Episode Title: "Treehouse of Horror XXIII"
Writers: David Mande & Brian Kelley
Director: Steven Dean Moore
For years, the "Treehouse of Horror” Halloween specials were some of the best episodes of “The Simpsons” and often the highlight of their individual seasons.
Despite having seen all twenty three "Treehouse of Horror” specials, I can’t pinpoint exactly where and when that changed. But somewhere along the line, the wickedly funny and spooky shorts have been replaced by some of the most banal humor I’ve ever seen.
When it comes to comedy, I’m fairly easy. I just want to laugh; and I’m willing to overlook a lot if a show can make me do that. "Treehouse of Horror XXIII" has its moments, but they happened so infrequently that the rest of the episode was difficult to watch.
The opening sequence started out promisingly enough, as Springfield’s residents are shown in an ancient Mayan city where a very Homer-like man narrowly avoids being sacrificed to prevent the end of the world in 2012. In the present day, the giant stone statues of the Mayan Gods go on a rampage and brutally destroy the Earth, with a few chuckle worthy jokes throughout. Instead of the cold opening, this should have been one of the main segments of the episode.
The first segment, “The Greatest Story Ever Holed” is the one that should have been dropped entirely from the show. It’s a boring and largely unfunny tale about the Large Hadron Collider creating a miniature black hole that Lisa briefly brings home before it eventually destroys Springfield and sucks nearly everyone in town into it. Admittedly, I did enjoy the use of Disney’s The Black Hole and the Zune joke. However, the ending of the segment landed with a thud and just wasn’t funny at all. There was some nice animation in the segment, but that wasn’t enough to save it.
“Unnormal Activity” shows that the parody speed of “The Simpsons” is apparently stuck on “three years ago.” Seriously, are we going to have to wait another three years for a “Walking Dead” spoof? Maybe it’s just as well, as this segment apes the found footage convention of Paranormal Activity without actually mining it for comedy gold. “Unnormal Activity” felt flat and uninspired throughout, with another ending that generated a “huh” instead of a laugh.
“Bart and Homer's Excellent Adventure” was the best of the three short segments and it wisely used “The Simpsons’” history by revisiting Homer and Marge’s courtship; which Bart immediately ruins after using a time machine to visit 1974. Back in the future, Bart discovers that his new dad is now Marge’s first boyfriend, Artie Ziff (voiced once again by Jon Lovitz).
The twist is that Bart loves his new life and his new dad. So when 1974 Homer and 2012 Homer team up and bring an army of Homers from across history to confront Bart, he and Artie manage to fight them all off. Right up until that point, “Bart and Homer's Excellent Adventure” could have been the only worthwhile segment of the night. But once again, the ending just killed the comedy. You’d think that 12 Homers living with Marge would be funny, but somehow it fails to connect.
I wish that “The Simpsons” writers would remember that it takes more than just a few lazy film parodies to make a successful “Treehouse of Horror” episode. While this was marginally better than last year’s Halloween special, the magic is still missing from this series.