Halloween is upon us...
It's that time again. Time to don a scary costume, perfect your most sinister laugh and go out trick or treating. Or, if you're more like us, it's time to hide indoors with all the lights turned off and watch a spooky Halloween episode instead...
Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Halloween
Joss Whedon's iconic show ran a number of Halloween themed episodes, but none quite so strong as this season two classic. Giles' old pal Ethan Raine wreaks havoc in Sunnydale when he opens up a magical shop that transforms people into their Halloween costumes. Xander becomes a soldier, Willow a very un-spooky ghost and Buffy becomes a fairly useless princess. Meanwhile, the still-evil Spike and his gang go on the rampage around town. It's a great fun adventure that saw the show at the height of its power. It's certainly miles better than season four's weak Fear, Itself.
The Simpsons: "Treehouse Of Horror V"
Look, you can't talk about Halloween specials without mentioning The Simpsons. It is the law. The animated exploits of America's favourite family have featured an annual "Treehouse Of Horror" portmanteau episode in every season since the second which means that we're now up to "Treehouse Of Horror XXVII"!
Of these, "V" is surely the finest, as it features three fine sketches. "The Shinning" is a pitch perfect parody of Kubrick's film of The Shining where Homer tries to kill his family in order to get a beer. "Time And Punishment" makes fun of Ray Bradbury's classic time travel tale, "A Sound Of Thunder". But it's "Nightmare Cafeteria" that really makes it. A wonderfully weird take on Soylent Green where it's revealed that Skinner is eating children. Almost all of the "Treehouse" episodes are worth your time (Yeah, "XXII" is a bit weak, but it still manages a few laughs) but this is the best of the bunch.
Millennium: "The Curse Of Frank Black"
Amazingly, The X-Files never ran a dedicated Halloween special. It's sister series (it only became a spin-off retroactively), however, did. "The Curse of Frank Black", penned by Files mainstays Morgan and Wong, finds Lance Henriksen's splendidly haggard detective looking forward to spending some time with his daughter. Instead, he's haunted by the ghosts of his past. As ever with Millennium it's all very dour and there are the usual cryptic references to the Bible, but it's also genuinely creepy. The show had left its season one serial killer fetish behind at this point and it became a far more interesting series for its embracing of the supernatural. Henriksen is superb (as ever) and it remains one of the best installments of this underrated show.
Friends: "The One With The Halloween Party"
Be as cynical as you like about Friends but when it was on form it was a non-stop joke machine. "The One With The Halloween Party" is a season eight classic which finds Monica and Chandler hosting a Halloween party where things go, inevitably, amusingly wrong. It's a bottle episode, but a really skilfully done one. It also features Sean Penn as Eric, the short-lived fianc of Ursula Buffay Phoebe's twin sister. And as it was the first episode of the show to be shot after 9/11, it features a subtle tribute to the Fire Department of New York, with Joey wearing a t-shirt bearing their logo.
One of the all-time great episodes of Community, this special takes the show's pop culture obsession to new heights. The Dean has bought a shipment of cheap taco meat for students at Greendale to eat at the Halloween party, but it turns out to be an experimental substance created by the US military that transforms anyone who eats it into a ravenous zombie. Cue Abed (dressed as a Xenomorph from Aliens) and Troy (dressed as a power loader from the same film) battling to save the day. Typically for Community in its prime, the jokes come thick and fast, but there's a real heart to the episode too, with Abed feeling let down by Troy binning him off for some babes (and changing his costume to that of a "sexy Dracula"). And the zombie attacks are great.
American Horror Story: "Halloween Parts 1 and 2"
The OTT schlock-fest featured a two-part Halloween tale in the middle of its superior first season. It's a good one, too arguably the moment that the show first achieves a real sense of momentum. It's Halloween night and the spirits of the dead can walk freely and do. In one creepy moment we meet the victims of a school shooting. The unexpected death of young Adelaide while she is out trick or treating is also a real gut punch. The first two seasons are reminders that this show used to be exciting and unnerving, rather than tedious and "wacky". Plus, Frances Conroy as tormented spectre Moria is superb throughout.
The Office: "Halloween"
The US version of Ricky Gervais' classic comedy had several Halloween episodes, but this is the best and most painful. It's Halloween and, due to downsizing, Michael (Steve Carell, the US show's equivalent of David Brent) has to fire someone. Inevitably, his attempts to do it as painlessly as possible only make things worse. The episode stings, not just because Devon loses his job (and doesn't get it back until the final season), but because it returns Michael to a more antagonistic role, after we've slowly been warming to the annoying git.
Parks & Recreation: "Greg Pikitis"
Wonderful, sweet-natured Parks & Rec ran a few Halloween episodes in its time, all of which were pretty good. But there's little doubt that "Greg Pikitis" is the pick of the bunch. It's not particularly spooky, but Greg Pikitis Leslie Knope's super-irritating teenage nemesis is a real horror. An expert prankster, he's like South Park's Scott Tenorman turned up to the max. Here Leslie and Officer Sanderson (the great Louie CK) try to foil his plans, but fail at every opportunity.
Angel: "Life Of The Party"
Buffy's spinoff show, Angel also tried its hand at a Halloween episode. "Life Of The Party" takes place in the show's divisive fifth (and final) year, where the vampire with a soul and his pals allied themselves with the demonic law firm, Wolfram & Hart. Lorne has had his ability to sleep removed, the consequences of which are that his subconscious starts to wreak magical havoc around the firm. Mostly it's fairly innocuous stuff he makes Gunn piss on the Wolfram & Hart buildings, and makes Fred and Wesley drunk but it all comes to a head when his subconscious takes the form of a hulking great monster. It's not exactly a classic episode, but even a weak episode of Angel was better than a great many shows at their best.
Quantum Leap: "The Boogieman"
Perma-unlucky body-hopper Dr Samuel Beckett leaps into the body of horror novelist Joshua Ray, just as sinister things start to happen on Halloween night. Could it be that Ray has attracted the attention of the devil himself? Oh boy... With its supernatural overtones and evil version of Al, "The Boogieman" is an extremely a-typical episode of Quantum Leap so much so that many fans think that the whole adventure actually takes place inside Sam's head after he gets knocked out at the beginning. It's a more plausible explanation, perhaps, but not as fun as accepting the whole thing as being within Quantum Leap canon.