chain reaction. Which Krusty’s death-via-woodchipper apparently ruled an accident (Homer did, after all, try heart massage on his now-expelled heart), Homer’s settled down to a night before the TV. That’s when Mister Burns’ blue haired lawyer shows up, with a team of other advertising men. They explain to Homer that they’re in the business of using the likenesses of dead celebrities to sell products (apparently without paying their estates a single dime, and using a clip of Charlton Heston in “Planet of the Apes” reworked to sell Buzz Cola With Lemon). Since Homer is a wiz at killing celebrities, they recruit him as an assassin.
And to the tune of “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads, Homer offs George Clooney by replacing the cement at his Mann’s Chineese Theatre appearance with quicksand; kills Prince by strangling him and then stabbing him with his guitar after a concert and kills Neil Armstrong with another Rube Goldbergan device that results in him being crushed by a space shuttle. Business is good – the dead celebrities are soon selling products en masses, and Homer’s becoming rich as a result.
Up in heaven, however, the dead celebs are less than pleased. Krusty stirs up their ire by showing John Wayne a terrible commercial in which he endorses a product through clips spliced in from several movies over several eras, then showing Presidents Lincoln and Washington an add for a wedding chapel that depicts them wedding (Lincoln is notably not appalled at the notion). Led by Krusty, a full army of dead celebrities soon converge upon Homer’s party (“Murdering Kate Winslett paid for that fountain!”). After Golda Meir wrecks Marge’s hair by tossing a Star of David at her, Rip Taylor (who’s not even dead) and Comic Book Guy get into a slap fight, and Edward G. Robinson kills Chief Wiggum, the celebs corner Homer and surround him. Before he dies, he asks what the true religion is. “Eh, a mix of Voodoo and Methodist,” says Krusty before shooting Homer to death.
Back up in Heaven, Homer’s beat them all to the front gate and let himself in - ‘cause they left a key under the mat. He locks everyone out except for Abe Lincoln, and the two of them head off to enjoy what Heaven has to offer (with Honest Abe’s hand upon Homer’s rump).
The third segment, “It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse”, gently skewers the annual holiday treat “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”. Milhouse portrays Linus, who explains to Lisa (as Sally Brown) and Bart (as Charlie Brown) that he’ll be spending Halloween night with him in a pumpkin patch waiting for “The Grand Pumpkin” instead of going to the school dance along with everyone else.
Halloween Night, Milhouse is indeed in the pumpkin patch, and a group of kids from Springfield Elementary stop by to tease him about his devotion to the mythical being in full costume (Lisa: “I’m not a witch! I’m a Wiccan!”). Naturally, the other kids in town are all headed to the school dance, and instead of singing Pumpkin Carols with him, Nelson simply gives him a wedgie. Lisa declares that she’s going to stay with Milhouse (“His glasses fog up when he cries”).
Lisa eventually falls asleep and is woken up by Milhouse, who’s practicing exclamations for when the Grand Pumpkin shows up (“He’s HERE….HE’S here…”). Lisa DEMANDS restitution, shakes him, and leaves Milhouse alone to cry.
His tears soak into the ground, and up from the dirt springs the Grand Pumpkin. Milhouse is thrilled and offers the Grand Pumpkin some pumpkin bread. When the GP figures out the bread is MADE of pumpkins, he vomits and swears his revenge on humanity.
The first victim is Homer, who’s carving jack-o-lanterns in the most sinister manner possible. Then he heads to the school dance, where everyone’s bouncing like they’re in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Milhouse beats him to the celebration but he’s ignored until the GP bursts through the wall – he’s SURROUNDED by pumpkin atrocities! Willie offers him pumpkin seeds. “You Eat The Unborn!” he wails before consuming Willie. Next up is Nelson, who brings about the discovery that the GP is racist when he doesn’t care about the fate of a white pumpkin. “I’d rather die than hate!” he shouts as he’s consumed. He continues his rampage, eventually literally picking through Principal Skinner’s brain.
Watching the rampage, Lisa figures out that the Grand Pumpkin is kept alive by Milhouse’s belief in him. She makes up a story about the Thanksgiving deity Tom Turkey, who taught the Pilgrims to wear buckles on their hats. Milhouse prays to the turkey, who shows up and does battle with the Grand Pumpkin. The pumpkin figure – crying out “pumpkin segregation forever” – is felled by an axing by Tom Turkey. When the GP falls, he splits in half, revealing his victims to be living and whole.
Tom Turkey remarks that Milhouse’s childlike innocence has saved them all. Milhouse innocently offers him, in way of celebration, a Thanksgiving feast with, of course, a nice, stuffed turkey. Tom is clearly unhappy to learn the meaning of Thanksgiving, and begins his own rampage.
Outside, Marge watches the carnage with dispassion. She turns to the camera: “Those kids sure learned about the true spirit of Thanksgiving…or Thanksgiving…or whatever.” She tells the audience that if they want to complain about the show, they can write to…(an address muted out by her trombone playing). She wishes us a Happy Halloween and the episode concludes.
Red Dress Press: One of the best Treehouse of Horror episodes of the modern era, TOH XIX was a (nearly) flawless outing for the flagship franchise, and was impressively funny.
“How To Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising” started with a beautifully animated tribute to the credits of the AMC show “Mad Men” but ultimately proves to be the weakest of the bunch. The story itself makes the choice to ignore the crux of the troubling reason why celebrities endorse products post-mortem (that’d be because it’s a choice the executors of their estate made, or in the case of movie clips being used, of advertising companies licensing footage). The main story thrust of Homer’s accidentally killing Krusty in defense of his daughter’s feelings, then discovering that he has a talent for murder, is pushed aside for some pretty rank celeb impressions and some ancient jokes about Abraham Lincoln’s alleged bisexuality. There are, conversely, some fun jokes laced throughout the proceedings – my favorite being a ghostly John Lennon crying out “All we are saying is ‘let’s eat some brains’!” (that raises another troubling question about whether or not the angels/ghosts of the celebs are actually zombies, but eh, it was funny).
“It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse” has earned heavy, hopeful praise across the internet since preview images of the episode surfaced back in August. It’s a sort of praise that’s proven to be more than warranted, as the affectionate tribute to “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” came off brilliantly. Crisp, perfect animation, dead-on music, fun character models and a sympathetic “Grand” Pumpkin (at least until he was revealed as an orange pumpkin supremacist) made the entire experience a fun one to watch. There wasn’t much missing, and ultimately it was a fun tribute to a seasonal classic, with only the slightly-hackneyed ending feeling out of place.
Ultimately, a satisfying outing, and one of the better TOH editions in recent memory.
Did It Fail At Masonry?: A solid edition, this is definitely an episode worth seeking out. Not much worth fast forwarding through, either.
Springfield Shopper: The next fresh episode of The Simpsons, “Dangerous Curves”, will air on November ninth. Check back on the tenth for a full recap!
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