*as seen in The Buzzworthy Vol. 28.2*
If you’re trying to get in the Halloween spirit, try setting some time aside for yourself and Netflix to go through these fantastic TV episodes that will remind you of the true meaning of Halloween.
- 30 Rock (“Jack Gets in the Game” S2E2)
A Halloween-themed episode? No, not really. This episode is kind of a cheat to put on this list, but it warrants its place among other inspiring Halloween episodes solely because of one thing: a music video of Tracy Morgan’s character performing a “novelty party song” titled Werewolf Bar Mitzvah. Potentially the greatest fake-Halloween-themed song in history, the brief time where this song is the focus of the episode is brilliant and will definitely get you feeling Halloween-y. Coincidentally, while mentioned, this isn’t exactly a Halloween episode, but that doesn’t stop the characters putting on disguises: Jack Donaghy and Devon Banks attempt to mask their respective heart attack and homosexuality in a game of football being played to nab a promotion, Jenna Maroney embraces her weight gain to become a more fun version of herself, and Liz Lemon disguises herself as a woman successfully navigating life after a tough breakup. Not too spooky and not too tricky, but a werewolf song and an ensemble of characters lying about who they are sounds enough like Halloween to me.
- Malcolm in the Middle (“Halloween Approximately” S2E2)
The closest this episode gets to being scary is the cold open, where brothers Reese and Malcolm push each other in eating and drinking expired refrigerator items in “a game that has no winners.” An episode that takes place a week after Halloween (making the title appropriate) finds eldest brother Francis returning home and convincing his younger siblings to engage with him in acts of mindless vandalism to make up for a Halloween spent trick-or-treating. What makes this such a Halloween episode – aside from it being an episode of Malcolm in the Middle – is the prominence of evil demons and, in true holiday fashion, those demons getting their comeuppance. In this case, however, the demons are Malcolm and his brothers (who invent a new breed of weapon to terrorize their neighborhood, only to have those same neighbors turn the scales against them) and his parents Hal and Lois, who in their pursuit of justice against a speeding car end up stealing it and finding themselves in a ditch. The most memorable part of the episode? Francis’ speech on the true meaning of Halloween: “Halloween is in your hearts. Every time a little kid breaks into tears, that’s Halloween… As long as you carry the spirit of vandalism and destruction in your hearts, that’s Halloween.”
- Gravity Falls (“Summerween” S1E12)
For an animated television show, Gravity Falls is undoubtedly one of the most sentimental, clever programs around, and it’s Halloween-themed episode is no exception: an episode that begins innocently enough, with twins Dipper and Mabel planning to go trick-or-treating in adorable twin costumes of peanut butter and jam, and ends with a grown man eating alive a monstrous creature created by the merged sentience of abandoned pieces of candy. Yeah, this episode got pretty messed up pretty fast. Made up of discarded and forgotten “loser candy”, the Summerween Trickster comes to anyone failing to show the proper Summerween spirit, challenging them to either collect enough pieces of candy to sacrifice to him or get eaten alive. The greatest point in the episode comes when his victims do fail, the Trickster does eat one of them alive, and then that grown man-child gnaws his way out of the Trickster’s stomach, killing him through consumption of the same sentient candy that created him. And somewhere in the midst of all this lies a heartwarming story about the relationship between twins Dipper and Mabel. This is a really weird Halloween episode, and that’s what makes it so incredible.
- The Office (“Halloween” S2E5)
The Office is traditionally more of a Christmas show, but that doesn’t stop it from doing Halloween right. A genuinely fun, humorous, fantastic episode finds Michael Scott trying to find out which of his costumed employees needs to be let go, but needing to find a way in which he can fire them and still be their friend – which is great because his employees, Dwight the main exception, don’t consider him to be their friend. Abandoning traditional work clothes in favor of fun costumes allows the show to shed the any weight from it and engage in a brilliant half-hour of TV as a Sith Lord, Three-Hole Punch Jim, and several cats compete to make sure they aren’t the one fired. The best moment of the episode comes when Michael, about to tell Creed that he’s fired, lets Creed instead convince him to fire someone else instead. A Halloween episode without any clichéd Halloween tropes and with an abundance of the clever characters and wit that makes The Office brilliant will get you in the Halloween spirit for sure.
- Parks and Recreation (“Meet ‘n’ Greet” S4E5)
Any Halloween-themed episode starring Aubrey Plaza, a woman who would probably live in Jack Skellington’s Halloweentown if given the chance, is one that you already know is going to be a good time. Married couple April and Andy throw a Halloween party at their house without asking for Ben’s permission, and more importantly, without even telling him. Typical Parks and Rec shenanigans ensue, including Chris hitting on Jerry’s daughter right in front of his face, Ron and Ann taking it upon themselves to fix April and Andy’s nightmarishly unsafe home, and Ben passive-aggressively enjoying the party in an effort to convince April and Andy of his anger towards them without coming right up and telling them. A side-plot featuring Leslie and Tom, one of the best parings the show can couple, adds a lot to the beauty of a Parks and Recreation episode at its finest. The highlight of the episode? Chris, having left the party, wondering where his keys are, and April, who has been annoyed by his cheerful attitude all night, being revealed to have stolen them. Beautiful.
- It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (“Who Got Dee Pregnant?” S6E7)
Sweet Dee claiming she’s pregnant, the Gang wondering why she says it all the time and insulting Dee by saying other things they say all the time (including “Nobody cares about you, Dee”), and Dee finally getting their attention by claiming one of them impregnated her at the Gang’s last Halloween party, leading the Gang to figure out who actually banged Dee, sets in motion another crazy episode of the most psychologically insane cast on television. Whimsical performances by a cast that has gotten so proficient at what they do make this episode brilliant in scope and nature – from the use of recurring characters to further move the story along effectively, from Dee’s costume becoming more and more bird-like in flashbacks from the point of view to various characters (ending up as an actual ostrich at one point), to the final revelation that none of them impregnated Dee and she just wanted to ruin their night by stirring up paranoia, the Halloween theming of the night took what the Gang does so well – getting worked up over nothing and lots of yelling – and puts a holiday twist on it, adding a lot more fun to a show that does fun so well. You can’t really celebrate Halloween without watching this episode.
- Bob’s Burgers (“Fort Night” S4E2)
Bob’s Burgers is a genius-level show for a lot of reasons. For one, it’s just as effective and funny as any live-action sitcom. For two, its cast is just as witty, dynamic, and talented as any other cast on TV. And for three, Bob’s Burgers is amazing at taking a plot simple in scope and then running away with it, into the sunset of beautiful comedy. All three of these elements come into play in this Halloween special where the Belcher kids and their friends get trapped in a cardboard fort on Halloween night. The psychological horror of the episode is palpable even through animation, which is brilliant; a guest spot by Aziz Ansari, in addition to the fantastic work done by the rest of the regular cast, makes the episode easy and fun to watch; and the fact that something so simple – being trapped in a box – can be made compelling enough to keep your fascination for an entire episode without tiring of it is fantastic. Bob’s Burgers is an amazing program on a good day, and on Halloween, it’s even better.
- Psych (“This Episode Sucks” S6E3)
Psych is a show about a regular man with exceptional detective skills telling the police department that he is a psychic so they’ll let him help out with cases, and convincing them that he isn’t lying to them by basically being as obvious about the fakeness of his “ability” as he possibly can. That’s already a recipe for success for a Halloween episode, and that’s why Psych’s several different Halloween-themed episodes are so effective: it’s basically a Halloween-themed show, with its lead characters putting on masks and running around Santa Barbara, trick-or-treating for crime instead of candy. What makes this Halloween episode stand out from the others? It follows the case of a body drained of its blood, the fake psychic’s assertion that a vampire is to blame, and the no-nonsense head detective of the SBPD forging a connection with a woman who turns out to actually be the vampire, but isn’t actually a vampire and is just a lady who steals blood. It’s nonsensical, silly, spooky, funny Psych at its best, and when a Halloween show does a Halloween episode as ridiculous as this one sounds, you’re in for nothing but a treat.
- New Girl (“Keaton” S3E6)
Schmidt, a grown man who’s struggled with self-confidence issues his entire life falls into another depression, and his friend Nick Miller, a fellow grown man, is able to get him out of this depression the same way Schmidt’s mother used to: a fake correspondence with actor Michael Keaton. Set on Halloween, not only is this episode hilarious literally from start to finish, it features an introspective look into the powerful and yet very creepy bond two grown men share. Nick donning a Batman mask to get into character as Keaton in order to, as Jess Day points out, “catfish” Schmidt into getting back on his feet is one of the most ridiculous plots I’ve ever seen on television, and the fact that this plot plays into a Halloween episode not only makes it funnier but also lets more emotional weight accompany Schmidt’s emotional roller coaster of self-discovery. Also featuring costumes such as Joey Ramona Quimbly and Public Serpent, this is one of the strongest New Girl episodes and one of the best Halloween-themed sitcom episodes you’ll find out there, complete with lies, deceits, the unmasking of disguises, and “a little” drunkenness. What more could you want from Halloween?
- Community (“Epidemiology” S2E6)
Community is one of the most creatively inspired shows that has ever been on television. On an ordinary week, it’s balls-to-the-walls, an intense mix of phenomenal acting, phenomenal writing, and insane circumstances. When it does a themed episode (as it does so often, ranging from a Law and Order spoof to a Christmas celebration done for the majority in Claymation to an episode primarily filmed using felt puppets singing in a balloon) everything that Community does on a regular basis gets magnified. In one of the most inspired episodes of television, and perhaps the greatest Halloween-themed episode to ever grace television, an unknown substance that the Dean of a community college believed to be taco meat causes the student body to turn into, basically, zombies. Troy attempting to fight zombies with the Power of Imagination and realizing quickly how foolish he was to believe that would work, Chang and Shirley unexpectedly having a passionate tryst in a bathroom, Abed sacrificing himself so Troy could be “the first black man to make it to the end”, a bizarre beginning and ending narration by George Takei, and the solution to the zombie apocalypse being turning on the air conditioning are all examples of what makes Community, and this episode, so good. The best moment of the night? When a good-natured doctor refuses to admit a fellow student bit him until he transforms into one himself, having believed himself to be “special”. If you want to remind yourself of everything that makes Halloween great and laugh harder than you ever have in the process, this is the episode for you.
– Mike O’Malley