Every year during October (or November depending on FOX’s baseball schedule), The Simpsons would deviate from its typical character-driven humor to take on premises that were too absurd or surreal for a single episode. The result was “Treehouse of Horror,” a regular staple of The Simpsons that typically churned out the show’s funniest episodes.
But much like The Simpsons itself in the last decade, “The Treehouse of Horror” series isn’t the same what it used to be. Is it because The Simpsons overdosed on mocking horror films or is it because the show ran out of inspired ideas for the episode? Seeing as how I can watch many of the Treehouse of Horror episodes from the 90s endlessly, I’ll say it’s the latter. The Simpsons still can make some good mischief (the Peanuts spoof and Obama-McCain bit a few years back is one of the best things the series has produced in recent years), but mostly has produced duds. Treehouse of Horror XXII in particular, which featured segments spoofing Avatar and 127 Hours, felt dated upon arrival. Last year’s episode was no classic, but I enjoyed some of the bits, the Paranormal Activity one in particular. ”Treehouse of Horror XXIV” was somewhere in between, not as awful as XXII but not as good as XXIII, which isn’t even saying much to begin with.
The episode’s cold open was probably the strongest part. Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, the segment had more energy than the rest of the bits combined. It fused together plenty of legendary horror characters (from Dracula to the Invincible Man) to references in Del Toro’s own library (Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy get shout-outs) with The Simpsons regular intro. However, the jokes got real old fast and after a minute the opening grew boring and repetitive (does the really have to be full scenes featuring Mr. Burns as the Pale Man?).
The first full parody, “The Fat in the Hat,” felt tepid. A Dr. Seuss spoof is far from being original (South Park did it last year), but “The Fat in the Hat” at least had some of the creativity of Dr. Seuss with rhyming lyrics and whimsical illustrations. The plot, on the other hand, was aimless (Homer is a mischief-making cat who causes all of Springfield misery; it doesn’t evolve much more than that one joke).
The second third, “Dead and Shoulder,” is less original. In fact, the premise for the segment, where Bart’s head is attached to Lisa, is nearly identical to a Treehouse of Horror bit about twenty year before. ”Dead and Shoulder” had a few enjoyable parts, like where Bart has to take Lisa’s class, but felt pretty lifeless on delivery.
The final section, “Freaks No Geeks,” was the strongest. Centering on a circus where Moe, one of the sideshow freaks despite that he looks exactly the same as usually does, is in love with Marge, a trapeze swinger, who is engaged with Homer, a burly, muscled man (I didn’t see that coming). ”Freaks No Geeks” plays well with its portrayal of Springfieldians as distorted freaks, like Barney as a limbless lump, but ends in a cutaway gag that feels incredibly out-of-place.
Overall, “Treehouse of Horror XXIV” was probably one of the weaker Halloween specials The Simpsons has had, lacking much of the original wit. Unless you have very low expectations, prepare to be disappointed.