Television has become quite the mind-boggling medium. In recent years, it seems like the Emmys have gotten as much fanfare as the Oscars due to amazingly high-quality shows like Mad Men, House of Cards, and Breaking Bad. And considering the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, television definitely hasn’t taken a back-burner to movies for a very long time.
Personally, though, I’ve always enjoyed the novelty television has the flexibility to offer – specifically around the holidays, and most specifically around Halloween. While movies get one chance to either make it or break it at the box office, TV shows can take a break from their regularly scheduled storylines and be like, “Let’s do the most ridiculous thing possible because, I mean, it’s Halloween.”
So in celebration of the kookiness television has given us on this beautiful holiday, here are a few of my favorite Halloween television episodes of all time, presented in chronological order.
Saved by the Bell, “Mystery Weekend” (1991)
The earliest episode on this list is technically not a “Halloween” one, per se, but it’s too amazing not to mention and it totally applies. In this iconic Clue-meets-Scooby-Doo-esque season-three finale, Zack and the gang visit a secluded mansion to take part in a mystery weekend, which Lisa won in a radio contest. Soon, the game becomes more sinister than they imagined when things start happening off script – and it’s time to find out whodunit (not get the heck out of there, because where’s the fun in that?).
And of course, hijinks ensue along the way, as they always do when Screech is in the general vicinity. Weird end to a season, but amazing episode overall. Though it does beg the question: Is it a normal thing for parents let their teenagers go to secluded murder mansions over the weekend?
Family Matters, “Stevil” (1996)
If you were a fan of Chucky/the Child’s Play films or the “Night of the Living Dummy” Goosebumps books, the “Stevil” episode of Family Matters was right up your alley. In this episode that gave 11-year-old Jen nightmares for a month, Steve Urkel buys a ventriloquist dummy and then dreams that the thing comes alive and terrorizes everyone in the Winslow household. Um, can we all agree that buying a ventriloquist dummy is never a good idea? They always seem to come alive and try to kill people.
And as if that’s not bad enough, Stevil returned in 1997 in a follow-up episode called, “Stevil: This Time, He’s Not Alone.” His partner in crime? A ventriloquist dummy called Carlsbad, with the likeness of our favorite neighborhood police officer, Carl Winslow. Clever names, double nightmares.
Boy Meets World, “And Then There Was Shawn” (1998)
“And Then There Was Shawn” aired in February and not around Halloween, but it’s one of the show’s best episodes of Boy Meets World period, and definitely its creepiest. As many Halloween-ish TV episodes are, this one is a dream sequence – specifically, Shawn’s. In it, Mr. Feeny is murdered—or is he?
Then, Jennifer Love Hewitt (aka Jennifer Love Fefferman/”Feffy”) shows up, proceeding to make out with Eric and try to take Angela’s place as the screamer of the group – a challenge that Angela shoots down immediately. “ATTWS” pokes fun at horror tropes while bringing a ton of laughs, and even manages to teach us a lesson or two on how to face our inner demons by the time Shawn wakes up.
Freaks and Geeks, “Tricks and Treats” (1999)
Freaks and Geeks is such a beautiful little blip in pop culture that was axed way before it should’ve been, and “Tricks and Treats” was one of the better episodes of its single season. We see protagonist Lindsay Weir’s mom struggle with the idea of her only daughter growing up, hitting us right in the feels. Meanwhile, Lindsay just wanting to get on with said growing up. Her younger brother Sam feels quite the opposite – he and his friends go trick-or-treating, only to be taunted as usual (though they do sport some adorable costumes, and I will never NOT want to grab John Francis Daley’s cheeks). I love this episode because it captures the true spirit of experiencing Halloween as an American kid or teenager in the days when the entire day was about the holiday, you had to be extra creative to put costumes together, and the biggest thing you had to worry about on Halloween night was being egged.
How I Met Your Mother, “Slutty Pumpkin” (2005)
A “Halloween episodes” list isn’t complete without “Slutty Pumpkin,” one of How I Met Your Mother’s most memorable and iconic episodes. In it, Barney dons a series of ridiculous costumes to try to persuade Ted to come with him to a Victoria’s Secret Halloween party, but Ted is insistent on sticking around the party on the roof of his apartment building for the fifth year in a row in hopes that the girl in the pumpkin costume will make another appearance and recognize him in his hanging-chad costume.
She doesn’t show up in 2005, but wouldn’t you know it? Six years later, Ted does end up finding The Slutty Pumpkin – but, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t work out. Maybe because you called her slutty, Ted. Haaaave ya met sexism? That aside, this episode truly is great almost solely for Ted’s early character development. We see that he is a loyal, kind, and romantic protagonist, and it makes it almost impossible not to root for him. Also, Barney dressed like a penguin might be the best thing ever.
Glee, “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” (2010)
Glee’s first couple of seasons were an absolute treasure, and the second-season Halloween episode “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” is no exception. When the students in the Glee Club at McKinley High are told they aren’t allowed to put on a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show because it’s too controversial, they decide to do it anyway, just for themselves.
Finn and Rachel are the perfect Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, Kurt nails Riff Raff, and Mercedes as Dr. Frank-N-Furter singing “Sweet Transvestite” could be the standout performance of the episode – that is, if John Stamos’ rendition of “Hot Patootie” as Eddie the Ex-Delivery Guy doesn’t snatch that title. Can John Stamos just make appearances on every show, please? Preferably in a singing role?
(Images via NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox)