Although The Simpsons season 33 broke a lot of new ground for the long-running animated sitcom, one of its biggest changes came in the annual Halloween special “Treehouse of Horror XXXII”. The Simpsons season 33 saw the series make a considerable number of changes to the show’s reliable formula. As a result, season 33 also saw The Simpsons earn better reviews than the television institution has enjoyed in some time, with many critics praising its invention.
However, despite The Simpsons recently improving, the show still has a long way to go if the show wants to regain its once-formidable critical reputation. Season 33 still featured plenty of gags that fell flat, satirical barbs that didn’t land, and ambitious stories that didn’t work despite the show’s best attempts. In some cases, like the season 33 Halloween special, it could be argued that the ambition of The Simpsons got in the way of the show’s potential success.
The Simpsons Halloween special “Treehouse of Horror XXXII” (season 33, episode 3) saw the series break the mold in terms of its traditional story structure, a choice that was not an unqualified success. Unlike its predecessors, season 33’s ‘Treehouse of Horror’ had more than 3 segments, a change that The Simpsons has tried to pull off before but which the series had never stuck with so definitively until this outing. While The Simpsons season 33’s retcons may have drawn more ire from viewers than this minor change, it was this restructuring of the show’s annual Halloween special that proved the series was willing to switch up even its oldest traditions and the experiment’s results were only partially positive.
Why The Simpsons Halloween Episodes Have 3 Stories
The average episode of The Simpsons has 3 seven-minute acts (as evidenced in the bizarre side plot that usually takes up the episode’s opening 7 minutes). This structure lets The Simpsons combine traditional family sitcom plots with the faster structure of older cartoons like The Looney Tunes, allowing the show to fit more gags in each scene thanks to the zanier, faster-paced opening act. This also allows the annual Simpsons Halloween specials to simply use each act as a chance to parody a new show/series. While South Park’s Stephen King parodies spent twenty-minute episodes parodying the likes of The Shining and The Children of the Corn, devoting entire outings to each spoof, the narrative efficiency of The Simpsons means that the show can spoof vampire stories, The Twilight Zone, and the classic Faust in the same classic special. However, season 33’s Halloween special saw The Simpsons get even more ambitious, with mixed results.
Why Later Simpsons Seasons Changed This Setup
In 2013, “Treehouse of Horror XXIV” (season 25, episode 2) had an excuse to add an extra segment to the show’s Halloween special since legendary helmer Guillermo del Toro directed the extended opening credits. This credits sequence functioned as a sort of shorter fourth segment, showcasing del Toro’s vision while also short-changing the rest of the episode’s stories (the Dr. Seuss parody proved particularly weak). Later, the Stranger Things-spoofing “Treehouse of Horror XXX” (season 31 episode 4) had a similarly ambitious opening segment that effectively served as a parody of The Omen, which also left the rest of the episode’s segments feeling a little more rushed despite working well as a standalone spoof. In both cases, these structures allowed The Simpsons to add in another separate story as well as the main three segments of the Halloween special, something that season 33 took to a new extreme.
What Made The Simpsons Season 33’s Halloween Special Different
The Simpsons season 33’s Halloween special was the first to feature five segments (rather than three and one extra short), thus reshaping the structure of the episode entirely. None of the episode’s parodies were as long as they usually are, with The Simpsons jumping from one story to another with wild abandon. However, much like The Simpsons season 33’s ill-timed Bridgerton parody was too shallow to work well, a lot of these spoofs needed more room to breathe. With parodies of everything from Parasite to The Ring to the work of Edward Gorey, there was no faulting the episode for ambition, but ambition isn’t everything when parodies also thrive based on their accuracy and effective recreation of the original work.
Did The Five-Segment Treehouse of Horror Work?
The five-segment structure of “Treehouse of Horror XXXII” worked in places, and made it the most impressively ambitious Simpsons Halloween special in some time. However, when the episode failed it was in large part exacerbated by this approach, with the opening scene’s brief Bambi parody feeling particularly pointless. Spoofing classic Disney movies may not be the most traditional topic for a Halloween special, but it could have worked, particularly when many Simpsons jokes about Disney’s ownership of the show fail to land. However, the segment ended before the parody even started in earnest, resulting in a glorified credits sequence that added little to the episode as a whole and detracted from the shorter later stories. The episode had an anarchic tone thanks to the sheer amount of material, but the spoofs weren’t particularly strong, and this wasn’t helped by their very brief runtimes.
Should The Simpsons Return To Treehouse of Horror’s Halloween Traditions?
As the above synopsis implies, the main issue with “Treehouse of Horror XXXII” was not necessarily the show’s new structure. The brevity of the Bambi parody left it feeling superfluous, but the same brevity made a later Edward Gorey spoof perfect. The issue was less with the style of The Simpsons episode’s storytelling and more with its subject. Returning to the ‘Treehouse of Horror’ special’s roots and focusing the show’s parodies on episodes of anthology horror shows and classic horror movies would give The Simpsons the focus that the episode lacked, and could allow the show to split the annual specials into as many segments as the writers wanted. What made early Halloween specials soar wasn’t the number of topics that the show parodied, but the clear love that the creators had for the works they were spoofing. Early ‘Treehouse of Horror’ specials proved that The Simpsons could make great horror parodies, and the issues with their most recent attempt at this stem from the unfocused voice of subject matter for the episode, not the unusual structure that season 33 attempted.