“This cape is giving me a rash.” – Abe “Grampa” Simpson
In Season 5’s Halloween special, the final segment is a vampire story. In Season 22’s Halloween special, the final segment is also a vampire story. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?
The difference is apparent immediately. The Simpsons starts things off with the family quietly watching television, complete with the dogs playing poker painting in the background as a transition from the lead-in. The news report situates things firmly in the Springfield we’ve all come to know and love: the police are incompetent, Brockman is an idiot, Burns is evil. Everything necessary to set up the story has been established in one quick and joke filled scene. Zombie Simpsons begins with thirty seconds of dialogue free nothing that would be utterly irrelevant to anyone who hasn’t seen Twilight.
That’s followed by a glacial setup full of painfully poor dialogue (“I should be scared, but I’m not.”) and repetitive jokes that, again, would be unfamiliar to anyone who hasn’t seen the source material. It’s not until two-and-a-half-minutes into a six-and-a-half-minute segment that one of the main characters is introduced, a warmed over vampire complete with cliched costume and accent. By contrast, two and a half minutes into “Bart Simpson’s Dracula”, the family has met Burns, dined with him, and the kids are off exploring his castle after Lisa, completely in character, figures out what’s really going on. It’s packed with jokes, some referencing Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Burns’ shadow is great) and others not (“Lisa, vampires are make believe, just like elves, gremlins and Eskimos”).
It should also be noted that the fact that Season 5 is working with much stronger source material is no excuse for Season 22’s abject humor failure. If you want to make fun of Twilight, make fun of Twilight. There is no shortage of things that can be mocked: vampires that don’t drink blood, sparkle in the sun, and enjoy baseball. There are even fantastically sexy supernatural superhunks who inexplicably fall in love with a heroine that, to make her easily relatable for every member of the target demographic, has been deliberately excised of all personality. This sort of thing is a satirist’s wet dream and they don’t use any of it. Instead, they sketch up the world’s least imaginative vampire . . . and name him “Dracula”.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the culmination of hundreds of hours of work by the staff of Zombie Simpsons, as well as the first Google Image result for “Dracula Costume”:
One of these is the work of cheap knockoff artists, the other is a costume.
Then we get to the respective endings. The Simpsons takes the story back to the scene of the crime for its finale. We know where Burns’ hideout is, and the family is going back there to reclaim their son. Along the way the show never takes things seriously, tossing off jokes (a callback to the Super Fun Happy Slide, Homer stabbing Burns in the crotch) and absurdist observations (Marge wishing they could’ve gotten a sitter, Burns firing Homer and Homer being dumb enough to think it matters).
Zombie Simpsons, on the other hand, takes us to a place we’ve never seen and that has no relevance to anything, all so they can waste some time on background vampires. (That Springfield has a vampire district would come as a surprise to the Lisa of the opening who didn’t know they existed, but those scenes happened whole minutes apart, and that’s an ocean of time for Zombie Simpsons.) Even once it finally has all four characters in the bell tower, it can’t wrap things up neatly. Several bodily threats are played for suspense, and yet more expository dialogue fills out the rest of the time.
The whole thing ends with Homer actually turning into a vampire before falling off the bell tower for no reason. Lisa is, I guess, just sort of stuck up there with the other two vampires. Despite the fact that they opened the episode with Frink using a TiVo remote, no further meta gags are brought it to tie things up or send the audience off with a smile. It’s just over, a random series of events ending as suddenly and pointlessly as it began.
Of course, that’s not how The Simpsons ended it’s vampire segment. After Burns is killed, we return to the family breakfast table for a joke filled wrap up that takes advantage of the audience not knowing that the segment is already over. Even then it’s not played for serious suspense, Grampa is still inept, Marge is still underestimated, and the whole thing turns out to be a “holiday wishes” type message. But no seconds of screen time are wasted, as it immediately transitions into a brief but evocative “Peanuts” joke, complete with Santa’s Little Helper as Snoopy and Milhouse on Schroeder’s tiny piano.