Before you read the rest of this article, just know, there will be no Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” specials, because that’s a separate list, and everyone knows that “Treehouse of Horror V” is the best one anyway. Most shows just put the central cast in a bunch of silly costumes and have them sit for 22/43 minutes.
A great show can take Halloween and use more than just costumes to create something truly memorable and exciting.
Happy Endings– “Spooky Endings” (2011)
Right off the bat, I’m writing about an episode that puts the cast in a bunch of silly costumes and has them sit for 22 minutes. However, Happy Endings is the kind of show that can get away with these classic tropes. This show isn’t a meta-commentary on television like 30 Rock, or a deconstruction of pop culture like Community, or terrible like Big Bang Theory. Happy Endings is a Friends-like sitcom, but still feels very forward thinking with its lightning-fast wit and a great feel for not taking itself too seriously. Please, guys. Watch this show.
Besides my begging, “Spooky Endings” separates the cast into pairs, and each of the three plots could stand their own. Penny and Max go to a huge Halloween party in a joint costume, with Penny as a mom and Max as a baby in a Baby-Bjorn (Alex and Dave usually did group costumes, such as Carlito’s Way-Sean Penn and I am Sam-Sean Penn, because Alex loves double Penn).
They spend the whole night struggling for control of the costume, so that they can each flirt with people at the party. Dave and Alex spend the night at the party struggling with people constantly misunderstanding their costumes. Dave’s Austin Powers keeps getting confused for Elton John, then Billy Joel. Alex, who came to the party with a hoarse voice, gets mistaken as a man competing in the drag competition as Marilyn Monroe. Finally, Brad and Jane are stuck in the suburbs, fighting a group of older teens unsatisfied with the pair’s candy offering.
All of the plots are over-done to the point of cliché. In fact, if Big Bang Theory did an episode with these exact plots, it would almost be guaranteed a slot in “Top 5 Worst Halloween Specials”. However, Happy Endings has a swagger; a flow that allows it to get away with having cliché plotlines because of how spectacularly written and acted the show is. Its plot lines are cliché in the same way canvas is a cliché surface on which to paint.
Pushing Daisies– “Girth” (2007)
Yes, Firefly was unjustly cancelled. We know, everyone on the internet. However, I was more saddened by the cancellation of Pushing Daisies. Yes there were two seasons. Yes, it won a handful of Emmys. However, there was no movie tying up the loose ends, no reunion Comic-Con panel, and no fans that irritate me on twitter. Pushing Daisies was like watching Amelie every week: just pure joy and escapism. Chuck and Ned’s relationship was almost as sweet as the pie served at The Pie Hole, and anything with Kristen Chenowith is always spectacular, even her Glee cameo. While it does have a sizable cult, it’s nowhere near as universally loved as it deserves.
“Girth” follows the same “crime of the week” pattern the show was known for, however this time focusing on a string of jockey deaths. Olive Snook, a former jockey herself, teams up with Ned, Chuck, and Emerson to solve the mystery of the murders. What makes this episode “Halloween-y” is a headless horseman terrorizing the neighborhood, adding some actual darkness to an almost Technicolor series. The gang solves the Scooby-Doo-like mystery, as they always do, and Ned and Chuck are adorable, as they always are, and Olive is still heartbroken, as she always is.
“Girth” stands out because it was the fifth episode of the show aired, which is usually the make or break episode mark I give a show to see if I will continue to watch it. (It used to be two episodes, but The Wire changed that) Not only did “Girth” solidify my love for Pushing Daisies, it also started to prove that the show could be even better than the already amazing pilot.
Now, maybe there will be a movie. Why do the Browncoats get all of the fun?
Saturday Night Live– “Vincent Price’s Halloween Special” (2008)
Saturday Night Live may not be at the same level of cultural relevancy and quality as years past, but occasionally there comes along a sketch that knocks it out of the park. Bill Hader is funny in nearly every bit he does, and I was this close to giving this slot over to the latest Stefon bit, but as funny as they are, Stefon sketches are mostly all the same.
Having him play Vincent Price is inspired, and it helps that Hader is able to hit every bizarre vocal tick Price was known for with eerie precision. While it became overbearing to have Kristen Wiig play an old timey actress, she kills as the over the top Gloria Swanson, pretending to be a pirate, even though she is in a felt opera gown and a fur shawl.
Guest host John Hamm channels Dick Whitman channeling Don Draper channeling James Mason, and while he mostly stands there, he does deliver the funniest line of the skit involving a girl named Regina. Fred Armisen as Liberace acts as a hilarious foil to the dark and frustrated Vincent Price. Like watching cat herding for seven minutes, this bit is less about finding humor in individual jokes, but more the anger found in insubordination.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer– “Fear Itself” (1999)
The fourth season of Buffy has always struck a strange chord in my heart. For one, it has the second best episode of the series, “Hush” (behind, of course, “The Body” from season 5). However, it also has “Beer Bad”, which is the only episode of Buffy I absolutely hate. “Fear Itself”, while not one of the best episodes of the series, is definitely the best Halloween Buffy episode.
A frat party overtaken by a demon that uses peoples’ biggest fears, “Fear Itself” takes a different approach to “lots of people in a big house, so the episode must be a murder mystery party” like Frasier did. The results are a ge
nuinely scary and chaotic episode of the show, where the gang is seemingly caught in a corner (as most episodes seem) until the very end, when the demon that is haunting the party is actually 4 inches tall, which allows Buffy to then squash him like a bug.
Such a silly way to end such a scary episode, but like when leaving a haunted house, you only realize how silly it actually was after you were scared shitless.
The New Scooby-Doo Movies– “The Haunted Candy Factory” (1973)
Yes it’s cheating putting this Scooby Doo episode, because every episode is spooky and there are specific Halloween episodes. However, this one is my favorite and it turns out that episode of ER where they turned a patient into a Frankenstein monster isn’t actually real, even though I swear I saw it when I was seven, so I needed a fifth slot.
When deciding which Scooby-Doo episode, I immediately knew which one would make the list. It had to be from The New Scooby-Doo Movies, which is the incarnation of the show that had guest stars, because everything in the 70s had guest stars. Don Knotts was a ridiculous guest, as were the Harlem Globetrotters and Batman and Robin. However, Mama Cass takes the cake as the most insane part of an insane series.
The owner of a haunted candy factory (hence the episode title), Mama Cass calls on the gang for help in solving who the green globs are that keep harassing her factory. After various hilarious mishaps, the gang discovers that they are in fact, two gold smugglers. Because not only did Scooby-Doo teach children about vigilante justice, it also showed a thing or two on international jewel thievery. So while the episode isn’t necessarily “Halloween-y”, it’s still spooky and wouldn’t be out of place in a Halloween TV marathon.
Also, there’s candy in the episode, so it counts.
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.