For some reason people are nearly always surprised when they find out I love The Simpsons. Even now in its 25th season it makes me laugh (and is visually stunning these days). We didn’t have TV for spurts while I was growing up but when I was in high school my sister, brother and I watched The Simpsons every week.
I think my parents allowed it because they recognized how smart it was. The writing encourages thinking, pondering and in the end it is about a family that truly love each other. Honestly, I would have no problem with my teenage children watching it either. In fact, I look forward to it one of these days.
Just for fun I was thinking about my favorite episodes and a lot of them are in seasons 7-10 because that is when I was in high school and watching it the most regularly. While the Simpsons can follow standard sitcom formulas (for instance, how many times can they go to a new foreign country and leave bedlam?) it is also clever and mixes all types of comedy from satire to slapstick.
Anyway, what separated the good from the great is when a layer of social commentary and/or tenderness lies underneath the silly plot.
What the Simpsons does that is so brilliant is they make fun of everyone, all the time. Nobody is kept from skewering and that makes us laugh at ourselves, which is usually the best kind of humor. I couldn’t find video clips on a lot of them but I have a photo, summary and explanation of why it’s my favorite. Rent them from your library or pay on amazon prime (or borrow from me).
My Favorite Simpsons Episodes
1. Homer’s Enemy- This is perhaps an odd choice for my list but this episode is so surreal it is funny. We start off with a heroic 20/20 like piece on Frank Grimes, a man who fought back all his life and struggled to see any benefit to all that work. Mr Burns see’s the piece and decides to hire him at the nuclear plant, working alongside Homer.
Frank (or Grimey as Homer says) can’t believe Homer’s laziness and it starts to eat at him. For the first time we as viewers see someone that is jealous of Homer and there is a character that treats Homer probably the way we would in the same situation.
If you like What About Bob you will like this episode. Just as Bob is completely oblivious to his irritating behavior, so Homer is unaware he could be seen by anyone as anything but loveable and sweet. Season 8 Episode 23
2. King-sized Homer- You might be surprised to see this one on the list because on it’s surface it is a bunch of fat jokes but there’ s more to it. Homer decides to gain weight so he can go on workman’s comp. This requires a complete change in his already bad diet and a fitness regime of nothing to match.
The reason I think this episode is so funny is that it is really a skewering of the diet industry. Every bad life changing advice Homer gets to ‘gain weight’ is basically what is told to you to lose weight but in reverse. Instead of eating whole grain bread Homer is told to use poptarts. That’s funny.
It also has a lot of humor about the work world and how most of us would do just about anything to get out of going to the office everyday.
Plus we have a classic appearance from Lionel Hutz voiced by the great Phil Hartman. And I think the first appearance by Dr. Nick.
Season 7 episode 7
3. Marge vs Monorail- This is probably the most universally loved episodes in Simpsons history. In it we have 2 appearances from Phil Hartman characters, a song and a lot of laughs.
This episode is about a con-man who swindles the town into building a cheap, shoddy monorail and he does it with a song similar to 76 trombones from Music Man. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance on this one. It is just funny.
Season 4 episode 12
4. Lisa Gets an A- This is one of the best Lisa-centric episodes. Lisa is such an earnest character that it is hard to not root for her. At the beginning of the episode she is feeling sick and stays home from school. Meaning to study her homework, she accidentally gets involved with a video game and forgets about the test.
Not wanting to let her A+ streak go she decides to cheat, and get the answers to the test from the local bully, Nelson. The plan seemingly works but she is riddled with guilt. This episode has lots of jokes about the public education system, bureaucracy, and our cheating-accepting culture.
Also it is a great performance by Yeardley Smith. I love Lisa/Bart bonding episodes and Lisa/Homer episodes and this one has moments of both
Season 10 Episode 7
5. Homer the Great- Homer discovers a secret society called The Stonecutters and decides to join. Unfortunately on his first day he ruins the Stonecutters sacred scroll and is forced to walk abound the town naked carrying behind a giant boulder. However, one of the men notice a birthmark that Homer has and they realize he is the ‘chosen one’ and begin to worship him.
This is great comedy skewering our need for both collectivism and feeling special. A group like this makes Homer feel important, and I think that’s an emotion we can all relate to. Nearly every joke works and it has one of the best Simpsons songs in years. It also takes a few jabs at religions but I can laugh at myself and thought they were funny.
Season 6 Episode 12
6. Secret World of Lisa Simpson- This one is maybe a surprise because it’s a little bit less well known, but I love it because it is a Lisa/Bart episode, and I love when those characters connect. Bart pulls off a massive prank at the beginning of the episode and is sent to military school against his will.
When the family drops him off Lisa see’s the higher quality of education and asks to attend as well. Both Bart and Lisa get homesick and there is a sweet scene where Marge sings to her ‘special little boy’ on a tape and it is emotional.
Lisa loves the learning but has a hard time fitting in as the only girl cadet. She makes it a goal to endure the same hazing and physical challenges as the boys and with Bart’s help gets in shape and ready to go. It is a sweet tender episode with enough laughs to make it work as a Simpsons episode.
Season 8 Episode 25
7. Treehouse of Horror V- The Simpsons is famous for their annual Halloween of horror episode but while always visually beautiful some of the jokes are lost on me because I don’t watch many horror movies. However, in the 6th season episode 5 they take on the Shining. which is a horror movie I have seen and my favorite.
As in the movie The Simpsons go to a mysterious inn in the middle of nowhere. As they stay, the father (or in this case Homer) start seeing strange images, growing more and more paranoid by the minute.
In the movie Jack Nicholson plays the father and he begins chanting and writing “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. While Homer says, ‘No TV or beer makes Homer crazy”. There are a lot of other illusions to the movie and it is also very funny.
The other 2 bits are also funny. They have Homer discovering his toaster is a time machine but every time he changes so does the world around him (one time they are all lizards, other times lizard tongues and Homer says ‘close enough’)
The final bit has dolphins taking over the world. It is a very funny mock up of disaster movies like Jurassic Park that were so popular at the time.
8. Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment- This episode is funny because it takes on every drinking cliche in show business flawlessly. After a rowdy St Patricks Day the town decides to start having prohibition. As last resort Homer starts a bathtub distillery in his basement and becomes something of a kingpin. It manages to make fun of everything from the Christian right to mafia movies such as The Godfather.
Season 8 Episode 18
9. The Cartridge Family- Starting out with a hilarious bit on how Americans view soccer, a riot starts in the stadium and Marge asks Homer to get a security system. Finding out they are $500 Homer gets a gun instead which infuriates Marge.
She comes as close to leaving Homer as I think ever happens on the show but somehow it still manages to be really funny. The meeting of the NRA is hilarious and the creative ways Homer uses the gun are funny. The writing is great especially when Mayor Quimby declares mob rule. And it is not a hate piece on the NRA or guns. In fact, the ending kind of reinforces why they might be a good idea. Leaves it open to you to decide while laughing at both sides.
Season 9 episode 5
10. Homer and Apu- There are so many great side characters on The Simpsons and they all have their moment but Apu is one of my favorites. In this episode Apu is fired from the Kwik-E-Mart because the actor James Woods wants to do some acting research (very funny guest voice). Without his store Apu feels miserable but the Simpsons try to cheer him up, and that makes for one of the best Simpsons songs.
Season 5 Episode 13. Another great Apu episode is Eight Misbehaving when Apu has octuplets.
11. Bart Gets an F- One of the more emotional episodes Bart finds out he is going to be held back a grade because of his low test scores. He bunkers down and really tries to study only to get another F. He begins to cry and it’s a very tender moment. Haven’t we all been in that spot where nothing seems to go our way despite our best effort? Most media tells you if you work hard you will succeed but that isn’t always the case and I love how this episode shows that.
This episode was also the first episode of the second season so you can see the voices coming together and the animation getting crisper. Terrific voice performances and music
12. When Flanders Failed- In this episode Flanders decides to quit his job and open up a store for left handed people- the leftorium. When hearing about it Homer makes a wish on a wishbone that it will fail because he is irritated by his neighbor.
Things begin to go badly for Flanders from the start. Eventually they are ready to repossess his store and house. Homer grows more guilt ridden by the second, and finally decides to help out Flanders, making the business a success.
It’s a really touching episode for both Flanders and Homer but also very funny. Things get bad for Flanders. He is living out of car and his bubbly personality is practically destroyed (causing humor and tenderness). Love it.
Season 3 episode 3
13. Bart on the Road- If I had to pick one this may be my favorite. There are so many good gags. Just the opening take your child to work day with Bart at the DMV with Patty and Selma is hilarious. “Some days we don’t let the line move at all. We call those days weekdays”… Hilarious.
Bart, Nelson, Millhouse, and Martin decide to use a fake ID to rent a car and drive to Knoxville World’s Fair. On their way they get a hilarious Al Gore doll “You are hearing me talk” and go to a Andy Williams concert “I didn’t think he’d do Moon River and then double encore”
There is also a funny bit with the kids picking up a peddler and him wondering if he is still on drugs seeing the kids driving. It’s just full of funny laughs. It is also another one where Lisa and Bart have to work together and I always like those moments in the show.
14. Bart the Mother- This episode has the greatest laugh of any season. It starts out with Marge warning Bart to not play with Nelson because he is a bad influence. Bart lies to her and goes to Nelson’s anyway and while they are playing he kills a mother bird with his BB gun. Marge see’s it and is horrified. Feeling guilty Bart takes the eggs and decides to take care of them until they hatch. Great line:
What do you think he’s doing up there?
I don’t know. Drug lab?
Or reading comic books, what am I, Kreskin? You tell me what he’s doing.
To learn about caring for birds Bart watches a film strip narrated by Troy McClure in what is the final appearance of Phil Hartman on the show. It is a hilarious film strip and I only wish I could find it somewhere for you to see it but find the dvd and watch. There is also a great gag about introducing new species into an environment.
Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.
But isn’t that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we’re overrun by lizards?
No problem. We simply unleash wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They’ll wipe out the lizards.
But aren’t the snakes even worse?
Yes, but we’re prepared for that. We’ve lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
But then we’re stuck with gorillas!
No, that’s the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death
Season 10 Episode 3
So those are my favorites. What are some of your favorites? Do you have a fondness for the Simpsons or hate them?
Oh and the music is some of the best on TV (theme by Danny Elfman and other music by Alf Clausen)