Treehouse of Horror V
"Treehouse of Horror V" is the sixth episode of The Simpsons' sixth season and the fifth episode in the Treehouse of Horror series. It premiered on October 30, 1994, and features three short stories called The Shinning, Time and Punishment, and Nightmare Cafeteria. The episode was directed by Jim Reardon and written by Greg Daniels, Dan McGrath, David Cohen and Bob Kushell.
In The Shinning the Simpsons become caretakers at Mr. Burns' mansion. Deprived of television and beer, Homer becomes insane and tries to murder the family; after finding a portable TV set, he returns to normal. In Time and Punishment, Homer repeatedly travels back in time and alters the future; upon failing to restore the future, he settles for a reality close to his own. In Nightmare Cafeteria, Principal Skinner begins using students in detention as cafeteria food; when Bart and Lisa are about to be slaughtered, Bart realizes it is a dream (but is then attacked by fog which turns people inside out).
David Mirkin deliberately placed more graphic violence in the episode due to complaints about excessive violence in the show. The episode features James Earl Jones as the voice of an alternate timeline Maggie (his second appearance in a Simpsons Halloween episode), and a recurring joke where Groundskeeper Willie is struck in the back with an axe in every tale when trying to help someone.
Marge warns that the episode is frightening and children should not watch it. During the warning, she is told that it is so scary that Congress will not let them show it. Bart interrupts it with a radio transmission and shows the episode.
In a parody of The Shining, The Simpsons go to Mr. Burns' mansion to become its caretakers. Burns cuts the cable television wire and removes the beer, believing that this will ensure hard work from the family. While there, Groundskeeper Willie discovers that Bart has the power to read his thoughts and that if Homer goes insane, he should use this to call him. The absence of his two favorite things sends Homer insane and a ghostly Moe tells Homer he must kill his family in order to get a beer. Marge finds that Homer has covered the walls with the repeating phrase "No TV and no beer make Homer go crazy", and confronts Homer with a baseball bat, but Homer, seeing his reflection in a mirror, trips and knocks himself unconscious. Marge locks him in the pantry until he has calmed down and makes some chili for dinner. Later on, Homer has calmed down and happily eats, but Moe reminds him of their deal through the pantry door. When he refuses to cooperate, Moe shows up with his gang of ghouls and carries Homer out much to his dismay. As Marge and the children are enjoying dinner, Homer begins chasing the family with an axe and Bart uses his powers to call Willie, who runs to the family's rescue, dropping his portable television in the snow. Homer kills him by stabbing him in the back with the axe. Homer chases his family outside but just as he is about to kill them, Lisa shows him Willie's discarded television. Homer's insanity gradually fades and the family freezes in the snow while watching with him. With the family unable to change the channel when the Tony Awards begin, Homer's insanity rises again.
Time and Punishment
In a parody of A Sound of Thunder, while trying to fix a broken toaster, Homer accidentally turns it into a time machine. It transports him to prehistoric times where he realizes he must be careful because if he affects anything in the past, it could change the future. After swatting a mosquito, he returns to the present to find a dystopia where Ned Flanders is now the dictator of the world. Homer travels back in time again to try to set things right; however, he accidentally kills a walking fish, and after returning to the present he finds Bart and Lisa are giants, narrowly avoiding being crushed by them. He then sneezes and infects the dinosaurs with a cold virus while defending himself from a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which proceeds to cause their extinction. He is initially pleased with the results in the present; amongst other perks, the family is now extremely wealthy and Patty and Selma are dead, but is terrified to find that donuts do not exist in this timeline and flees, seconds before donuts begin raining from the sky. In another world, Willie tries to help Homer, but is again hit in the back with an axe, this time by a deep-voiced Maggie. When Homer returns to the prehistoric times again, he furiously smashes everything in sight with a baseball bat. After several more trips back and forth in time, Homer eventually arrives in a reality that appears normal; he finds that humans eat with lizard-like tongues, but decides it is "close enough".
In a parody of Soylent Green, Principal Skinner is worried that the detention hall is becoming overcrowded and due to the latest budget cut, Lunchlady Doris is being forced to serve "Grade F" meat in the cafeteria. Skinner discovers a common solution: eating misbehaving children. The first student to be eaten is Jimbo Jones, who is served as "Sloppy Jimbos". Üter is then made into a German meal called "Üterbraten". Bart and Lisa figure out what the teachers are doing, but one by one, the kids are "sent to detention" where they are caged and butchered. The kids try to get Marge to help, but she instead tells them that they must stand up for themselves. Eventually Bart, Lisa and Milhouse are among the only students left and decide to escape. Skinner and the other teachers corner them on a ledge above a giant blender. Willie tries to help the students escape, but is once again killed with an axe in the back, this time by Skinner, and remarks "och, I'm bad at this!" as he dies. Milhouse, Bart, and Lisa fall to their demise.
Bart wakes up from the nightmare to find his family beside his bed. Marge assures him he has nothing to be afraid of, "except for that green fog that turns people inside out." No sooner after she says this, the said mysterious green fog seeps through the window and the Simpsons are turned inside out, but are able to perform a musical number with a returning Willie the Groundskeeper over the end credits (although Bart is dragged away by Santa's Little Helper).
David Mirkin tried to put "as much blood and guts" into the episode as he could. This was because Mirkin was angry about complaints by the United States Congress about the amount of violence in the show and their attempting to censor it. He later called it "the most [...] disturbing Halloween show ever". The opening sequence, in which Marge states the episode cannot be shown and plays some live action stock footage, was also in reaction to this. Mirkin said he believes Halloween shows can be "scary as well as fun".
This episode marks the end of the tradition of using humorous tombstones in the title sequence of Halloween episodes. This sequence contained a tombstone that reads "Amusing Tombstones", which was the writers' way of showing that they were tired of coming up with ideas for humorous tombstone messages. Similar sequences had been used as introductions in all four previous Treehouse of Horror episodes, but have not been used since this episode.
The staff also decided against continuing the tradition of using wraparound segments that were used before each story in the previous Treehouse of Horror episodes, to make more time for the main stories.
The first segment, The Shinning, was inspired by the film The Shining, and is basically a parody of that film. The film's director, Stanley Kubrick, had been a big influence on Mirkin, and was "one of the main reason [he] wanted to be a director". Ironically, series creator Matt Groening admitted that he had not seen The Shining and most of the references to the film were entirely lost on him.
Matt Groening originally pitched the idea that Homer would travel through time in Time and Punishment. His original idea was that the time-travel would be the result of Homer simply jamming his hand in the toaster, but the other writers rejected that. Scenes where Homer is in the past were written so that he is there for the time it takes to toast a piece of bread. Mirkin gave Peabody and Sherman cameo appearance in this segment, which was due to the show Rocky and His Friends being a major influence on The Simpsons.
The first time Homer travels back in time, he was originally supposed to state "I'm the first non-fictional character to travel backwards through time". The line was later changed from "non-fictional" to "non-Brazilian". Groening was confused as to the reason for the change, since he liked the original so much. In fact, he did not even understand what the new line meant.
In the scene where the Simpsons' house changes into various things, one of the original designs was the house made entirely of squirrels. The layout artist who designed it worked on the drawings for more than two days, but ultimately it was cut. To make sure their work did not go to waste, some staff members have used the drawings on Christmas cards and other studio-related notices.
In another deleted scene involving an alternate Simpsons future, the Simpsons had a teenage son named Roy. Groening said that "somebody from outside the show" originally suggested the idea. The joke was later used as a sub-plot for the episode "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show", although Roy was a lodger in that episode, rather than a son.
Nightmare Cafeteria was the first Simpsons story to be written by David X. Cohen. He wrote the final scene where a nightmarish fog turns the family "inside out". This was inspired by a thriller featured on the radio show Lights Out called "The Dark", which scared Cohen as a child. A dance number was added immediately afterwards in order to end the show on a lighter note. He also cut two scenes from this segment feature Sherri and Terri being cooked as "Teriyaki" steak with "Sherry" sauce and Homer regaling Lisa about his dream of eating Milhouse. Nevertheless, a book from this scene was used in this segment. As a result of this scene being cut, Homer does not appear in the third segment, something Cohen believed never happened before. The "grade F meat" joke was written by Mirkin, inspired by his cousin once seeing a box of hot dogs labeled "grade C, approved for human consumption".
The voice over in the pre-title sequence is a reference to The Outer Limits. The first segment The Shinning is a parody of the Stephen King novel The Shining and the Stanley Kubrick film of the same name. The basic plot of the segment is the same as the novel and there are also many references to specific moments from the film, such as the blood coming out of the elevator and Homer breaking though a door with an axe and yelling "Here's Johnny".
The title of the second segment Time and Punishment is a reference to the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel Crime and Punishment and the plot, where Homer causes major changes in the future by killing animals in the past, is a parody of the Ray Bradbury short story "A Sound of Thunder". Peabody and Sherman from the animated series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, make an appearance during Homer's time traveling sequence and when, as a side effect of Homer's antics in the past, Kang and Kodos' heads are unexpectedly replaced with those of Peabody and Sherman. The dinosaur scenes are reminiscent of Jurassic Park, and the floor morphing into a television screen is a reference to similar scenes in both Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Time Bandits. The title of the third segment Nightmare Cafeteria, is a reference to the television series Nightmare Cafe. The song sung over the end credits is based on the song "One" from the musical A Chorus Line, while the concept of the family being turned inside out by a mysterious fog comes from an episode of the radio show Lights Out called "The Dark". The performance of the final dance number is stylized after the song's performance on The Brady Bunch Hour.
Reception and legacy
In its original broadcast, "Treehouse of Horror V" finished 27th in ratings for the week of October 24–30, 1994, with a Nielsen rating of 12.2, equivalent to approximately 11.6 million viewing households. It was the second highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following Beverly Hills 90210.
The episode is often considered one of the best Simpsons Halloween episodes ever. It finished ninth on a list by the magazine Entertainment Weekly of its top 25 Simpsons episodes. In it, The Shinning segment was described as "a parody [...] with such detail [and] comic timing" and that it "ranks with the great [...] spoofs of all time", and the Time and Punishment segment as "one of the most beautifully random moments in [The] Simpsons history", but also said that the Nightmare Cafeteria segment "doesn't shine as brilliantly". It ranked fifth on AskMen.com's "Top 10: Simpsons Episodes" list. The list stated that the episode "offers three completely different tales, [...] boasting a potent combination of wit and humor" that, "the laughs never end" and that it "does a great job of incorporating Halloween-themed stories with the standard Simpsons charm". IGN called the episode "the funniest Treehouse of Horror to date". In 2006, they also named it the best episode of the sixth season. Adam Finley of the weblog TV Squad called it "possibly one of the best Halloween episodes ever". Michael Passman said the episode "is largely regarded as the best, but a weak final third holds it back".
The Shinning segment is particularly highly praised. As well as Entertainment Weekly's praise, IGN voted it first on their list of the best segments in the Treehouse of Horror series, with Time and Punishment coming fourth. It came ninth on the blog Noise to Signal's, list of "The Ten Best Treehouse of Horror Vignettes". Adam Finley of TV Squad contemplating that it "could [...] be the best Treehouse of Horror segment ever" as well as praising the opening of Time and Punishment. When putting together the perfect Treehouse of Horror episode, Michael Passman of Michigan Daily included The Shinning as "a shoo-in". Empire named "No TV And No Beer Make Homer Go Crazy" the sixth best film parody in the show's history.
Alf Clausen's musical score for this episode received an Emmy Award nomination for "Outstanding Dramatic Underscore - Series" in 1995. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood called it "Another fine entry to the Treehouse canon".
James Earl Jones' guest appearance in this episode, as well as in "Treehouse of Horror" and "Das Bus", was listed seventh on IGN's "Top 25 Simpsons Guest Appearances" list. Jones ranked 25th on AOL's list of their favorite 25 Simpsons guest stars. Matt Groening said that this line is among his favorite lines in the show. David Mirkin said that Homer's line "Oh I wish, I wish I hadn't killed that fish" is one of his favorites in the show, and that the alternate future in which the family are rich "breaks [his] heart every time". Homer's line "close enough" from "Time and Punishment" was later used in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Moebius".
Time and Punishment was later referenced in DC Comic's Booster Gold comic series, where Booster Gold explains the butterfly effect by asking if anyone had seen the episode where Homer stepped on a butterfly and it began raining donuts, only to wish it were raining donuts where he was.
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- Stargate SG-1 Season 8 DVD commentary for the episode "Moebius" (DVD). MGM Entertainment. 2005.
- Booster Gold v2, 8 (2008), DC Comics
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