The 5 Best Halloween Episodes You Should Watch Tonight
Happy Halloween, everyone! How you choose to celebrate this most blessed of holidays is up to you. Some of you will drink pumpkin beer until you poop jack o' lanterns, some of you will take your children trick-or-treating, and some of you will sit on the couch and absorb horror films. But if I can make a suggestion for that last group: In between your annual viewings of Halloween 4: The One Where Michael Myers' Mask Looks Like Total Dogshit and Texas Chainsaw Massacre III: Not That Bad, Actually, consider watching some Halloween-themed TV episodes. Because while movies are great for frights, there are a few TV shows that actually capture the spirit of Halloween. For example ...
The Office: "Employee Transfer"
The year is 2008. The place is every theater in the known world. The movie is The Dark Knight. And the thought that's going through four billion heads simultaneously is "I know what I'm going to be for Halloween this year."
On October 31, 2008, you couldn't throw a Batarang without hitting someone dressed in a Heath Ledger Joker outfit. The simple act of going outside was an invitation for swarms of people in purple sweatpants to come up and ask you if you wanted to see a magic trick. Drama kids draped themselves in long wool coats and ventured into the cool autumn night, looking for prey to listen to their story about how they got their scars. Former frat bros lathered on white facepaint and sipped vodka red bulls as they mumbled through half-remembered things about "chaos" and "killing the Batman." And the one guy dressed as Beetlejuice spent the whole evening correcting people.
It was like magic. Somewhere in Heath Ledger's wonderful performance, the worst people you knew heard a dog whistle. A dog whistle which screeched "Annoy the fuck out of everyone you know and love." The Office understood that this was going to happen, and that's why "Employee Transfer" is so great.
Airing on October 30th, it was like a warning to the general public: Beware, for tomorrow your neighbors will turn on you, your children will betray you, and your roommates will spend six hours attempting to apply cheek prosthetics before giving up and just using a pound of lipstick. Any show that can accurately capture the frustration of existing in the same universe as the mob of Jokers before that day of frustration actually occurs is worth your attention.
"Employee Transfer" features some of Steve Carell's best acting in the whole series, but it's also a great parody of the time the Earth cancelled Halloween and replaced it with Jokerfest 2008. I'll never forgive Christopher Nolan. Never.
The Spectacular Spider-Man: "The Uncertainty Principle"
It's hard for superhero shows to do a good Halloween episode, and I think it's because superheroes wear masks all the time, and a lot of the comedy from any Halloween episode comes from what the characters decide to dress up as. It's really hard to properly dress up as anything when your main wardrobe is one bright color with a huge symbol on your chest. That's why most superhero Halloween specials are just plain adventure stories. In The Batman episode "Grundy's Night," Clayface pretends to be unkillable zombie Solomon Grundy to better rob intolerable old rich people. It's great. You should check it out.
Unsurprisingly, The Spectacular Spider-Man, the best superhero cartoon of all time, broke the mold a little bit and gave us a Halloween episode that's a little more think-y. However, all this metaphorin' doesn't prevent the episode from having a fight between Green Goblin and Spider-Man which takes up the entire third act. That was probably the greatest strength of the show: being able to balance teen drama and deep reflection with radioactive boxing matches that usually lasted about seven glorious minutes.
While most interpretations of the Green Goblin never get past the whole "Curse you, Spider-Maaaaaan" section of their shtick, this Green Goblin is a playful, sadistic dick. He's constantly asking Spider-Man to consider what "mask" is real -- the mask that hides your face or the mask that is your face. This doesn't just play into the mystery of who the Green Goblin is, but also deals with something that's lacking in a lot of superhero shows that are made for kids: At what point does your human identity become the facade? The Green Goblin and Peter Parker aren't opposites; they're both freaks who only find respite and fulfillment when they wear their masks. Peter Parker is a bespectacled shell of a nerd. It's only when he's Spider-Man, quipping and punching with psychopathic consistency, that his actual mask gets taken off.
Anyway, Green Goblin (Norman Osborn) fakes a leg injury and then retreats back to his home. There, he finds his son passed out, breaks his own son's fucking leg, and puts the Goblin costume on him. Then, when Spider-Man gets there, Norman is all like "We gotta get my son some help. He's really sick. See, his leg is broken. He's helpless. WINK." So yeah, if you want to watch something with all the fun of a Marvel character and all the "Oh my god, no" of comic book child abuse, this is a good one. Jeez. Maybe you should've just gone to a costume party or something, y'all.
Any Roseanne Halloween Episode
If you grew up in a small town like I did, you know that Halloweens are a gamble. You'll get to go trick-or-treating, but only if your parents are down to drive you to a more populated place that supports such an activity. Otherwise you're just trudging in a ditch down a lonely country road, hoping that a passing car doesn't hit you and ruin your Dollar Store Wolfman mask and spill all of your candy. And when you age out of that, you go to a local haunted maze, which never fails to be out in the middle of nowhere. There, you watch theatrical rednecks rev chainsaws, wave severed prop heads, and ignore copyright infringements. In North Carolina, you don't legally reach puberty until you've held someone's hand through the Hacker House. It's the law.
One of the draws of the sitcom Roseanne was that it was about a lower-middle-class family. So many sitcoms were based around how cool it would be to have friends in New York City, or how great it would be if you could shove a dozen family members into the same piece of prime San Francisco real estate. But Roseanne was hunkered down in the suburbs. The main set looked like it had been cobbled together from a thrift store's going-out-of-business sale, the costumes were from a Fashion Bug clearance rack, and the family was loud and loving, just like mine.
Except on Halloween.
The Halloween episodes of Roseanne are things of sitcom legend. Barely having anything to do with the show itself, the Halloween episodes would go all out and present an alternate Roseanne reality where the family could suddenly afford elaborate costumes and expensive makeup. Halloween was the biggest day of the year (as it should be in all worlds, fictional or otherwise), and the usual relaxed pace of a Roseanne episode was replaced by a frantic joke parade. And for me, it was pure wish fulfillment.
You wanted to have a Roseanne Halloween. A Halloween where you could buy that expensive costume that you saw at the mall and run around and play pranks on everyone. A Halloween where you could go trick-or-treating with your friends, because most houses were less than a quarter of a mile from each other. A Halloween where everyone, adults included, understood how important Halloween was to you.
The Halloweens I experienced as a kid were fucking wonderful. But just once, I wanted a Roseanne Halloween.
How I Met Your Mother: "The Slutty Pumpkin Returns"
I moved from North Carolina to NYC, because it's the true path of an artist to be miserable in a small town and then move to a large town where you're only mostly miserable. And it's there that I learned that you will see most of the people you know maybe once every few months. It's just hard to hang out with people. Sure, a subway system connects the whole city, but deciding to use it is flipping the coin on whether a particular train works that day or not. So you'll go a long time without seeing someone important to you. "Oh, I remember you! You were at that thing in 1988! New Jersey now, huh?"
The How I Met Your Mother Halloween episode "The Slutty Pumpkin Returns" gets that more than most NYC-based sitcoms. In it, human sweater vest Ted Mosby finally meets up with a girl that he saw at a Halloween party years earlier. She'd been dressed as a pumpkin, and as he did with most things with a pulse, he fell in love with her. But now, upon meeting her and dating her, he finds that they have absolutely no spark. Sitcoms, right? One minute you're in a zany situation, the next you're finding out that you've spent the last ten years pining after a lie. Laugh track!
Halloween in a big city is weird. On one hand, you want to explore what it has to offer, but it's easy to get discouraged by the fact that you know that something like "HALLOWEEN PARTY FEATURING DJ QUANTUM. HALF-OFF SHOTS. PEOPLE IN COSTUMES GET A FREE PUMPKIN TEQUILA ENEMA" will attract roughly 30,000 people. So you go to parties, where you make friends you don't see again for eight years. And so your big-city circle of friends becomes a mix of a core group you hang out with constantly and people you see once a decade. It's kind of nice, especially in a sea of sitcoms that portray NYC as a place where you apparently can teleport from borough to borough, never having to worry about petty things like time or physics.
Walker, Texas Ranger: "The Children Of Halloween"
I don't blame you if you don't want to watch Walker, Texas Ranger. Chuck Norris is a pretty cartoonish figure in pop culture, but most episodes of Walker are a slog. Chuck kicks some criminals, administers a moral lesson, and talks down to everyone. Chuck Norris is judge, jury, executioner, God, Jesus, and Shakespeare in Walker, Texas Ranger. Somehow, Chuck Norris made a show about roundhouse kicks into something as boring as a Pat Robertson colonoscopy.
However, if you're looking for something that is simultaneously a piece of batshit holiday insanity and the Walker-est Texas-est Ranger-est episode of Walker, Texas Ranger ever, watch "The Children Of Halloween." It opens with Norris scoffing at his black co-worker's George Washington Carver costume. Walker is a Texas Ranger, but more than that, he's an awful dickhead.
One scene of men in ape masks shooting machine guns at a convenience store for no reason later, and we get a touching montage of kids practicing martial arts that feels like it lasts two hours. One of those kids is abducted by a satanic cult, and Walker is dropped into a race against time to stop children from being sacrificed. How spooky is all of this? So spooky that the opening credits adopt a Tales From The Crypt font and show us a cemetery with a blue filter over it. Fucking boo.
That's ultimate spooky.
Regardless, Walker has never met a problem he couldn't quite easily resolve by beating it unconscious. In the nick of time, he literally flies onto the screen with a side-kick, and then breaks a Satan worshiper's neck in front of a group of stunned children. He proceeds to kick an entire cult into submission and saves the day. Walker finishes the episode by drinking coffee in a bar while ignoring the women who hit on him, because as the theme song says, "That's what a ranger's gonna be." Yep. Murder a bunch of strangers in front of elementary schoolers and never have sex, like, ever. It's what a ranger's gonna be. Who am I to argue?
Daniel has a spooky, scary Twitter.
The Simpsons Tree House of Horror Collection is objectively the greatest Halloween TV you'll ever find on this Earth. Enjoy!
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