Posts Tagged ‘Treehouse of Horror XXII

02
Nov
11

Crazy Noises: Treehouse of Horror XXII

Homer the Heretic7

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to appear in a tortilla in Mexico.” – God

As part of our tireless efforts to demonstrate the many ways Zombie Simpsons fails to entertain, Season 23 will be subjected to the kind of rigorous examination that can only be produced by people typing short messages at one another.  More dedicated or modern individuals might use Twitter for this, but that’s got graphics and short links and little windows that pop up when you put your cursor over things.  The only kind of on-line communications we like are the kind that could once be done at 2400 baud.  So disable your call waiting, plug in your modem, and join us for another year of Crazy Noises.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “irrelevantly”, but not for many of our guest’s British variations.).

In our longer than usual conversation below we touch briefly on the animation, and while I don’t want to make too big a deal out of this, I think it’s worth a couple of pictures.  Specifically, take a look at the shoddier treatment the divine gets in Zombie Simpsons than it did in The Simpsons.  Here’s how God looked in “Treehouse of Horror XXII”:

Zombie God

And here’s how God looked in Season 4:

Simpsons God

Instead of those often odd looking shadows HD Zombie Simpsons is so fond of, we get a fantastically better looking robe and that awesome glowing effect.  In Season 4 God looks like a god, in Season 23, God looks like a headless schmuck in a bathrobe.

Here’s Satan in “Treehouse of Horror XXII”:

Zombie Satan

And here’s Satan in “Treehouse of Horror IV”:

Simpsons Satan

Scarier, yes?  Better animated, yeah?  Okay, I’m cheating a little bit there because that’s Satan when he’s pissed off.  Here he is in more conversational forms, from “Treehouse of Horror IV” and “Bart Gets Hit By a Car”:

Simpsons Satan (Conversational)

I stand by “scarier” and “better animated”.  Not only do these Satans actually match the character model, but they keep with the best traditions of Satan-as-a-character.  He isn’t nearly as menacing when he’s some huge, muscular Fabio of the Netherworld as he is when he’s just a little guy, offering you a deal.  The one from Zombie Simpsons looks like the cheap cartoon you’d see on a pair of plastic devil horns, the ones from The Simpsons look like a guy who really does want to see you burn forever.

Note: Our old friend Stephen “Friz” Frizzle stayed up late and joined us all the way from England. 

Friz: Good evening sir. Good morning sir. It passed midnight when I was speaking so that was technically accurate.

Charlie Sweatpants: Ha. I love it when technology actually works.

Mad Jon: Very nice

Charlie Sweatpants: Friz, thanks for joining us here tonight/this morning.

Friz: You all look lovely this evening. Have you decreased in mass?

Shall we go in order of segments, or just attack it from all sides?

Mad Jon: Normally I would say attack wherever, but THOH is always the oddball when we chat.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, let’s start with the opening and see where things go.

Mad Jon: I would like to say that I missed the couch gag and the first10 seconds of act I, so if there was anything worth mentioning, I’ll need to be brought up to speed.

Friz: Well, I’ll state my main point. James L Brooks’ scary name was James L “what isn’t scary?” Brooks. And that seemed to be the main driving force behind it

As if any suggestion would be appropriate for Halloween.

Charlie Sweatpants: Jon, there wasn’t a couch gag, near as I could tell anyway.

Friz: “Avatar parody? Yeah… I guess that’s scary-ish. That’ll do”

Mad Jon: Oh good.

The first one was somewhat a parody of that movie I didn’t see with James Franco right?

Friz: 127 Hours. Yup.

Charlie Sweatpants: I know it’s common shorthand, but I don’t think “parody” is the right word there.

Mad Jon: Well please correct me sir.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, he bit his arm off, but he spent most of the segment driving through Springfield and running over rocks.

Friz: Kids went trick or treating, Marge dressed as a witch to swipe their candy for toothbrushes, Marge gave the candy to Homer, who climbed on top of a mountain, who fell down a canyon.

And, boy, I’m not even halfway through

Mad Jon: Important part being that he spent a solid two minutes chewing off random body parts and then reattaching them somehow for a vegetable prize.

Friz: Didn’t even mention the Hitchcock music that was left over from THOH XX.

Charlie Sweatpants: I thought they’d used that before.

Mad Jon: I can’t tell the THOH apart after the first half dozen or so.

Friz: I have a soft spot for THOH XX. But we’re not talking about that one.

Charlie Sweatpants: We’ll stow that for another time then.

Friz: Weirdly, when Homer screams “Noooo” from the canyon, the perspective is god awful.

It’s as if he’s as big as the canyon itself

[Ed note: Image goes here:

Giant Homer, Tiny Canyon

.]

Charlie Sweatpants: For this opening however, I thought a telling problem was the way he first bit off his other arm, then his leg, then they actually had to do a quick jump in time to get things moving again.

Friz: Not to mention that joke was done in the Saw parody bit of Scary Movie 4

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ll admit that I did not make past Scary Movie 2, but I’ll take your word for it.

And I noticed that weird transition when he fell down the canyon. He just sort of shrank, it didn’t look right at all, even on a first viewing.

Friz: Were they trying to mimic the gorge fall from Bart the Daredevil?

Mad Jon: I didn’t notice that, but I only watched it once.

Charlie Sweatpants: Definitely.

Mad Jon: Although it did seem to be a shallow canyon, now that I think of it…

Friz: Aron Ralston’s cameo was well worth the nine words he got paid.

He’s the guy who actually fell down a canyon and had to saw off his arm. He was the 911 operator in the segment.

Mad Jon: Did not know that. So I have learned something here. Good for me.

Friz: And the phone call wasn’t even a joke. “an ambulance is on its way”

Charlie Sweatpants: I figured that was him on the 911 call when I first watched it. I don’t like the product Zombie Simpsons puts out, but let is never be said that they aren’t gracious when it comes to guest voices.

Friz: Not even a “please hold” gag followed by an inappropriate song

Everybody loves a clown, so why don’t you…

Mad Jon: Well, they needed a reason for Homer to freak out about not eating candy for 20 minutes.

Charlie Sweatpants: That would’ve helped.

Mad Jon: Agreed.

Friz: Why would Homer climb a mountain to eat candy anyway?

I mean, I know THOH isn’t canon, but that seemed weird.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s best not to ask those questions. The writers certainly didn’t.

Friz: Oh. To get him to fall down the canyon. Obviously.

Mad Jon: Even in Zombie THOH, I can usually find something worthwhile, but this segment did not have it for me.

Friz: THOH VII opens with Homer lighting a pumpkin. Then on fire. Bam, episode starts.

Mad Jon: Unless there was a good line in the first minute that I missed. But I doubt it.

Charlie Sweatpants: For them, the whole getting-to-the-canyon thing was a twofer: it gave them their tenuous connection to Halloween and killed two minutes in an episode that fairly reeked of coming in well short.

Friz: VI has Krusty throwing his head to the screen. Bam. Episode starts

Shall we get on to the actual episode itself?

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, we’ve already spent more time on this intro than they did.

Friz: Doesn’t feel like it

So… Paralysed Spider Farts, or whatever the segment was called

Charlie Sweatpants: I’m not sure the Paralyzed Spiderman segment was really one segment though. Even for Zombie Simpsons, bringing in a second spider was a hell of a curve.

Mad Jon: Something about a diving bell. I didn’t get it, but I am not all that cultured.

Charlie Sweatpants: But, you can only have Homer farting for so long.

Friz: I did a surprised guffaw at Homer farting out a web. But in the same way I laugh at Terrence and Philip. The humour was in the surprise

Charlie Sweatpants: It was a movie called The Diving Bell and the Butterfly about a guy who got paralyzed and could only communicate by blinking or something. He wrote a book, they made a movie, my Dad said it was boring, and I never saw it.

Friz: I also did like “my brain still brains” from his letter

But, yes. Boring.

Mad Jon: I liked Homer’s line about it being a normal Sunday morning when he woke up on the ground.

Charlie Sweatpants: That wasn’t terrible, but it doesn’t speak well of your less then five minute segment when you have to cut almost immediately to a flashback like that.

Friz: I did some research. The first time the word “fart” is said in the show is “Girlie Edition”. And we don’t hear a fart until Season 11.

Charlie Sweatpants: Really?

Friz: Unless I missed something

I’m sure someone in the comments will prove me wrong

Mad Jon: Interesting research.

Friz: It was basically me typing “fart” into SNPP

Charlie Sweatpants: I didn’t do any research other than thinking about it, but the first fart joke I could think of was “Smells like one of van Houten’s” from “Who Shot Mr. Burns Part I”.

Even if we’re missing something though, I think it’s fair to say that this was more fart jokes than Seasons 1-9 combined, and it’s not even close.

Friz: There was also a Season 15 episode where Homer played a Spiderman-esque character.

Charlie Sweatpants: Was that Pie Man? I’ve never bothered to watch that one.

Mad Jon: Oh god, that pie man crap?

Friz: Yup

Even had a kissing Marge scene

So that’s “Bart the Daredevil” and “Pie Man”. Two past episodes being ripped off for Halloween.

Also, where did the second spider come from? The fucking sky?

Charlie Sweatpants: Was there a point to the Spiderman thing other than their “Turn Off the Dark” joke?

Friz: I saw the pic from Compare and Contrast post earlier.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, that bothered me. The spider, totally different from the first, just descends. Maybe its special radioactive power is sensing a plot losing momentum?

Mad Jon: They should keep that spider around then.

Charlie Sweatpants: They could name it Roy.

Mad Jon: I regretted that as soon as I hit enter…

Friz: The animation of the second spider crawling around was just…ugh

Homer’s orifices appear to have Portal-esque portals

Mad Jon: That’s just zombie animation. I’d say you get used to it, but I haven’t yet.

Friz: I miss the animation of Homer going crazy in The Shinning.

Having Homer paralysed just gave the excuse to animate even less

Mad Jon: True enough.

Friz: So, shall we move onto Radio Bart?

Shit! A third episode plot point!

Charlie Sweatpants: The next segment was where I really noticed the animation’s shortcomings. I don’t know if we want to move on already or not, but the complete lack of blood or anything even vaguely lively in the Dexter thing really bugged me.

They don’t even bother to animate God or Satan well anymore.

Friz: Yes. Flanders’ decapitated head was a very good contrast.

I have one line I liked from this segment, which is when God is referred to as “the star of the Bible”.

But, sadly, that’s it. Why Homer would have a grudge against Quimby, I’ve no idea.

Mad Jon: I was partial to the scene where Ned drops a boulder on Patty and Selma, but I sure love Looney Tunes.

Friz: But, it’s been done so much better. “Homer Alone”.

Charlie Sweatpants: I disliked that, mostly because I thought it was disrespectful to Looney Tunes.

Friz: “Bart’s Inner Child”.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yes to both.

Friz: “If this were a cartoon, the cliff would break off right now”

Mad Jon: Noted, but don’t care.

Friz: Ha

Charlie Sweatpants: That always cracks me up.

Friz: This segment simply ends.

Mad Jon: Yeah, in that it didn’t really end.

Another Zombie hallmark.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s a lot like the Spiderman thing like that. They’re completely out of steam, so they just drop whatever popped into their heads in as an ending.

Friz: It’s like they envisaged the Dexter segment to be the driving force of the whole thing.

And then wrote around that.

Charlie Sweatpants: It would’ve been better if they’d made it more like Dexter, quite frankly.

If Flanders wanted to kill Homer for his own reasons or something, that could’ve worked.

Mad Jon: Agreed. I thought that even for a zombie THOH, a Dexter thing may have had some promise.

Friz: Yeah. If Dexter killed seven people every episode, I’d get bored.

Charlie Sweatpants: Instead we got the whole “Bible with a radio transmitter in it” thing.

Friz: Flanders has fallen for something similar. “Keep Gaming”.

Mad Jon: But then a speaker that needed no wires or anything appeared in Ned’s most beloved belonging.

Friz: But at least that transmitter was actually above his fucking head.

Mad Jon: It means gambling. Keep gambling.

Friz: Which is why he might have thought it was from God.

Apologies for swearing.

Mad Jon: Not necessary, but thanks for your candor.

Fuck Shit Piss.

Charlie Sweatpants: But even the brief chronology was weird. Was the seedy underbelly of Springfield supposed to be a prologue before the opening, before he kills Burns? Because they make it seem like Burns is the first person he kills, which makes no sense as you see him stuffing that corpse in a bag.

Hell. Damn. Bitch. (Sorry, wanted to fit in.)

Mad Jon: Wasn’t that Quimby in the bag first?

Very nice.

Charlie Sweatpants: Maybe?

Does it matter?

Mad Jon: No, I guess not.

Friz: It’s all bloodless hacking.

Charlie Sweatpants: He got all conflicted about offing Burns . . . but that was after we’d already seen him with a body.

Mad Jon: Especially after he seemed so content to murder for wholesome reasons.

Charlie Sweatpants: They cannot sustain a story, plot or idea for more than about a minute fifteen. I know I complain about this a lot, but that’s because they do it a lot.

Friz: Aye. They decide to end the story, and have two minutes of God vs Satan.

Mad Jon: Maybe their synergy research tells them that’s a good time limit.

Friz: They know that THOH isn’t canon, so they decide to just try and work any plot and any story and any scene.

Charlie Sweatpants: Wouldn’t surprise me. But the God and Satan thing was so bizarre. Why did Satan reheat his coffee? Was there any reason besides misguided fan service to put Maude there?

Friz: Flanders seemed awfully calm that his wife was with Satan, but, you know, it’s not canon or anything.

Mad Jon: And that God worked for Satan as well. But whatever.

Friz: It’s like they’re trying to mimic Nightmare Cafeteria.

Mad Jon: I don’t know what that is.

Friz: It turns out it’s a dream, but there’s still a virus hat turns yo inside out

Mad Jon: Oh, the THOH Segment.

Gotcha.

Friz: Let’s end the segment without an ending and cut to something different.

Mad Jon: Perhaps some sort of Avatar deally?

Friz: Oh god, I have a big problem with this segment, but I’ll save it till the end unless one of you starts talking about the subject.

Mad Jon: My biggest problem was the segment itself.

Charlie Sweatpants: My biggest problem was that it wasn’t funny, had almost nothing to do with Avatar, and took too damn long.

But I guess that’s three problems, can we combine those into one or did we leave God back in the Dexter segment?

Friz: I liked the squirrel grenades.

Mad Jon: I as well.

Friz: But that was a 3 second joke in a go knows how many minute segment of animals doing things.

Charlie Sweatpants: Before we get to Friz’s big problem, does anyone have any idea what was up with Krusty’s head?

Mad Jon: It appeared to be on a strong body for some reason.

Friz: Is that in the film? I’ve not seen Avatar.

Charlie Sweatpants: Nope. The main bad guy is buff as hell, but he doesn’t have someone else’s head, and Chalmers was playing his part anyway.

Mad Jon: Yeah, I don’t get it.

Friz: Huh. Maybe a commenter can field that.

Mad Jon: I doubt even the writers have a good explanation.

Friz: Now, it’s not my big problem, but shall we discuss Bart having sex?

Charlie Sweatpants: Sure, but I didn’t really have a problem with that.

I mean, I guess when I think about it it’s weird, but that’s so minor compared to everything else I can’t really care.

Friz: The writers seem to love a good testicle joke in Zombie Halloween Simpsons

Mad Jon: Didn’t even notice it. But I guess the girl monster was pregnant.

Charlie Sweatpants: For about sixty seconds, yeah.

Then they forgot all about it.

Friz: And that’s where my problem lies.

Mad Jon: Yep

Friz: The girl monster.

Charlie Sweatpants: Hey, we guessed it! Good work, Jon.

Friz: One of the best jokes from all of The Simpsons is in THOH VII, Citizen Kang. Homer is beamed aboard. Kang introduces himself, as well as “my sister, Kodos”, who says hello in an equally booming voice.

And that is brilliant.

Charlie Sweatpants: That is hilarious.

Friz: So why, why, have Tress MacNeille do one of her three voices?

It was the grand midwife from Futurama this time.

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s who it was. Nice catch. I knew it sounded familiar.

Mad Jon: Yeah good call.

Friz: So, apart from the 40-minute animal fight segment, anything else from this?

Or shall we skip to the ending straight out of THOH IV, sans Snoopy ending.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’d like to complain for a second about the animal ending, if I may.

Friz: Go nuts.

Mad Jon: Please do.

Friz: (Oh – and another thing – Milhouse hitting his head and saying “stupid, stupid, stupid”. I know this has happened before but cannot for the life of me place it.)

Tell a lie – I do. Last year’s THOH.

Is that a new in joke?

Mad Jon: Not that I am aware, but I mainly keep to myself.

Charlie Sweatpants: The last quarter of this segment is the exact same joke over and over again. You both mentioned the grenade-squirrels, and that was probably the best one, but it was definitely of a kind. Whether it was the gun animals shooting shit out of their noses, the rabbits thumping the ground, or that goofy bulldozer that didn’t kill Chalmers, the entire fight is one joke: here’s a animal that’s kinda weird doing it’s weird thing to people you don’t know.

When Chalmers gives his little briefing, it’s all Springfield characters there, including some of the kids, Cletus, etcetera. But when the battle comes, in addition to the generic animals, we get generic soldiers.

Friz: This is kind of fitting in with a theory I had a while ago.

Mad Jon: I thought you hate the fact they never use generic characters Charlie?

Friz: Since, I’m going to say THOH 13, one segment is always practically “do some cool designs”.

Charlie Sweatpants: They just wanted to have their little bloodless, flash game looking fights, and leave it at that.

Friz: Whether it be Springfieldians as animals, Springfieldians as their costumes, giant board games or avatar-esque animals, and all of them appear in a not-particularly-Halloween story.

Charlie Sweatpants: Just create things and hope people use them on Facebook or message boards? Jebus that’s lame. I don’t think you’re wrong though.

Friz: “Design things for Flanders’ hell house” “animate some transformers”

Or quick toy designs

Charlie Sweatpants: That too.

Friz: I saw The Island of Dr Hibbert Playset in Forbidden Planet.

Mad Jon: Quite insightful, but scary indeed.

Charlie Sweatpants: Oh, and Jon, I do hate the lack of generic characters in crowd shots. But a) this is a Halloween episode so it’s okay to put the characters out of character, and b) they just used generic designs here because all of their focus on their dumb action sequence was on their animals.

Friz: You mentioned it in the C&C, but Milhouse accidentally hurting things on the planet… I knew it’d be three times.

They always do things three times on Zombie Simpsons.

Homer chews a limb off three times

Marge has three hilarious replacements for candy

Spiderman Homer tries to get the robbers three times

Mad Jon: That’s the cycle eh? Again, more insightful than I am.

Charlie Sweatpants: They don’t care enough about making things funny to challenge the Rule of Three.

Friz: Sideshow Bob got raked via a rule of eight, no?

Charlie Sweatpants: Something like that. But that was in the before time, in the long long ago.

Friz: So. THOH IV ending, sans Snoopy?

What’s their obsession with ending on a note?

Mad Jon: Gotta end somewhere, unless you are one of the earlier acts.

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t think it was that. I think they had a few jokes they couldn’t work in and thought that was a good way to use them.

Friz: Oh, and Jackie Mason appearing

Charlie Sweatpants: Meh.

Friz: Congratulating Bart on the sex.

Charlie Sweatpants: The funny thing about that is that it wasn’t the “you are holding your own tentacle” or whatever line that was on all the promos I saw during football.

I guess they were just dead set on him knocking that femalien up.

Friz: I like how none of us have mentioned that none of the segments were really Halloween-related. I think we just accept it now.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, the intro kinda was.

Not much, mind you, and completely irrelevantly, but it did start with them in costume.

Friz: Yeah, that’s like saying Homer vs Patty and Selma is Halloween related

Charlie Sweatpants: True enough.

Mad Jon: Stupid THOH, wish we was trick or treatin’!

Friz: Haha

Charlie Sweatpants: I already bitched about it in Compare & Contrast, but I think it has a lot to do with the source material. At this point, they’ve basically exhausted everything that’s spooky, horror movie related, etcetera.

That’s not an excuse, it’s another reason this show should go off the air.

Friz: The costume one was a nice homage to Buffy. They should do more Buffy plots.

Mad Jon: I agree Pants. I agree.

Friz: I look forward to next years THOH, featuring parodies of The King’s Speech, Tintin and 30 Rock

Actually, there has been a plot leak of next years. Back to the Future parody.

That famous scary film, Back to the Future.

Mad Jon: Jebus.

Charlie Sweatpants: Tintin will have to wait, I guess.

Mad Jon: The autoplot writer forgot to password protect eh?

Friz: Don’t praise the machine…

Charlie Sweatpants: Ha.

Okay, anything else here, or can we declare this one dead until next year when the Doc and Marty travel back in time to warn Sam Simon about the future?

Mad Jon: Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll step on something.

Friz: I’ve said everything I can

So, who wants to steal some Ferraris?

Charlie Sweatpants: Sounds good. Stephen, thanks for staying up and joining us.

Friz: You’re very welcome. Homer sleep now.

Charlie Sweatpants: With that, I shall bid you fine gentlemen good night.

Mad Jon: Same to the twos of you.

Friz: Tata, folks.

01
Nov
11

Compare & Contrast: Halloween vs. Bad & Baseless Storytelling

“Fine, then you tell one scarier.” – Lisa Simpson
“Flashlight please.” – Bart Simpson

Ever since its beginning, the Treehouse of Horror series has depended on parodying, satirizing, and outright stealing from movies, television shows, and other stories.  When The Simpsons was still itself that meant taking familiar ideas, themes and stories and remaking them in the style, language and irony of Springfield.  That sounds simple, but it’s an extremely delicate process.  They had to inject enough original ideas and twists to keep things from feeling stale or rehashed, while at the same time not changing the original source material so much that it became unrecognizable.  On top of that, they needed to tell a coherent story that didn’t require any knowledge of the source material from the viewer.  Oh, and the whole thing had to take place in just a few minutes of screen time.

Treehouse of Horror I4

This is harder than it looks.

That intricate, multi-step dance is why the Treehouse of Horror series is so rightly famous.  The Shining is two and a half hours long, but they got all of the major scenes and most of the ideas into seven minutes and worked jokes and humor into every piece of dialogue.  Those classic episodes of The Twilight Zone take twenty minutes or more, but The Simpsons retold them in a third of the time and made them hilarious.  They chopped “The Raven” down to five minutes, preserved the mood, the unrelenting bleakness, and the bottomless despair of the ending . . . and made it funny.  As Zombie Simpsons has so often demonstrated, that isn’t easy to do, and screwing it up even a little can spoil the entire thing.

The craftsmanship and cultural span of those episodes is stunning, but they all have three things in common.  The first is incredibly strong source material.  The second was a remaking of that material into something that is recognizable to people familiar with the original, but still coherent, accessible and funny to people who aren’t.  The third is the way the whole thing is both funny and scary, with moments that, if taken seriously, are truly terrifying, but that never lose their sense of humor.

Consider the very first “Treehouse of Horror”.  The source material is incredibly famous from start to finish.  The opening segment cribs from Poltergeist (a movie that directly spawned two sequels, indirectly spawned a television series, and is currently being remade) and a number of other classic American horror and haunted house tropes, including the ubiquitous “ancient Indian burial ground”.  The second part takes its cues from The Twilight Zone, one of the most well known and critically acclaimed television series of all time.  And the third retells a poem so famous that a couple of years later they named an NFL team after it.

That alone isn’t enough, of course.  Each segment goes beyond what spawned it to give it that special Simpsons twist while remaining clear to people who’ve never encountered the originals.  You don’t need to have seen any haunted house movies to get that the demonic house wants the Simpsons family gone, nor that it’s funny that Bart thinks his conscience wants him to kill his family.  The suspicion that Kang and Kodos are planning to eat the Simpsons is baked into the entire story, but throughout it there are jokes about the family, about space dust, about cable television costs.  Thanks to the clever wraparound with Bart and Lisa discussing “The Raven” in the context of modern times, we get both the poem itself and the idea that poems don’t carry the same weight they once did.  The Simpsons mocked and retold the originals, and did so in a way that rewards you for knowing them but doesn’t penalize you for not knowing them.

Poe Books

You don’t need to have read these, but it’s nice if you have.

Finally, Treehouse of Horror episodes contain genuinely scary and gory moments, but they are always leavened with plenty of knowing asides and gags, often right in the same scene or even the same shot.  This means that we see the alien spaceship abducting the pitiful humans, but we also see the beam that sucks them up fail to lift Homer until it gets some additional help.  The walls of the house bleed profusely, but Marge just takes it as a sign that the house needs a woman’s touch.  Accompanied by swelling and ominous music, Homer lies defeated in the inescapable shadow of the raven, but the black hearted creature laughs the same way Bart does when he gets one over on his dad.

You can see those three characteristics throughout the good years of Treehouse of Horror.  You can also see the complete failure of all three of them throughout “Treehouse of Horror XXII”.  Let’s start with #1: strong source material.

Dexter is a decent little show, but it’s also confined to premium cable and doesn’t have what you’d call a mass following.  The same is true of 127 Hours and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  Both of those are well regarded independent movies, neither of them is famous.  Avatar is certainly famous, but what, if anything, it has to do with Halloween or even Halloween related themes is a bit of a mystery.  But that just brings us to Zombie Simpsons’ failure on point #2: making the story derive from the original while adding enough to make it your own and keeping it entertaining for people who aren’t familiar with it already.

Even people who elected not to see Avatar are probably familiar with the basic story, if only because the marketing and media coverage were everywhere and the premise of “white guy goes native” isn’t exactly novel.  But Zombie Simpsons didn’t do anything but recreate a couple of disconnected scenes and props.  For it to even qualify as a parody it would have needed to have some kind of plot or resolution, which it manifestly doesn’t.

The beginning is Bart in a wheelchair before becoming an alien, but that entire idea is forgotten as soon as he steps into the tube.  The middle is taken up with a love story and pregnancy (huh?), which are promptly dropped when it comes time for the goofy battle at the end.  That little action piece consisted of one thing over and over again: an animal you’ve never seen doing something to generic background figures you don’t know.  The whole scene has nothing to do with Simpsons and resembles Avatar in only the vaguest way.  The segment is so disjointed, senseless and irrelevant that it actually doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve seen the movie, which is conceivably the only positive thing about it.

Avatar 2 - Flaming Ant Eaters

Was this in the director’s cut?

Even that small mercy is absent from the other three segments, however.  If you didn’t know what 127 Hours was about, what would you have made of that opening?  Homer driving to the desert and falling into a canyon only makes sense if you know the story beforehand.  The same is true of seeing Flanders do things like tie his laundry bag and spread jelly on his toast.  If you haven’t seen the opening sequence of Dexter, none of it makes any sense because there is nothing there besides Flanders repeating it.

Obviously, the title sequence isn’t the only part of the Flanders as Dexter segment, but that just takes us to #3: managing to be both funny and scary at the same time.  The basic premise there was that Flanders thinks God wants him to kill people, and he starts by decapitating Burns:

Lifeless Gore

This scene is, quite literally, bloodless.

Even though it involves two of the show’s biggest secondary characters, there is nothing scary, gory or funny about this.  If it were going to be funny, there’d need to be a joke.  If it were going to be scary, there’d need to be some tension or suspense.  None of those things are present, and we’re left with a scene that has no impact.  Compare that to another removed head, this one in Season 5:

Treehouse of Horror IV12

Funnier and gorier, much better.

Here we’ve got a joke (the disembodied head of Flanders being his usual cheerful self) as well as some nice dramatic irony (Bart not being able to escape from the gremlin).  It’s scary and funny, which is what makes it so good.  Flanders as Dexter has none of that, it just trots out a few pointless murders before running out of ideas so completely that it has to have God and Satan show up out of thin air.

The paralyzed Homer skit suffers from the same problems.  Its basic premise, Homer gets paralyzed and communicates by farting, is so thin, stupid and tension free that it’s impossible for any part of it to be scary or funny.  After that quickly runs its course, they’re left with dropping something vaguely Halloween-y out of nowhere.

Sky Spider

They ran out of things to do in a segment that’s only four and a half minutes long.

When the apparently radioactive spider finally does reach Homer, it crawls in and out of his head for a while.  Again, this is neither scary nor funny.  Homer’s in no danger (he’s already paralyzed after all), and even if he was in danger we in the audience wouldn’t know it because this spider, unrelated to everything else in the segment, just showed up from nothing.  It isn’t funny for the simple reason that there is no joke.  Creepy?  Maybe.  Funny?  Nope.

The Treehouse of Horror series was meticulously based off of brilliant material, given a Simpsons shine to make it work for anyone, and managed to be scary-funny and funny-scary all the while.  You don’t need to have seen Poltergeist or any other haunted house movie to get “Bad Dream House”, just as you don’t need to have seen The Twilight Zone or read any Poe to get the other two segments from “Treehouse of Horror”.

In “Treehouse of Horror XXII”, on the other hand, the audience would be lost without knowing the original material, which itself mostly came from things only a few people have seen.  Even that wasn’t bad enough for Zombie Simpsons, though.  They took their weaker source material and ignored it where possible, crammed it into nonsense where they couldn’t ignore it, and generally spent their time doing their usual routine of jumping from one lifeless scene to another.  Ultimately, this was less a Halloween episode than it was one of the “storytelling” episodes where they just have three (or four) unrelated segments, and even those were nonsensical and boring.

31
Oct
11

And the Children Were Silent

Chalkboard - Treehouse of Horror XXII

“That doll is evil, I tells ya.  Evil!  Evil!” – Abe “Grampa” Simpson
Grampa, you said that about all the presents.” – Marge Simpson
I just want attention.” – Abe “Grampa” Simpson

I happened to find myself at my brother’s house yesterday, keeping an eye on three of his kids, two nephews (13 and 11) and a niece (8).  Though they’re well aware that the new episodes are subpar, they wanted to watch the new Zombie Simpsons.  When Homer farted for the first time my niece got a goofy grin on her face, but the boys only looked up from their laptops intermittently.  Not a single one of them laughed out loud during the entire episode, and when it was done my niece said, and I quote, “That wasn’t very good.”  Allow me to agree with the eight-year-old.

Of the various crimes against comedy that went into those four segments, the farting was the most tiresome, but the entire episode was an exercise in stretching weak jokes and weaker ideas to fill that unforgiving time requirement.  The premise of the opening segment is Homer getting trapped a la 127 Hours, but even though that whole thing was supposed to be an introduction, it took nearly two minutes just to get Homer out into the boonies.  Once he was there they dragged it out even more by having him chew off a limb three (3) times.  The second segment had such a weak premise that it couldn’t make it through even its limited runtime without a classic Zombie Simpsons swerve, having Homer suddenly become Spiderman.  The Dexter thing suffered a similar fate as it ran out of steam and needed divine intervention to make it to the commercial break.  The Avatar segment, easily the longest, clocking in at nearly eight minutes, spent more than a quarter of its runtime on the goofy battle/action/whatever sequence at the end that was light on jokes, thought and satire and heavy on surprisingly boring cartoon violence.

There were a couple of lines I actually liked, notably Flanders telling the hooker to “Spend less time on your back and more time on your knees” and Chalmers’ windy but accurate “This is a delicate mission that requires utter loyalty.  I can think of no better candidate than the resentful guy in the wheelchair who has just arrived.”  But for each of those there were a dozen or more cringe inducing duds like the alien repeatedly screaming at Milhouse.  When she yelled at him for kicking the rock my instant reaction was, “I wonder how many times they’re going to repeat this.”  The answer was three.

All in all, this was about what to expect from Zombie Simpsons in a Halloween episode.  Turned loose with no limits on their creativity, they hash together a few tepid pop culture references and call it a day.

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are the worst ever for a Halloween episode.  Last night’s unworthy successor was silently endured by just 8.01 million viewers.  That’s below last year’s 8.20, which was itself a record low for Treehouse of Horror.  The Halloween episode is often one of the strongest numbers of the year, and if that’s the best Season 23 has to offer then it’s going to plummet to unheard of depths by the end of the season.

30
Oct
11

Sunday Preview: Treehouse of Horror XXII

zombietreehouse

Image from here, photoshop by Dave.

Well, that was a nice two weeks, but Zombie Simpsons returns tonight with another indifferent and slow witted entry in the once proud Treehouse of Horror series.  Simpsons Channel has the lackluster details:

Homer takes a dangerous dive into an isolated canyon on Candy Peak, but when a crashing boulder traps his arm, he channels Aron Ralston (guest voicing as himself) to save himself. In “The Diving Bell and Butterball,” the first of three hair-raising Halloween tales, a venomous spider bite leaves Homer paralyzed, but when Lisa discovers Homer’s ability to communicate through natural gases, he is able to express his love for Marge. The killer spells continue in “Dial D for Diddly,” when Ned Flanders, devout preacher by day, transforms into a cold-blooded vigilante by night. In the final terrifying tale, “In the Na’Vi,” Bart and Milhouse are assigned on a mission to access a sacred extract on a distant planet. They morph into the land’s indigenous one-eyed avatars, but when Bart finds love and an eternal mate abroad, he is caught in planet warfare.

For those of you scoring at home, that’s two times Homer gets paralyzed/trapped, as well as two topical segments that no one will care about by this time next week. 




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