Spooky on the small screen
Christmas has the classic flicks, Thanksgiving has football and Halloween has horror movies. Yet why limit yourself next week to only watching theatrical releases? If you’re not scouting for sweets or if you live in a remote enough area that kids don’t come knocking on your door, then it is a wonderful time to curl up in front of the TV with some candy.
Last year I wrote about some of my favorite, lesser-known features to watch instead of the usual slashers. Aside from the fantastic “Get Out,” I don’t have much to add to that previous list so there’s no reason for me to update. Instead, I’m going to recognize the small screen’s brilliance at handling All Hallow’s Eve.
Halloween specials have been a part of the television landscape for decades, but recently it seems like the networks go all out. Sometimes the one-off gag is better than the show’s entire season. Below are a few of my favorites:
“The Simpsons’” Treehouse of Horror — For 28 years, just one year shy of the program’s entire run, “The Simpsons” has been delivering the cartoony gory goods. Just about every well-known horror, thriller, or supernatural tale has been parodied on the show, along with whatever piece of pop culture is currently in the zeitgeist. Because of its longevity it’s impossible to pick a single episode but some of my favorite segments include the cast being transformed into animals, retelling Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” the introduction of the aliens Kang and Kodos and Ned Flanders becoming the devil.
The heists of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” — Fox really likes its Halloween traditions. Each season of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” sees the motley crew of cops play their own Halloween game that involves stealing a trophy to prove that they’re the “Ultimate Detective/Genius.” The winner isn’t the first person to grab it but rather the last to hold it at midnight. There are twists, turns, alliances, betrayals, homages to caper movies and great goofs that have made the special event into a highlight of the year. Like “The Simpsons” it’s too hard to pick just one heist.
“Over the Garden Wall” — Technically this one is cheating because it’s a two-hour miniseries that aired in November, but thematically it hits all the notes. Created by Patrick McHale of “Adventure Time” fame, this Emmy winning animated show focuses on two-half brothers wandering from home into mystical woods straight out of a Brothers Grimm folktale. It is beautiful, eerie and mature and shows why the current animated renaissance shouldn’t be missed. You can’t tell me that pumpkin people worshipping a pumpkin god like a deranged community from a Stephen King novel doesn’t qualify as a spooky sight.
“The Office’s” Halloween — This, too, became a tradition on the popular sitcom, however, the first episode remains one of the best. Not many of the costumes are as visually impressive as later installments but it still delivers laughs with Jim’s lazy-yet-clever three-hole-punch, Dwight as a Sith Lord, Kevin as a super hero and Michael with an extra head. More importantly, it moves the iconic relationship between Jim and Pam forward in the show’s second season.
“Community’s” Epidemiology — They may not be as good as “Community’s” annual paintball episodes, but the show about a dysfunctional study group knows how to have fun during the Halloween season. After poisoned rations from an army surplus store infect the campus’ food during the holiday party, Chevy Chase’s Pierce becomes patient zero in a zombie outbreak. Filled with pop culture references, hilarious costumes and legitimate tension, the 20-minute episode is a blast. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the entire episode is scored to ABBA’s greatest hits because the Dean’s iPod provided the party soundtrack. It balances both humor and horror exceptionally well.
“How I Met Your Mother’s” The Slutty Pumpkin — This pivotal episode in the sitcom’s first season showed that the audience would be waiting to meet the titular mother for quite some time while planting seeds for the show’s surprisingly deep mythos. Ted heads to the same Halloween party every year hoping to find a girl he once met there, knowing only her costume. It’s not until six seasons later that we, and Ted, see the Slutty Pumpkin again. It’s wonderful that the show followed through on such an early episode and challenged the idea of love at first sight.
“It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” — Speaking of waiting for that pumpkin to return. Yes, it’s a given, but I couldn’t leave it off the list. No Halloween viewing party marathon is complete without the 1966 special based on Charles Schulz’ classic comic strip. Even if you’re a super fan, please don’t give the children rocks next week.