This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 29 Episode 4
The Simpsons season 29, episode 4, “Treehouse of Horror XXVIII,” is a Halloween offering. Every year we, the remaining faithful fans of the series, look to this episode as the beacon of how good the season will be. Occasional Simpsons watchers sometimes only watch this one episode in any given year. The collective Treehouses are always high points of every season. There may be an episode or two in a classic year that top it, laugh for laugh, but every trick is a treat. Even the coal.
But even the best of the best have their own worst, and some Treehouses aren’t built as strongly as others. I’m not going to point fingers, they know who they are. This year’s offering is about in the middle. If it were a regular season episode, it would be a very funny one. But Treehouse of Horror episodes are judged on a different level. They are held to a higher standard. “Treehouse of Horror XXVIII” may contain both Maggie’s first words and her first Pazuzu and have a very impressively animated middle segment for the budget, but it will be relegated to the middle regions of the Halloween entries, or should I say entrees?
Laugh for laugh, XXVIII competes with any episode, but the quality of the guffaw is somehow less satisfying and the chuckles a tad less scary. Okay, it’s a little more frightening to watch Homer barbecue himself some very personal finger foods than it was to see him pick at his moist and tasty doughnut self, hiding from Springfield’s fattest. The episode started sweetly. Candy, it’s the real reason for Halloween. We kid ourselves that we only toss out the apples because there might be razor blades in them, but what kid isn’t secretly afraid they’ll get a sackful of candicorns? While it may be true chocolate has no feelings, it still makes us feel better. So when the Simpsons take away the safest staple of the holiday, we know we’re in horrific territory.
The theme this year is cannibalism. From the chocolaty peanut tooth sticker like Bartfinger snacking on an old, forgotten Easter Bunny, or the tangy leftovers of Comic Book Guy and Barney served up at Chez Homer, the Simpsons feasted on themselves and those like them. The opening sequence, “The Exor-Sis,” fed on the Fox network’s own Ben Daniels, who plays a kind of free range priest on their series The Exorcist, along with the director of the original movie, William Friedkin. You don’t have to be Mario Batali to figure out this is a subtle dip into the food chain of network nepotism.
The Exorcist is at its heart a religious forensics procedural, and in the buildup to “The Exor-Sis” Skinner’s mom leaves her face on the Simpsons’ bathroom hand towel, along with her DNA, does this make her Jesus? After all the Christian rites are performed, excluding any taught at Pepperdine University, without taking effect, it takes Lisa’s scholarly assessment of Pazuzu as a lesser demon to drive the evil out to Lima, Ohio, to spend a weekend with Patti and Selma, and without any Absolut Krusty vodka to mix with the holy water, to keep the devil of the southeast wind at bay.
Lisa is too smart and talented for her own good. Her inquisitive nature is bound to get her into trouble, which she finds in the Coraline-inspired “Coralisa” segment. The sequence is filled with one wonder after another, trap doors and secret tunnels in a house that doesn’t even have smoke alarms, redundant because smoke is its own alarm. We learn that Snowball, the family’s usually beloved cat, unless there are 22 greyhound puppies in the way, can talk. This is quickly dispatched as Lisa learns that her other-dimensional family can keep 5/4 time.
We get a recurring, and reflexive, gag when we learn that Maggie still has a touch of Pazuzu and can projectile vomit with the best of them. The free-spirited Lisa learns that she actually fits in better in a buttoned-down world. Of course, the idyllic ambiance, and the 3D animation effects, are broken by the intrusion of the rest of the family. Homer takes advantage of the situation to create the best of all possible worlds, a world where two Marges can keep each other busy while the remaining button-free patriarch can indulge in his own lazy crapulence.
But no world is a Utopia when there are other people in it. The final sequence, “Mm Homer,” is so disturbing, Marge warns that the easily disturbed will have to watch Game of Thrones to calm down. Theoretically, the last sequence should have been the most satisfying, but it leaves us with an empty feeling. It has all the elements of true Simpsons overkill, but it’s still only medium rare. Homer does look positively svelte under his new do-it-yourself-by-eating-yourself diet, but what does that say about Marge’s cooking?
“Treehouse of Horror XXVIII” had chills and spills, which Marge, of course, has to clean, but the thrills were only middling. It was a very funny episode, yes. It took chances, like leaving a kid alone with a catholic priest, but ultimately doesn’t reach the dizzying highs, terrifying lows nor the creamy middles of Halloweens past. It’s better than a Butterfinger, but doesn’t have a long-enough lasting aftertaste.
“Treehouse of Horror XXVIII ” was written by Tom Gammill & Max Pross, and directed by Matthew Faughnan.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Kirk Van Houten, Chief Wiggum and Moe. Harry Shearer is Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Guest stars: Author Neil Gaiman, Ben Daniels (The Exorcist), director William Friedkin (The Exorcist) and chef Mario Batali.
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