Every year, when Halloween rolls around (or sometimes over Christmas depending on when that year’s season starts) The Simpsons’ writers get a chance to flex their creative muscles a bit more than usual. As much as the show slowly gets wilder & wilder each year, it does its best to stick to the universal laws that govern the real world. However, for one episode every year, those rules are thrown out of the window, and the writers go wild with crazy stories that are at least tangentially related to Halloween (sometimes).
We’ll cover some of the brilliance this has given us later on this month, but tonight, we look at the crap. As with any creative endeavour, there are bound to be missed, especially over the course of over 30 years. So today, we’re running down the 10 worst ever episodes of The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror series.
NOTE: I haven’t yet seen Treehouse of Horror 30, as while it has aired in the UK already, it’s not available on-demand, so I won’t be including it in this ranking.
10 – Treehouse of Horror XV
Original Airdate: 7th November 2004
Segments: The Ned Zone; Four Beheadings and a Funeral; In the Belly of the Boss
This is one of the episodes that falls into the “just fine” category. It’s nothing exceedingly terrible, but I’m never going to go out of my way to watch it, or even really remember it.
The first, best, and most memorable segment – The Ned Zone – is a fun concept that I don’t think the writers got as much out of as they could have. Flanders is always a fun character to play around with in a horror setting, as his uptight nature allows for plenty of more risque jokes at his expense. The highlight of it is undoubtedly the Homer/Ned interactions which carry a large chunk of the segment. However, it’s far from their best work.
Four Beheadings and a Funeral is easily the most forgettable of the three. It’s a story set in Victorian England that assumes it can just pull elements from all sorts of different stories set in that era and just get away with it. It’s technically a parody of 1990s graphic novel From Hell, but it takes most of its jokes and tropes from Sherlock Holmes. You then pile on a title stolen from a romance film that has nothing to do with anything, and it creates a bit of a mess. No-one even dies via beheading in it.
In the Belly of the Boss is incredibly dull. It’s a parody that has already been done so much better by Futurama. All of the jokes are basic, and not all that amusing. It’s a kind of story that needs some tension to properly work, but this is a Treehouse of Horror episode, we’re all fully aware that there are no stakes during this. Not to mention, the ending doesn’t land at all. I get the gruesome imagery they were going for, but it just feels a bit uncomfortable to look at. It’s not even slightly funny.
It comes out as an episode that’s an ok watch if it happens to come on the TV late one night, but there’s absolutely no reason to seek it out.
9 – Treehouse of Horror X
Original Airdate: 31st October 1999
Segments: I Know What You Diddily-Iddly Did; Desperately Xeeking Xena; Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die
The earliest episode on this list (and one of only two to actually air on Halloween), this episode was more of a precursor to the steep dive some of these episodes would end up taking.
I Know What You Diddily-Iddly Did is a pretty funny segment with a terrible ending. Most of the jokes got a good laugh out of me, and the plot moves at just the right pace to make things feel meaningful. I can easily imagine a modern version of this episode where they spend almost the entire thing on the ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ stuff and throw away all the other opportunities. The ending with Flanders becoming a Werewolf is pretty dumb though. Partly because it’s completely out of nowhere for the plot, but also because I really hate the way Werewolf-Flanders was drawn. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it just looks wrong.
Desperately Xeeking Xena is definitely the weakest of the three segments. There are some funny jokes at the start surrounding nerd culture and the shows they like (and yes, I’m well aware of the irony here), but once it gets going, there’s not a lot to love. For one thing, Bart & Lisa are entirely irrelevant to the plot. Everything important that happened would’ve happened with or without them. It seems like such a waste to take the concept of those two going on superpowered adventures just so you can give your celebrity guest some more lines. Most of the superhero jokes this segment made were already played out, even by 1999, which leads to a segment that just isn’t very funny.
Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die is pretty much the definition of ‘alright’. Doing a segment on the 2K virus was a good call, and weirdly on-time for The Simpsons. It has a handful of good jokes but definitely doesn’t get as much out of the concept as it could’ve. Between the pop-culture references at the start and all of the plot stuff at the end, we don’t get much of technology going crazy, which is where I felt all the funniest stuff was. I know that you don’t want to go to the same well too many times, but surely there was more ground to cover there?
8 – Treehouse of Horror XI
Original Airdate: 1st November 2000
Segments: G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad; Scary Tales Can Come True; Night of the Dolphin
G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad is the saving grace of this episode, and I’d honestly say it’s worth seeking this one out on its own. Its brisk pace keeps the jokes coming thick and fast, with the writers knowing just the right amount to get out of each subject. Highlights include the ways in which Homer almost dies, the way in which he actually dies, and the segment’s portrayal of Saint Peter.
Sadly, I can’t be as complimentary of the other two segments. The first of which is Scary Tales Can Come True, which is just an awful title. The ‘get in, get out’ pace was a good idea, and it would’ve worked if the jokes were anything worthwhile. Unfortunately, it’s the most basic humour you could possibly think of to mock any of the ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales‘ stories. Hey, what if the three bears behaved like real bears? Wouldn’t it be excruciating for a full-grown man to use your hair as a rope? What if the troll under the bridge just wanted to make friends? Why aren’t you laughing? The jokes aren’t creative, and the plot is a threadbare excuse to fit in way too many parodies.
Night of the Dolphin isn’t much better either. This is technically a parody of a film where Dolphins are trained to kill the president (don’t ask), but you won’t actually find any jokes in here to do with that. Instead, the writers did their own thing with it. This sounds like a good thing, but honestly, a parody of dolphins being trained into assassins probably would’ve been funnier than what we got. Instead, the joke is just dolphins killing people in generic and uninteresting ways. The joke where Homer pulls a big speech to get people to fight back, only to be instantly shut down by the horde of dolphins staring at them in silence is utterly hilarious, but that’s the only good joke in the whole thing.
7 – Treehouse of Horror XVIII
Original Airdate: 4th November 2007
Segments: E.T. Go Home; Mr & Mrs Simpson; Heck House
An E.T parody that’s at least a decade too late, this show’s first segment seems desperate to explain all of its jokes to you before it makes them. It feels terrified that no-one watching is going to have seen or remembered anything about E.T, so they make a point of having the characters more or less directly point out when they’re parodying famous scenes from the movie. The joke that none of The Simpsons realises that Kodos’ plan is obviously evil gets overplayed, and then no-one even pretends to care when it gets put into effect. I find it so strange that, despite all being roughly the same length, some segments feel so rushed, while others feel lengthy and deep.
Mr & Mrs Simpson is actually a pretty good segment. The gimmick wears itself out almost immediately, and I don’t care for the big fight scene, but almost all of the banter between Marge & Homer got me laughing. The final ‘they have sex’ joke was quite an obvious and unexciting punchline, but everything else was pretty enjoyable to watch.
Heck House is bland and forgettable. The first half is spent setting up the kid’s downfall, but it’s not funny in the slightest. They just got an upbeat track and had the kids destroy stuff while Lisa shakes her head. There aren’t even any jokes in it, at least not funny ones. It goes hard on the horrific imagery for the next part, but it’s not even slightly entertaining. I don’t get much out of that stuff at the best of times, but this isn’t even a good version of it. Then it wraps thing up on a ‘FOX is bad’ joke, which had been overplayed for about a decade by the time this episode aired.
Maybe watch the middle segment if it sounds like your thing, but the other two are definitely not worth your time.
6 – Treehouse of Horror XVII
Original Airdate: 5th November 2006
Segments: Married to the Blob; You Gotta Know When to Golem; The Day the Earth Looked Stupid
This is an otherwise fine episode pulled into the mud by one awful segment.
Married to the Blob absolutely terrible. There are barely even any jokes in it, it just makes one joke over and over. That joke being ‘Homer eats someone’, and it’s not even funny. Eating the random space blob is a very ‘Homer’ thing to do, and that’s about the only funny thing in the whole segment. Call me a prude, but I don’t see how Homer eating every resident in Springfield is in any way fun to watch. They throw in the world’s most basic Dr Phil cameo, and then end the whole thing on another ‘Homer eats someone’ gag, only now it’s institutionalised. Way to make the hard-hitting political satire there.
You Gotta Know When to Golem is alright, but a lot of the jokes go right over my head. This is probably one of the segments with the strongest sense of plot, but that actually turns out to be more of a negative when it takes precedent over the jokes. Ultimately, this is one that I just forget about, and am mildly entertained by when it comes on.
The Day the Earth Looked Stupid is a good segment, and it’s a shame I have to lump it into this list. However, this should go to show just how much I hate Married to the Blob. There’s a lot of good jokes in this one, it nails the tone of a 1920s Springfield, and I can totally believe that town is dumb enough to believe a radio hoax. The only thing that I didn’t like was the ending, which I think was supposed to be a dig at the Iraq war, but it was so out-of-nowhere that I honestly can’t be sure.
5 – Treehouse of Horror XVI
Original Airdate: 6th November 2005
Segments: B.I.Bartificial Intelligence; Survival of the Fattest; I’ve Grown a Costume On Your Face
B.I. Bartifical Intelligence is an interesting one. This is one of the longer segments, at just under 10 minutes, so there’s a much broader scope when it comes to the plot. Events actually feel like they have time to breathe, and there’s more room for the writers to get out the jokes that they want. So it’s a shame that very few of those jokes land. A couple of the one-liners are pretty funny, but most of it is ground that other comedies have covered better before and since. Then, to end it, it hits us with an “all a dream” ending and the world’s laziest Exorcist parody.
Survival of the Fattest isn’t much better. The downside of the first segment getting 10 minutes becomes clear throughout the next two, as the whole thing feels extraordinarily rushed. There’s very little in the way of interesting jokes here. The whole thing is just a murder followed by a quip. Maybe it would’ve worked if the jokes were funnier, but it’s all just some basic jokes based on things we’ve known about the characters for years. It’s not terrible, but you won’t get much out of watching it more than once.
I’ve Grown a Costume On Your Face barely feels like it should even count as a segment. The shortened length becomes a problem here, as nothing gets a chance to breathe. The whole thing is crammed to the brim with mediocre jokes about various Halloween costume. We don’t get a chance to take anything in because the segment is so desperate to rush us to the finish, we only get about 90 seconds to enjoy the humour of everyone having turned into their costumes before the episode hands us the solution. The ending is just awful too. If it was meant as a joke, then it doesn’t land, but if it was meant to be serious, then it’s even worse.
I still wouldn’t go quite so far as to say this episode is a properly terrible one yet, but we’re definitely getting there.
4 – Treehouse of Horror XXIII
Original Airdate: 7th November 2012
Segments: The Greatest Story Ever Holed; Unnormal Activity; Bart & Homer’s Excellent Adventure
The Greatest Story Ever Holed is just desperate to explain all of its jokes to you. Thankfully, it’s relatively light on the pop-culture references, but it goes for the base-level humour where the writers don’t seem to have to confidence that the audiences will get their jokes. Instead of letting Homer wrap his long fingers around Bart’s neck and leave it as a visual gag, they have to have Homer exclaim that he’s nature’s choking machine. It’s an extra joke which is a very thinly veiled attempt at explaining the visual gag we just witnessed. It’s the kind of trope that I despise shows like The Big Bang Theory for, and it feels like the writers just didn’t have confidence in their jokes.
Unnormal Activity is definitely the best segment of this episode, but it’s still not great. The opening is quite funny, and Homer generally fooling around while trying to record everything going on was a good series of gags, but that’s pretty much all there is to like about it. As a parody of Paranormal Activity, it’s ok and hits all of the beats you’d expect it to, but it doesn’t go beyond that to create anything super memorable, which, as we’ll discuss in a couple of weeks, is what makes the best segments.
Bart & Homer’s Excellent Adventure is just plain boring. There was so much potential in a time-travel story, especially with a show like The Simpsons which has so comprehensively covered all of the significant historical events of its characters. I can see a version of this segment that plays wonderfully off of classic Simpsons’ moments in a loving, but fresh nostalgia trip for all of us. Sadly, we only got one scene of that, and then it devolves into how Marge’s life would’ve been so much better if she never married Homer. Which is a joke that wasn’t funny in the first place because of how obviously true it is, and it hasn’t gotten any funnier being constantly repeated. Making a joke out of your show’s flaws isn’t witty comedy if you do nothing to fix those flaws.
3 – Treehouse of Horror XXVI
Original Airdate: 25th October 2015
Segments: Wanted: Dead, Then Alive; Homerzilla; Telepaths of Glory
Wanted: Dead, Then Alive is one of the biggest wastes of potential I’ve seen in one of these segments. Giving Sideshow Bob his own segment was the chance to go truly off the rails with his schemes, give him something really out there and horrifying. Instead, it’s mostly the same joke over and over. I don’t see what I’m supposed to get out of watching Bart get murdered in a bunch of gruesome ways. What’s supposed to be the entertainment value there? Sure, these characters are pretty loose by this point, but he’s still a child. Plus, murder isn’t actually a punchline unless you set it up to be one, which this segment definitely doesn’t do.
Homerzilla feels like an attempt to recapture the magic of segments like King Homer but fails to understand what made a segment like that so funny. Yes, there’s a big element of parody in those things, but that isn’t all that’s there, we still have character-based jokes and a lot of clever punchlines. This segment focuses purely on the concept of parody and doesn’t look any further than that. I even rolled my eyes at a couple of the jokes in here because of how dumb they were. Then, because the writers just can’t help themselves, they go and make a satire of Hollywood remaking things, which is so unbelievably lazy and feels more like an excuse to pad the runtime.
Telepaths of Glory is fine, I guess. There just aren’t many jokes involved. The montage is a bit of fun, but that’s really it. The ‘Maggie did it’ punchline has been done before, and so much better, even on this very list. Ultimately, I just don’t have a lot to say about it, and probably will forget about it again once I end this sentence.
2 – Treehouse of Horror XXV
Original Airdate: 19th October 2014
Segments: Wanted: School is Hell; A Clockwork Yellow; The Others
School is Hell is all the proof you need that original ideas don’t work for these kinds of episodes. Yes, I’ve moaned about a lot of the bad parodies these episodes have given us, but almost all of the best segments are parodies too. The same cannot be said for the original concepts like this. Bart being evil is a very played-out punchline, but I can appreciate that they tried to take it to its logical extreme here. There were some funny jokes about what a school would be like in hell, but there was a lot of lazy visual gags and jokes that explain their punchlines.
A Clockwork Yellow is perhaps the laziest pun-name they’ve ever come up with for one of these segments, and the parody doesn’t get much more interesting from there. The parody of the sped-up sex scene where Homer just eats a lot was a very funny joke, but that’s the only time I laughed during the whole thing. Everything else just hits all the beats parodies like this need to. They spoof the most famous scenes and vaguely hold onto the direction of the original plot. Also, there’s a bunch of terrible cockney accents, but I’m willing to overlook that, as I’m not petty. Sometimes.
The Others didn’t even bother to come up with a pun-name, which is somehow worse than a bad one. In terms of content, its a nice trip down nostalgia road, and it’s nice to see a show acknowledge its roots, but there’s not much to enjoy in the way of laughs. The episode seems to favour the plot over the jokes, which isn’t the way you want things to go in these segments. Unless you count all of the family members killing themselves as jokes…which I definitely don’t.
1 – Treehouse of Horror XXII
Original Airdate: 30th October 2011
Segments: Wanted: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Dial D for Diddly; In the Na’Vi
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a fart joke. For 5 minutes. That’s it. There’s literally nothing else to it. The joke is that Homer farts, over…and over…and over. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude, I still find farts funny, but a fart on its own isn’t a joke, it’s just a bodily process. Oh, and it becomes a Spiderman parody at the end for reasons I still can’t even begin to comprehend. Literally the only nice thing I have to say about it is that it’s incredibly short.
Dial D for Diddly is mostly fine. Which should go to show you just how awful the other two segments are to drag this episode down to the worst. The opening segment of Ned doing evil-looking things only for them to turn out to be innocent is well done if a little cliche. The rest of the episode feels just a little below average, Homer & Flanders interacting is always a good thing, the only real problem is the ending. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just upsettingly predictable. God shows up, then the Devil shows up, then it turns out God is the Devil’s bitch, then just to put the cherry on things, Maud is sleeping with the Devil. Great, who cares?
In the Na’Vi is the worst parody The Simpsons has ever done, plain and simple. Despite being the highest-grossing film of all time until 2019, Avatar left a minimal cultural impact on the broader scope of pop-culture, which is a massive problem for a parody like this, especially when it’s coming in two years late. I didn’t laugh once during this. Every joke is either boring or dumb. They’ll go from referencing the wrong movie to making a joke about the different plug shapes around the world for no reason, and then quickly throw in all the essential plot beats to wrap it all up. The big fight scene at the end is ridiculous, and the whole thing ends on a word-play that makes me roll my eyes every time. It’s almost the perfect distillation of everything I dislike about modern Simpsons and an absolute failure of a Treehouse of Horror segment.
So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you think of these episodes, either in the comments below, or on Twitter 10ryawoo. I’ll be counting down my favourite Treehouse of Horror episodes on Halloween night in a few weeks, but until then, make sure you come back this time next week for my rundown of Doctor Who Series 8!