Simpsonspective: Treehouse of Horror IX

Richard Petro

twitter @ThePetroProject

October 09, 2018
Simpsonspective

Original Airdate: October 25, 1998
Writers: David S. Cohen, Larry Doyle, Donick Cary
Director: Steven Dean Moore

    

Hell Toupée
     Causing some trouble in the Kwik-E-Mart leads to Snake being arrested and, since it's unfortunately his third strike, executed. Before leaving, Snake vows revenge on those in the store; Apu, Moe, and Bart. After the execution of the jailbird, Homer receives a hair transplant, the hair in question being Snake's. The luscious piece begins to control Homer, leading him to murdering Apu and Moe in horrific fashion. Bart realizes what's happening and Homer promises to keep him safe, locking the two of them in Bart's room before he attacks the boy with an axe. After a battle, Homer tears the hair off and the arriving cops shoot it dead.

The Terror of Tiny Toon
     Before taking Maggie trick or treating, Marge tells Bart and Lisa that they aren't allowed to watch the Halloween Itchy and Scratchy special, going so far as to take the batteries from the remote. After Marge leaves, Bart finds plutonium (courtesy of Homer's toolbox) and forces it into the remote's battery compartment. Using it, the kids find themselves entering the world of Itchy & Scratchy, who get offended when they see the kids laughing at Scratchy's pain. Bart and Lisa try desperately to avoid murder at the hands of the two characters, using cartoon physics to their advantage. They eventually get the attention of Homer, who uses the remote to rescue the kids from the television before the Itchy and Scratchy break through and find themselves in the Simpsons home, where they are regular animals easily dealt with, and kept as pets.

Starship Poopers
     Maggie enters an interesting time in her growth as her legs fall off, revealing alien tentacles, and she sprouts a fang. Maggie's pacifier contacts Kang and Kodos who quickly arrive at the house, where it is revealed that Kang is Maggie's father, telling a story of Marge's abduction. Homer and Kang fight before Bart tells them how to really deal with this; The Jerry Springer Show. There, the two groups continue arguing and all hell breaks loose as Kang evaporates the audience before Maggie attacks Jerry Springer, the show ending with Homer and Kang fighting while Springer dies. In the parking lot, Kang and Kodos give the ultimatum that if they aren't given Maggie, they will destroy all politicians. Marge and Homer, using it to their advantage, tell them there's no way they could deal with -all- of them, and Kang and Kodos fly off.

     When I covered Treehouse of Horror VII, I talked about how it held up better than I remembered as a whole, primarily because I expected the presidential shenanigans in Citizen Kang to date its segment more than it ended up feeling. The same thing happened here.

     Starship Poopers is a funny enough idea for a segment, showing that Kang is really the father of Maggie (Man, Kang has a good run of interesting things happening to him in these specials). We are treated to a number of funny gags (the abduction and most common spawning locations being particularly great), before the segment spins into involving the Jerry Springer show and parodying the types of disputes the show is known for. To be honest, I dreaded re-watching this, thinking that it wouldn’t hold up well at all. My main problem with the Jerry Springer segment is the fact that it always felt like the writers may have run into an issue of how to actually end the short and used it as a way out. Whether it is true or not, it really tainted my memory of it.
     How does it feel revisiting it? Well, I still do kind of feel the exact same way about it. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but there’s a tinge of feeling here that people had a good idea, a good set-up, and then… well, they kind of got stuck. There is a positive though. As dated and glued to the 90’s the Springer set-piece may be, it benefits from ending up a lot like Citizen Kang. The writing elevates it from completely falling on its face, with an unending stream of jokes lobbed into a small set of time that perfectly parodies what it aims to. Because of this, again like Citizen Kang, you don’t need to know the details of what they are mocking here, as the jokes themselves essentially set-it up and relays the information perfectly. Not to mention, there are three things in particular that I love about this last bit;
     -- A massive string of beeps for cursing is funny, mainly because the Simpsons was a show that, obviously, didn’t go past things like ‘damn’ and ‘crap’ a lot of the time. The thought of the characters angrily spewing swears, while juvenile, is hilarious in its own way, especially with the crème-de-le-crème finish of Marge’s line.
     -- The animation of Kang fist-fighting Homer is wonderfully, with the last moment, involving the addition of baby Maggie and Jerry Springer, adding a ‘the hell is going on’ level of ridiculousness that this ending portion needs to make it work.
     -- Yeardley Smith’s reading of the line “And now he’s dead” in regards to Jerry Springer’s fate is one of my favourite line deliveries ever. It’s beyond perfect. It goes to show how a line that isn’t necessarily funny on its own can be made one of the highlights of its own piece simply based on performance.
     I was honestly surprised with how positively I reacted to this segment. It’s not like I went in set on being negative (doing something like that is just…ugh, that’s a whole other, stupid/frustrating topic), I just honestly didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. I think the major problem is the fact that tackling something that was as big as it was in the 90’s as Jerry Springer (that’s… a sentence I never thought I’d write… and feel really weird about) really can kind of derail your thought process/memory of things sometimes. The most I remembered of Starship Poopers was always ‘the one with Jerry Springer, and insemination joke scene’. But, again, the writing easily elevates it, to the point where I don’t know why I questioned it. The lines are still hilarious, I like the whole conversation between Kang and Marge being a lot like usual sex talk that’s usually joked about, and it is another great example of how a simple design change can still be great (I love alien Maggie). So this was a nice surprise!

     So, with the final segment being a pleasant surprise, how does the rest stack up? I really enjoy Terror in Tiny Toon, so much so that I feel like it could have used so much more. This is part of the issue with having to work with a limited runtime. While we get a shot of Bart, Lisa, Itchy, and Scratchy running through a segment of Regis and Kathy Lee, it would have been great to see them run through a series of different channels, leading to different styles used for the animation and character designs. To be fair, they did cram a lot into the time they had, and it definitely feels like they got the major aspects of possibilities in there, and I don’t want to sound negative towards the segment over something they couldn’t control. I’m just being needy.
     With what they crammed in here, they did give us a lot of good. It was nice to see The Simpsons, a cartoon that relied on real-world physics (mostly), be a classic style cartoon. The eyes popping out of the head is a nice touch, though my favourite moment using these cartoon physics is how quickly Bart takes to relaxing while flying into the air, head back in arms and one leg on top of the other before Lisa tilts him to see the danger. I’m also a big fan of the moment where Scratchy puts his brain back into his head and a piece of it puts out the candle in his mouth; a cute and funny touch.
     Like the animation, the design work is good here too. Though there aren’t that many changes or toying around as some other episodes, the skeleton-normal headed Bart is a neat touch. Hobo Homer is hilarious (as is the obvious joke that comes with it) and pirate Maggie is adorable (hey, two for two in terms of covering segments here where Maggie is adorable, like always).
     So like a few other segments, my only real negative here is the fact that I wish there was a bit more time the crew could have to play with. Even with that, the segment is a good, funny, and quick paced one with a great ending involving the two cartoon characters coming into the, um, real world and how they are dealt with.


     Hell Toupee starts the episode off well, with a segment that channels its horror roots in a particularly dark and effective manner. The idea of Homer going around murdering people, this time in a serious context, is pretty unnerving, and the choice to have his hairstyle change and Snake’s voice exit him when he speaks work perfectly towards this. Seriously, Homer talking like Snake is a lot creepier than I think it has any right to be.
     What works especially well here is that the humour here is pretty dark, with the (morbid) deaths of two characters and the reactions around it (Squishee’s cannot be tainted, apparently). As bad as I feel about it, the moment of Homer repeatedly punching Bart in the face makes me laugh endlessly, and the lead-up moments are great in and of themselves (the school photo bit is a perfect example of Simpsons’ brilliant joke twisting). I find that everything ends up working successfully here, creating a segment that is still very reminiscent of the Treehouse of Horror segments that are usually ranked really high for their memorability. There’s an endless array of visual gags and lines, especially ones I’ve forgotten over time (syphilis…). Even small observatory jokes end up working well, as in the fact that Marge entering the room with a psychotic, axe-wielding lunatic with Maggie in hand isn’t probably the best idea.
     The animation here is, like always, great. The death of the toupee, in particular, being hilariously blocked and executed, with the idea of the sideburns working as hands/arms to help get it around, and the way it shakes an arm into the sky in the midst of being murdered by a hail of bullets. Oh, and once again, shout-out to the cute Maggie moment of her snuggling up with the dead piece like a blankie or stuffed toy.

     We are nine installments into the Treehouse of Horror series and, in my mind, they’re still as strong in their entire runtime as usual. All of the segments here work and are worthy of their entries; hilarious and memorable with set-pieces and lines that are endlessly quotable and undeniably funny no matter how many times you re-watch it. It’s another successful special that is worth watching from beginning to end. It’s been so long and I haven’t come across a segment I feel is weak enough to pull down its overall episode. Well…um… last year I covered five Treehouse of Horror episodes, and there’s still one more to go for this year, so let’s see if we can keep that track record going… *cough*