Ah Halloween – what a frightfully funny time it is!
Well actually no, it isn’t in general what with scary monsters, wandering zombies, haunted houses and so much candy it’s entirely possible your head will explode from the incredible sugar rush before you get home from trick or treating – which if you think about it would be a pretty cool, if rather final, effect; take that neighbour with your talking headless scarecrow and clown posse! – but in the hands of talented sitcom writers, it can be damn near hilarious.
And in the case of five of my favourite sitcom Halloween episodes, it is also awkward, squeamish and a thousand kinds of “Earth just swallow me up now please!” (Which again is a pretty awesome scary effect; the neighbourhood decorating prize is in the bag!)
But mostly funny, and a great way of throwing characters you love into situations they wouldn’t normally encounter.
Cue the laughter … and remember to look behind you as you chortle uncontrollably.
Why? Oh … no reason. Just watch the episodes will ya?
“The Middle Earth Paradigm” – The Big Bang Theory
This season 1 episode featured the mother of all fish out of water situations.
Choosing to attend the party of their beautiful, decidedly non-nerdy neighbour Penny (Kaley Cuoco) over their usual comic book shindig, – at Leonard’s (Johnny Galecki) urging naturally, since he is smitten beyond words with a woman even he admits he may not be able to keep – the gang, who initially all dress as The Flash before choosing other characters to dress up as, find themselves socially marooned on a couch watching everyone have fun around them.
Their lack of social interaction isn’t helped by Sheldon (Jim Parsons) insisting everyone should be able to guess he’s the Doppler Effect since it’s so obvious (only to him of course), Raj (Kunal Nayyar), who is the Norse god Thor and not the Marvel incarnation, still being unable to speak with women without the aid of alcohol (although he does go home with Cheryl (Erin Allin O’Reilly), who loves him because he’s a “good listener”) and Woolowitz (Simon Helberg), who is Robin Hood, not Peter Pan, creeping every woman out, as per usual.
Sheldon: Like Jane Goodall observing the apes, I initially saw their interactions as confusing and unstructured, but patterns emerge, they have their own language if you will.
Leonard: Go on.
Sheldon: Well, it seems that the newcomer approaches the existing group with the greeting “How wasted am I?” which is met with an approving chorus of “Dude.”
Leonard’s night is marred somewhat by Penny’s ex-boyfriend Kurt (Brian Wade) Neanderthal behaviour but the altercation does give Leonard a sweet moment with Penny which also involves a chance to stand up to Kurt (followed by a quickly locked door!) and prove to Penny how much he loves her.
WHY I LIKE IT: It’s still very early on in The Big Bang Theory‘s now epically-successful run, and we get great insights into what makes each of the characters tick, made all the more pronounced by throwing them out of their natural nerd environment of conventions, online games and Star Wars vs. Star trek debates. It also nicely advances the romance between Penny and Leonard in a touching, heartfelt way which gives you hope something very special will come of all the drunken admissions (which of course eight seasons later, it does). Plus the visual slapstick of seeing all the guys in the same costume and then unable to decide what their fall back get-ups will be is priceless – that scene is worth the price of admission alone.
“Halloween Surprise“ – Parks and Recreation
This is one Halloween episode that doesn’t actually take place at that sitcom staples – a Halloween party.
Rather it’s spread out over a week, starting on Halloween itself and ending a week later with a trick or treating do-over and the most romantic, and yet hilarious of marriage proposals.
On Halloween itself, which Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), Pawnee’s pre-eminent aspiring politician, ADORES, decides to take a lease out on a home that she intends to move into in just 10 days when her boyfriend Ben (Adam Scott) returns from working in Washington DC on a political campaign.
The happiness of this momentous event is diluted to a considerable degree by the news that Ben may well be moving to Florida to manage another politician’s quest for office, leaving Leslie down in the dumps, and in need of cheering up by best friend Ann (Rashida Jones).
The best way to accomplish this? Why scaring Tom (Aziz Ansari) as he emerges from the bathroom, a foolproof plan except for the fact that Jerry (Jim O’Heir) comes out first, suffers a heart attack (and a great deal of flatulence, which Tom insists be referred to as a “Fart Attack”) and everyone spends the night at the hospital.
Leslie: Oh my God. What are you doing?
Ben: Thinking about my future. I am deeply ridiculously in love with you. And above everything else, I just want to be with you forever. So Leslie Knope, will you–
Leslie: Wait, wait, okay? Just–I need to remember this. Give me a second.
Leslie: No, no, no, no, hold on. Just–I need another second, please. I need to remember every little thing about how perfect my life is, right now, at this exact moment.
Ben: [laughing] Are you good?
Leslie: Yeah, I’m good.
Ben: Leslie Knope, will you—
Ben: Marry me?
Leslie: Oh yeah, yeah!
Meanwhile Ron (Nick Offerman) goes trick or treating with girlfriend Diane (Lucy Lawless) and her kids and Andy (Chris Pratt), which doesn’t end well when Ron, who has no kids of his own, upsets Diane’s girls, refuses to apologise, leading to the break up of his relationship.
But wait there’s still hope!
At April’s (Aubrey Plaza) urging, Ron goes over to apologise, admits he is new at this whole family thing and begs for another chance which he duly gets, along with a second go at trick or treating – admittedly a week later! – which goes way more smoothly.
The happy endings don’t finish there with Ben arriving back unexpectedly and proposing to an emotional Leslie who though delighted to be asked, insists that Ben not complete his proposal till she is done picturing the scene before her.
WHY I LIKE IT: It has everything I love about Parks and Recreation – Andy’s lunacy, Chris’s obsession with becoming the best man he can be, Donna (Retta)’s determination to tweet her way through the entire Blood Canoe film franchise, special friendship moments between Ann and Leslie (witness the house signing, below) and a host of the sort of happy endings that the sitcom always manages to balance with its quirkier moments.
“Halloween Story” – Ned and Stacey
Ah, the comic possibilities of mistaken identities!
And, in the case of fake husband and wife Ned (Thomas Haden Church) and Stacey (Debra Messing), of extremely limited Halloween costume choices.
Ned ends dressed in almost the same Zorro costume as an old flame of Stacey’s, Scott (Scott Paetty) after his original costume choice of a horse goes south (neither he nor his friend “Rico” (Greg Germann) wants to play the back half of the animal), and Stacey (Debra Messing), who almost doesn’t go to the party thanks to a bloating-related funk from which she refuses to crawl out – well until she knows Scott is at said soiree, thanks to her sister Amanda (Nadia Dajani) – as a bright black and yellow bee, almost the same costume as Ned’s flame-of-the night Rhonda (Kimberly Quinn).
(Spoken during the opening theme)
Ned: Why Stacey?
Stacey: Why Ned?
Ned: It was business.
Stacey: Strictly business.
Ned: Here’s the deal – to get a promotion, I needed a wife.
Stacey: To get a life, I needed his apartment.
Ned: So what the hell, we up and got married.
Stacey: The only thing we have in common? We irritate each other.
Ned: Right! Enjoy the show.
Cue the hijinks and hilarity as Ned does his best to seduce Rhonda with sweet talk and Strawberry Margaritas (Stacey’s favourite drink wouldn’t ya know?) and Stacey bats her eyelashes and tries to make up for lost time with Scott, her long lost ex, all of which comes to nought when, by gleefully-contrived circumstances, the two stars of the show end up not just with each other but KISSING … and LIKING IT.
It sets in train an hilarious argument at the party, one which understandably enough scares off both Scott, and Rhonda (who leaves with her date who’s spent the night trying to get some action with “Rico”) and which is only settled when the two kiss again in their apartment, and oddly disappointed that the second go round isn’t as spectacular, resume their natural state of snarky squabbling.
WHY I LIKE IT: It’s not the most sophisticated sitcom episode ever made, full of crudely-executed contrivances galore, but both Debra Messing and Thomas Haden Church are brilliant in it, realistically portraying the horror of two people who can’t stand each other and are only married because it each gives them something they want, who discover they may in fact have a fairly intense physical connection. Most people would embrace the chance to sex with no strings, but not these two who raise the art of hating the other to ever more comicallu-inspired heights, made all the funnier in “Halloween Story” by the costumes each is forced to wear.
We hadn’t yet reached a state of Peak Zombie back on October 28, 2010 when the ever-creative Dan Harmon decided to pay a lovingly hilarious homage to everything undead in “Epidemiology”, a second season episode of the Little Sitcom That Could, Community.
What should have been a simple Halloween party – there is nothing simple about anything that happens at Greendale Community College of course but no one ever seems to heed that observation – ends up as anything but when the army surplus store rations that Dean Pelton (Jim Rash), who is dressed up in a mighty fine Lady Gaga costume, ends up making everyone incredibly sick and feverish and act, well, like zombies.
Abed Nadir: There. There’s a window. If we climb that chain-link fence, we can get up the wall and squeeze through it.
[Jeff looks at the door, then his suit]
Jeff Winger: I vote we take the door.
Abed Nadir: He doesn’t want to dirty his suit.
Troy Barnes: For real?
[Jeff opens the door and lets the zombies in]
Jeff Winger: Clothes make the man, Troy. What the hell?
[the zombies wrestle Jeff to the floor. Zombie Rich enters wearing Jeff’s jacket]
Jeff Winger: That’s my jacket! My jacket! You’re stretching it! You’re stretching it!
Pretty soon Jeff (Joel McHale, dressed as David Beckham), Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) in their Aliens-inspired finery, Annie (Alison Brie, as Little Red Riding Hood), Pierce (Chevy Chase as Captain Kirk from Star Trek: Original Series) Britta (Gillian Jacobs, as a crocodile), Shirley (Yvette Nicole-Brown as Miss Piggy) and Chang (Ken Jeong as Peggy Fleming, are running for their lives from a delirious horde of their fellow infected students, until one by one they are picked off and turn, leaving the fate of the entire Greendale student body in the hands of Troy who manages to lower the air con temperature, breaking everyone’s zombie-inducing fevers just in the nick of time.
Instead of wiping Greendale off the map, the military, who arrive in full kick ass mode determined that no one should know about their experimental side effects-riddled rations, erase everyone’s memories of the night, leaving the whole campus believing their drinks were spiked, something which doesn’t seem to unduly trouble or surprise the students as America’s weirdest community college.
WHY I LIKE IT: In common with many other episodes in this criminally under-watched and creatively-inspired sitcom, “Epidemiology” made brilliant parodying use of a host of pop culture references to devastatingly funny effect. They actually succeeded in making a zombie epidemic funny and frightening all at once, a masterful feat that makes this one of the classic Community episodes of all time. Plus they played only ABBA songs which made this ’70s boy Swedish supergroup-loving heart nighty glad.
If there is one thing that the British do brilliantly, it’s farce, something they have raised to a high art form over countless movies and TV shows, all of which have made judicious use of misheard snippets of conversations, misunderstood revelations, innuendos galore and people’s predilection for gossip, to foster situations that get hilariously out of control in no time flat.
Few US sitcoms have matched the British propensity for that kind of comedic insanity but Frasier comes very close in “Halloween”, a season 5 episode which makes fine use of the latent sexual tension between Niles (David Hyde-Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves), and the close friendship between Roz (Peri Gilpin) and Frasier (Kelsey Grammer),and dad Martin’s (John Mahoney) perennially straight-talking perspectives on life, to foment a witches brew of misconstrued, well, everything.
The episode, which takes places at a Halloween party hosted by Niles, centres on Roz’s fear that she might be pregnant, a piece of life changing news to which only Frasier is initially party to, and which he hopes the party will distract an intensely worried Roz from dwelling on.
Frasier: Niles, get your big nose out of this! And lower your voice, you’re embarrassing yourself!
Niles: The only thing I’m embarrassed about is that you’re my brother! You cad, you bounder, you roué!
Frasier: What is so wrong about trying to get a woman’s phone number?
Niles: We’re not interested in your next conquest, we’re talking about your last one! And before you deny it, I have plenty of proof!
Frasier: From here, it smells like eighty proof!
Niles: A woman stands here before you in dire need…
Daphne: It’s really not that bad. I can find someone else who’ll take me.
Niles: Indeed you can.
Martin: [realizing what he thinks] Niles—
Niles: I told you, don’t try to stop me! [to Frasier] You have the audacity to seduce this poor woman, and then you aren’t man enough to stand by her?!
Of course the news soon slips out thanks to Frasier’s loose tongue that Roz may be pregnant but the news, naturally enough, is misheard as gossip spreads like wildfire among the various guests, and soon a drunken Niles, who thinks Frasier has got Martin’s live-in physical therapist Daphne (with whom Niles is secretly in love) pregnant is proposing to her, in the midst of all manner of inflamed accusations and heated emotions.
The situation is only resolved when Roz is forced to tell the whole party that she is indeed pregnant, in the one of the most awkward announcements ever.
WHY I LIKE IT: Cleverly written and superbly acted, “Halloween” is a comedic tour de force, a perfectly realised slice of British farce, wholly apropos given Frasier and Niles appreciation for, and endless quest of, the finer things in life. It builds up layer by layer, one gloriously misheard twisted piece of information of another till all hell is pretty much breaking loose. It exposes, obliquely at least, Niles love for Daphne (she remains blissfully unaware till the end of the show’s seventh season of Nile’s feelings), the fault lines in the relationships between Nile and Frasier, and the close friendship that has developed between polar opposites Roz and Frasier.