by REBECCA, October 16, 2013
I love holiday episodes of television. The fantasy world on the screen intersects with our mundane world during those episodes, as if the pull of shared seasonal moments is too strong to resist. Since I don’t usually watch tv in real time, though, one of my favorite things to do in the weeks leading up to Halloween is watch Halloween-themed episodes. Whereas Christmas and Chanukah and Thanksgiving episodes tend to revolve around family dynamics and issues, Halloween is nearly always a friend-centric holiday, making it perfect for Young Adult tv shows. But, since Halloween is the ultimate day of becoming someone we’re not, especially in terms of dressing up and acting childlike, it creates perfect opportunities for a YA feel even in adult tv shows.
1. My So-Called Life, “Halloween” (1994).
This is, without a doubt, my favorite Halloween episode of tv; it really hits all the high points. Characters’ costume choices reveal insights into their personalities, like when Rickie decides to dress as Brian Crakow and comments, “I thought this Halloweek I’d be everyone else.” There’s an actual supernatural happening, in which Angela is visited by the ghost of Nicky Driscoll, a greaser who died in the gym on Halloween in 1961 (she got his book in English class, where every good haunting is born). Then there’s the parents’ humiliating storyline where Patty (gag me with a spoon I hate her) dresses as Rapunzel, and the poignant one where Danielle dresses as Angela because she can’t decide whether she wants to understand her or mock her. All in all, it’s grade-A Halloween.
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Halloween” (Season 2, 1997).
Buffy and her friends get their Halloween costumes from Ethan Rayne’s shop, and the costumes are magicked so that each one turns into the costume she’s wearing. Buffy is a meek damsel, so she can’t do anything; Zander is an army guy who, in an amusing twist later in the season, still remembers some of his army training; Willow is a ghost. This is a fun literalization of the idea that people become what they dress like. Also it’s fun to see Buffy, who’s usually such a badass, be scared of things, while Zander, who’s usually scared, gets to be capable.
3. Supernatural, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester” (Season 4, 2008).
The day before Halloween, Sam and Dean are investigating a man who dies from swallowing razor blades in candy and a girl who was bobbing for apples at a costume party and was boiled by the water, and realize they’re dealing with a witch who’s trying to raise Samhain. When Sam and Dean confiscate the dude’s candy to check it for supernaturaly things, there’s an amusing gag in which Dean eats ALL the candy. A fun episode and, bonus, it guest stars Ashley Benson, of Pretty Little Liars fame, a very spooky show—and, Ashley Benson is almost the same name as Amber Benson, who stars in Buffy. See what happens on Halloween?!
4. Roseanne, “BOO” (Season 2, 1989).
Roseanne did a Halloween episode every season after this one, god bless it, and they’re all pretty awesome. This is one show that’s an exception to the Halloween-is-for-friends theme I mentioned above—Roseanne and Dan are both obsessed with Halloween, and they spend the episode trying to one-up each other on pranks. They have their living room set up as a tunnel of terror for trick-or-treaters, but really Roseanne and Dan are mostly trying to scare each other. Roseanne forever!
5. Bones, “Mummy in the Maze” (Season 3, 2007).
Bones and Booth are investigating a mummy found in a haunted maze. Soon, another body shows up, and it seems like the person has been scared to death. The whole gang dresses in costume for the annual Jeffersonian Halloween party, so when Booth and Bones are called away to try and find a missing girl, they have to go in costume. Booth is a nerd squint and Bones is Wonder Woman and it’s amazing. Favorite moment: Booth and other FBI types are trying complicated systems to explain how to find the mummy in the maze and Booth is getting super annoyed. Then Booth realizes the maze is made of hay bales and just knocks the whole thing over.
6. Will & Grace, “Boo, Humbug” (Season 1, 1998).
Such classic shenanigans! Jack begs Will and Grace to go with him to the Village, but they hate Halloween and are planning on having an Ingmar Bergman film festival at home. Jack begs Karen to go with him instead (and I think this is the episode where they really become friends—one of the greater tv alliances in recorded history). Just as W&G are pouring the wine, Will’s boss shows up and dumps his kids on Will, so he and Grace have to take them trick-or-treating. Hijinks ensue and W&G rediscover their childlike glee. Meanwhile, everyone in the Village thinks that Karen is a drag queen and worships her, which is really only her due.
7. Pushing Daisies, “Girth” (Season 1, 2007).
Really, nearly every episode of this delight kind of seem like Halloween. Ned (Lee Pace, I love you) hates Halloween, because as a child it was the day he found out that his father had gotten a new family after sending him to boarding school. Emerson and Olive are on the case of a ghost-jockey and ghost-horse that are haunting other jockeys. Turns out, Olive used to be a jockey (amazing backstory choice since Kristin Chenoweth is so tiny) and is therefore in danger of being killed too. In a poignant ending, Chuck dresses up as a ghost and trick-or-treats at the aunts’ house. God, why is this show SO good?!
8. Grey’s Anatomy, “Haunt You Every Day” (Season 4, 2007).
Grey’s Anatomy doesn’t usually do much in the way of Halloween episodes, but I really like this one because it’s more about a Halloween feeling than the holiday itself, although, there are some amazing Halloween moments, including when the boy born without ears goes to Sloan and trick-or-treats for ear surgery. In this episode, Meredith is carrying around her mother’s ashes in a bag and is trying to decide what to do with them, but can’t make the decision—her mother haunts the halls of the hospital and the decisions Meredith makes. The theme of haunting continues in a particularly creepy and interesting instance of a man who is convinced that his foot is “dead” and needs to be cut off.
9. Gossip Girl, “The Handmaiden’s Tale” (Season 1, 2007).
Remember when Blair and Nate were still dating! Well, Blair has arranged an elaborate scavenger hunt at the Halloween Masked Ball. Because it is a MASKED BALL, naturally cases of mistaken identity and disguise abound. In a show where appearance is everything, the opportunity to be mistaken for someone else is a dangerous one, and one that creates opportunities for people who are willing to take them. Bwah ha ha.
I just found myself transported back to the moment I first saw Beavis and Butthead (sixth grade) and everyone (well, everyone whose parents didn’t immediately force them to stop watching it) was talking about it at school the next day, trying to figure out if they were using real words or just making stuff up. Sadly, my poor mother waged an epically losing battle against the phrase “that sucks” for years, which she can lay firmly at Beavis and Butthead‘s feet. Except they’d probably tell her, “shut up, dumbass.” Anyhoosier, this episode is 1990s MTV Halloweenery at its finest. B&B are watching a horror movie when trick-or-treaters show up at their door. When they realize they, too, could go trick-or-treating and get free candy, they take to the streets. After being dismissed for not wearing costumes, Butthead pours melted cheese all over himself and goes as nachos. Meanwhile, Beavis eats all the candy corn, and is transformed into Cornholio. Somehow, B&B end up at a farm, where they variously turn into zombies, are suspended on meat hooks, and are chased with chainsaws. Oh, the nineties.
So, there you have my picks for the 10 best Halloween episodes of TV. Tell me yours!