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Streaming is killing the Halloween episode and I won’t stand for it

Rage against the dying of silly costumes and scenarios!

LTR, Tina (dressed as a mummy), Louise (dressed as Edward Scissorhands), and Gene (dressed as Queen Latifah) marvel at full sized candy bars in the Bob’s Burgers episode “The Hauntening.” Image: Fox
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Halloween meant one thing and one thing only in my childhood home: The Angry Beavers. That is to say, the overlooked Nicktoon’s one and only two-part episode, “The Day the World Got Really Screwed Up,” in which the beaver brothers go trick-or-treating and wind up at the home of their favorite B-movie actor, Oxnard Montalvo, whereupon an alien attacks and an actual B-movie plot occurs.

I really cannot understate the extent to which this episode rewired my family’s collective brain. One could not prep for trick-or-treaters without enunciating “But—! Where’s the cAAndé??” in the delightfully dramatic pronunciation of Richard Steven Horvitz’s Daggett D. Beaver. It was all thanks to the humble Halloween special, a magical time of year a television season when we get to go to a costume party with our fictional friends, and we don’t have to scramble to put our own outfits together.

And in the name of minor joys and silly costumes, we can’t let streaming distribution kill the Halloween special.

If you have a favorite Halloween episode, it’s more likely than not that it’s from a sitcom like The Office, a cartoon like The Angry Beavers, or kids programming like The Adventures of Pete & Pete. But they’re not just a staple of kids and comedy TV! The Halloween episode has also been embraced by dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, action classics like MacGyver, procedurals like CSI, teen soaps like Dawson’s Creek, and genre fare like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The cast of Abbott Elementary dress up for Halloween — the Spelling Bee, two Scarlet Witches, James Harden, and Sully Sullenberger. Image: ABC

And while these shows go way back, there are plenty of modern series dedicated to the Halloween special, notably Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Abbott Elementary, and Bob’s Burgers. But shows dedicated to holiday episodes all have one thing notably in common: They’re network productions on a regular schedule of season renewals.

The short seasons and uncertain continuations created by the unique pressures of streaming television are oriented in the opposite direction of holiday specials. With many shows only greenlit for a single season at a time, with multi-year breaks in between, there’s no rhythm of release to settle into, and no guarantee a show will even air during Halloween — that is, if it isn’t dropped all at once on a single day in the first place.

Christmas isn’t foreign territory for the biggest names in streaming “television events” — Disney Plus’ Hawkeye set a whole show in the season of lights — but Halloween presents a challenge to television that never gets to breathe. The whole point of the wonderfully secular and pop culture-ified Halloween of the Halloween episode is contrast. The dead live, monsters become real, nobody is who they usually are, and children are allowed to stay up late while eating mountains of forbidden treats.

Aziz Ansari as Tom and Rashida Jones as Ann dress up in costume at a Halloween party in Parks and Recreation Image: NBC

But you can’t subvert the normal if you barely have time to get the normal on the screen in the first place. The 10-ish-episode season is simply too short for anything but main narrative and character development (and sometimes not even the character development). When shows don’t get enough time to be themselves, they’re never gonna have time to put on a costume.

WandaVision has a Halloween episode — but WandaVision was also a direct throwback to a bygone age of sitcoms. (Also, that episode premiered in February.) Werewolf by Night premiered in October, but it’s not even a series! Is the Halloween episode of Stranger Things even a Halloween episode if the whole show is spooky? Or is it just an episode in which Halloween happens?

My fellow Halloween-special lovers, there was a time when we could count on Halloween on TV. A time when getting to watch your faves don some humorous costumes and dabble in a different tone or a contrived situation wasn’t relegated to kids programming and sitcoms alone. A time when the biggest TV shows had time, once a year, to show us a different side of our favorite pastime.

We must savor this spooky, silly art form like the most mass-produced milk chocolate. This year, plonk down in front of the boooooooo-b tube and put on a Halloween special of ages past. Let streaming shows become screaming shows!

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