Simpsonspective: Treehouse of Horror VII

Richard Petro

twitter @ThePetroProject

October 07, 2018
Simpsonspective

Original Airdate: October 27, 1996
Writers: Ken Keeler, Dan Greaney, David S. Cohen
Director: Mike B. Anderson

    

The Thing & I
     Bart and Lisa confront their parents over weird noises they've been hearing in the attic at night, but Homer and Marge's suspicious reactions and warnings add more fuel to the fire of their curiosity. Taking advantage of a Homer and Marge night out to explore, something seems to escape, which horrifies a returning Homer and Marge and they make a quick call to Dr. Hibbert. Hibbert reveals that Bart has an evil (previously conjoined) twin, named Hugo, who was chained up in the attic on account of the fact that they weren't quite sure what to do with him. Everyone splits up to find the boy. Bart is left at home only to find that Hugo never actually left. He takes Bart hostage upstairs, revealing his plan to rejoin the two through amateur surgery. Hibbert interrupts and knocks Hugo out only to realize that his scar is on the wrong side; Bart is the real evil twin. The family decides to deal with the problem by simply switching the two, as Hugo takes his place in the family while Bart is left in the attic.

The Genesis Tub
     Lisa's science fair project is dissolving a tooth in a tub of cook, which she tries to keep experimenting with whilst Bart annoys her as usual. When he shocks her and the electricity catches the tooth, it creates a race of small, tub dwelling beings. The next day Lisa notices that the people evolve at a rapid rate, and Bart attacks by slipping his finger repeatedly into the tub. That night while he sleeps, the tub people send spaceships to attack Bart in revenge, as Lisa has to step in between Bart and the tub to keep him from fully dealing with it. The people shrink Lisa and tell her how she's their God and Bart is their Devil. It turns out the people can't undo the shrinking technology and Lisa is forced to watch as Bart turns in her project as his own at the science fair and wins first prize, ending with Lisa making sure the people are grovelling with her.

Citizen Kang
     During a fishing trip, Homer is abducted by Kang and Kodos, who demand the Earth's leaders from him. Knowing only of the upcoming Presidential Election, Homer points them to Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. The aliens abduct the politicians and take their forms to fool the people, before kicking a hiding Homer out of the spaceship after spraying him with rum so that no one will believe him. Kang and Kodos confuse people with their friendliness with each other in Dole and Clinton's bodies. Meanwhile Homer, not being believed about the aliens, takes matters into his own hands once he finds the spaceship, but accidentally shoots the two men out into the vacuum of space. Returning in time, Homer unmasks the two beings, who simply laugh that the citizens have to vote either way. Kang wins the election and the humans are enslaved and forced to build a death ray.

          After a handful of very strong installments, Treehouse of Horror VII made a mistake that, though it didn’t entirely derail it, definitely placed it in a weird spot. With Citizen Kang, the crew decided to work in the at-the-time current upcoming election, which results in locking the episode in very set period of time. It’s the same as basing plots around real world events; it’s a tight line to walk, as it can work and hold up under certain rules, or date your work really fast. Said segment ends up being an interesting piece, as the players and event is dated, yet the jokes (most of them) are ones that still work, as the ones made that are built on the established ‘outside world’ are things that are relatively widely known in regards to what they concern (eg: Clinton being a smooth talker). Because of this, and the fact that a lot of the jokes are just jokes and don’t rely exactly on those involved, Citizen Kang actually holds up better than I thought it would, and doesn’t really hurt the overall episode.
     The fact that the majority of jokes involving Clinton and Dole mostly revolve around how odd it is to have these aliens in human bodies, and how no one seems to notice their obvious words of doom, go a long way in having the segment still work. Really, anyone could have been placed into the human roles of body-snatch-victims. That being said, the jokes involving the constant world threatening words coming from the disguised aliens is hilarious. It’s an obvious and simple joke, one that could even be relegated to one-note status, but it still constantly makes me laugh; the way Brockman reacts to Dole’s declaration of doom (“a refreshingly frank response”); “Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others”; Kodos’ speech as Clin-Ton and his declaration of dictatorship (“That’s Slick Willie for ya, always with the smooth talk”); “—eliminate the need for a violent blood bath”; Twirling, twirling, TWIRLING TOWARDS FREEDOM!
     It’s loaded with lines that many often quote, and a lot of the ideas are hilarious in their own right (I love the alcohol squirter used by Kang and Kodos). There’s a lot to enjoy here and the segment works well in showing how good writing can make something that could have actively worked against those making it still be great.


     As Citizen Kang finished the episode on a strong note, mostly because of the quotes against a dated plot, The Thing & I starts the episode off with a bang. I remembered liking the segment a lot, but I forgot how much I absolutely loved it. There’s a good level of tense and creepy atmosphere presented in the first moments, with Bart being watched from the air vent being genuinely creepy. It works well at building the mystery of what may indeed be up in the attic, and the moment of Homer going upstairs to feed ‘it’ fishheads is both hilarious and oddly unnerving. The reveal of Hugo is also wonderfully done, with him emerging from the darkness behind Bart, left alone in the house (I especially love that, given the free reign of the fridge, Hugo still chooses fishheads to eat… with milk).
     The slight change in voice for Hugo is wonderful, and it’s really neat to hear Nancy work against herself whilst still relatively playing a similarly voiced character. She finds a way to, in just a few lines, really embed Hugo with his own individuality and personality, with one of my favourite line deliveries being “I made a pigeon-rat.” I don’t know what it is about it, but it always makes me laugh.
     The segment also has many great lines and moments; from the classic mislead of where the kids are hiding, to the absolutely incredible visual of Hibbert punching Hugo out (that blank-stare face kills me). The reveal of Bart being the evil twin, while obvious, is also presented hilariously, accompanied by a great flashback sequence complete with another great Hibbert look (and line about the difficulties of what to do with Hugo). The ending to the piece also works in a sad and dark sort of way, with them opting to keep Bart in the attic now instead.

     Unfortunately, The Genesis Tub is the one that falls short as the weakest of the bunch here. That’s not to say I don’t like it. The Genesis Tub is a fun watch, and while it’s short on great, memorable lines, the majority of its enjoyment comes from seeing the kids act as kids even in the face of such a scientific discovery (Yeardley Smith’s “Oooh, waffles!” is beautifully kid-like and endearing). I adore whenever the kids simply act their age, and Lisa’s dealings with her creating life is fantastically realized. She’s awestruck, but not enough to not spend her entire day around it. I especially love Bart’s no-reaction to the fact that his sister has essentially become a God, here. He gets attacked by small human beings that Lisa is responsible for creating, but the fact that there are small people alive because of his sibling doesn’t elicit any response or wonder from him, he’s just angry that they attacked him and he swears revenge.
     The end all-be all moment of this is the ending, where Bart wins the school’s fair using her experiment and Lisa jumps up and down claiming that the gift certificate Bart is handed rightfully belongs to her. The way she sits, angry and frustrated, at the end is perfect, asking for slippers as someone offers to get her some socks. It’s a segment made up mostly of great acting moments instead of out-and-out hilarious lines or set pieces. Though it’s light on these moments, there are details I really enjoy; the attack on Bart, as the camera follows the ships up his body in bed, is a lot of fun; I like the designs in the tub once Lisa is shrunk down, especially her tooth-chair for her royalty; I also love the homage to 50’s era monster movies when Bart arrives to the tub, with the crowd running in horror and a woman with a baby stopping to scream dramatically.
     It’s not bad, but it isn’t as memorable as the stories it finds itself stuck between, especially since one is very much atmosphere oriented while the other is a joke machine. I can see why this one may be forgotten or thought less of, but I think it’s still worth the watch primarily for the way the kids behave, their relationship as siblings, and Yeardley Smith’s performance.

     Treehouse of Horror VII holds up better than I remembered, not being held down at all by the dated details of its final story. Though people might think that the middle story may hold it down, I don’t personally feel as such, as the three stories here give you three very different types of entertainment; The first is very much a story that builds on the horror roots that Treehouse of Horror started as; the second story is a sweet Lisa oriented bit that is a great homage to old science fiction stories; and the finale is dedicated more-so to cramming as many jokes as it can into its runtime, even with what could be seen as an anchor with the dated details. I honestly believed the entry wouldn’t hold up as well as it did, so I was pleasantly surprised. Here, in my mind, the Treehouse of Horror series was still going strong, even if it was slowly sliding into less horror-oriented/atmosphere territory.