The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening and produced by the Fox Broadcasting Company. The main characters are a satire of a working-class family, consisting of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie. The series lampoons many aspects of American culture, society, politics and history.
10. “Treehouse of Horror V”
Airdate: Oct. 30, 1994
Simpsons Truism No. 666: “Treehouse” episodes are as inconsistent as Grampa’s bladder. Welcome to the exception. “The Shinning” is a parody brimming with such detail, comic timing (“No TV and no beer make Homer…something something”), and Kubrick send-ups that it ranks with the greatest of pop-culture spoofs. “Time and Punishment” features Homer’s time-traveling toaster and one of the most beautifully random moments in Simpsons history (Homer: “Don’t panic. Remember the advice your father gave you on your wedding day.” Grampa in thought bubble: “If you ever travel back in time, doooooonnnn’t step on anything…”). Maybe “Nightmare Cafeteria” doesn’t shine as brilliantly, but we think it’s perfectly, well, “cromulent.”
9. “Mr. Plow”
Airdate: Nov. 19, 1992
“Call Mr. Plow, that’s my name/That name again is Mr. Plow!” Those 12 words of insipid brilliance stand testament to one of the few times Homer has actually succeeded at something. As Springfield’s No. 1 snow mover, Homer—rather incredibly—earns some extra money, the gratitude of Mayor Quimby, and the amorous adoration of Marge (She: “Would you mind…?” He: “Cutting my nails? Brushing my teeth?”). But Homer finds competition—and even betrayal—from…Barney? A curiously dark episode (we learn that Homer is responsible for Barney’s alcoholism) in which escalating tensions come to a head on icy Widow’s Peak. Not exactly laugh-a-minute, but oh, that jingle…
8. “The Itchy & Scratchy and Poochie Show”
Airdate: Feb. 9, 1997
Hey, kids! Who likes scathing commentary on aging TV series? In this provocative, self-referential spectacle that polarized a nation (okay, some particularly rabid fans),Itchy & Scratchy‘s falling ratings prompt the network suits to introduce a painfully overhip canine. (“You’ve heard the expression, ‘Let’s get busy’? Well, this is a dog who gets biz-zay.”) The Homer-voiced Poochie provides perfect fodder for aggressive meta-lampoonery: As Lisa criticizes the desperate character-adding act, a hipster teen named Roy is seen inexplicably chillin’ with the Simpson clan. No cow is sacred here, not even The Simpsons‘s increasingly nitpicky fans, who are milked for laughs in the Comic Book Guy’s “Worst Episode Ever” didacticism. Worst ever? Hardly.
7. “Homer’s Phobia”
Airdate: Feb. 16, 1997
The Simpsons gets away with more hot-button hotdoggery than any other show, and the most cunning example may be this flamboyant installment, in which the family befriends John (John Waters), the droll owner of a kitschy collectibles shop… until Homer finds out that he’s gay. For a man who once called a spoon “the metal dealie…you use…to dig…food,” Homer attains a new level of keg-headedness in his foolish paranoia (“He didn’t give you gay, did he?”) and absurd anger toward John for not mincing around and declaring his orientation (“You know me, Marge—I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my homosexuals fa-laaaming!”). But the same-sex silliness never turns offensive, perhaps because of the sincere subtext: By worrying that John is going to convert Bart, Homer actually fears that he hasn’t been a good father—thus explaining the accidental visit to the gay steel mill. Hot (and funny) stuff, coming through!
6. “Lisa the Vegetarian”
Airdate: Oct. 15, 1995
In the early days, Bart and Homer were the Simpson family’s — and the show’s—undisputed breakout stars. Talk to Simpsons writers, though, and you’ll discover something interesting: A critical mass name Lisa—nerdy, earnest, principled, perpetually misunderstood Lisa—as their favorite Simpson of all. Which means this list needs a Lisa episode—and not a Lisa episode that’s really a Bart episode (“Lisa’s First Word”) or a Lisa episode that’s really a Ralph episode (“I Love Lisa”). (Don’t agree? Go back to Russia!) And which Lisa episode is better than “Lisa the Vegetarian,” in which the smartest kid in Springfield first realizes the unsettling connection between the lamb she just met at a petting zoo and the chops Marge is serving that very night? But there’s more to this half-hour than Lisa’s awakening; her meat-eschewing highlights her relationship with Homer, one of the show’s most interesting dynamics, and also leads to a few of the series’ catchiest gags. Sing it with me now: You don’t win friends with sal-ad!
5. “A Fish Called Selma”
Airdate: March 24, 1996
You may remember Troy McClure from such TV shows as “The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular,” but in his splashiest turn, the underemployed actor is plagued by a “romantic abnormality.” “Gay? I wish!” says the closeted fish fetishist, who becomes a family man by marrying Marge’s sister Selma (the one with a repetitive stress injury from scratching her butt). Hollywood lampoons are well-tread ground for the show, but this take on the scandal-contrition cycle, featuring the wonderful McClure vehicle Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!, is particularly smart. And Selma’s farewell to McClure is also a touching tribute to the man who supplied his voice, the late Phil Hartman: “Goodbye, Troy. I’ll always remember you, but not from your films.”
Airdate: Oct. 21, 1993
It begins with Citizen Kane, ends somewhere near the “Planet of the Apes,” and in between, manages to find time to include Hitler, the Ramones, and 64 slices of American cheese. But despite being one of The Simpsons‘s most spectacularly overstuffed episodes, “Rosebud” has plenty of heart, though it is the Mephistophelian ticker belonging to Mr. Burns, who, on the eve of his birthday—somewhere north of 100—finds himself pining for Bobo, his long-lost teddy bear. Burns and Smithers’ efforts to retrieve the tattered toy from Maggie show why they’ll always be TV’s most functional dysfunctional couple: Smithers (who fantasizes about his boss jumping out of a birthday cake) isn’t happy unless his boss is happy—which happens only after an empathetic Maggie gives Bobo up. It’s a moment that proves even Springfield’s twisted billionaire can learn to love—though he conveniently forgets how a few seconds later.
3. “Last Exit to Springfield”
Airdate: March 11, 1993
This episode is virtually flawless, the product of a series at the height of its creative powers—when the satire was savage and relevant, when names like John Swartzwelder, George Meyer, and Conan O’Brien were relatively unknown, when Maude Flanders lived. So it is that we find America’s favorite family at Painless (formerly “Painful”) Dentistry, because Lisa is in need of braces. Meanwhile, at the nuclear plant, Mr. Burns is trying to ax the union dental plan. The rest is the stuff of syndication legend: Burns facing down “brilliant” labor kingpin Homer Simpson; Homer Simpson facing down his own brain (“Lisa needs braces/DENTAL PLAN!”); Grampa rattling on about wearing onions on his belt. “Last Exit” is a glorious symphony of the high and the low, of satirical shots at unions and sweet ruminations on the humiliations of adolescence (as evidenced by Lisa, who copes with a medieval mouth contraption), and, of course, all those “D’oh!”s. The things, in other words, that make us love The Simpsons in the first place.
2. “Cape Feare”
Airdate: Oct. 7, 1993
The Simpsons is, at its heart, one big parody, but even Homer Thompson could recognize “Cape Feare” as the show’s most meticulous and manic pop-culture takeoff. Not only is it a pitch-perfect send-up of the Martin Scorsese remake (with Kelsey Grammer’s Sideshow Bob traveling to Terror Lake to hunt down and murder his pint-size nemesis, Bart), but it also features one of the most bizarre scenes in television history. We’re referring, of course, to the rakes. Think about it. How many other series would waste valuable prime-time real estate by showing a man whacking himself in the face with a garden rake not once, not twice, but NINE TIMES?!? If ever there was a gag genius in its repetitive stupidity (progressing from funny to not so funny to the funniest thing ever), this is it—merely the sharpest cut in an entire episode that just plain kills.
1. “Marge vs. the Monorail”
Airdate: Jan. 14, 1993
Fast-talking huckster Lyle Lanley (Phil Hartman, natch) sells the town a faulty monorail; only through Marge’s intervention is the town saved. That’s the plot of “Marge vs. the Monorail,” but it’s not the point. The point is that the episode has arguably the highest throwaway-gag-per-minute ratio of any Simpsons, and all of them are laugh-out-loud funny. You want parodies? In its first five minutes, “Monorail” skewers The Flintstones, Beverly Hills Cop, The Silence of the Lambs, andBatman. Celebrity cameos? Leonard Nimoy bores the town with tales from the Star Trek set. Simpsons in-jokes? Country star Lurleen Lumpkin, from “Colonel Homer,” has a bit part. A musical number? The Music Man‘-inspired “The Monorail Song” is, well, inspired. Elaborate visuals that were clearly devised by a roomful of overgrown boys? This episode features giant remote-controlled mechanical ants, a radioactive squirrel, an escalator to nowhere, and—in case we haven’t mentioned it already—Leonard Nimoy. Thus we proclaim: Best. Episode. Ever.