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TV review: 'The Simpsons' raises bar with meta Halloween specials

Krusto tricks Barney in "The Simpsons" "It" parody. Photo courtesy of 20th Television
1 of 5 | Krusto tricks Barney in "The Simpsons" "It" parody. Photo courtesy of 20th Television

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Halloween specials have been a Simpsons tradition since Season 2. Season 34 marks the second time they've done two Halloween episodes in a year.

In Season 27 they aired "Halloween of Horror" in addition to the annual "Treehouse of Horrors." A full episode, "Not It," airs Sunday and "Treehouse of Horrors XXXIII" on Oct. 30.

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"Not It" is a parody of Stephen King's It. They probably needed a full episode since the book is over 1000 pages and it took two feature films to adapt.

Krusty the Klown is, of course, the Pennywise stand-in, Krusto. Simpsons characters play the heroes of It as children and adults.

The characters play more off their Simpsons personas than the It characters, but still call themselves The Loser's Club. It's also fun to see how The Simpsons adapted Springfield landmarks to the book and film's New England setting, which they call Kingfield.

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In the second half, the characters have grown up differently than their characters in The Simpsons' canon, which is also fun. The focus on It doesn't stop "Not It" from taking more potshots at Fox, and including parodies of even more King books.

"Not It" offers a "Treehouse of Horrors" style film parody with a little more breathing room. "Treehouse of Horror XXXIII" chooses three subjects that each allow The Simpsons to make self-referential jokes in new formats.

The first segment, "The Pooka Dook," satirizes The Babadook. In the scary storybook Marge reads to Maggie, they've Simpsonized the artwork of The Babadook.

This story also gets rid of Homer, Bart and Lisa in the plot since The Babadook was only a mother and one child. But this "Treehouse" is only getting warmed up.

The second segment, "Death Tome," is a spoof of the Japanese manga Death Note. As such, it is animated fully in anime style like the Japanese animated adaptations.

Like the classic "Treehouse" episode that rendered Homer in 3D animation, turning Simpsons characters into anime puts both anime and The Simpsons in new contexts.

Lisa as an anime character is tall and lanky, but it's not just asking what Simpsons characters would look like in a different style. It's also taking the form of anime and applying those eyes, hair, costumes and backgrounds to Simpsons archetypes.

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A nice variety of main and ensemble background characters get the anime treatment, and it's wild hearing the familiar voices come out of anime characters. They have a funny take on the rules of Death Note too.

The third segment, "Simpsons World" achieves the feat of satirizing Westworld and becoming a self-referential take on 34 seasons of The Simpsons. Guests visit a theme park where they get to live out scenes from Simpsons episodes.

"Simpsons World" includes some well known episodes like the monorail, Springfield Gorge, Kamp Krusty and Homer backing into the bushes. But, you never know if they'll re-enact a whole scene, show it in the background or mention it in dialogue.

There are some deep cut references for long-time Simpsons fans, too. "Simpsons World" asks what the Simpsons characters would do if faced with not only their own legacy, but fans' expectations of that legacy.

After 34 seasons, The Simpsons continues to find new subject matter. Even in traditional formats like the Halloween specials, the show has flexed its satirical muscles harder than ever this year.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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