Classic Halloween Episodes
I love Halloween, and I always have. Growing up a chubby theater nerd, Halloween hit me right in the sweet spot of candy, costumes, and a general vibe that seemed to permeate the entirety of fall itself. Part of that love was also certainly fueled by the fact that I’ve been a gluttonous devourer of media since childhood, and the Halloween special is a staple for countless television shows.
Since sometimes doing a whole movie to get in the Halloween mood is a big time commitment, today I wanted to share some of my favorite Halloween episodes for when you need a shot of the spooky on the fly. Caveats are that these are just some of my personal picks, not saying that they’re the best around, and this is only for Halloween episodes of running series. I’m not counting specific Halloween specials, so calm the fuck down Charlie Brown people.
Bob’s Burgers: The Hauntening
Aside from Bob’s Burgers being a fantastic show all around, they have a great habit of doing excellent episodes for holidays. Usually, though not always, Thanksgiving is the breakout hit, with Halloween and Christmas being solid entries not quite at the same level. In this case, however, Halloween took the cake, as Bob’s produced not only one of the best Halloween episodes of the series, but one I liked so much it became part of the yearly rotation.
The general conceit of this is that Louise can’t be scared, so Bob and Linda put on a haunted house to try and spook her. It goes as well as anything else they try, and soon there are complications. Some of the fun of this one is the mystery, so I won’t go too in depth on details. Just trust me that it’s funny, heartfelt, and hits you in exactly the right spot if you were a Halloween devotee as a kid.
Parks and Rec: Halloween Surprise
Most of the early Parks and Rec Halloweens are great. “Meet ‘n’ Greet” is a classic, and “Greg Pikitis” while not quite so rosy thanks to the guest star, is still a solid seasonal episode. But, at the end of the day, this is a list about the ones I liked the best, and the ending of Halloween Surprise makes it one of the all-time classic episodes of sitcom television. The fact that they anchored such a major character event to my favorite holiday is a nice touch as well, however, its ultimately thanks to Amy Poehler and Adam Scott being so amazing at their job and landing the scene so well that this had to be mentioned.
If you’re one of the (based on ratings) many people who never gave Community a shot, here’s what you need to know: it’s a show that takes risks. They break rules, flip formulas, and stay with fewer and fewer restrictions as the show progresses. That leads to some episodes of controversial quality, but the flipside is that when Community swings for the fences and hits, it’s a fucking home run. Such is the case with their Season 2 Halloween episode.
The plot is that there’s infected taco meat giving everyone who eats it, or is bitten by someone who eats it, zombie-like symptoms. That plot is really just scaffolding though, around which they’ve built a light, humorous, enjoyable send-up of the zombie and horror genres. Much as I loved Community (I even stayed to watch the finale) there were only so many episodes where it was truly firing on all cylinders. The first paintball one is generally agreed upon as one such example, and I would submit to you that this deserves to be counted as well.
The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V
Look, there’s no winning on this one. Treehouse of Horror has been running for 29 entries, as of this writing. We’re all going to have our own favorites, and nobody is wrong, but that does mean there’s a good chance your top pick doesn’t happen to align with mine. Ultimately, Treehouse of Horror is like The Simpsons itself: your favorite season/entry will most likely be from when you were growing up watching it.
For me, I think the fifth entry was the most balanced. It was back when they were still messing with general horror/sci-fi concepts and not leaning entirely on parody, but the first segment does scratch that satire itch for any viewers. Then there’s the all-time classic bit with time-travel, the closer about eating students, and the through-line with Groundskeeper Willie getting axed over and over again. It’s just a damn good entry. Are there better ones? Arguably, sure, yet this is the entry I’ll be firing up to watch as Halloween draws near. Well, okay, I’m going to watch a bunch of them, but this one I’ll make a point of viewing.
King of the Hill: Pigmalion
I find it interesting when people ask if I disliked King of the Hill, presuming it made fun of Texans. While not quite true anymore (its been off the air for years and times do change) when it was airing, the show honestly provided a pretty fair, genuine look at what living here was like. Obviously, some characters and aspects were dialed up for comedic effect, but the style, culture, and countless small details made it feel like a show about coming from that world, helping it ring true. Although they don’t get everything right, there’s visible effort that they’re at least trying.
Pigmalion is one of two, count them, two Halloween episodes done by King of the Hill. It’s interesting as well, because it’s the only one on this list, and one of the few in general, that layers in elements of real terror along with the fake-horror that most Halloween episodes focus on. The conceit of the episode is that Luanne (whose name I still consider the best inside joke of the series) falls under the influence of an older, successful man who seemingly takes an interest in her potential. Seeing as Luanne is lovely, and also overly trusting, the rest of the family is concerned this man has other intentions. And they’re right, but definitely not in the way they’re expecting.
The creepiness in this one comes not from the supernatural, but the way they show a person who is young and vulnerable being easily maneuvered into a precarious position by someone more experienced. The twist at the end keeps it from being too dark, taking a turn for the comedic and weird, but the undercurrent of realism adds to the overall experience, reminding us that the true monsters walk the world among us.
Hopefully that’s enough to get your jack-o-lanterns lit and your candy bowls filled. Have fun, be safe, and above all else, Happy Halloween!