October is for all things horror, from haunted houses to orange Oreos. The bulk of Spooky Season is best spent binging horror movie marathons as networks stuff their schedules and streaming libraries full of festive media much like how December is loaded with Christmas everything. And like Christmas, Halloween is a popular holiday for TV shows to theme episodes around. But while Christmas TV often veers into wholesome, tear-jerking territory, Halloween episodes are typically a full comedic force as many shows use the holiday as an opportunity to write one-off episodes full of fantastical conflicts and film parodies. From animated juggernauts to mockumentary workplace comedies, here are the best Halloween sitcom episodes, in no specific order. We’ll start with something recent, from a show that hasn’t gotten enough attention.
Ok, so we’re cheating right out the gate here. There is no official Halloween episode of Los Espookys, but it’s Halloween all year round for the Spookys crew as the horror movie superfans stage elaborate scares for paying customers (the series is listed under HBO Max’s Halloween collection, so there). The most Halloween-ish episode is likely “El espanto de la herencia” (“The Inheritance Scare”) as the crew are hired to pull a haunted house job a la House on Haunted Hill. Julio Torres fans will love his character Andrés who is essentially an unbridled version of the comedian as well as scene-stealing guest star Tatiana Molina’s Mysterious Woman who proves to be more awkward than eerie.
The cheating continues and with good reason. Arguably the strongest comedy on TV today, What We Do in the Shadows pulls off the tall task of outshining the horror-comedy film it’s based on. Like Los Espookys, every episode is a spooktacular, vampiric romp full of death, transformations, and monsters (you can find it under Hulu’s “Huluween” section, so again, it fits). One of the more horror trope filled episodes is season two’s “Ghosts.” Like the title implies, the vampire roommates must try to cleanse their home of a ghost infestation that includes Nadja’s eternally doomed lover Gregor/Jeff (Jesk?) and everyone’s pre-bitten selves leading to the origins of one of the show’s best side-characters, the Nadja Doll.
The Gang put on their thinking caps to try to solve another major mystery: who got Dee pregnant? Claiming her baby was conceived by one of the guys at their recent Halloween party at the pub, the unreliable narrator device is employed hilariously as everyone tries out their own theory. Watching Dee become more and more bird-like in everyone’s memory is one of the show’s best running gags.
Parks’ stellar fourth season sees the Pawnee crew get into the Halloween spirit again as Andy and April host a costume party at their place completely unbeknownst to Ben who recently moved in with the couple. The roommates clash over the course of the night while Ron busies himself by fixing things around the house that range from minor dings to stupidly dangerous issues. Across town, Tom’s over-the-top self-promotion hinders Leslie’s chances of securing some key endorsements for her city council campaign.
The Office doesn’t dabble too much into the Fall holidays as they mainly concern themselves with Christmas. Many of their Halloween themes don’t last past the cold-open, but season seven’s “Costume Contest” is one of the few that goes all out. Tensions are high as the Dunder Mifflin employees battle over a coupon book while Michael loses his cool when he feels betrayed by Darryl for going over his head to pitch a business idea to Jo. It’s a late-season gem in what should have been the series’ final season.
A show that doesn’t get enough respect, That 70’s Show’s best Halloween episode sends the basement gang out to explore the burnt down remains of their old elementary school after escorting Fez on his first trick-or-treating outing. When they uncover their permanent records, secrets are revealed (including Jackie’s middle name being Beulah) and friendships are seriously tested. Dramatic, Hitchcock-like visuals accent this classic TV horror-comedy that’s an annual must watch.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine might have the best Halloween tradition of any sitcom. Every year the Nine-Nine tries to outdo each other in increasingly elaborate heists, which involve shocking surprises, intricately devised feints that rely on how well every character knows and understands each other, and frequent double, triple, or even quadruple crosses. The third season’s Halloween episode is probably the best example of the form; it shows how complex the heists eventually become, while still leaving ample room for character development and interaction. This is a tradition we’ll miss along with the show itself.—Garrett Martin
Community’s best Halloween episode is also its most unrealistic. Pretty much everybody at Greendale is turned into a zombie after eating tainted taco meat the Dean buys on the cheap, leaving the study group to survive a litany of zombie movie cliches. “Epidemiology” includes everything that made Community great: a wonderful core ensemble with palpable chemistry, committed actors who perfectly understand their characters, great jokes, and a deep pop culture knowledge that drives its smart, well-observed parody.—Garrett Martin
A millennial icon, this ‘90s sitcom created what is probably the best live-action Halloween episode in TV history. The series channels the Scream franchise with its own meta-slasher story that follows Cory, Shaun, Topanga, Eric, Jack, and Angela trying to outsmart a masked killer stalking them around their school while parodying many classic horror tropes. Halloween TV is always at its best when it throws reality out the window and embraces a one-off, anything-goes model that allows for maximum goofs.
This third season episode does the unlikely: it turns Cliff Clavin into a viable and eminently rootable romantic hero. The terminally lovelorn postman meets a potential soulmate at the bar on Halloween, spending a magical evening with a masked woman dressed like Tinker Bell. Cliff himself is wearing a mask as part of a full-body Ponce de Leon costume, and after making plans to have an official date the next night, he suddenly becomes paranoid and preemptively depressed about his date rejecting him once she sees what he really looks like. It’s one of the sweetest and most touching episodes of Cheers, and a rare look into the depth and emotion of Cliff and Norm’s friendship.—Garrett Martin
You can expect a Halloween episode from Bob’s nearly every season and you can expect it to always be a banger. While “Full Bars” was an exceptional first Halloween episode, season four’s “Fort Night” is even better. The crazed Milly makes her debut as she taunts and torments Louise, Tina, Gene, Darryl, and Andy and Ollie after they get trapped in their impressive (yet sadly unrealistic) cardboard fort in the alley. It’s a race against time as the kids must fight for their freedom and their candy. Meanwhile, an oblivious Bob and Linda spitefully finish the kids’ dragon costume and go trick-or-treating on their own.
The GOAT of the Halloween sitcom episode is of course The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror series. It’s hard to pick out just one episode as so many of the greatest segments are scattered throughout various seasons such as “The Shinning,” “Clown Without Pity,” and “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace.” It’s a nearly impossible task, but if we’re talking entire episodes, the most well-rounded has to be awarded to “Treehouse of Horror IX.” Its three solid segments start off with Homer being possessed by a toupee made from the hair of a deceased and out-for-revenge Snake, Lisa and Bart getting sucked into a deadly Itchy & Scratchy episode, and a Jerry Springer parody that retcons alien Kang as Maggie’s real father. “Hell Toupée” is the standout here and a Top Five segment in the show’s history, a statement sure to spark zero debate.
Olivia Cathcart is a comedian and writer.