OTH- The Simpsons- "Treehouse of Horror"/ "Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes in Every Fish"
A milestone and a classic.
Season 2, Episode 3
Aired October 25, 1990
Directed by Wes Archer
Written by John Swartzwelder
Jay Kogen and Wallace Wollodarsky
Edgar Allen Poe, adapted by Sam Simon
A new tradition obtained! Treehouse of Horror has become a yearly favorite for Simpsons fans, one that even those who gave up on the show years ago come back for. And why not? These segments are noted for their excessive violence, disinterest in continuity, and for pointed pop culture satire that fits perfectly for the season.
So watching the very first special after years of coming back to some of the later, most iconic ones does make “Treehouse of Horror” feel a little more quaint by comparison. Not bad at all, mind you, but it’s definitely less violent and fantastical than later episodes. There’s basically no blood, in fact. Your average Itchy and Scratchy segment has more blood!
If nothing else, all three segments are at least pretty damn good. There’s a clear winner here, but I have fun with each of these.
“Bad Dream House” is my least favorite of the three, but I’m personally also hit or miss on haunted house stories (Amityville Horror and Poltergeist? Meh. But I’ll gladly take The Shining or The Haunting). John Swartzwelder has some fun with the family’s reaction, primarily by making Marge’s increasingly characteristically angry side showing up. But the haunted house elements don’t land well enough to truly make an impact, enough that it doesn’t really land. But it is funny enough, with Harry Shearer does a good job of voicing the house.
“Hungry are the Damned” works a little better, taking from The Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man” and mixing in its own alien thing. There’s a good twist to this, and while the commentary makes fun of the decision to make the aliens NOT be human-hungry creatures, I do think it’s somewhat clever. It’s also fun to see Lisa be a killjoy. This isn’t a trait she has as locked down yet, so it’s a welcome addition for this week, and a good contrast for the family. To be fair, her instinct isn’t wrong, but as we’re seeing, logic isn’t all that valid in these stories.
But my favorite is “The Raven”. It’s funny, Matt Groening was worried that adapting Poe’s story would come off as pretentious, but what gives it life is a winning combination of notable music, memorable animation, and terrific voice acting, primarily from Dan Castellaneta and this week’s guest. This is definitely an adaptation that could have fallen on its ass, but ends up hitting all of the right notes.
That’s a quick snippet of my thoughts for the segments. I think that the wraparounds are sharp, as we see where the Treehouse in the title comes from. Letting Bart and Lisa trade stories with Maggie is a nice little way to keep the story connected, and allows for a couple of entertaining moments between them. Along with nice bookends with Homer and Marge for the episode.
I feel like there isn’t too much to report in this week’s episode, but it is noteworthy for a couple of things besides its yearly tradition. For one, this is the first episode scored by Alf Clausen, a legend who contributed music up until a few years ago, and he does a good job of adding a score that’s equally chilly and bouncy.
But it’s also notable for having James Earl Jones feature in each segment. His narration in “The Raven” is the most iconic performance by far, but his alien in the middle segment allows for him to have some fun as an alien, even putting cookies in his mouth for extra blubber. The mover also has a good line or two, sure. Darth Vader and Mufasa who?
This is a good early experiment, one that will hopefully build into something magnificent. Like I know this show is capable of.
But if there’s any episode I want to hear about from my readers, it’s this one! If you were a Simpsons fan from go, how did seeing the show take such a deviation work out for you? If you caught up with the show later on, how does this stack against other Treehouse specials? And how would you rank the segments?
Season 2, Episode 4
Aired November 1, 1990
Directed by Wes Archer
Written by John Swartzwelder
So this is eerie to watch in a post-Trump world, isn’t it?
Ideally, I don’t want to talk about politics too often in this series, primarily modern politics. But I have to say, I don’t side with the notion that The Simpsons predicts everything. The fact is, the series is over 30 years old now, and we haven’t progressed all that much since. I haven’t seen this particular episode singled out, but the thing to consider is that there has been a precedent for the wealthy to run for office with little political experience well before 45. This is also partly a parody of Citizen Kane, after all.
Granted, if this scenario happened to Trump, it would arguably only strengthen his base rather than lose it as we’ve seen with Burns, but that’s enough about modern politics.
Still, before I move on to the episode, it is worth noting that the staff of the series at the time of this episode’s production considered the series to be more of a liberal bent, aside from co-writer Swartzwelder, who identifies as libertarian. That makes for an interesting balance, as this is indeed an interesting episode.
This is arguably the first Simpsons episode to not focus primarily on the family. Homer and Marge have their important moments, but this is really about one man’s greed and his refusal to pay to fix the 342 safety violations he’s responsible for.
We’ve already spent some time with Mr. Burns at this point, and can infer that he’s a bad man. This episode really doubles down on that, not giving Burns any shot at redemption or an explanation towards his cold heart. Here, Burns is simply an old miser with too much money, too much power, and no remorse. A perfect villain, and one who makes his case to run surprisingly effective.
Homer and Marge make for good contrasts here for a change. Granted, they probably aren’t too far apart otherwise, but their obligations are being kept separate for obvious reasons. Homer is all but compelled to vote for his boss, in his need to keep bread on the table, while Marge can see through his act a mile away and refuses to play. I admire her, but understand Homer’s cause.
Marge particularly wins the episode for me, with her scheme to remove the emperor’s clothes is legendary. I especially love that all she needed was one line from Homer to come up with her plan, and uses Blinky to her advantage. This is the Marge who we need to see more of.
If I have one complaint about the episode, I wish that we could see more of Governor Bailey. Marge consistently champions her, but we don’t really get to see much of her one way or the other. She only gets one line, and even Burns’ smear campaign can’t top someone who felt her up in high school. It would have been ideal to see more of her and understand how Burns needed to equal or surpass her.
Still, I can’t complain when the episode is as clever as it is. This is one of the densest episodes for gags yet, and it’s also a pretty effective political satire, even if some elements have aged better than others. The tank gag loses its meaning now for instance, but Burns bringing Charles Darwin into his commercial will always hold up.
”Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish” was meant to be the season 2 premiere, but was pushed back for “Bart Gets an ‘F’” due to the title character’s stature at that point. That was ultimately the right move, but either way, the season would have started strong. The writing is increasingly getting sharper, and the characters, down to the supporting cast, are becoming more defined. This isn’t the best The Simpsons has to offer yet, but we’re getting closer.
I’m sorry that my “Treehouse of Horror” thoughts were briefer than ususal, but I’ve been having less free time than usual. I was also considering a particular format for this series of episodes, and we’ll see if I live up to that next time or not.
No chalkboard or couch gags for Treehouse, but “I will not Xerox my butt” and the family folding their couch are pretty good.
Dan Castellaneta’s Walter Matthau impersonation is slowly but surely being cleansed out of Homer, as his performance is getting closer to the higher take we know and love. It’s especially interesting to see him come and go out of it during “The Raven”.
Homer dumping an entire can of lighter fluid into his grill is an understated bit of gold.
“For superior beings, they sure rub it in.”
Heh, it’s funny to hear Friday the 13th part 1 be considered tame by the standards of 1990. It was only a decade out at that point. And frankly, it was never that good.
“Well this is my day, and we do, sir.”
It looks like conservative critics of the series take Bart’s half-assed prayer as an example of the show being sacrilegious. I think this is funny on multiple levels. Not only is this joke meant to be a crack on Bart’s apathy, but after Lisa’s speech considering God’s power a couple of episodes ago, I think the series is a little more theologically open than they give it credit for.
“This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes has cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail. That's democracy for you.” Yep.
Two out of three of Homer’s dreams can’t be taken away from one man, but Mr. Burns could indeed make Homer not sleep in until noon. Leave the power plant, dude!
New Character Column- Of course we’re introduced to Kang and Kodos, a Treehouse of Horror tradition. We also meet Serak the Preparer for the first and only time this week along with the two. We also meet ace reporter Dave Shutton and governor Mary Bailey, neither of which become characters of much significance.