Original airdate: November 24, 2019
The premise: Three spine-tinging stories… wait, didn’t we do this already this year? “A-Gobble-ypto” retells the first Thanksgiving as a violent turkey massacre through the lens of an avian Simpson family. In “The Fourth Thursday After Tomorrow,” Homer buys an AI system imbued with Marge’s DNA to help with the holiday cooking, but Marge quickly finds herself jealous of her more efficient artificial counterpart. In “The Last Thanksgiving,” far from Earth on a space vessel, the kids of Springfield Elementary find themselves terrorized by a sentient blob of cranberry sauce.
The reaction: Similar to “Halloween of Horror” from five or so years ago, we get another double dipping into the TOH format for one year, this time featuring macabre Thanksgiving-themed tales. It’s not shocking that this episode was much, much better than this year’s incredibly tepid Halloween offering. It is shocking that this was one of the most competently made episodes in a good, long while. I don’t know if I’d bring it to the level of “great,” but I was surprised throughout how all three stories went decently crafted and paced. The first features a bunch of our Springfield residents as turkeys, and others as Pilgrims seeking to make them their dinner. Things get graphic real quick when turkey Maude gets her head blown off, turning her into a bloody mess. This whole episode is pretty brutal; I really don’t know why the Halloween shows have been rendered bloodless, but here it’s fine. Is it because they’re just turkeys? Anyway, it’s a decent little story of the turkey Simpsons saving each other and reuniting, which was fine enough. Hearing the voice cast gobble as their characters was disarmingly adorable, I’m not gonna lie. Story #2 felt like a reworking on “House of Whacks,” the TOH with the smart house voiced by Pierce Brosnan, but here, it’s Marge that finds herself threatened by an AI of herself. In fact, I think “Whacks” kind of hurt this story a bit, in that maybe they felt they couldn’t have had the conclusion be that the AI Marge tries to murder OG Marge and take her place, because it would just like that story they did eighteen years ago (holy SHIT do I feel old). AI Marge’s great escape over the Internet was a good conclusion though. The last segment I think I enjoyed the most just because it was mostly dumb fun, a giant blob of cranberry sauce sucking out the bones of young children. Hilarious! It’s also an Alien parody of sorts, but unlike the last decade of so of Halloween segments, this story actually work unto itself because it’s using familiar pop culture trappings to tell a different kind of story (it also helps Alien is firmly in the cultural zeitgeist as a classic movie, unlike, say, Mr. & Mrs. Smith or Dead Calm). I guess because it involves aliens and outer space, but by the end, I was reminded of “The Man Who Came To Be Dinner,” the totally-not-canon-maybe Kang and Kodos episode, which surprised the fuck out of me by actually being the best episode in years. Is that was it takes for this show to start getting better, to do these crazy-go-nuts, off-the-way, not-strictly-canonical stories? I mean, after over thirty years on the air, why not? The only thing really holding this episode back is I didn’t get a whole lot of laughs out of it, which is a big mark against it, but it’s still easily the best of the season thus far, maybe the best in the last few years.
Three items of note:
– The special begins with Marge coming out from behind a curtain on stage to address the audience, a whopping twenty-nine years after she introduced the very first Treehouse of Horror in the same fashion. I know I’ve mentioned it several times before, but sometimes I get kinda sad hearing Julie Kavner’s poor strained voice. I assume she’s not in any sort of pain doing it, but the woman’s pushing 70, and it can’t be easy to maintain that gravely tone. It was especially worrisome in the second segment when the two Marges were talking back and forth with each other. I just felt like asking Kavner to stop and offering her a lozenge.
– It got to a point in the first segment where things almost seemed like they were getting too violent. We get multiple bloody turkey beheadings in a row, Willie gets his eyes impaled by corn cobs in a town wide panic, and Lou and Eddie get horrifically picked apart and killed by a murder of crows. I’m still curious about why this show is so graphic when most of the recent TOHs aren’t. In the last Halloween show we saw Burns and Smithers get their heads bitten off completely bloodless, and yet here, it’s like an orgy of violence by comparison.
– This is Russi Taylor’s final vocal performance on the show, and it sure is a doozy. Toward the end of the last segment, Martin traps Bart, Lisa and Milhouse in a locked room with the cranberry monster, having aligned with it (“I admire its purity! Its lack of messy humanity! This ‘creature,’ as you call it, is unencumbered by the petty morality of a dying species!”) He then strips, wishing to become one with the gelatin, killing himself in a magnificently gross fashion. Aping on horror/sci-fi movie tropes and staying true to character, Taylor’s final hour as Martin proved to be a moving and effective one. What better way to go out than Martin’s formless skin slapping pathetically against a metal door? Taylor was truly one of the greats in the world of voice acting, and she will truly be missed.
One good line/moment: Aside from Martin’s final moments, we get a really solid joke toward the very end when the ship crash lands on an alien world. Bart and Lisa rush to hug their parents who just woke up from their sleep pods. Santa’s Little Helper exits his own pod to join them. One final pod opens to reveal the skeleton of Snowball II and nobody reacts, and then the scene ends. Beautiful.