Paley Curatorial: 12 Great Halloween Programs

There are lots of Halloween TV lists out there, but this is the one that counts, from the wizards in the Paley Center's curatorial department. They get that TV is Halloween's greatest promoter, with 1952 The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet episode “Halloween Party” as one of the earliest examples:

On Halloween night, Ozzie and Thorny make plans to attend a non-costume party as Satan and a Scotsman. Meanwhile Ricky and David attend a Halloween Party at school and the Nelson household is besieged by children demanding candy—or else. (IMDB)

Riiight. Ricky in a skeleton outfit is not to be missed.

From classic specials that brought the Great Pumpkin into the lives of generations to Claire Dunphy's heart attack–inducing foray into the season festivities, TV reflects the customs and costumes of the day from the very cute to the very creepy like no other medium. 

And now, the Paley 12.


The Addams Family: “Halloween with the Addams Family”

What television family more readily brings to mind Halloween than the Addamses? They always looked like they were dressed for the holiday anyway. The Addams Family is also probably the first series to offer not one but two Halloween episodes: “Halloween with the Addams Family” (October 30, 1964), in which the “oooky” brood mistake crooks for trick or treaters; and, even better, “Halloween – Addams Style” (October 29, 1965), which not only includes an appearance by Great Great Great Aunt Singe’s urn (“she may be cinders, but she’s a lady”), but allows Grandmama to provide the appropriate punchline for all non-believers in witches.


It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

“On Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of his pumpkin patch and flies through the air with his bag of toys, for all the children!” Or so says Linus, creating one of the holiday’s great mythical creatures in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the third Peanuts special to air (CBS, October 27, 1966), and, following A Charlie Brown Christmas, the most enduring of the bunch. A bittersweet Charles Schulz story that reminds us that life isn’t always treats, but sometimes tricks, it also gave subsequent generations a great trick-or-treat catchphrase, “I got a rock.”



Freaks and Geeks: “Tricks and Treats”

Struggling with identity was a central theme of Freaks and Geeks, so it comes as no surprise the show’s early Halloween episode was a standout. On the geek side, Sam encourages his friends to join him for one last costumed go-round, even though the high school–aged boys are clearly too old. Sam’s sister Lindsay, recently inducted into the freaks clique, joins her new friends for an ill-advised walk on the wild side. Feelings are hurt and lessons are learned in this typically nuanced outing, which deftly blends poignancy, humor, and Bill in a Bionic Woman outfit. Don’t hate him because he’s beautiful.



Community: “Intro to Statistics: Epidemiology”

Community excels at genre parodies, and this zombie movie–themed Halloween episode is a clever delight from top to bottom, nailing every brain-eating trope while sneaking in emotionally resonant, character-building stories. The show also manages a bit of legitimate horror…when Shirley sleeps with Chang. Score the whole thing with ABBA music, and, well, that’s an instant classic in our book. 


Louie: “Halloween”

Louie has an audacious way with tone, and this segment, in which our hero takes his adorable daughters out for some urban trick-or-treating, quickly edges into something uniquely unsettling when the family is harassed by some creepy revelers whose motivations remain unclear. The situation evokes some of Louie’s signature themes: the chaotic randomness of city life, breakdowns in the social contract, and challenges to traditional notions of masculinity. It’s the sort of specific, unresolvable tangle that feels so true to life and yet so underrepresented on television that distinguishes this brilliantly unclassifiable program.


My So-Called Life: “Halloween”

This 1994 episode of Winnie Holzman’s teen drama deftly captures why all ages embrace the Halloween spirit. Tormented fifteen-year-old Angela Chase (Clare Danes) just wants to be someone else and ends up confronting the ghost of a 1963 student who killed himself. Her little sister Danielle (Lisa Wilhoit) goes trick-or-treating as Angela, naturally in a flannel shirt, while their parents take what’s left at a costume shop.


The Paul Lynde Halloween Special

Only the seventies could produce such a surreal, over-the-top kitschy Halloween extravaganza, hosted by TV’s master of camp, Paul Lynde. Margaret Hamilton reprises her role of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, granting Lynde three wishes for the holiday. Lynde’s very weird Halloween adventures include performances by KISS, a Rhinestone Trucker, and a disco party with Florence Henderson singing “That Old Black Magic.”


Angel: “Life of the Party”

This rendition of Wolfram & Hart’s annual “monster mash” for dyed-in-the-wool big baddies might rank as the worst Halloween party of all time, thanks to (what else) supernatural forces at prey. Gunn’s pee spree … Wes and Fred’s uninduced inebriation …. Lorne’s rampage … and, perhaps worst of all, a relentlessly upbeat Spike. On the other hand, Angel and Eve sure seem to be having fun.


Buffy: “Halloween”

When it Raynes it pours: The wicked Ethan Raynes’s spell infuses the essence of Halloween—so eloquently articulated by Buffy thusly: “Look, Halloween is the night that not you is you, but not you, you know?”—with uncharacteristic literalness for a show so drenched in irony, as the Scoobies (and nearly everyone else in town, though not Cordelia) actually assume their costumed identities, spiking (pun intended) Sunnydale’s already dangerously high demon quotient. Best line arises from a spot-on case of role reversal: Willow, forced to take charge and exasperated by the meekness of Buffy (who is possessed by an eighteenth-century noblewoman), wonders: “She couldn’t have dressed up like Xena?”


Curb Your Enthusiasm: “Trick or Treat”

Larry pays the price after refusing to dispense candy to two sassy teen girls who show up at his door uncostumed (“They were using Halloween to get candy!”). Hilarious, yes—particularly when Larry calls in the cops—but like all truly great comedy, this episode also addresses a pressing social issue: Does spray-painting the words “Bald A**hole” on someone’s front door constitute a hate crime? 


Parks and Recreation: “Greg Pikitis”

It’s Halloween in Pawnee, Indiana and Leslie Knope is on the watch for her arch-nemesis, high school student Greg Pikitis, who vandalizes a town statue every year on the holiday. Leslie enlists the help of her police officer boyfriend, Dave (Louis CK), and Andy, who assumes the guise of his alter ego FBI Agent Bert Macklin for the first time. Meanwhile, Ann hosts a party that mixes her hospital coworkers (most of whom wear their hospital uniforms as their “costume”) and the parks department employees.


The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet: Halloween Party
One of the first Halloween themed episodes of a TV series came from television’s longest running sitcom, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Only the fifth episode in the show’s fourteen year run, this 1952 installment features Ozzie and best pal Thorny (Don DeFore) trying to plan a Halloween party that is traditionally hosted by their wives. The Halloween fun includes Ricky Nelson (age twelve) dressed as a skeleton and singing a bit of “Dem Bones” and Ozzie tangling with a 53-year-old trick-or-treater.