Simpsonspective: Treehouse of Horror X

Richard Petro

twitter @ThePetroProject

October 10, 2018
Simpsonspective

Original Airdate: October 31, 1999
Writers: Donick Cary, Tim Long, Ron Hauge
Director: Pete Michels

    

I Know What You Diddily-Iddily-Did
     While the family is out driving late one full-moon night, Marge hits and kills Ned Flanders. Homer opts to make it look like an accident, with failed attempts to get Maude's attention during these acts. Finally, he tosses the corpse onto the floor and announces a heart attack. It seems as though everything is all and well, until the family repeatedly gets messages about someone knowing what they did, culminating in an attack from a hooded man with a hook. Escaping in their car, before it runs out of gas, the family find themselves at the same spot they hit Ned. Ned appears, alive, telling the family that he was attacked by a wolf prior to being hit by a car, and is therefore a werewolf. It being a full moon, he transforms and atacks Homer, as the rest of the family has long run away.

Desperately Xeeking Xena
     An X-ray machine mishap gives Bart and Lisa superhero powers; Bart being stretchy and Lisa being super strong. Doing various tasks, they embark on a mission to save Lucy Lawless from Comic Book Guy, who has kidnaped her from a convention under the name of 'The Collector'. Unfortunately The Collector outwits the two and Lucy Lawless is left to save herself and the two kids, the segment ending with her flying them home.

Life's a Glitch, Then You Die
     Homer's failure to fix any possible Y2K problems at the plant prior to the New Year leads to a virus spreading all across the world. As chaos break out and the townspeople riot and loot, the family comes across Krusty and, after seemingly dying, discover a note in his pocket that lets them know about a secret shuttle that is flying individuals to Mars, collecting only humanity's best and brightest. In line, The Simpsons give their names. As it turns out, Lisa is on the list and has a choice of a parent, which she easily decides to use on her mother. The three (Marge is allowed to take Maggie) board and Homer and Bart seem doomed until the come across a second shuttle. In space, Homer realizes this ride is full of more obnoxious and lesser celebrities, with Tom Arnold, Pauly Shore, Courtney Love and more aboard. The ship is headed for the sun but the two can't take the annoying passengers that long, opting instead to eject their seats into the sweet embrace of death in space.

     With its limitations creating an (I assume) sweat inducing work environment, it’s surprising to me still that the Treehouse of Horror specials ended up on with a strong footing so quickly. While the first episode is very much experimenting with this new layout, and testing the waters for what may be, I feel that the second Treehouse of Horror entry came out incredibly well rounded for still being such a young idea. Is it as hilarious as the specials would become? No, but it definitely holds up really well all things considering, and still ranks very high in terms of all-around Treehouse episodes. It felt like, even with the time limit constraining how much they can do per story, the world was the writers and animators oyster with the Treehouse of Horror episodes primarily because it gave them the chance to do things they couldn’t in everyday episodes; you felt as though they knew their imagination could bring about anything, and there was an endless source supply to pull from.
     Why do I bring this up? Well, unfortunately, Treehouse of Horror X feels like a stumble in some ways. It isn’t really a surprise that later installments would end up skewing more towards a mix of genres that they couldn’t do otherwise, and not just horror, since they have already explored certain stories that weren’t horror per se. The issue here is that neither of the two stories that stray from the usual are that memorable.

     Desperately Xeeking Xena probably works the better of the two, moving some Springfield characters into roles that perfectly suit them, in this case Comic Book Guy as, well, a comic book villain. Though the looks of the characters are well realized, as are the moments they take to play around with the fact that Bart can stretch, everything kind of feels as though it is going through some obvious motions. Other segments may be said to do the same thing, but at least they had the humour to back it up.
     That’s not to say there aren’t some funny moments here, like the animation moment of Lisa spinning Wiggum on her finger and the fact that they still have to do chores even though they are superheroes (raking the leaves under the house is a cute touch). There are a few funny quips here, most notably Marge throwing out Bart and Lisa’s weakness to everyone in particular by accident, yelling after them like a mother would for her kids to wear their sweater on a cold day; the issue is that there isn’t anything necessarily that memorable when it comes to one liners. The theme song created for the two is also neat, harkening back to classic, old superhero cartoon themes.
     The real star of this segment, though, is Lucy Lawless. She is great, to the point of the segment being honestly recommended based on her alone. She is given many great moments and her performance is always spot on; be it her talking Comic Book Guy’s defenses down and proceeding to whoop him, to her absolute decimation of useless nerd nitpicking that haunts the internet these days. Lawless easily gets the two best lines of the segment, with her nonchalant statement of “I told you I’m not Xena, I’m Lucy Lawless” (which, I must say, I totally buy. Of course Lucy Lawless would be able to fly), and the line “Xena needs sex.” Her delivery on the last one is so hilarious, channeling that uncontrollable urge of desperation that a lot of individuals like Comic Book Guy probably fantasize about when it comes to their favourite actresses/characters. The best thing about “Xena needs sex” is that I had completely forgotten about it and it elicited a genuine belly laugh from me.
     Like I said, the segment isn’t completely memorable, or ranking amongst the best ever, but it’s worth re-watching for Lucy Lawless alone. She elevates what could have ended up simply being a ‘nice’ side tale that didn’t fully realize much of its potential. The inclusion of nerd-dom and how it treats media they like, along with women, is also a nice touch, and one still (sadly) as relevant as ever, if not more-so.

     While Desperately Xeeking Xena has something to offer, and may even feel as though it’d be better suited for a longer, fleshed out runtime, I struggled to remember a lot of Life’s A Glitch, Then You Die. You could say that the whole Y2k focus dates it (and it does), but the only possible thing that could be positive to say about the choice is the fact that Y2K seemed to be everywhere at the time, so it makes sense that it would be tackled here in some form. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quit hit on an interesting idea or ever really feel as though it truly gets going.
     I honestly feel really bad in the fact that my notes on this segment are probably the shortest I’ve ever done for one of these, but I feel as though the idea was there and then they weren’t 100% sure where to go with it. A lot of my feelings regarding that is due to the random ending, involving the shuttle trip into the sun. Though it’s nice to see a lot of individuals here have a sense of humour about themselves and show up (Tom Arnold in particular delivers all of his lines with zest), it’s an odd choice to have a shuttle dedicated primarily to launching individuals into the sun when the Earth may already end up killing them. No, I’m not looking to make sense of something like this, mostly stating that it is one of those choices that makes you feel as though the ending was a last minute addition, one used to get out of a tough spot.
     Is there anything worthwhile in the segment? The “I’m not dead” bit with Krusty made me smile, as did the moment on the aforementioned doomed sun-shuttle where Homer claims that five minutes before dying in the sun isn’t quick enough for him to get off that ride.
     With all of my mentioning that the segment doesn’t have a lot going for it, I do have to admit that the segment has one of the funniest moments in the whole episode. It comes down to performance, animation, and timing, as Lisa is forced to choose which of her parents she will take, resulting in the obvious, no time spent thinking decision to take Marge. Yeardley Smith’s line read, mixed with the look on Lisa’s face and the subsequent shuffle to drag Marge onto the shuttle, is fantastic. Homer’s follow-up line is also worthy, but I’ll include that down below. Beyond that, I’m sad to say that I’ll probably forget Life’s A Glitch in the next few days, which makes me feel bad since I can guarantee that writing a piece on something like this was probably incredibly harder than usual.

     The episode’s opening holds up a tad better than the other two, but that’s mostly because, like Hell Toupee the year before, it does a good job in crafting a story that has atmospheric moments, a lot of amazing dark humour, and some great overall lines. Homer’s interaction with ‘dead’ Flanders all worked for me, probably because it was all so morbid that it was pretty much guaranteed to. His whispers to Ned while holding him up in the beginning, carefully crafting a plan with him, is ridiculous in the best way, as is the build up to him tossing the body off of the roof (where it lands pretty horrifically onto the doghouse). The hardest I laughed during this segment was when Homer simply gives up and imitates Ned, claiming he is having a heart attack, in the front room of his house before effortlessly just tossing the body onto the floor and exiting. The toss, you guys, the toss. I don’t know why but it just got to me. The entire segment ends up ridiculous, and that’s what ends up working for it as a whole. Some of the thought logic is brilliant and stupid enough to work with some of the best Treehouse of Horror segments (always remember not to smile too much at a funeral or else it’ll be suspicious).
     In terms of comedy, it all comes as quick as we are generally used to here. The random beginning mention of them escaping vampires, Homer’s cereal jingle song about fog-lights, the pan at the end to the family running away, the oddity of Ned’s night walks and Moe being creepy; it all works and comes fast enough that if a joke ends up not working for you, something after will make you laugh almost immediately. That’s not even mentioning Homer’s rundown of the areas they should hide in.
     The comedy isn’t the only thing worth mentioning here, as the design of werewolf Flanders is simple but great (the fact that his mustache transforms with him is funny alone), and the atmosphere created in the section where the family sits in the house, terrified, is well done, albeit brief. The only thing I wasn’t a big fan of was the final few seconds. It works, makes sense, and there isn’t much else they could have done with the time limit, but I feel as though the piece between Homer and Werewolf Ned eating him goes on a tad bit too long. It adds some jokes that may not have been needed, instead going for a straight, darker ending that would have felt more in line with the beginning.

     So, yeah, the tenth installment of the Treehouse of Horror episodes is, unfortunately, a very mixed bag. Though there are things to find even in the weakest installment (even though it’s only really worth the Lisa moment), it’s not enough to save the entirety of the short. The superhero segment has more to it, though falls in a spot where it doesn’t quite feel as though it reaches its potential because of its short time, but anything involving Lucy Lawless is fantastic. The first segment may hold up the best, mostly because of its quick pace and jokes that lend themselves to some level of memorability. It’s tough to call, but I do recommend watching the first two segments as a whole, as I feel as though the second may end up being liked more by some than me. If you haven’t seen the final segment before, that’s okay, you aren’t missing much, yet I am torn to completely dismiss it. I have to tell you to watch it at least once. I’m not lying, Yeardley Smith’s read on that Lisa line makes me laugh that hard. From a beginning to end, I am sad to say that this is probably the weakest of the first ten Treehouse specials.

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