Top Ten Treehouse of Horror Segments
By David Mumpower
October 31, 2011

Homer lives out his lifelong dream.

10) Lisa's Nightmare aka Monkey’s Paw (Treehouse of Horror II)

One of the many aspects of The Simpsons that stole my heart in the early days was the show’s innate ability to bring stories full circle and even half a circle beyond. No complete episode better demonstrates this behavior than this segment, which begins with The Simpsons marveling at their fortune over a magical, wish providing Monkey’s Paw. How does the family spend three of their four wishes? The thoughtless requests are a pacifier, fortune/fame and a slightly dry turkey sandwich.

The clever twist is that the one unselfish request, the one obviously made by Lisa, at least temporarily enslaves humanity. Lisa’s benevolence backfiring has become a recurring theme in Treehouse of Horror episodes, but this is the one that is handled most capably. In requesting world peace, she breaks an unknown détente with everyone’s least favorite siblings from Rigel VII, allowing them to conquer Earth, even though their primary weapon is a giant slingshot. Why didn’t Bart think of that? We’ll never know.

The end result is that The Simpsons dispose of the Monkey’s Paw, thereby unintentionally allowing Flanders to liberate his fellow Springfieldians thanks in large part to boards with nails in them. And by the end of the segment, Homer has gone from completely ignorant of the Monkey’s Paw to a victim of buyer’s remorse for said object to a jealous witness of Flanders’ exponentially better usage of the Monkey’s Paw. Out of all the Twilight Zone parodies, this is the satire that is purest. As an aside, I love the idea that one day in the future when a Simpsons Movie sequel is made, Hank Scorpio’s master plan is revealed…and he has created a Board with a Nail in It so big it will destroy us all.

9) The Devil and Homer Simpson (Treehouse of Horror IV)

What always makes me come back to this episode is the sublime decision to out Flanders as the Devil. As he says, it is always the one we least expect and that premise alone leads to a lot of great jokes. There are several throwaway gags such as “Hot pen!” and “I don’t understand. James Coco went mad in 15 minutes”, but my favorite is the random insertion of the Broad Street Bullies, the 1976 Philadelphia Flyers, as members of the jury. The fact that there is no rhyme or reason to it makes the choice all the funnier. This is the most romantic of the Treehouse of Horror episodes, which on its own is enough to set the episode apart, and I always love the episodes where Homer demonstrates enough romance to explain why Marge stays with him despite his innumerable character flaws.

8) The Shinning (Treehouse of Horror V)

For a couple of years, I had my computer’s startup sound file as “GO CRAZY? DON’T MIND IF I DO!!!” I liked the fact that every reboot put a smile on my face in this regard thanks to the perfect enunciation of Dan Castellaneta. I have complete confidence that there is universal consent among the people reading this that The Shinning is clearly one of the ten best segments of Treehouse of Horror. The question would be why I have it so low. The realistic answer is that I have been able to quote every line of its dialogue since 1994, making it feel a bit stale. There was a period of several years where this would have been my easy choice for first place, but it has become oversaturated in the interim. This probably makes your urge to kill rise, and I respect that.

7) The Homega Man (Treehouse of Horror VIII)

I had a difficult choice here in that another beloved segment, Dial Z for Zombies, is thematically similar enough that I could not justify putting both on the list. And that is a shame because both of them are near and dear to my zombie-loving heart. In the end, I used a tiebreaker, which is my favorite line for either episode. “"I stand by all my ethnic slurs.” I bust up at this one like few jokes in the show’s history. It’s such perfect dialogue for Mayor Quimby and the fact that an ineffectual politician in such a low level position as small town mayor could accidentally trigger a world war is hysterically over the top, just the right level of cartoonish. And my challenge to you, should you choose to accept it, is to work this line of dialogue into conversation this week, preferably at work. “Come on! We just wanna eat your skin!”

6) Time and Punishment (Treehouse of Horror V)

“Oh no. It’s raining again.” And with those words, Homer runs away from pastry fields of Elysium. Time and Punishment is a blueprint example of why The Simpsons is better served avoiding horror film clichés and instead exploring classic science fiction themes instead. Thanks to the magic of a time traveling toaster, quite possibly the one that has spent the past few years laughing at Homer, he is allowed to travel back to the time before dinosaurs were kept only at zoos. And while there, he makes some questionable decisions that lead to one of the greatest moments in the show’s history. Tired of tip-toeing around a series of lifeforms whose alteration could affect history, Homer goes another way with it…as only he can. “Stupid bug! You go squish now!” If you didn’t laugh at the thought of that, we cannot be friends. It’s the most priceless example of id Homer’s character has ever shown…that didn’t involve alcohol.

5) Desperately Xeeking Xena (Treehouse of Horror X)

“Xena needs Xex.”

What more do I need to say? If Lucy Lawless, the flying heroine who keeps telling people she is not Xena, isn’t enough for you, then you are asking for too much. Of course, this episode offers so much more, particularly a fantastic series of shivs at diehard Simpsons fans who ask too many questions about the show’s minutiae. Magic xylophones aside, the segment offers the single best villain in the history of Treehouse of Horror episodes (sorry, Witch dating George Cauldron). The Collector is the role Comic Book Guy was born to play, a virginal nerd who collects items as diverse as dual-edged light sabers and…Yasmine Bleeth. There isn’t a lot of logic to his compulsion, but my stars in heaven, it’s funny. By the time he ends his life in the Lorne Greene in Battlestar Galactica pose, I am almost ready to declare The Collector a worthy foe for Hank Scorpio…except for the fact that Scorpio pulled off Project Arcturus while The Collector is dumb enough to fall for the ol’ “Got your lips!” routine.

4) Starship Poopers (Treehouse of Horror IX)

Holy flerking schnit! It’s Jerry Springer!

Okay, I accept that I am in the minority on this one, but I remember all too well that special time in a child’s life when they lose their baby legs for the first time. And I love everything about this segment. The reveal about Maggie’s parentage is priceless, but the insemination is even better. Every bit of dialogue cracks me up huge:

“Congratulations. You have been selected for our cross-breeding program. To put you at ease, we have recreated the most common spawning locations of your species. You may choose either the back seat of a Camaro, an airplane bathroom, a friend's wedding,or the alley behind a porno theater.”

And just when I think I cannot laugh any harder, Marge expresses surprise about the *ahem* speed of the Initiate fertilization procedure. Finally, Springer enters the picture in his familiar role as the arbiter of all white trash pregnancy surprises, causing Homer and Kang to throw down like drunken NASCAR fans. It’s a glorious mess that spoofs absolutely nothing except Jerry Springer guests and yet it works magnificently.

3) Citizen Kang (Treehouse of Horror VII)

The best political send-up of our generation, Citizen Kang somehow manages to poke fun at both political parties before finally providing a gobsmack of truth about the madness of a two party system. The fact that voting for Kodos over Kang makes Homer feel superior to his wife speaks volumes about the nature of social debate in our country these days. Of course, in getting there, we experience the hilarity of Homer being dismissed as a drunken rumor monger. Then, we witness him as the potential saving grace of both major political candidates in the Presidential campaign. And Homer does about as well with this assignment as we would expect. Citizen Kang includes the deaths of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole and the enslavement of humanity attempted but later staved off in Lisa’s Nightmare. It is a true masterpiece of cynical K-Street comeuppances.

2) Clown Without Pity (Treehouse of Horror III)

In compiling my list, there were a couple of surprises along the way. As someone who fervently believes that The Simpsons is as good as ever these days (my favorite episode is from season 13 rather than one of the first eight as is the case with most of its fans), I fully expected a better showing from recent Treehouse of Horror episodes. In reality, I like several of them but the only ones that merited strong consideration for this list are season 22’s Tweenlight and season 11’s Night of the Dolphin. Everything else on my short list was from the first ten episodes.

The one thing I knew going in would be the order of my top three. Each of them is clearly established in my personal pecking order. Citizen Kang deserves a place at the top for its subtle malevolence. The title that is my favor wins that honor because it is the funniest. Second place goes to the one that is the most quotable. You know where I’m going with this. Everyone knows about THE quote from Treehouse of Horror. Forgetful father Homer has to make an emergency gift purchase and he makes a run of the mill boneheaded decision. His store of choice deals in “forbidden objects from places men fear to tread,” which sounds like the sort of business model that even Blockbuster and Borders executives see as flawed. Alas, Homer is too desperate to be discouraged by common sense, presuming he has any. And that leads to this exchange, arguably the best in the history of the show:

Owner: Take this object, but beware it carries a terrible curse!
Homer: Ooooh, that's bad.
Owner: But it comes with a free Frogurt!
Homer: That's good.
Owner: The Frogurt is also cursed.
Homer: That's bad.
Owner: But you get your choice of topping!
Homer: That's good.
Owner: The toppings contains Potassium Benzoate.
Homer: *blank stare*
Owner: That's bad.
Homer: Can I go now?

If comedy has a mecca, these words will be inscribed in concrete in the foundation. They have become seminal in the realm of pop culture, quoted so often that if Fox received a penny for each usage, they may finally give the voice actors of the show a share of the revenue. But they probably wouldn’t anyway.

Oddly enough, as much as I love the above, it is not the quote that I love the most from the episode. There is a moment in Clown Without Pity that had a hand in defining my sense of humor. That joke is, “Marge, the doll's trying to kill me and the toaster's been laughing at me!” It is the perfect prototype for demonstrating when not to leave well enough alone. People had believed Homer was off his rocker when he said the doll was out to get him but once it attacks him in front of his wife, she believes him. For most writers, that would be enough but people working for The Simpsons are expected to do more. And so that extra bit is added where Homer is feuding with not one but two inanimate objects. That is what makes it great. There is no joke I have quoted more in my life than “Marge, the doll’s trying to kill me and the toaster’s been laughing at me!” I view it as the perfect joke.

1) I Know What You Diddily-Iddily-Did (Treehouse of Horror X)

This is probably not the segment you expected any of us to select as our favorite. I understand and accept this, but it is far and away the overall funniest few minutes Treehouse of Horror has yet produced. Unlike almost everything else in my top ten, this is a spoof of an actual horror film, a bunch of them, really. Back in the 1990s, when we were all so young and impressionable, there was a brief two year period where we were led to believe that Jennifer Love-Hewitt could be a movie star. In the aftermath of Scream, teen horror was back in after an unusually long period of unpopularity. Only two years and two weeks after the release of I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Simpsons lampooned it with another clever usage of Springfield’s man of God, Ned Flanders. Apparently on sabbatical from his job as ruler of Hell, Flanders was speed walking his way through the night when Marge Simpson ran him over. As Bart pointed out, nobody would believe that a Simpson accidentally killed a Flanders…even he had his doubts.

From that moment on, The Simpsons embarked upon a cover-up. This attempt at subterfuge went about as well as one would expect. First, they pretended to be happy at the funeral because appearing otherwise would seem suspicious. Then, Homer eulogized his friend (?) Ned with the following:

Homer: When I think about Ned, I can't help but remember the look on his face when Marge drove over…
Marge: Homer, shut up, shut up, shut up!
Homer: Oh, wait. What I'd like to say is, we're still looking for the real killers. Anyway in conclusion, a man cannot be forced to testify against his wife. *winks to his family*
Marge: Stop winking!

I am laughing as I transcribe it. The whole thing is so marvelously over the top and hilarious. And the next scene is every bit as funny as Homer embarks upon an attempt to make Ned’s death look like a suicide. What becomes clear is that Homer simply isn’t that competent in any number of ways. But the real payoff doesn’t come until the end of the segment. At that point, we realize that Marge’s hit-and-run accident was a kill or be killed scenario, even if she hadn’t realized it.

While other segments are much more established and more pervasive in the zeitgeist, I watch The Simpsons to laugh. No Treehouse of Horror segment makes me laugher harder than I Know What You Diddily-Iddily-Did. And I leave you with one final quote from it:

“Okay, Marge, you hide in the abandoned amusement park; Lisa, the pet cemetery; Bart, spooky roller disco; And I'll go skinny-dipping in that lake where the sexy teens were killed a hundred years ago tonight.”