4. King of the Hill – Hilloween
Thanks to continual Adult Swim airings, King of the Hill only now getting the popularity that it deserved for its entire run. One of its greatest moments came when Hank Hill found himself in a bit of a role reversal. Instead of being a force for boring normalcy and old-fashioned values, Hilloween casts Hank against a super-strict Christian woman (played by Sally Field) out to cancel the disgusting Halloween fun the citizens of Arlen crave.
The story of a dour, hyper-Christian trying to ruin Halloween is easy to relate to for anyone who trick-or-treated in the suburban South. Hank (normally the old fuddy duddy who can’t understand the youth of today) becomes a disruptive force, showing that gross Halloween fun and Jesus can coexist. Not only do you get to see Hank in a childish devil costume, you also get to see what a nuanced character he can be when given the right foil to work against.
3. Community – Horror Stories In Seven Easy Steps
After a divisive second-season zombie-themed Halloween episode, Community’s third season celebration somehow got more grounded and more ridiculous at the same time. In Horror Stories in Seven Easy Steps, perpetual psychologist Britta challenges the group to tell scary stories so she can judge who has a personality disorder. It leads to each member of the study group telling horrifying tales, like Shirley’s above vision of a liberal devil. AND it had the greatest Beetlejuice Easter egg you’ll ever find…
Like the best Halloween shows, Community uses the holiday to expose truths about its characters, including Abed’s desire to have every story make absolute sense, Pierce’s fear of minorities, Annie’s desire to fix broken men, Troy’s brotherly love for Abed, Britta Brittaing things up, and Jeff being too cool for Halloween. Fortunately, it all ends with a hug, as the exodus of castmembers was still well over a season away.
2. Freaks And Geeks – Tricks And Treats
The Adventures of Pete and Pete nearly made this list, but this episode of the one-season-wonder Freaks and Geeks covered the same territory even better. For most folks, there comes that awkward time in childhood when you realize you’re too old to trick or treat, but go out anyway while worrying the world will judge you for it. Sam Weir and his dorky pals suffer from that same fear, while his sister Lindsey is hanging out with stoners and becoming more of a rebellious daughter. In both cases their dreams are destroyed in cringeworthy fashion when the siblings cross paths on Halloween night. Eggs never seemed more cruel.
Written by series creator Paul Feig (he also directed the previously mentioned episode of The Office), Tricks and Treats is Freaks and Geeks at its most powerful. It’s actually a little hard to go back and watch the boys get beat up for their candy while Lindsey’s slacker fun is ruined by a dose of reality. Even Mrs. Weir gets bummed out when kids throw away her Halloween cookies due to the new fear of poisoned treats that popped up in the 1980s. There’s a lot of depressing reality to go with the humor on Freaks and Geeks, which is a big reason the show is so damn endearing. While there’s some sadness, this episode is made extra special when Joe Flaherty basically recreates his Count Floyd character from SCTV.
1. Simpsons – Treehouse of Horror V
You could just take this entry as “Treehouse of Horror” in general as our top entry, but that would be cheating the format, and Laser Time is nothing if not dedicated. With over two decades of great Simpsons Halloween episodes to choose from, we had to narrow this one down to the best three in a single 30 minutes, and that prize goes to the season six’s combination of The Shinning, Time And Punishment, and Nightmare Cafeteria, which are some of the grisliest (and funniest) minutes of Simpsons ever.
The opening parody of Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic starts Treehouse of Horror V strong, with amazingly accurate recreations of the terrifying scenes and some of the best ‘crazy Homer’ acting ever animated. That’s almost immediately topped by Homer’s visits to alternate timelines that include a murderous Maggie and rain made of donuts. Then comes the cannibalistic tour de force, where all of Springfield Elementary’s students get murdered and eaten one by one. All of these included a great running gag where Groundskeeper Willie was murdered multiple times and the episode closed with a big (bloody) musical number!
Who could ask for a better close to a Halloween than inside-out Chorus Line? Not I!
Like our picks? Have any other favored Halloween ‘sodes? Let your spooky voice to be heard in the comments!