Remaining Classic After 27 Years
By: Connor Lenahan
It should come as zero surprise to anyone reading Unbreakable that I am in love with The Simpsons. As always, one could look to the Simpsons Bracket from Summer 2014 for my masterwork in obsession with Springfield’s favorite family. But tonight I want to talk about “Halloween of Horror.” This episode in particular aired last night on FOX, is available at SimpsonsWorld.com to watch, and holds a special distinction as being the first Simpsons episode to focus on Halloween outside of their traditional “Treehouse of Horror” series. It also holds distinction of being arguably the best episode the show has had in over a decade.
The Simpsons is the longest running show that anyone can think of. Now in it’s 27th season, Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart, and Maggie have been on the air during 4 separate decades – their first episode airing in December 1989. But while the show gained international fame and praise for it’s golden years – Seasons 2-8 (or anywhere from 2 to 14 depending on who you ask) – there has been a collective opinion that the show has been in an irreparable decline over the past ten years plus. Fans call for it to end already, causal viewers are shocked to find out that it’s still going, children born during season 5 are now in college (me, specifically). But last night was special.
“Halloween of Horror” wasn’t just a great Simpsons episode, but an amazing episode of television period. The story, centering on a revenge plot catalyzed by Homer getting skeevy Halloween pop up shop employees fired, balances being very funny, emotionally moving, and way more unnerving than this had any business being. Someone had compared this to Straw Dogs, the famously terrifying movie about protecting one’s homestead from the 1970s. Accounting for humor, the episode genuinely shakes you. How often do you see an animated program use a shaky-cam effect? But that was only part of the appeal.
What rings true through the best Simpsons episodes are the emotional ties that the characters bring. Today many episodes will have the characters be more flexible for the sake of making a new story. The golden age had the stories grounded in emotion. That’s why episodes like when Maggie is born or when Homer’s mom leaves him again make me cry – not a joke, physical tears – on the thirty fifth viewing. The central theme in this episode is Lisa becoming terrified at a Halloween park and her return to Tailee – a stuffed animal’s tail that is the only thing that makes Lisa feel safe. Just when she feels comfortable with the world around her again, Homer has to break her heart. In one of the best scenes the show has had in what seems like forever, he tells Lisa that the danger they face is real, and she is likely the only hope they have of escaping it, given how much smarter she is, by Homer’s own admission.
This scene is incredible. And it’s a masterclass in why this show remains one of the most important television artifacts of all time. There are a prevalence of shows that are dedicated to entertainment and entertainment alone. For a show that is responsible for some of the funniest lines in television history – entirely too many to list here – to also lay claim to it’s earned emotional power is ubiquitous. Homer’s sadness in having to admit to his daughter that he genuinely doesn’t know what will happen to them, and he’s just as scared as she is, is something that The Big Bang Theory could only hope of having.
And what makes this episode further important, aside from the fact it’s purely “better” than just about everything in the seasons of late, is how it calls back not a joke, but an identifying tenant of greatness. A mark of good art, regardless of medium, is for it to physically impact you. The fact that you end up short of breath at the horror the characters are being put through is proof enough of something strong.
To be able to evoke this emotion – and further, to have my brain dwell on it all day to the point I could do a full term paper off the top of my head on it – in the 27th season of The Simpsons cannot be ignored. It’s incredible. Just when everyone decides that maybe the world would be okay without the show, it goes and reminds everyone of what it’s capable. “Halloween of Horror” is a special half hour, and if you’re a fan of great TV, look no further than this.