It’s hard to believe that after more than three decades of parodying horror stories, The Simpsons’ annual “Treehouse of Horror” anthology has yet to cover Stephen King’s 1986 horror novel It or the two adaptations that followed.
But here we are in 2022, and The Simpsons creative team has finally gotten around to It, making up for lost time by committing an entire animated episode to the tribute rather than just one short segment– which makes perfect sense considering the decidedly more epic nature of the source material.
But “Not It” comes not in lieu of this year’s traditional Halloween offering, but in addition to it, with this installment labeled as “Treehouse of Horror Presents…” The episode opens with a young Barney Gumble (voiced, as always by Dan Castellaneta) following his paper boat down a rainy street– I love the running meta commentary on how he definitely finds this fun. Then, of course, an evil-looking clown appears in a sewer drain and identifies himself as Krusto (also Castellaneta, but what was wrong with “Krustywise”?) Soon kids are going missing all over Kingfield– which is naturally what Springfield is named in this parody– and Homer Simpson (Castellaneta yet again) is intent on tracking down his lost friend. When he’s attacked by some bullies (including teenage versions of Seymour Skinner and Gary Chalmers, both voiced by Harry Shearer) while riding his bike, a group of “Losers” made up of Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria), Carl (Alex Désert), Comic Book Guy (Azaria too), and Marge Bouvier (Julie Kavner) come to his rescue and invite them to join their secret club. They each recount the times they encountered Krusto in recent memory, and discover the clown’s history as an entertainer who could never seem to get a laugh throughout his long existence. The five kids are able to trick Krusto into destroying himself by laughing at his self-harm, and then Comic Book Guy tricks Marge into liking him by signing his name to a secret-admirer letter actually written by Homer.
27 years later, Krusto returns and the five friends must reunite in Springfield because of a pact they made to destroy Krusto once and for all, but now CBG and Marge are married with two children who answer the question of what Bart (Nancy Cartwright) and Lisa (Yeardley Smith) would be like if they switched personalities. Meanwhile, Homer owns the local tavern– now called “D’ohs” instead of Moe’s– Carl is an astronaut set to destroy an Earth-threatening asteroid, and Moe is a Las Vegas-headlining ventriloquist. As adults, the Losers come together and find their way into Krusto’s underground lair, where they are able to release his captive audience of childrens’ ghosts by destroying a laughter sign with Marge’s fastball, causing the evil clown to permanently self-destruct, but not before he forces CBG to reveal the truth about the letter to Marge. Comic Book Guy sacrifices himself to help the others take out Krusto, finally committing an act of bravery, and the story ends with the remaining four Losers back on their childhood bikes as adults. Then we zoom out to reveal the “Treehouse of Horror”-regular aliens Kang (Shearer) and Kodos (Castellaneta) pitching each other on which Stephen King stories they should subject the Simpsons too next, settling on The Tommyknockers because the name sounds funny.
I’ve never been a particularly big Stephen King fan, but I have loved The Simpsons, and even during the long-running animated series’ weakest periods, “Treehouse of Horror” has always been among its highest and most rewarding points. And while I’m definitely looking forward to next week’s “Treehouse of Horror XXXIII,” this week’s “Not It” just fell kind of flat to me, mostly because I didn’t find myself laughing all that much. As a parody of the It novel and movies, I guess it works okay, but the stuff about Comic Book Guy stealing Marge away from Homer at a young age just felt kind of icky to me, even in what amounts to an “imaginary” story. I think there may have been a way to successfully translate It into the world of The Simpsons, but this attempt just didn’t really do it for me. Maybe it would have worked better with 1980s Bart and friends tackling Krusto (seriously, why not Krustywise?) in Part 1, and then aged-up for a current-day showdown against the clown in Part 2. Wouldn’t that make more sense, considering that 30+ years have actually passed since Bart was originally ten years old? I dunno, this comes across as a first draft that could have used some reworking and rewriting to really shine. And speaking of shining– excuse me, “Shinning”– let’s all revisit 1994’s “Treehouse of Horror V” (available to stream on Disney+) for a truly primo Simpsons take on Stephen King’s work.
New episodes of The Simpsons air Sunday evenings on FOX.