Holidays are easy fodder for a television series. Christmastime? Put up a tree, open some presents, and you’ve got a ready-made Christmas episode. Thanksgiving? Turkey dinner. The list goes on and on. Halloween is no exception; you just put your characters in costumes, and you’ve got yourself a Halloween episode. Some television series, however, don’t just insert their characters into a Halloween setting; they instead bring a Halloween setting to their characters in an organic way, and the result is often some of the best episodes of a series. As an added bonus, Halloween episodes usually (stress: usually) work well as standalone stories, so you can jump in and watch the one episode and not worry about following a continuing plot.
Before I start this list, full disclosure: I was born in 1987 and, therefore, grew up watching television in the ’90s. Just bear that in mind before judging my choices too harshly.
Now, I know I just got through saying the whole thing about the ’90s, and then I go and pick a series that aired before I was born. Trust me; M*A*S*H is the exception which proves the rule. The charm of M*A*S*H, and part of what made it one of the highest-rated television series ever, is its timeless approach of bringing everyday activities to war. Whether it’s the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or any war; those fighting are just regular people trying to live regular lives.
The episode you should watch: “Trick or Treatment”
Why that episode? Easy, it’s the only Halloween episode M*A*S*H ever did. Of course, you get to see the show’s characters in makeshift costumes (including Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce dressed as Superman), but the real quality of the episode comes through the characters’ telling of campfire ghost stories; only their campfire takes the form of injured soldiers, and their campground is an operating room. It’s these eerily human moments which make M*A*S*H one of the best television series ever.
4. Veronica Mars
I wanted to include Veronica Mars because, frankly, we have a lot of Marshmallows among our ProFans; plus, this past summer, Veronica Mars won our Battle of the Female Badasses. What I’ve found in watching the few episodes I have seen of the series is that I am absolutely a Marshmallow. I’m also a huge fan of voice actors, so imagine my delight when Daran Norris showed up.
The episode you should watch: “President Evil”
Again, the only Halloween episode of the series, but it’s legitimately a favorite for many fans of the show. One of the fun things about Halloween episodes is seeing who the characters dress up as. In this instance, Veronica and Logan are Meg and Jack White (The White Stripes). Plus, with the Point Break-esque president masks and Veronica’s “You’re gonna regret that” line, it’s just such an enjoyable episode.
3. Home Improvement
Now, this is absolutely a result of being a kid in the ’90s. I loved watching Home Improvement (still do), and it made me a Tim Allen fan for life (the fact that he was Toy Story‘s Buzz Lightyear in 1995 blew my 8-year-old mind). One of the best things about Halloween every year was seeing what great pranks would take place on Home Improvement; they were always elaborate and overblown because that was the nature of the Tim Taylor character.
The episode you should watch: “I was a Teenage Taylor”
Excepting the first season, Home Improvement had a Halloween episode every year, so this was a tough choice. In the end, “I was a Teenage Taylor” was the obvious winner. It came in the show’s sixth season, so the kids in the cast were old enough to really participate in the hijinks (yeah, I said “hijinks”), but they were still young enough to be believably frightened by the “haunted house” plot of the episode. What resulted is a hilarious back-and-forth prank battle that gets everyone involved.
Another show of the ’90s, and another sitcom family. The main difference between Roseanne and Home Improvement is, of course, that the Conners are more of a lower-middle class family, and the Taylors are upper-middle class. That’s a difference on the surface, though; the similarities run much deeper than that, with my main reason for having now watched each episode of each series at least 5 times being the terrific chemistry present in each cast.
The episode you should watch: “Trick Or Treat”
Just like with Home Improvement, Roseanne didn’t have a Halloween episode in its first season, but it then had one in every season that followed. Many of the episodes also share the “prank battle” plot device of those on Home Improvement. The absolute best episode, and what puts Roseanne ahead of Home Improvement on this list, is “Trick or Treat”. Are there costumes? Yes, but beyond the trivial layer of “Halloween stuff”, the episode involves DJ (the Conners’ son) wanting to dress as a witch. Dan, the father played by John Goodman, has a problem with this, and he has to come to terms with that. At the same time, Roseanne’s costume is a male trucker, and she ends up passing herself off as a man in a bar and experiences a few hours as the opposite sex. The episode deals with gender identity and sexuality in a unique and organic way, without getting all pushy or preachy about it; all centered on the premise of “Halloween”. It’s not only the best Halloween episode of the series, but it’s one of the show’s best episodes, period.
1. The Simpsons
Of course it’s The Simpsons! It’s so obviously The Simpsons that I debated intentionally making the series ineligible. In the end, obviously, I didn’t; I couldn’t. The Simpsons‘ “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, just like every other aspect of the long-running series, have shaped the past 25 years of television. In case you’re unaware, the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes are each split into three self-contained, non-canonical parts–reminiscent of The Twilight Zone, which almost made this list with “The Howling Man”.
The episode you should watch: “Treehouse of Horror III”
This was a nearly impossible choice. It came down to “Treehouse of Horror III”, and “Treehouse of Horror V”. There’s really no bad choice there, but “III” narrowly edges “V” because its three segments are more evenly great, and because “III” came in season four (perhaps the best season of The Simpsons), a time when the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes still had a plot that loosely connected each segment; in this instance, it was a Halloween party where each segment was a scary story told by an attendee. The three segments of “III” are: Clown Without Pity, about a cursed Krusty doll; King Homer, a King Kong parody; and Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies, a story where Bart and Lisa accidentally cause zombies to attack Springfield. Included in Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies is the classic Homer moment: “Dad, you killed Zombie Flanders!” “He was a zombie?” Now, if this was about the best segment? “Treehouse of Horror V”‘s The Shinning–a parody of The Shining–would win, hands down.
There you have it, an entirely subjective list of some great television episodes you can check out and make your Halloween that much more fun. The great thing about the Halloween episode trope is that there are so many out there, so I’m sure I didn’t include one or two you love. Jump into the comment section below, and let me know your favorites.