Looking around at a lot of the other lists of the best “Treehouse of Horror” segments, like over at 11Points, IGN and more, “The Shinning” tops the lists. What is it about this rather simple parody, which does nothing more than insert the characters of The Simpsons into the narrative of The Shining, that makes it stand out? To brief, it’s the strongest segment because of the characters nonchalance, it contains the full spectrum of bumbling characters and captures the audience so well.
By the sixth season of The Simpsons the writing team was fairly aware of who their audience was. As such they were able to cater to their sensibilities automatically without straining to reach demographics out of their reach. The crowd for The Simpsons is whip smart but not to the point of being intellectual, with a knowledge base primarily concerned with popular culture, so a popular art-house film like The Shining is certainly ripe for the picking.
By all occasions this segment should struggle to work. There is no change in the narrative, you’re just replacing Jack Nicholson with Homer, the ghostly bartender for Moe and such. Surprisingly many of the jokes don’t come at the expense of the film. They don’t point out any fatal errors, rather they embrace the story and, because the characters are so well formed by themselves, everything just flows so organically that it’s more of a character story than a parody of the film.
The style is of course mocked, so that impending sense of dread that drives the opening of Kubrick’s film is used to open “The Shinning”, but the first gag is that, on such a long trip out, Homer keeps forgetting to lock the door (front at first, then back door the second time) resulting in having to turn around TWICE. The third trip up Lisa points out that Grandpa’s missing, but Homer’s begrudged look towards the finally approaching hotel means that he’s not turning back, even for a family member. Homer’s bumbling nature on display again.
As owner of the house, Mr. Burns shows them around, and the it’s not the fact that house was the site of Satanic ritual or lays on an Indian burial ground that disturbs Homer, it’s that it was the host of several John Denver specials.
During their stay, Burns has decided to remove all temptation from Homer, as in his view Homer is there to care for the home, not laze around, but Smithers has some concerns:
Burns: Yes, by cutting off cable TV and the beer supply, I can ensure an honest winter’s work out of those low-lives.
Smithers: Sir, did you ever stop to think that [closes car trunk] maybe it was doing this that caused the previous caretakers to go insane and murder their families?
Burns: Hmm…perhaps. Tell you what: we come back and everyone’s slaughtered, I owe you a Coke.
It’s typical of Burns’ personality to belittle the lives of his workers in Capitalist fashion, so again this is just another character beat.
As Homer becomes wise to Burns’ restrictions he begins to lose his mind, “No beer and no tv make Homer something something…” “Go crazy?” suggests Marge, carelessly. “Don’t mind if I do!” Homer belts as he chases Marge around the house. Like the film, Homer’s been ‘hallucinating,’ but it’s hard to say if the house is haunted or if it’s in his head–this is carried just as well in this parody as it is in Kubrick’s film.
Listen, I could go on as I have with the last episodes and detail the funniest parts of “The Shinning,” but everything is just such winning combination with this. It’s funny, it doesn’t soil the original, and gets some great use out of characters that were far from tiring yet. Homer was bumbling, but he wasn’t without a brain, his nature was that he was lazy, not stupid. It’s the strongest of the segments by far, and even today every time I watch it I laugh because it’s still funny. The jokes are timeless and based off of the characterization that the writers–now pros with the characters–were able to take in quasi-realistic directions. It’s simply the best of the best and encapsulates The Simpsons at it’s strongest point; not trying to be anything, just trying to make us laugh.
Now, some great quotes from “The Shinning”
Moe: [through door] Homer? It’s Moe. Uh, look: some of the ghouls and I are a little concerned the project isn’t moving forward./Homer: Can’t murder now: eating.
Marge: [into microphone] Hello, police? This is Marge Simpson. My husband is on a murderous rampage. Over./Wiggum: [sighs] Well thank God that’s over. I was worried there for a second. [turns off radio]
Willie: Now look, boy: if your Dad goes gaga, you just use that…Shin of yours to call me and I’ll come a running. But don’t be reading my mind between four and five. That’s Willie’s time!
See all the segments here.