It’s not that often that “BOO!” is followed by thigh-slapping gales of laughter and raucous guffaws – unless of course someone thought to turn True Blood or The Walking Dead into sitcoms (it can only be a matter of time surely) in which case laugh away as you have the bejeezus scared out of you – but in sitcom land, usually in the week preceding Halloween, it happens all the time.
Now seasonally-themed episodes are nothing new of course in television-land since they’re a handy hook on which to hang all sorts of fun plot devices and character explorations but sitcoms are especially fond of them, and in most cases do them very well.
Here are five episodes of which I am especially fond either because they’re (a) funny, (b) insanely clever, or (c) and let’s face I wouldn’t have included them if they weren’t, a winning combination of the two.
So grab your Blanket o’ Protection, throw yourself on the sofa, and get set to laugh and recoil in terror, sometimes all at once …
DHARMA AND GREG – “A Closet Full of Hell” (S2, E6, 1998)
It’s Halloween and Dharma and Greg are throwing a party. Before the party they find a hidden closet filled with freaky looking dolls. Dharma senses they are evil and takes them all down to prepare to get rid of them, [yet] when she returns the next day all of the dolls have been placed back in their original spot, [along] with two new dolls that look like Dharma and Greg. Abby and Dharma decide to do an exorcism. They feel better until they hear footsteps coming from the closet, [at which point] they go in they see a doll hanging from the celling, a frightened Dharma screaming when they see an elderly women pop out from a trap door. They meet with the woman and much to Dharma and Greg’s relief the woman, who made the dolls as a hobby, has been the one moving them around. She invites them over for tea later that night. When they go over to the house a man answers the door and says that the old women they had talked to died fifteen years ago. Dharma and Greg are shocked and run away. Jane and the old women appear in the door, revealing it was just an [elaborate] Halloween prank. (source: tvrage.com)
This is golden Dharma and Greg.
With the exception that normally chilled, let the universe do what it wants Dharma is the one freaking out while Greg does his best to calm her down and allay her fears.
That is until it begins to appear as if there is something unsettlingly evil afoot, at which they both jump on the freaked out wagon.
While you suspect Jane is beyond it all, you’re not really sure until she and the woman appear in the doorway to confirm they are behind it, part of an ongoing series of pranks that have bounced between the two best friends for years.
No one does seriously spooked like Jenna Elfman, although watching calm, serious, considered Greg shed his grip on dismissive ratinalism, one screw at a time, is deliciously fun to watch and never grows old.
COMMUNITY – “Epidemiology” (S2, E6, 2010)
The Dean purchased a bunch of old army rations from a military surplus store. Mixed in with all of them was some sort of army experiment in biotechnology, one that turns otherwise ordinary living people into something very much resembling zombies. Pierce is the first to turn, but once he does, the virus spreads rapidly throughout the Halloween party. Soon enough, the only ones who aren’t infected are Dean Pelton, outside, and Troy and Abed, locked in a creepy basement with the zombies approaching. And then Abed sacrifices himself to save his best friend (sniff) and Troy has to make a choice: Does he embrace what he’s becoming – a nerd – or go back to the cool guy he was? (source: avclub.com)
“Epidemiology” has it all.
Zombies, ABBA tunes, the kind of narrative insanity that only Community can get away with, all wrapped around a touching story about Troy embarking on some very meaningful character growth.
If that all isn’t enough, and in Greendale’s universe it almost never is, we get the utterly expected hookup between Shirley and Chang, with both characters giving into the sort of quite understandable impulses that grip people in dire, and seemingly unsalvageable situations (which is pretty much what a horde of zombies banging at the door of the bathroom you’re sheltering in would definitely qualify as).
So we get funny and scary and meaningful all wrapped up in one drooling, flesh-craving loopy package, that perfectly taps into the over the top larger than life vibe that defines this most flamboyant of holidays, while simultaneously capturing the insane spirit of this most envelope-pushing of sitcoms.
THE BIG BANG THEORY – “The Middle Earth Paradigm” (s1, E7, 2007)
After a disastrous afternoon of paintball, the guys come back to the apartment where Penny invites them to her Halloween party. After a miscommunication leads to the four guys dressing like The Flash, they all change and go with Leonard as Frodo, Sheldon as The Doppler Effect, Howard as Robin Hood and Raj as Thor. Not accustomed to parties with normal people, they feel out of place but when Leonard tries to socialize, he discovers that Penny’s hulking ex-boyfriend Kurt has shown up and is attempting to patch things up. Leonard is undaunted and tries to get him to leave despite the man’s massive size. The unfortunate encounter leads none-the-less to his first kiss with Penny. (Written by Jerry Roberts/ source: imdb.com)
The first season of any show is make or break time, and The Big Bang Theory‘s writers wisely decided to use their first Halloween episode to further establish the dynamics of the group of the four friends at the centre of the show, and give one of them in particular, Leonard, the chance to get tantalisingly close to the object of his fantasies, across the hall neighbour Penny.
We get to see Sheldon and Leonard’s room mate relationship in full flight, Raj’s inability to speak to women on full, cringe-worthy display and Howard indulging once again in the mistaken delusional belief that he is romantic catnip to women.
It’s all so hilariously, fish out of water tragic and yet poignant as all get out as Leonard is given that most out of reach of prizes – a kiss with the woman of his dreams.
It’s exactly what any sitcom should use a seasonally themed episode for – advance what we know about the characters against the background of a highly unusual background and have a whole lot of fun in the process.
FRASIER – “Halloween” (S5, E3, 1997)
Roz (Peri Gilpin) tells Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) that she may be pregnant, while Niles’ (David Hyde Pierce) imagination and paranoia get the better of him when he hears Frasier and Daphne (Jane Leeves) shared a room together after a long night out. It all comes to a head at his Halloween party when he confuses Roz’s situation for Daphne’s, and assumes Frasier is the father. (source: complex.com)
Thanks to my parents love of finely crafted British sitcoms, one of the things I grew up loving more than anything was ever more ridiculous, over the top escalating farce.
One simply misunderstanding, and a few half-understood conversations later, with everyone not just on different pages but in completely separate libraries, and you had the makings of a situation so funny it wasn’t unusual to mind me rolling on the floor with laughter, tears streaming down my eyes.
Frasier is one of the few US sitcoms I have come across that knew how to set and execute a farcical situation, and actors talented enough to know what to do with it.
“Halloween” is one of the best examples of Frasier in full farce mode with the Chinese whispers, and ass-making assumptions in full glorious flight and all manner of amusing, rib-tickling scenes springing into being as a result.
It is one of the funniest episodes of any sitcom I have ever seen and just the thought of it has me clutching my sides, ready for a laughter-induced tuck-and-roll onto the carpet.
FRIENDS – “The One With the Halloween Party” (S8, E6, 2001)
Monica and Chandler are having a costume party for Halloween. Phoebe bumps into Ursula who is getting married in a week and invites her in return for Ursula’s invitation [to her] wedding. Phoebe really likes Ursula’s fiancé Eric [and discovers that] Eric and Ursula only met two weeks earlier and that Ursula told Eric a lot of lies about herself. Phoebe tells him the truth about Ursula while Rachel is trying to be good with children by handing out candy and money after the candy is gone. (source: imdb.com)
A very funny episode with a reasonably serious core – Phoebe’s eternal sibling rivalry with her “evil” twin Ursula, who came out on Satan’s side of the womb – “The One With the Halloween Party” features Chandler in an emasculating pink bunny costume (doesn’t Monica know him at all?), Ross trying some nerdish punnery – he combines a potato and a Russian satellite and comes as “Spud-nik” (you may groan now) and Rachel trying to buy love with candy, and when that runs out, money.
What it did well was give each character a chance to strut their stuff – Chandler perpetually insecure about his masculinity, Ross desperately trying to be hip, Joey being, well Joey, Monica running the whole thing with military precision, and Rachel, still looking to be universally loved, trying everything to make every single trick or treating kid adore her.
But the star of the show, and the one with the meatiest storyline is Phoebe, whose ditziness obscures a heart of solid gold, one which is appalled pretty much constantly by the scheming depths to which her estranged twin Ursula will stoop in order to get what she wants.
While everyone else struggles with their own minor dramas, she does the right thing and helps Ursula’s intended husband to dodge a deceitful bullet.
It’s touching and sweet and very true to who Phoebe is and elevates this episode above the general run of the mill Halloween fare.