This semester I will be reviewing season eight of The Simpsons. Episode one is entitled Treehouse of Horror VII and originally aired on October 27th 1996. I sat down and watched this episode alone on Thursday night February eighteenth at my apartment on DVD and a 27 inch television. The lead in for this season is the yearly (since season two) Halloween episode called Treehouse of Horror. These episodes follow a consistent format of three approximately seven minute stories revolving around an adaptation of classic horror stories, myths, and scary movies featuring the Simpson family.
As with the previous (and subsequent) Halloween specials this one began with a unique introduction. Father of the Simpson family, the fat, stupid, lazy, alcoholic Homer attempts to light a jack-o-lantern but sets himself on fire which sends him screaming around the kitchen fully ablaze. After the bloody title card we are led into the couch gag (each Simpsons episode begins with the family running toward their couch where something strange happens to them) which in this case leads them to find the Grim Reaper sitting on their couch. They each drop dead leaving a pile of corpses for Death to prop his feet on like an ottoman.
The first story is called “The Thing and I.” After hearing noises coming from the attic at night Bart, the misanthropic ten year old punk, and Lisa, the genius middle child, question their parents about it at breakfast. They unconvincingly deny that anything is wrong but the kids spy Homer taking a bucket of fish heads to the attic. While eavesdropping they hear a gruesome feeding frenzy. When finally left alone Bart and Lisa, along with mute baby sister Maggie, sneak into the attic. During this misadventure they accidentally release a monstrous, unseen creature.
When Homer and Marge, the family’s devoted and over-stressed Mother, return home they find the kids hiding. Upon being confronted they are forced to reveal the horrible truth. With a little help from the family physician, Dr. Hibbert, who conveniently appears, they relay the story of how Bart and his evil conjoined-twin Hugo were physically separated at birth. Years living in the attic, eating only fish heads have left Hugo twisted and insane. The family goes to search for Hugo, leaving Bart behind. Bart is waylaid by Hugo who had remained in the house all along.
After taking him to the attic the demented twin reveals his plan two sow the two back together. Just in the nick of time the family returns and Dr. Hibbert knocks Hugo unconscious at which point he discovers that based on the placement of the boys scars he had made a mistake. As it turns out Bart was and always had been the evil twin, to which Bart replies, “Oh, don’t look so shocked.” The solution they settle on is to let Hugo move downstairs with the family leaving Bart in the attic to subsist primarily on a diet of fish heads.
After viewing the first story I had a nagging feeling that it referenced something, possibly an episode of the Twilight Zone but I was unable to confirm this. However, the second story, “The Genesis Tub,” was in fact a spoof of the Twilight Zone episode entitled The Little People (#3.28) (www.imdb.com ). Lisa prepares a science-fair project by dissolving a tooth in a Petri-dish of soda but a static electric discharge caused by one of Bart’s obnoxious pranks sets evolution in motion. When Lisa wakes up the next morning she discovers an ecosystem complete with tiny cave people living in small cavities in the tooth.
After breakfast Lisa discovers that her little world has progressed to the Renaissance. She spies one of the people nailing theses to a door leading into the tooth (now a cathedral). Lisa happily observes, “I’ve created Lutherans!” The next morning she discovers that the tiny society is ultra-advanced at which point Bart pokes his finger into the tub crushing parts of the civilization. That night space-ship like fighters rise from the tub and attack Bart prompting him to seek revenge. Lisa stops him but is shrunken down and brought into the world she created where she finds that the people worship her as a god. She soon discovers that her followers are unable to return her to normal. With Lisa gone Bart, instead of destroying the tiny world, claims it as his own and wins the science-fair.
The third and final story is called “Citizen Kang”, a clear reference to Citizen Kane, though not a parody. While night fishing Homer is abducted by two hideous green aliens, series semi-regulars Kang and Kodos. Homer assumes they will want to perform a rectal probe so, wanting to get it over with, he pulls down his pants and presents his rear. Kang recoils in horror and replies, “Stop, we have reached the limits of what rectal probing can teach us.” Kang and Kodos actually want to be taken to America’s leaders. Homer leads them to Washington DC where the aliens kidnap President Bill Clinton and his challenger in the upcoming election, Senator Bob Dole.
Kang and Kodos disguise themselves as Clinton and Dole in an attempt to seize control of Earth’s most powerful nation. Before returning Homer to Earth they spray him with rum so that no one will believe his story. He tries to enlist the help of the real President and Senator but accidentally blows them into the void of space. Despite the strange behavior of “Clinton” and “Dole” the American voter is suckered, refusing to vote for a third party candidate (Ross Perot), even after the candidates are revealed as monsters from space. This leads to the election of Kang and the enslavement of Earth.
While I enjoyed this episode thoroughly it is quite difficult to review. The humor of the individual segments rely so heavily on dialogue and sight-gags, which lose their luster when simply read from a screen, that it is difficult to do more than convey the sense of the humorous overtones and hope that they come across. The first two stories are funny but somewhat weak compared to the third. This positioning was wise as the episode finishes strong.
Much of the humor in Citizen Kang is rooted in the politics of the time. When this episode first aired the 1996 Presidential election was a mere nine days away. In typical Simpsons fashion the political criticism was sharp and double-edged. When the aliens abduct President Clinton from the White House at dawn they take his entire bed with him in it. This leads the groggy President to ask, “Hillary, is it noon already?” When Kodos impersonates Bob Dole she tries several takes on the abortion issue. When “Abortions for no one” and “Abortions for everyone” are met with resounding boos she settles on a policy of “Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others” which placates the crowd nicely. As President Clinton, Kang expresses how he “is looking forward to an orderly election tomorrow, which will eliminate the need for a violent bloodbath.” Of course even this receives enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.
In the end we are done in by our (de facto, not constitutionally mandated) two party electoral system. While this nicely jabbed at the political foibles and nuances of 1996 America, it feels more relevant today than it did then. Even though Clinton, Dole, Kang, and Kodos are no longer running for office, sometimes politicians of today seem just as odd. It is surprising that the irrational, gullible American public portrayed fifteen years ago in a cartoon seem much wiser than the American public of the real world, circa 2010, even if they did elect a space alien to the Presidency. Despite the somewhat awkward nature of the structure used for Treehouse of Horror, I give this episode a rating of four. The first two stories are both entertaining and funny but it is the final story that makes this episode, structurally problematic or not, truly hilarious.
The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #1: Treehouse of Horror VII
Rating: 4 out of 5