Oct 17, 2016

Channel Surfing: The Simpsons - "Treehouse of Horror XXVII"

Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
Last night proved to be a double whammy for The Simpsons. The long running animated show had the distinct honor of having their unprecedented 600th episode also be their most acclaimed annual episode series: "Treehouse of Horror." The annual tribute to horror and pop culture skewering has produced years of quality laughs (27 to be exact), and it only seemed fair to assume that The Simpsons would approach 600 with something special. After all, the episode count is something only Gunsmoke before has really achieved before. This had to be a special moment for one of TV's most influential series of the past 30 years, right?
One can make the jaded notion that The Simpsons are past their expiration date. It is fair assessment, if just because it doesn't hold the cultural gravitas that it once did. Even then, the past few "Treehouse of Horror" episodes have been improving in quality with some segments in particular showing glimpses of The Simpsons of yesteryear. With enough episodes in the annual series to pretty much make its own season of TV, one could only imagine what was in store. After all, this was in the year following the enduring "Halloween of Horror" where the series effectively explored Halloween from a "regular episode" structure. It had emotion and heart the likes of which many have criticized for being absent. 
In reality, "Treehouse of Horror XXVII" is a major letdown in comparison to the other centennials. Whereas it only has to appeal to the parody side of the equation, it never quite manages to be more than a collection of gags that are barely held together. This is immediately evident when Homer is seen wearing a homemade costume meant to represent Futurama character Bender. Speaking as the shows have a secret shared universe, it isn't that bizarre. However, it would shortly be met with additional jokes regarding the show's rich history. There was the return of the divisive character from "Homer's Enemy" called Frank Grimes. Sideshow Bob and Dr. Marvin Monroe would also make appearances before the episode was over. Before the first segment started, there was evidence that this was going to be in part a clip show with the familiar "Them again?" mentality that has also fueled episode 500 called "You Kent Always Say What You Want."
In fact, it took awhile for the episode to really begin. Following the Frank Grimes segment was a brief montage of The Simpsons' 600 episodes. This was followed by a Planet of the Apes-inspired couch gag that featured couches enslaving mankind. While clever, it was something that the series had done before. It felt like compensation for an episode that should've been bigger and more celebratory. It doesn't help that the segments to follow were among the more lackluster segments of recent years.
This was especially true for "Dry Hard," which was essentially a Mad Max: Fury Road parody that diverted into The Hunger Games territory for half of it. While it could've been a nod to general dystopian cinema of recent years, it felt like an excuse for incompatible gags to progress the story. Its lack of focus kept it from ever achieving one or the other despite playing up the inspired lunacy of dystopian film wardrobes. While this is territory that likely was worthy of skewering, it still comes across as a giant missed opportunity, especially since it cannot settle on being a parody of one property.
"BFF" is easily the strongest and the one likely to be remembered fondly. Lisa's imaginary friend Rachel becomes jealous and kills everyone that Lisa loves. This results in frantic gallows humor and the eventual intervention of Lisa and Rachel as Marge's life is in jeopardy. While it feels a tad rushed, the motivational core for Lisa's character still fits and the general feeling of an imaginary friend gone rogue is an inspired premise that is explored to its full potential. If nothing else, it has the best ratio of jokes per minute, including an expansion on twins Sherri and Terri's family. It may not be vintage Simpsons, but it's the closest that "Treehouse of Horror XXVII" comes to a runaway hit.
"Moefinger" falls into the middle ground, choosing to never be great or truly awful. The film parodies Kingsman by having Bart become a secret agent who eventually has to kill his evil father. There's plenty of impressive gags if you've seen the film, but it otherwise remains a little flat. It falls into the trap of modern "Treehouse of Horror" segments not really being scary  and thus lose some of their credibility. The segment is fine, but is forgettable at best. 
As a whole, it isn't the worst year that "Treehouse of Horror" has ever had, but it's definitely an underwhelming way to clock in 600 episodes. With only one successful segment, it becomes difficult to find enthusiasm for the series to want to reach an even higher peak of episode 700. Maybe they will, provided the show continues to run until the end of existence. For now, "Treehouse of Horror XXVII" plays like a clip show that reminds viewers of the better days while reflecting the current experimental art version of what the show has become. It's good, but it definitely doesn't hold a candle to "Trash of the Titans" or "Seymour Skinner's Baaaadassss Song." 

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