The 10 best 'Treehouse of Horror' episodes in 'Simpsons' history
It’s been an up-and-down ride for The Simpsons these last 26 seasons. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks the show is as good today as it was in its heyday.
But every year, loyal Springfieldians can count on at least one episode to bring the funny: Treehouse of Horror.
Since launching in Season 2, the show’s annual horror-spoof anthology has become a Halloween tradition, one whose influence stretches beyond television. Its “spooky credits” gimmick is even a popular October trend on Twitter.
Treehouse of Horror episodes also tend to age as well as any in the series’ amazing run. Since each Treehouse includes three discrete segments, the plots tend to be faster, the jokes tighter, the targets of parody more precise. As a result, even recent installments usually produce more chuckles than your average ep. Heck, last year’s Treehouse, which featured parodies of A Clockwork Orange and The Others, was right up there with the best.
This year’s Treehouse of Horror XXVI airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on Fox, and includes a segment in which Sideshow Bob finally, after all these many years, gets to kill Bart. (Spoiler alert.) But it’s not the only treat for Simpsons fans this week. Starting at Sunday, FXX will air all 25 Treehouse of Horror episodes in daily two- to four-hour chunks, with a 12 1/2-hour marathon of every episode, in order, starting at 11:30 a.m. on Halloween.
Don’t have that kind of time? Fear not. We’ve distilled the past 26 seasons of Horror into this list of our top 10 Treehouse of Horror segments of all time, along with when you can find their episodes on FXX.
Come, family. Let us bask in television’s warm, glowing, warming glow.
10. “Tweenlight” (Treehouse of Horror XXI, 2010): As long as Hollywood keeps churning out horror and sci-fi francises, The Simpsons needn’t worry about running out of source material. YA fiction like Twilight seems like almost too obvious a target, but “Tweenlight” succeeds thanks to inspired casting (Daniel Radcliffe as dreamy vampire Edmund) and the sight of Milhouse transmogrifying into a trained poodle. ON FXX: 6 p.m. Sunday, 9:30 p.m. Oct. 31.
9. “The Day the Earth Looked Stupid” (Treehouse of Horror XVII, 2006): A Depression-set depiction of Springfield’s response to Orson Welles’ notorious “War of the Worlds” radio hoax, this segment is notable mostly for its ending. When aliens Kang and Kodos actually DO invade earth, they end up weary from three years of conflict. “You said you’d be liberated as liberators!” Kang says. “I’m starting to think Operation Enduring Occupation was a bad idea.” It was an uncharacteristically pointed critique of the Iraq War from a show that normally steers clear of touchy politics. ON FXX: 4 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 31.
8. “Send in the Clones” (Treehouse of Horror XIII, 2002): Most of the time, The Simpsons only dabbles in self-referential humor — unlike, say, Family Guy, which luxuriates in it. But this segment offers the delightful image of an army of clueless Homer clones, and clones of clones, including, yes, a Peter Griffin and a vintage Tracey Ullman-era Homer. Let’s all raise a frosty chocolate milkshake to that. ON FXX: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday; 5:30 p.m. Oct. 31.
7. “Clown Without Pity” (Treehouse of Horror III, 1993): Season 4 is right around when The Simpsons kick-started its golden era. This episode is solid top to bottom (the wraparounds are among Treehouse of Horror’s best, and the other two segments, “King Homer” and “Dial 'Z’ For Zombies” deserve honorable mention), but “Clown Without Pity” stands out for its relentless silliness — cursed clown dolls, cursed frogurt and bologna named H-O-M-E-R H-O-M-E-R. ON FXX: 8 p.m. Tuesday; 12:30 p.m. Oct. 31.
6. “Don’t Have a Cow, Mankind” (Treehouse of Horror XX, 2009): After 28 Days Later and I Am Legend, but before The Walking Dead and World War Z, The Simpsons served up an adventurous segment in which Krusty Burger’s ethically squishy Burger² (“We start with Grade A beef, feed that to other cows, then kill them and serve the unholy results on a seven-grain bun”) turns Springfieldians into flesh-hungry “munchers.” (Also notable: This episode’s Hitchcock homage “Dial 'M’ for Murder or Press '#’ to Return to Main Menu” is among the series’ most visually impressive feats.) ON FXX: 9:30 p.m. Tuesday; 9 p.m. Oct. 31.
5. “The Raven” (Treehouse of Horror I, 1990): The Simpsons has always dosed its silly humor with dashes of highbrow book-learnin’. There were a few jokes sprinkled into the closing segment of the first Treehouse of Horror, but it’s otherwise a largely straighforward retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, delivered with theatrical gusto by narrator James Earl Jones, plus Homer as the poem’s protagonist and Bart as a taunting raven. A prime-time cartoon that dares elevate the cultural conversation ... on Fox, no less? Creepy. ON FXX: 8 p.m. Monday, 11:30 a.m. Oct. 31.
4. “Homer³” (Treehouse of Horror VI, 1995): One of five Treehouse of Horror segments written by future Futurama creator David X. Cohen, “Homer3” felt groundbreaking when it aired in 1995, thanks to its use of computer-generated animation — particularly at the end, when Homer, after entering a wormhole into “the third dimension,” descends even deeper into our dimension, hungrily eyeballing erotic cakes on a real-life street. Thankfully, the script is on par with the tech (“I’m somewhere where I don’t know where I am!”), making this segment succeed as more than just a stunt. ON FXX: 10 p.m. Monday; 2 p.m. Oct. 31.
3. “Citizen Kang” (Treehouse of Horror VII, 1996): The Simpsons usually directs its satire around current events, rarely squarely at them. “Citizen Kang” is a rare exception. Premiering about a week before the 1996 Presidential election, it pits Kodos and Kang snatching and inhabiting the bodies of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, respectively. Their true identities are revealed before Election Day, but as Kodos taunts: “What are you going to do about it? It’s a two-party system.” Bonus points for ending on the all-time classic line, “Don’t blame me; I voted for Kodos.” ON FXX: 8 p.m. Oct. 30; 2:30 p.m. Oct. 31.
2. “Time and Punishment” (Treehouse of Horror V, 1994): While repairing a malfunctioning toaster, Homer becomes the first non-Brazilian person to travel backwards through time, all the way back to when dinosaurs weren’t just confined to zoos. Imaginative and masterfully directed, it also guest-stars James Earl Jones as the voice of Maggie, a casting choice they really ought to bring back. ON FXX: 9:30 p.m. Monday, 1:30 p.m. Oct. 31.
1. The Shinning ” (Treehouse of Horror V, 1994): With the two best Treehouse of Horror segments ever — along with a third, “Nightmare Cafeteria,” that’s also very good — Treehouse of Horror V has a strong case as the greatest Simpsons episode of all time. This magnificently paced spoof of The Shining is as good as the show ever got. When it comes on, you’re there with a cold one in hand. Because no TV and no beer might make you something something. ON FXX: 9:30 p.m. Monday, 1:30 p.m. Oct. 31.
-- Jay Cridlin