PSU Vanguard Shield Icon

Simpsons’ scares up the laughs

What’s scary about the annual “Simpsons” Halloween special, “Treehouse of Horror XIII,” and the upcoming episodes is how the series has maintained its quality, year after year.

Thirteen years in, and every show has at least one thing that catches me by surprise and makes me laugh out loud.

“Treehouse of Horror XIII” this year shows up Sunday night at 8 p.m., three days after Halloween.

In “Treehouse,” we get three new fanciful and gruesome stories, where even the malleable rules of Springfield are totally disregarded.

This year, a spoof of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” puts Dr. Hibbert in the mad scientist’s role, and very soon has polite Ned Flanders walking around as a half-man, half-cow. Disturbing? Not so much as the sight of Homer milking him, before Homer himself is turned into a walrus, and Marge into a blue-skinned feline. Marge’s grunt, it turns out, sounds very much like a purr anyway.

Even though it’s an all-new “Treehouse,” and arrives in November, the network says the following week’s show is the season premiere. In that episode, Homer goes to the Rolling Stones’ Rock `n’ Roll Fantasy Camp.

“Rule No. 1,” announces a defiant, animated Mick Jagger, to the delight of Homer and his fantasy-camp friends. “There are no rules!”

Mick then adds, “Rule No. 2: No outside food.”

Jagger, Keith Richards, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Lenny Kravitz and Brian Setzer all play themselves. (We even get to see them recording their vocal parts, in a rare but welcome peek behind the series’ fourth wall.)

One of those moments that caught me off-guard was hearing Jagger yell “Simp-sooooon!” in the same elongated manner that Werner Klemperer’s Colonel Klink used to shout ‘Ho-gaaaan’ on “Hogan’s Heroes.”

It’s difficult not to take “The Simpsons” for granted. It’s been around since 1989, when it was launched as a Christmas special. It’s the oldest current comedy on prime-time television, and the seventh-oldest series, period. It’s been around longer than “Law & Order” – many years longer, if you count the fact that the Simpsons began as animated segments on Fox’s “Tracey Ullman Show.”

In another of this Sunday’s “Treehouse” tales, there’s an allusion to those crudely drawn beginnings. In a story where Homer clones dozens of copies of himself, one copy turns out to be sharp-edged, exaggerated and visually inferior, just like the early Homer on Ullman’s show.

Today, creator Matt Groening’s characters – and influence – are everywhere, from toys to Burger King giveaways.

Thirteen years is a very long time. For this series and its viewers, though, it’s anything but an unlucky number.