I am a huge fan of The Simpsons. In honor of their renewal through the 30th season, below is my own definitive list of the all-time greatest episodes ever produced.
Warning! If you’re one of those people who (A) never really watched the show, (B) have only watched the last 10-15 seasons, or (C) judgmentally claim that it’s “crass” or “cartoons can’t be great television” then you should probably stop reading right now. There are posts with cute pictures of babies further down; that might be more your thing.
… Are those people gone? OK, good.
Upon seeing the news that The Simpsons is renewed for its 30th season, I can only hope that the show is allowed to die a dignified death after that. It’s already gone on way too long. Even the Brits can see the Golden Age of the Simpsons ended after Season 9.
I can tell you exactly when the Simpsons stopped being good: Season 9, Episode 8, “Lisa The Skeptic.” In it, earnest Lisa wants to protect land from being developed into a mall, and in doing so discovers the fossilized remains of what looks like an angel. This brings the whole town together in a quest for spiritual enlightenment, and causes Lisa – a skeptic-bordering-on-atheist – to reconsider belief in God.
Then it’s revealed that the angel was a publicity stunt for the “Heavenly Hills” Mall.
Cue sad trombone:
If you watched the earlier years of the Simpsons, then you know the show was defined by the genuine feeling that arose from its comedy. When Bart is caught shoplifting and disappoints Marge, he redeems himself by buying her a gift from his own money. When Homer quits his job only to learn that they’re pregnant with Maggie and he must return, he plasters his office in pictures of the new baby as his motivation. When Homer gets a great new job in a much better town, he gives it all up because his family isn’t happy there.
These are the storylines that made us love the Simpsons: the way the writers made sure a family-values message was always present but never heavy-handed. It wasn’t political. It wasn’t meta. It wasn’t slapstick for the sake of zaniness. (“Why does it have to be zany?”)
In Season 9, we begin to see the trend toward more madcap, vulgar humor, and less of an attempt to include a moral message. This change appears cemented by Season 10 (1998-99). It’s no wonder – two shows debuted around that time that immediately saw popularity and drew swaths of The Simpsons viewers. Those shows were South Park (debut 1997) and Family Guy (debut 1999). I’m not saying The Simpsons wanted to be South Park or Family Guy, but you have to admit, the gravitational pull of more vulgar, outlandish humor and characters like Eric Cartman, Mr. Hankey, and Peter Griffin certainly had an effect.
So, as promised, here are my own Greatest. Episodes. Ever.
… In no particular order.
I know, I know. It’s a cop-out not to do a ranking, but honestly, it would be arbitrary. How do you compare an episode like “Homer At The Bat” – a guest star-studded softball story with a beautiful, haunting song, against “You Only Move Twice,” a James Bond-esque thriller where Homer gives up everything he ever wanted for his family? I could give you a ranking, but then the comments would all be about what’s #17 versus #12, and that misses the point of the entire post.
25 Greatest Simpsons Episodes (in order of airing)
- Flaming Moe’s (Season 3 Episode 10)
- Homer at the Bat (S 3 Ep 17)
- Mr. Plow (S 4 Ep 9)
- Marge vs. The Monorail (S 4 Ep 12)
- Cape Feare (S 5 Ep 2)
- Homer Goes to College (S 5 Ep 3)
- The Last Temptation of Homer (S 5 Ep 9)
- Itchy & Scratchy Land (S 6 Ep 4)
- Homer Badman (S 6 Ep 9)
- Homer the Great (S 6 Ep 12)
- And Maggie Makes Three (S 6 Ep 13)
- Bart’s Comet (S 6 Ep 14)
- Lemon of Troy (S 6 Ep 24)
- Who Shot Mr. Burns? Parts 1 & 2 (S 6 Ep 25 & S 7 Ep 1)
- Lisa the Vegetarian (S 7 Ep 5)
- Lisa the Iconoclast (S 7 Ep 16)
- 22 Short Films About Springfield (S 7 Ep 21)
- Treehouse of Horror VII (S 8 Ep 1)
- You Only Move Twice (S 8, Ep 02)
- El Viaje Misterioso De Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer) (S 8 Ep 9)
- The Twisted World of Marge Simpson (S 8 Ep 11)
- Mountain of Madness (S 8 Ep 12)
- The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show (S 8 Ep 14)
- Homer vs. The Eighteenth Amendment (S 8 Ep 18)
- Homer’s Enemy (S 8 Ep 23)
But since I know some people will ask, my personal all-time favorite episode is El Viaje Misterioso De Nuestro Jomer. I know, I’m weird.
Of course I want to hear your own, and what you think of this list, and what utterly amazing episode(s) I have omitted here. The honorable mentions list would have been twice this long, so I had to forego it.