This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 30 Episode 4
The horror of The Simpsons season 30 episode 4, “Treehouse Of Horror XXIX,” is it is neither terrifying nor side-splitting. Even though the creatures in the opening sequence reveal their true selves after splitting themselves open from the sides.
The Simpsons answer the call of Cthulhu in the opening. Luckily it’s a dinner bell. The family gets duped into vacationing in at a seaside paradise that is really a front for a cult. The family is offered up for sacrifice to H. P. Lovecraft’s Leviathan-inspired creature of the ocean’s depths. But Cthulhu and his followers don’t know the depths of Homer’s abdominal emptiness. We do, so do the Simpson family, who warn their captors the patriarch of the family hasn’t had breakfast.
In the “Treehouse of Horror” universe, a promise on a flyer is a binding contract. And when it comes to food, breaking it is a legal travesty on a level only matched by the blatant false advertising for The Never Ending Story. This mocks most legal documents, including the ones defended by Daniel Webster. The biggest lure of the town, besides inventing green clam chowder, is an oyster-eating contest. According to the book The Top 10 Places to See Before You Mysteriously Disappear which has a Raider’s game visitors section, this isn’t just any eating contest. Winners automatically qualify for the World Series of Gluttony. This is a cinch for Homer to win and he is not letting them off the hook.
Not only does Homer out-eat his worthy opponent, the mythically massive Cthulhu, who admittedly ate an amusement park carousel and a scuba diver on his way to the event, but he eats the competition. As Lionel Hutz, attorney at law, once asked about Homer, “does this sound like a man who’s had all he could eat?” Interestingly, the episode where the head of the Simpson household didn’t get all he could eat also involved seafood.
The first segment, “Intrusion of the Pod-Y Snatchers” begins with a word from Mapple Founder Steve Mobs, whose vision of the future have begun to come to pass since his untimely passing and ultimate replacement by a less interesting version of himself. So it is with Invasion of the Body Snatchers homages, according to Comic Book guy, whose last words as a disgruntled human, are to give the segment a C-minus. But can we ever get enough Body Snatcher knockoffs? Maggie apparently can, as she reveals a deeply seeded resentment for both her mother and the beloved children’s book Goodnight Moon.
If we’ve learned nothing from dystopian movies, we at least know you can make a four part movie from a three part book and there is no hope after the plants go carnivorous. Lisa succumbs to death and absorption in an almost Zen like way, giving up hope so that her brother may live to die seconds later. Her transformation is artistically rendered. It has funny moments, and yet sustains a spooky veneer throughout. There is even a flashback to the “you don’t win friends with salad” chant that was met by the cold gazpacho of Lisa’s vegetarianism. The animation is excellent throughout all the segments. It is detailed, artistic and slick. Maybe a little too slick. The less crude the animation, the more polished the humor, which suffers for its polish.
The Simpsons always go all out for their Halloween episodes, more so than even their Christmas ones. It is a testament to the new age of technology, which is also at the heart of the segment’s lesson. We all rely on too much technology. The vegetables from the misnamed Crab Nebula have solutions to all of this. They’ve created a utopia where people are free from the gadgets which distract them from nature’s wonders. At first Lisa enthusiastically accepts this turn of events, especially after she learns she can nibble on the bark of her new neighbors without complaint. But then, like the Serpent offered forbidden wisdom through a tree in the Garden of Eden, a Christmas tree spoils the unspoiled wonder of the new world by hiding mechanical wonders in bundles below it. When the episode ends abruptly, Lisa snaps like a twig.
Lisa’s snap continues into the second installment, “Multiplisaty.” Three boys, Bart, Millhouse and Nelson, are kidnapped by girl with spiky hair and at least 23 distinct personalities. The first we meet is the British accented Penelope, who is handy with Ketamine. Lisa does a great Millhouse impersonation, funny because it’s true. Multiple personality disorder suits her. She even belts out a Looney Toon. We learn more about Nelson’s relationship with his mom during this installment, maybe more than we want to know. We certainly learn more than Nelson wants to know as we see him utterly horrified by one of his mom’s off-the-cuff confessions. The episode is based on the horror movie Split. M. Night Shyamalan’s movies are renowned for ending on a last minute twist. “Multiplisaty” ends with a perfume sample.
At “Geriatric Park,” the third installment, Mr. Burns proclaims the motto is “no further questions.” The spacious retirement home boasts some Jurassic features, and promises not a single glance of Jeff Goldblum. At the ultimate gated community, all the senior citizens are injected with dinosaur DNA. Led by Professor Frink, the park’s resident scientists combine speculative theories with untested technology to give senior citizens a better life. What could go wrong? Back spikes and protective claws could come in handy. And while it may not be safe for people of egg-laying age, four out of five paleontologists recommend the treatments. Even the institution’s theme song promises nothing can go wrong.
The dinosaurs of Springfield, the older residents, get something close to a Cocoon moment. Unfettered by their human frailties, they soar as ancient reptilians, and are soon happily eating their young. The star of the episode is Lisa, who is featured in all three segments, closing this one out by committing the ultimate sacrifice, listening to Abe. The eldest Simpson, with his endless conversational detours, perhaps may have done a better job with the episode. He did once tell a cat and mouse what to do for the “Krusty the Clown” show.
Ultimately this is a disappointing Halloween installment, not horrifyingly though. We rely on The Simpsons‘ “Treehouse of Horror” stories to be the high point of any season. They have consistently been immediate classics. But “XXIX” is only lukewarm. The series has been edging closer to the “clever” side of humor over the irreverently silly, and the laughs are increasingly muted. This episode hosts some of the largest creatures of the world of terror, dinosaurs and Cthulhu. It’s a shame the laughs aren’t bigger.
“Treehouse Of Horror XXIX” was written by Joel H. Cohen (Jorel H. Krypton), and directed by The Ancient Unnameable 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, Professor John I.Q. Nerdelbaum Frink Jr., and Moe. Harry Shearer is Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers.
The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror XXIX” aired Sunday, October 21 at 8:00 p.m. on Fox.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.
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