733. Not It

Original airdate: October 23, 2022

The premise: It’s It. It’s an It parody. It’s a full length Treehouse of Horror episode, and they’re doing It.

The reaction: Since the very start, the Treehouse of Horror series has done parodies of classic horror, be it movies, TV shows, short stories, urban legends; they’ve covered it all. The best of the best of these always had some clever twist on a familiar story. Homer buys the Amityville horror house, and is so blinded by the great price he got, he’s willing to overlook it trying to kill his family. Willie starts killing kids as Freddy Krueger, but his death was caused by hilariously gross negligence and total apathy on behalf of the parents of Springfield. Even a segment played relatively close to the source material like “King Homer” had a lot of unique flourishes, and very appropriate and funny usages of characters like Marge and Mr. Burns. Meanwhile, the Halloween specials in the last decade or so’s approach to these parodies seems to either throw as many references at you as they can (like their Stranger Things segment) or just retell the whole plot relatively straight, like with Parasite, and now It, based the classic Stephen King novel, but clearly most inspiration for this was born of the recent two films. I think the issue with this specific spoof is that the Simpsons twist to this story is only in the villain. “Krusto” the Clown was a failed TV clown who never got a laugh, and in the end, we see he’s collected children’s souls to be his captive audience forever. That definitely feels right in line for an evil Krusty to do, but that’s pretty much the only original idea this episode has in its head. The rest of the majority of the runtime is spent with the “Losers,” comprised of Homer, Marge, Moe, Carl, and Comic Book Guy. Their quest to kill the evil clown as kids, then them coming back home as adults to finish the job, is played out basically the same as the original. Krusto dragging a kid through a storm drain, the bullies targeting Homer on the bridge, the love triangle, jumping off the cliff into the water as kids, all these familiar moments are here to trigger your brain, but why am I watching this animated recreation of a movie I’ve already seen? There’s no satirical element to the story, with nothing surprising or interesting about the way its played out, something that especially hurts this first full-length Treehouse of Horror, since in the past, you could just wait out the seven minutes to get to a new segment, but here, I just found myself getting bored by the middle mark. There was one moment I thought was actually working well, towards the end of the first section: Krusto does an accidental pratfall, flailing on marbles, getting stuck in a cannon and slamming against a brick wall, causing the kids to laugh. He’s thrilled to have real, genuine laughter for once in his career, so he keeps it going, getting on the verge of killing himself for his new delighted audience. That actually felt like a creative idea, something they could have potentially built into part two. Maybe Krusto could have been turned into more of an annoyance than a threat, desperate to get more of that fleeting approval he once got, making him more Krusty-like in his pathetic hacky-ness. But that doesn’t happen, he’s just the Big Bad preying on adult insecurities just like the film. I just don’t see how this episode is any different than the other similar Treehouse parodies, or the trilogy episodes, where it’s just retelling the plot points of a story we know with Simpsons characters in the roles. It looks nice, but it’s really just not interesting to me.

Three items of note:
– There’s two types of evergreen joke types whenever the show is doing parodies nowadays, and some of these even creep into regular stories as well. The first is them just saying the identifiable tropes out loud as they’re happening (“You’re the school outsiders, aren’t you?” “We sure are. The comic book nerd, the tomboy, the scuzz…” “And the one black kid in all of Maine!”) (“Find your own secret knockout who doesn’t recognize her own self worth!”) Acknowledging these things aloud as transparently as possible isn’t really critique, nor is it particularly funny. The second is sort of tied to the first, but a bit broader: characters saying aloud what’s going on in storytelling terms (Barney running happy in the rain, “This is fun to me!”; as Barney reaches his arm in the storm drain, Krusto goading, “That’s right… build the tension…”; as he’s momentarily thwarted later, Krusto shouts, “Temporary setback!”) Both of these similar kinds of jokes just immediately bounce me out of whatever story’s being told. Leaning on the storytelling meta makes things feel more unnatural, less real, like these are just characters play-acting a story more than actually living it. This shit has plagued this show for a long time; I feel like they’ve gotten better at not leaning so heavily into these types of jokes, but I noticed a lot of them here.
– Comic Book Guy has a major role in this episode, being married to Marge in part two, with their own personality-swapped Bart and Lisa (I’ll admit, it’s kind of cute hearing Yeardley Smith play little hellion Lisa). They do a joke where Bart is about to say his father’s name, but Marge cuts him off as her husband enters the room, referring to him as “Comic Book Guy.” I get it, I get it, that’s the name we know him as, but it’s weird in this story where he’s a major character to refer to him as that moniker. A pivotal plot element of the episode is him taking credit for the poem Homer wrote that won Marge’s heart, signing it as from “Comic Book Guy.” The character was always just a big goof, this surly, detestable jackass who no one even bothered to remember the name of. Now, he’s a husband, maybe a soon-to-be father, and Homer and Marge have helped him out on numerous occasions. We also know his name, the “Jeff Albertson” reveal was eighteen years ago at this point. Has Kumiko ever referred to him as “Jeff”? I don’t care about this stuff for continuity’s sake, it just seems like if they wanted to flesh CBG’s character out, it’s just weird they never bothered to work his actual real name into people’s mouths a bit more.
– The Simpsons comics actually did their own It parody in 2017, in what was actually the final Treehouse of Horror comic. I stopped reading them in the early 2000s, but the Treehouse issues were always a highlight, usually bringing in guest writers and artists to craft strange and unusual spooky stories. “It Happens!” is a cute, truncated version of It which, rather than being shackled to the film adaptations, actually has original plot turns: the kids defeat evil Krusty by tapping into their own imagination to fight him, with the likes of the Smurfs and Mayor McCheese beating up the evil clown. But even better is cutting to the present when evil Krusty returns, and everyone is so disaffected and jaded that nobody cares about him, much to Krusty’s annoyance. It feels like an original take on the source material, rather than just plugging in the elements of the actual story and calling it a day.

11 thoughts on “733. Not It

  1. I think the only reason they made this episode at all was for the attention the “Two THOH episodes this year! And one of them is a full half hour!” clickbait articles would bring to the show.

    Your point about the “storytelling meta” dialogue is totally spot on. This isn’t limited to The Simpsons. Family Guy does this constantly, but that show is so shallow and self aware that it doesn’t bother me. The Goldbergs makes this crap an integral part of its dialogue and its fucking OBNOXIOUS. Characters will frequently say things like “I’m feeling happy and scared about this at the same time!” or “You said that but now you’re saying this!” and no one talks like a damn human being. I feel like this is just a thing now that modern TV comedy does, and it sucks.

    1. Agreed. I think this may have been my biggest issue with Not It. The show has definitely down less of it in recent times, but this episode was packed with overly meta dialogue that intermittently disrupted my suspension of disbelief. Quite unlike A Serious Flanders or Pixelated and Afraid.

    2. Meta commentary is just… the worst. It feels like a total Al Jean move to put in characters describing how they are feeling or reacting to situational moments as if they have complete self-awareness, like Homer just stalling forever to tell Marge how he felt. It’s extremely disingenuous, because as you said, people don’t behave that way.

    3. It used to really piss me off when Family Guy did it, because at first, it was just simple observational jokes or cutaways. Like Brian saying that he’s going to stare at a paper bag that he knows has food in it, and then he does exactly that. Eventually, 95% of the dialogue became that, whether it was a regular episode or a parody.

      I never had an issue with meta humor, but when characters become too aware that they’re on a show, you can’t really get invested in anything because it doesn’t matter. I don’t know when, but Family Guy started to become like this weird sketch comedy show so now, the over-explaining jokes doesn’t bother me as much. I know what to expect, so I can either laugh at it or not watch it. That episode they did recently where they parody Oscar winners is just them telling you how ridiculous these movies are, but there were some funny lines in there (like them constantly saying that because it’s 1999, they’ll always be able to bring box cutters on planes).

      The Goldbergs has always had that weird style of dialogue, but I think it’s hilarious. I never had an issue with it, mostly because I’m used to cartoons being self-aware, not live-action shows. And the episodes tend to have a fast pace so you’re not constantly focusing on how weird the dialogue sounds. There was one episode (I think it was “Parents Thursday”) where Geoff is explaining exactly what Beverly is doing, and Erica tells him to stop explaining what everyone can see. That’s enough to let me know the show is fully aware of how weird these characters talk.

      Rick and Morty does it also, but most of the time, it comes from Rick, who has always been aware that he’s on TV. I think at some point, they started to overdo it (season four), but they’re pulling it back a little and they still know how to get you invested into a story without the meta humor getting in the way.

  2. I think this had a lot of potential, but when I heard them point-blank say “the Losers Club”, I knew this was just going to be a paint-by-numbers episode, much like all the other “parodies” they’ve done like Avatar, Parasite, and The Hunger Games. If you’re not going to play around with the formula, why bother? It also didn’t help that Krusto was essentially “Krusty if he played Pennywise”, rather than “Krusty *as* Pennywise”, since while he does pull off a few halfway gruesome kills, the character doesn’t particularly do much in the episode that’s overly scary, though that’s probably because The Simpsons are still a network TV program at the end of the day (and the show even addresses that by not showing a rather infamous scene from the movie), and Krusto’s death scene doesn’t see him transform into his primordial form before withering into nothing but rather whine about his inability to find new material, only to blame “cancel culture” as his downfall, which would totally be a Krusty thing to do in the present day show.

    The show could have explored a bit more about how sad Homer’s life was without Marge, but instead they went with “oh, he’s a virgin and he fell for crypto, lol” cause they weren’t interested in examining that psychological turmoil that much.

    Also… the ending where Kang & Kodos are talking about Stephen King novels… why have “The Dark Tower” facing the viewer point-blank if you aren’t going to call attention to it? Instead, you just do “Hurr durr, Tommyknockers, geddit?! TOMMY… KNOCKERS?!!”

  3. It’s hard to tell whether or not the writers of these modern comedies that rely on meta humor genuinely believe they are being clever, witty and irreverent, if they are using meta as a tactic to appear clever to the audience or just lazy writing.

    1. I think it’s a mixture of them knowing that characters don’t talk like this, and them just being lazy. This kind of humor has always been around, but you used to see side characters talk like this. Or characters that would show up on screen for one minute and you never see them again. Eventually, the main characters started talking like this and that’s when it became a serious problem.

      There’s no way to do this kind of humor beyond just pointing out what we can all see like we’re blind, or making fun of the tropes that come with what you’re parodying because you believe the audience knows exactly where the story is going. Being self-aware and sarcastic all the time is like a defense mechanism because you’re afraid to be sincere. If you parody It in a genuine way, no irony, and it fails, it’s almost like getting bullied in school. If you parody It and you’re snarky about it, it’s like beating the bullies to the punchline so they have nothing to make fun of.

      1. See, this is what I found really strange about Not It. The lack of sincerity struck me as very Jean like, whose episodes have leaned heavily into this type of comedy over the past 20 years. It’s decidedly *not* Selman like whose episodes can veer so far into sincerity that *all* the comedy is lost. Episodes like Halloween of Horror, Thanksgiving of Horror, A Serious Flanders, Pixelated and Afraid, My Octopus and a Teacher and many more simply do not have this problem. Very bizarre.

  4. I’ve noticed the bad meta-commentary for a while. It was definitely awful here. The closest we had to a good meta-gag was Apu’s missing poster. But it was among a bunch of other characters so it likely wasn’t the intent.

    They give us a full-length ToH and it’s so dull and boring. The comic adaptation was way better.
    Here we get lazy gags about student loans, Twitter, MAGA, and cancel culture. It’s painful when the show tries to discuss “trends”.

    Welp, here’s to next week’s traditional Treehouse. At least the Death Note parody going full anime will be worth something.

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