Halloween: when spirits walk the land, the powers of darkness strengthen, and the damned souls tuning in to the newest season of The Simpsons vainly search for any rationale for its continued existence. A lot of ink’s been spilled over the decline of America’s premiere mustard-colored family. But for all that can be said of The Simpsons’ later years, its ongoing “Treehouse of Horror” series remains a staple of American Halloween TV (and its immediate November hangover). For over 30 years, these holiday specials have put the Simpsons and their neighbors through everything even tangentially related to the horror genre, from movie parodies to alternate realities, genuine frights to gross-out weirdness. There have been years where the “Treehouse” is the highlight of the season – and in other years, not so much – but it’s always a standout in some way. Here, we’ve ranked every “Treehouse” of Samhain Past, including the latest “Treehouse XXXIV.”
- Release Date
- December 17, 1989
- Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer
- Main Genre
34 “Treehouse XXII”
Season 23, Episode 3
The worst of the “Treehouses” tend to share the same sins: minimal connection to the Halloween season, lazy “parodies” that go for the lowest-hanging fruit, indulging the most cynical and mean-spirited interpretation of the characters, and a lack of thrills or laughs. “Treehouse XXII” is guilty of all of these. It holds probably the worst individual segment, “The Diving Bell and the Butterball,” essentially one long fart joke. “Dial D for Diddly” leans heavily into the “Jerkass Homer” characterization. And “In the Na’vi” is about as generic an Avatar spoof as you can find, with gags that were tired within a few months of Avatar’s release. Even the opening, which can usually be counted on for some fun, goes for the most obvious jokes. This is an easy “Treehouse” to skip.
33 “Treehouse XXIII”
Season 24, Episode 2
There isn’t much daylight (or moonlight) between the bottom entries on this list. “Treehouse XXIII” has almost all the same problems as its immediate predecessor. “The Greatest Story Ever Holed” is one gag stretched across an entire segment. “Un-normal Activity” goes for the easiest riffs on Paranormal Activity, but deserves credit for spoofing a horror movie. The same can’t be said for “Bart and Homer’s Excellent Adventure.” Besides having nothing to do with Halloween, this time travel story plays the father-son relationship between Homer and Bart at its nastiest setting possible. One could argue a “Treehouse” episode is the place to do that, but The Simpsons had long fallen into the trap of making its stars be horrible to each other on a regular basis by the time this episode aired, so this is sadly not anything new.
32 “Treehouse XXXII”
Season 33, Episode 3
Who thought a Bambi parody was a good fit for Halloween? This “Treehouse” was hyped as having five segments instead of the usual three, but the opening parody and a stylized interlude with Maurice LaMarche as Vincent Price are so short that they come off as padding tossed in to get the episode to 22 minutes. There are still three fully-developed segments, all of them duds. There’s a Parasite spoof that serves as a framework for lazy class warfare jokes, a potentially fine tale of walking trees that doesn’t know where to go, and yet another “Lisa finally gets a friend” story. The “Poetic Interlude” with LaMarche is the best part of this Treehouse, most of that value coming from the homage to Edward Gorey in the design.
31 “Treehouse XXXIV”
Season 35, Episode 5
There’s a sense that the creative team was gasping for air with this year’s “Treehouse XXXIV,” and not because there was no space this time for a proper couch gag, or that the last segment revolves around Homer’s burps contaminating humanity. That entry, “Lout Break,” relies almost entirely on gags and Jerkass Homer indulgences that have been used more successfully in earlier Halloween specials. The first segment, destined to date badly, is an aggressively of-the-moment sneer at NFTs so boilerplate that it barely matters that the Simpsons are even in it. But there is some charm to the middle entry “Ei8ht,” a loose mash-up of Se7en, Silence of the Lambs, and the chestnuts of the crime thriller genre. It’s more clever than funny, but it does have a good montage gag and a lot of shock humor in how bloody it gets. It also makes some fun choices in casting (Nelson and the bullies as good cops all grown up) and pulls off a nice twist.
30 “Treehouse XXVI”
Season 27, Episode 5
Some of the lesser “Treehouses” are sadder than they are unpleasant because they contain great ideas that end up poorly executed. Sideshow Bob finally killing Bart is one such concept, but “Wanted: Dead, Then Alive” doesn’t seem to know what to do with it except have Bob do the deed again and again. “Homerzilla” could have been a fantastic spoof, but it ends up another movie parody that plays things safe and toothless. Never having seen Chronicle, I couldn’t tell you if “Telepaths of Glory” is similarly uninspired, but taken on its own merits, it’s a shapeless segment that happens to have a cute ending of Maggie messing with reality. This episode does have a wonderful opening tune with wacky animation by since-disgraced cartoonist John Kricfalusi.
29 “Treehouse XXXI”
Season 32, Episode 4
This Treehouse sets the tone early with an Election 2020 opening that, while accurate to that hell of a year, goes for every obvious (and unfunny) joke you’d expect latter-day Simpsons to go for. The gags in Pixar parody “Toy Gory” don’t amount to much more than “isn’t Bart awful,” and the time loop of “Be Nine, Rewind” is as lazy as Comic Book Guy says it is in-show. But the middle segment, “Into the Homer-verse,” is almost a Hail Mary for the episode. It’s arguably a more creative spin on the “multiple Homers” idea of an earlier “Treehouse,” and it has fun with alternate versions of Mr. Burns and Smithers as well. Unfortunately, it’s also less funny than its predecessor. The references the various Homers represent are more clever than comedic, something the segment seems proud of. It’s a symptom that’s plagued The Simpsons for years in and out of the Halloween season. Nothing hurts cleverness like being a show-off about it.
28 “Treehouse XXXIII”
Season 34, Episode 6
Yes, the Death Note parody looked great. Sure, The Babadook parody had some honest chills in it. Fine, the Westworld parody demonstrated some self-awareness about The Simpsons being past their sell-by date. But all three have something in common: flashes of fun and creativity that only briefly break through competent but largely unremarkable efforts. The Babadook spoof is probably the best, being built around a character (Marge) who rarely gets to cut loose even in “Treehouse” episodes. The Westworld send-up is the weakest. Callback-heavy stories even outside the “Treehouse” season are more a sad reminder of what the show once was than a funny stroll down memory lane.
27 “Treehouse XXVII”
Season 28, Episode 4
This “Treehouse” might be the worst offender at being less a Halloween special than an excuse for random ideas that wouldn’t work in an average episode. The Hunger Games and Mad Max are a far cry from Halloween movie fare, but with that said, “Dry Hard” is one of the better parodies from the later “Treehouses.” The cheap shots are there, but mixing and matching dystopias helps to liven things up a bit. “MoeFinger,” a mash-up of James Bond and Kingsman, can’t pull off the same alchemy; The Simpsons did better by Bond with Hank Scorpio. Awkwardly sandwiched between these movie spoofs is “BFF R.I.P.” With its themes of grisly murder and imaginary figures coming to life, it’s at least tangential to the holiday season. More appropriate is the opening, where Sideshow Bob leads a team effort of death, vengeance, and Riverdance.
26 “Treehouse XI”
Season 12, Episode 1
This entry from the early middle years of The Simpsons has generally good reviews, but for my money, it was the first “Treehouse” where all three segments were underwhelming. “G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad” is a little too much Jerkass Homer for my liking. “Night of the Dolphin” is certainly a more creative movie parody than later seasons – but it is downright weird, to the point where the weirdness overpowers the comedy. In between is “Scary Tales Can Come True,” a fairy tale spoof that goes for a lot of easy jokes but also boasts some great visuals. There’s also a Munsters spoof in the opening which is funnier than the rest of the episode.
25 “Treehouse XXV”
Season 26, Episode 4
“A Clockwork Yellow,” the middle segment of “Treehouse XXV,” may take the prize for most movie references in a single segment. It’s also among the smuggest in lording its cleverness over characters and viewers alike, to the point where even Comic Book Guy admits he has no idea what piece of Stanely Kubrick’s oeuvre is being referenced. But a bit of cleverness may have done “The Others” some good. It’s another short that takes a great idea – the Simpsons meeting their Tracey Ullman Show ancestors – and spends most of it on autopilot, in this case by retreading tensions in Homer and Marge’s marriage that have become a regular go-to for the show. The opener “School is Hell” has the most fun, visually and narratively, with its premise of the underworld as an elementary school.
24 “Treehouse XIV”
Season 15, Episode 1
There’s a good collection of Halloween-appropriate ideas in “Treehouse XIV;” I wish they amounted to more. “Reaper Madness” turns Homer into Death, and he uses and abuses that power in all the ways you’d expect him to. Predictable as it is, it does have a few laughs, and it’s the strongest segment of the three. Casting Jerry Lewis as Professor Frink’s father is the sort of choice that can feel inspired or hokey, depending on who’s watching; either way, “Frinkenstein” is another “Treehouse” segment that goes too weird for its own good. As for the finale, it’s basically Bart and Milhouse playing pranks.
23 “Treehouse XXX”
Season 31, Episode 4
“Someone hasn’t seen Season 3,” Comic Book Guy says of Stranger Things in the first segment of this “Treehouse.” I haven’t seen any seasons, so for all I know, this is a clever and insightful spoof. It’s certainly a well-designed cartoon. But it isn’t all that well-paced or all that funny. Next up is “Heaven Swipes Right,” in the “what the hell does this have to do with Halloween” category. But “When Hairy Met Slimy,” a parody of The Shape of Water, raises the whole episode and pulls off a twist or two. The more obvious approach would have been to put Marge in Sally Hawkins’ place with Homer as the creature, but instead, we get Selma’s romance with Kang the Conqueror, an Avengers gag, and a nice way to get Patty and Kodos in on the fun.
22 “Treehouse XVIII”
Season 19, Episode 5
This one is another star-turn for Kang and Kodos. “E.T., Go Home” has fun with how blatantly evil Kodos is in the E.T. role, and how oblivious everyone is about it. It also goes plain silly throughout, from Homer’s ridiculous Southern accent to the funny faces of the Rigellians. Unfortunately, that promising start gives way to an uninspired Mr. and Mrs. Smith parody and a lackluster finale, “Heck House.” Casting Springfield citizens as the Seven Deadly Sins is fine in theory until the gags go predictable, and the overriding premise of the segment doesn’t amount to much more than Flanders being ultra-religious and reactionary.
21 “Treehouse XXI”
Season 22, Episode 4
Some “Treehouse” segments seem like someone had one good gag that no one realized wasn’t enough to sustain a short. “War and Pieces” is like that. Its spoofs of various board games are fun enough, but the connective tissue between them is threadbare. “Master and Cadaver” owes its one big laugh to the twist on whose fantasy it is; before that, it’s just Homer and Marge meandering through a Dead Calm parody. As for “Tweenlight,” the bites taken out of Twilight are rather tepid considering how rife for parody the source material is, and the character design of Daniel Radcliffe’s Edmund is among the worst celebrity renderings the series has seen. On the other hand, “Tweenlight” has Dracula playing jazz while Homer and Santa’s Little Helper dance, and that’s adorable.
20 “Treehouse VII”
Season 8, Episode 1
Coming from a season that is (sometimes) counted as part of The Simpsons’ “golden age,” this “Treehouse” has its fans, but I can’t see much to recommend. “The Thing and I,” with its “evil” twin lurking in the attic, starts as a good parody of an old stock character but ends up an excuse to put Bart in a bad light. The same is arguably true of “The Genesis Tub,” though here Bart stays at the level of bratty brother in Lisa’s funny Twilight Zone spoof. The greatest claim to fame this “Treehouse” has comes from final segment “Citizen Kang:” Homer’s final line, “Don’t blame me. I voted for Kodos.” It’s one of many Simpsons lines that spread like wildfire through the Internet. But with how American politics have evolved since 1996, this satire’s cynical insinuation about the parties being interchangeable hasn’t aged well at all.
19 “Treehouse XXVIII”
Season 29, Episode 4
This “Treehouse” shows just how much comedy can do to salvage an otherwise weak episode. Both movie parodies on offer here are duds. “The Exor-Sis” coasts on cheap shots and low-hanging fruit all the way through (though props are due Dan Castellaneta for a haunting rendition of “Pazuzu’s Lullaby”). “Coralisa,” ostensibly a Coraline parody starring Lisa, derails into a story about Homer’s dumb luck in life (though props are due again, this time to Neil Gaiman’s guest appearance as Snowball). What saves this “Treehouse” is “MMM…Homer.” The premise of Homer gorging on himself is ridiculous, and it leans heavily into the gluttonous side of his character. But it’s played in such a lighthearted manner for such a gruesome concept that it seems all the funnier, especially with two great uses of music and an unexpected finale.
18 “Treehouse XIX”
Season 20, Episode 4
If comedy alone can lift an otherwise weak “Treehouse,” comedy plus charm and a strong Halloween connection can lift it even higher, though “Treehouse XIX” takes its time getting there. A dated political opening leads into a dull Transformers parody set at Christmas. “How to Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising” is one of The Simpsons’ many indulgences in celebrity cameos, and its premise is thin, but hearing the voice cast do their best impressions is a fun listen that starts to right the ship. And “It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse” puts it on a firm course. From the background styling to reenactments of choice line readings from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, this is one spoof that knows how to go for the big targets without feeling cheap. And in the vengeful and shockingly prejudiced Grand Pumpkin, it boasts a character that throws the segment in a new, and hilarious, direction.
17 “Treehouse XVI”
Season 17, Episode 4
Depending on how relevant you feel monster-free sci-fi is to Halloween, this “Treehouse” has either one or two appropriate parodies on either side of a random spoof of The Most Dangerous Game. Yet that middle segment may be the funniest of the three. Its lead-in, “B.I. Bartificial Intelligence,” goes ugly with Homer and Bart’s relationship in an otherwise decently structured and occasionally fun spoof. “I’ve Grown a Costume on Your Face” is more firmly rooted in the Halloween season, has a great kick-off, and has a good mix of gags built around the cast trapped as their costumes.
16 “Treehouse XVII”
Season 18, Episode 4
This “Treehouse” has three unambiguously holiday-appropriate parodies, and the back two are a lot of fun. Hopefully, you can get through “Married to the Blob” first, which avoids the most straightforward take on its namesake but can’t muster up much more than gross-out humor. Once that’s over with, “You Gotta Know When to Golem” pulls a character from an Expressionist silent film classic into Springfield, gives him Richard Lewis’s voice, and turns him loose. “The Day the Earth Looked Stupid” is a slight step down; of the three, it’s the one most guilty of picking low-hanging fruit to joke with. But Maurice LaMarche’s Orson Welles impression never disappoints, and it’s always nice when Kang and Kodos get more than a cameo.
15 “Treehouse XXIV”
Season 25, Episode 2
I think nearly all the harsh words said of The Simpsons in recent years are true, but every so often, the show can still muster some of the old magic. “Treehouse XXIV” features my favorite couch gag of the series (courtesy of guest director Guillermo del Toro and his insane number of horror movie riffs), and what’s even better, the couch gag isn’t the best thing in the episode. “Oh, the Places You’ll D’oh!” is just as loaded with background gags and Easter eggs, and it’s one of the best parodies in the entire series. “Freaks, No Geeks” doesn’t do quite as well at spoofing Tod Browning’s Freaks, but there are laughs to be had and visuals to enjoy. It’s a pity that, in between these delightful romps, sits “Dead and Shoulders,” a Bart vs. Lisa story that can’t find anything new or funny in their dynamic.