On Tuesday, January 12, Season 20 of The Simpsons dropped on DVD. And if you've been in a coma, you didn't realize that they celebrated their 20 year anniversary on the 10th (go to Hulu if you missed the festivities).
As you know, I am a dedicated Simpsons fan and Simpsonologist, so I would be remiss if I didn't celebrate the anniversary in my own special way. This is a list of my top 25 episodes of all time (I'm not paying attention to which seasons they came from, and I take no part in the ridiculous "The Simpsons has gone downhill" game. But for a great discussion that does go there, read and respond to Dr. Karma's blog.)
25. Colonel Homer
Homer is as inexperienced, but not nearly as self-serving and Pat Robertsonesque, as Colonel Tom Parker when he became Lurleen Lumpkin's manager. Marge's jealousy and the toll Homer's new position takes on their marriage is poignant. Lurleen is voiced beautifully by Beverly D'Angelo. I have a particular soft spot for the songs from "Colonel Homer" partly because they're great and partly because my best friend Karma sings them in the shower.
Great line:"I wrote this song while I was mopping up your dried blood and teeth." (Lurleen)
24. Mr. Plow
Homer and Marge's sex life steams up because of a slick jacket and Linda Ronstadt and Barney work on a project together. If "Mr. Plow" isn't one of your favorite episodes, my guess is that you haven't seen it. Remedy that now, please. And then get thee over to The Simpsons Archive to hear Moby's "Mr. Plow" remixes.
Great line: "Aww, the waiting game sucks. Let's play Hungry, Hungry Hippos." (Homer)
23. Like Father, Like Clown
Jackie Mason earned an Emmy for his portrayal of Krusty's father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofki, and for good reason. This episode shows both the humor and the emotional range of the show, and not just through the touching reunion between Krusty and his father, but also in the heartwarming way the Simpson kids work so hard together to help heal Krusty's broken heart.
My favorite line: "Mel Brooks is Jewish‽"(Homer)
22. You Only Move Twice
I love the character of Hank Scorpio, I love that Cypress Creek has a hammock district, and I love the way this episode simultaneously demonstrates and mocks sit-com conventions (everything wraps up nicely at the end, returning the Simpson family to their status quo).
Great line: "We have roots here, Homer. We have friends and family and library cards. Bart's lawyer is here!" (Marge)
21. Treehouse of Horror V (The Shinning; Time and Punishment; Nightmare Cafeteria)
Only two Treehouse episodes made the list, and not because I don't like the Treehouse episodes, but because all three of the vignettes have to be really brilliant to be considered (and my definition of brilliance differs from the rest of the world's). This episode is rich with parodic timing, is delightfully (and purposely) extra violent and gruesome, plus it created one of the most oft-repeated quotes: "No beer and no TV make Homer something something."
20. Bart the Lover
By writing letters to Mrs. Krabappel posing as a potential suitor, Bart does one of the worst things ever, but the family works together to try to unbreak Edna's heart. And while I know some critics didn't like the Gordie Howe ending, they can suck it because that ending, complete with stadium organ, is freaking hilarious.
See Bart get inspiration for one of Gordie's letters to Edna:
Great line: "When a woman loves a man, it doesn't matter that a crocodile bit off his face." (Marge)
19. The Way We Was
I can't help but notice that I'm tending to choose episodes with a lot of heart, and I'm okay with that. The Simpsons is so wonderful because it ties singular humor with touching moments that I find lacking in most of TV. "The Way We Was" shows how Homer and Marge first fell in love in the first (I think) flashback on the show. Seeing Homer and Marge in high school tickles me every time, especially when discussing prom, when Marge says that maybe she'll "wear her hair . . . up." Also, it is so satisfying when Marge slaps that arrogant slimeball Artie Ziff. I'm not a collector (I have just a few choice figures and other random items) but I have the Homer and Marge figures inspired by this episode, and you can't have them.
This episode has one of the best Homer lines ever: "English? Who needs that? I'm never going to England."
18. Bart After Dark
This episode is brilliant from beginning to end. From Lisa convincing Marge to take her to volunteer clean up after an oil spill (and Marge's classic line about rocks that need cleaning at home) to Homer's attempt at good parenting, to Skinner's conversation with Bart at Maison Derrièr's entrance, to one of the best (the best?) songs on The Simpsons's soundtrack ("We Put the Spring in Springfield"—when the bullies harmonize "we just heard this place existed" I lose it every time), this episode is near perfection. In fact, I'm a bit curious why it isn't lower on my list.
17. Summer of 4 ft 2
When the Simpsons do Flanders a huge favor by vacationing at his beach house, Lisa reinvents herself as a cool kid who, according to Milhouse, "looks like Blossom." Meanwhile, Homer goes to a convenience store to buy illegal fireworks:
When Marge sees what he's bought, she says he should count her out of what he's got planned for that evening--seriously one of my top five Simpsons moments.
16. Lisa the Drama Queen
One of the strangest parodies ever in Simpsons history, Emily Blunt guest stars as Lisa's new BFF, Juliet, in a story disturbingly similar to the film HEAVENLY CREATURES. Luckily, the murder plot was left out (Lisa figures out that Juliet is crazy before she gets too entrenched in their fantasyland of Equalia, so Lisa is no worse for the wear). But it's also the details that make this one so special— the way that the bullies interact with the girls, for example, and Juliet and Lisa's shared obsession over Josh Groban. It's one of those moments that I cherish-- when the writers remind us that, while Lisa is often the voice of reason in the family, she's still a kid.
15. Homer's Phobia The Simpsons frequently plays with Homer's sexuality (he's distracted by "stupid sexy Flanders," his favorite song is "It's Raining Men," and he remarks that Oliver North was "just poured into that uniform") but his homophobia is exposed in this episode where he behaves deplorably to the family's new friend John (voiced by John Waters). The episode playfully examines gay stereotypes and the pointlessness of homophobia while every moment is really, really funny.
Great line (from an episode that is nothing but great lines): "You know me Marge: I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my homosexuals flaming." (Homer)
14. Marge vs. The Monorail
If "We Put the Spring in Springfield" isn't the best original Simpsons song, the monorail song is. This episode has Conan O'Brien* written all over it, displaying his singular wit, but Phil Hartman as Lyle Lanley steals the show as the zealous salesman who convinces the town that a monorail is Springfield's only choice.
Great line: "We're twice as smart as the people of Shelbyville. Just tell us your idea, and we'll vote for it" (Mayor Quimby)
13. Treehouse of Horror VII (The Thing and I; The Genesis Tub; Citizen Kang)
This is best Treehouse episode ever. In "Citizen Kang," Kang and Kodos point out the flaws in a two-party system, but I am particularly fond of "The Genesis Tub," in which Lisa creates Lutherans in a Petri dish. The dish-dwellers believe Bart to be the devil, and they attack him:
Terrific line: "Ooh! Waffles!" (Lisa)
12. Whacking Day
Along with Weird Al Yankovic's "Weasel Stomping Day," and Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," "Whacking Day" is perhaps the best example of the "appeal to tradition" logical fallacy—I use it in my teaching all the time. Plus, Barry White plays himself in this episode and has one of my favorite lines in Simpsons' history: "I love the sexy slither of a lady snake."
11. The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show
If you'd like to know what self-referentiality is, watch this episode. Fox had encouraged The Simpsons to add a new character, so they wrote this episode in response. To help ratings, The Itchy & Scratchy Show adds a third character, Poochie. The writers of The Itchy & Scratchy show are drawn in the likeness of Simpsons writers, and the artist who designs Poochie looks remarkably like David Silverman (complete with tuba in the background). Poochie's song mashes every pseudo-cool image together to the point of making it the worst episode ever. (That's right—in case you weren't sure, this is the episode that brought us Comic Book Guy's most famous line). Sadly, Poochie is killed off and Homer never got paid.
The quote from the show that I say most often in everyday conversation:"You can cram it with walnuts, ugly!" (Homer)
10. Much Apu About Nothing
American and immigrant stereotypes and immigration policy are examined in this absolutely perfect episode. See, Mayor Quimby feels compelled to blame a silly tax hike on immigrants, causing a referendum to be put on ballots to boot all illegal immigrants out of Springfield (if you've ever seen me wearing a t-shirt that reads "No on 24" you now get the reference). When the Simpsons discover that Apu is actually an illegal immigrant (he stayed after his Visa expired because he had made a life for himself in Springfield), they decide to help Apu become legal. One of Homer's best lines: "Wow, Apu. You must love this country more than I love a cold beer on a hot Christmas morning." To help, Lisa even checks out a book entitled "Backdoors to Citizenship." In the course of events, we (even Homer) realize that Apu is one of the truest Americans of all: a dedicated capitalist who understands the nuances of American history much more than the average native-born American. Homer's rallying speech at the end sums it up:
"Most of us here were born in America. We take this country for granted, but not immigrants like Apu. While the rest of us are drinking ourselves stupid, they're driving the cabs that get us home safely. They're writing the operas that entertain us every day. They're training our tigers and kicking our extra points. These people are the glue that holds together the gears of our society. If we pass Proposition 24, we'll be losing some of the truest Americans of all. When you go to the polls tomorrow, please vote no on Proposition 24."
9. Coming to Homerica
In this, a thinly veiled satire against the silly-ass wall that the Bush administration implemented to keep Mexicans out of the U.S., Springfield builds a wall to keep Ogdenvillians out of Springfield. I'm fond of this episode because the Ogdenvillians are basically lefse-loving Minnesotans like me, Vikings fans of Norwegian decent, with hilarious accents. (When I'm tired, tipsy, or feeling lazy, I pronounce the letter O in the roundest way you've ever heard east of the Mississippi). Watch Marge freak out when Maggie speaks in this episode and it's some simple Norwegian she picked up from the housekeeper. Boy, howdy!
8. Mother Simpson
Beautifully directed by David Silverman (who also directed THE SIMPSONS MOVIE and #19 on this list, along with many other episodes), "Mother Simpson" may be the saddest, sweetest episode. We watch as Marge experiences something she'd been spared thus far: a mother-in-law, and as Lisa gets to know her grandmother, she finally begins to understand how she fits in with her family. The silent ending, as Homer contemplatively gazes at the stars, extends the heart through the ending credits in the most magical way. Having said that, this episode has no lack of humor, such as the moment when Homer actually reads the headstone that he had believed to be his mother's for all those years ("Leaves of Grass my ass"). This episode also contains one of my favorite Abe Simpson quotes: "You were a rotten wife and I'll never, ever, forgive you! [Pause] Can we have sex? Please?"
7. Lisa on Ice
While I watched The Simpsons from Day One, this is the first episode that caused me to wear out a VHS tape. Not surprisingly, then, it was the first one that I could quote all of the dialogue. I've viewed it dozens, if not a hundred times and it still holds up. The way this episode shows the sibling relationship is unmatched, not to mention that the way that the entire town interacts with each other through this peewee hockey rivalry is masterful. This is the episode that made me first fall in love with Snake, as he says "Ah, if only they'd had peewee hockey when I was a lad." Hans Moleman, the bullies, Apu, Chief Wiggum, Moe . . . everyone is there and everyone has taken a side (everyone except Marge, that is).
6. In Marge We Trust
Holy shit! This is the Mr. Sparkle episode, so of course it's in my top 10! (Not a week goes by when I don't have occasion to say, "there's your answer, Fishbulb!")
5. Bart Sells His Soul
I was just talking the other day with some friends about how we love when Homer and/or Bart show unexpected knowledge, and when Bart tells Lisa that he is "familiar with the works of Pablo Neruda," I almost lose my mind (to this day). This is one that I (and many, many others) use to argue with misinformed individuals who claim the show is anti-religious. I can think of no better example of a television character working so hard to understand his spirituality.
Having said that, Lovejoy's means of extracting a confession from the kids deomonstrates one of the reasons I don't go to church. He leads them in a recitation that the kids know too well, including: " . . . where my soul will be chopped into confetti and be strewn upon a parade of murderers and single mothers . . . "
Best Lisa line: "Where'd you get five bucks? I want five bucks!"
4. Lisa The Vegetarian
We were surprised that it look so long for Lisa to become a vegetarian, but she finally did after a visit to a petting zoo where she befriended a lamb. This is the episode that introduced us to the "Independent Thought Alarms" at Springfield Elementary. Paul and Linda McCartney guest starred (in Apu's garden, in the shade). It also included one of Troy McClure's best films: "Meat and You: Partners in Freedom," and brought us one of my favorite Homer lines (one that I feel compelled to mention I have NOT seen on any of those "Best Homer Lines" lists that have been littering the interwebs lately in honor of the 20th anniversary): "You don't win friends with salad!"
3. Lisa the Skeptic
When Skinner announces: "Attention: all honor students will be rewarded with a trip to an archaeological dig. Conversely, all detention students will be punished with a trip to an archaeological dig" you know it's going to be good. This episode has lots of jokes, yes, but the storyline is brilliant and unexpected. At the dig, a skeleton is found that looks a lot like an angel, sparking a religion vs. science debate, excessive amounts of mob rule, and exposing lots and lots of greed.
2. El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer
Who loves short shorts? The town of Springfield loves short shorts! But that's at the end. See, after he disappears, Marge finds Homer in the lighthouse where the precious hotpants cargo is coming in. Wait, back up. Homer takes a trip on some Guatemalan insanity peppers and is instructed by a coyote (Johnny Cash) to go on a mystical journey, Carlos Casteneda style. Okay, back up again. Marge does everything in her power to try to make Homer miss the chili cook-off. She cuts all mention of it out of the Springfield Shopper. She vacuums so he can't hear Lenny reminding him on the phone. She smokes to cover up the smell wafting in from the out of doors. But he still figures it out and the family goes to the chili cook-off, where Lisa hurries to get vegetarian chili "before they get desperate and add meat." Bart gets a hysterical "Time for Chili" trucker cap, although the humor seems lost on Lisa. And Homer promises not to drink, a promise he almost keeps.
Like all Simpsons episodes, the humor is layered, so you don't have to get the literary or pop culture references to find the show funny because the episodes are solid without the references, and the bits shine on their own. The Simpsons doesn't require the viewer to catch the references for its funny (I'm looking at you, Family Guy with your random digressions), but if you do happen to get them, those laughs are additional little gifts to you.
And once again, the Simpson marriage is challenged, and once again, Marge and Homer prevail, stronger than ever. In your face, Space Coyote!
Two of many, many great lines: Marge:"Whenever you go to that cook-off, you get as drunk as a poet on payday." Homer: "Well, of course everything looks bad if you remember it."
1. Lisa's Substitute
Lisa is inspired by Mr. Bergstrom, a substitute teacher who cares about reaching students, even if it requires unorthodox means. His teaching style is an inspiration to me, and the effect he has on Lisa brings me to tears every time. This is also one of the earliest times when Homer realizes his parenting is lacking, and he does something about it. More importantly, Lisa learns a valuable lesson about accepting her family members the way they are.
There is plenty of funny in this poignant episode. Miss Hoover's "lyme disease," for example, provides humor as well as Bart's campaign for class president against Martin Prince. Hilariously, both of their campaign posters have the same message: "A Vote for Bart is a Vote for Anarchy."
A terrific line not said by Mr. Bergstrom: "No, children, you're not seeing things; this, my little friends, is a schwa.' (Principal Skinner)
Bart vs. Australia
The Computer Wore Menace Shoes
Homer The Great
Homer The Heretic
Homer's Barbershop Quartet
Lisa the Iconoclast
O, Brother, Where Bart Thou?
The Parent Rap
That 90s Show
Lisa The Iconoclast
*A note about Conan. He is the funniest person on television and I'm going to miss seeing him whenever I want. Leno is only as funny as his writers and he's got a Richard Dawson-type skeeziness in his approach. Conan is terrifically funny always, whether it's in a bit or just sparring one-on-one with his guests. No host brings out the allure in guests the way Conan can. The final show was lovely. If you missed it (or any episodes of The Tonight Show) see it on Hulu. And do it before they take them down and before it becomes a pay site.
This isn't goodbye, Coco. Let's just say . . . Smell ya later.
Great list, Du. A lot of my favorites are on there. But my all-time favorite has to be "22 Short Films about Springfield." From the ridiculously funny Pulp Fiction parody to Nelson finally getting his comeuppance, there's a little something for everybody. Even though I've watched it well into double-digits, I laugh every time.
And as for a great song, the one Apu sings with the Simpsons after getting fired ("Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?") has to be right up there.