Ten Defining Episodes

I feel the avalanche of Zombie episodes has kind of tainted the spirit of this blog a bit, and my resurrection of the blog to continue through season 21 surely didn’t help. Sure, those episodes deserve to get taken down every peg possible, but through it all, we can’t forget the amazingness that is the show in its prime, The Simpsons as it is, the greatest TV comedy to have ever aired. And so, in what may be this blog’s final post (for real), I’ve decided to do… a list. Yeah, real original. Now, I didn’t want to do a top 10 best, and certainly not a top 10 worst. This is a little different. It may shock you to hear this, but there are some people out there who… have never watched the show before. It’s true, I’ve met them. Now surely everyone has heard of the show, and can identify a few of the main characters, or at least the Simpson family. Also, I think everyone has at least seen a small bit of at least one episode in their lifetime of channel surfing. But in terms of sitting back and seriously watching an episode? We take that luxury for granted, but some people aren’t so fortune. So how does one introduced another to The Simpsons? Can you even imagine it? Where do you start? What episodes would you show that can fully illustrate the show’s utter genius? Well, that’s what this list is: the ten episodes that represent the greatness of The Simpsons.

1. I Married Marge (season 3, episode 12)
This episode serves almost like a prologue to the Simpson family, and the bumps and sacrifices taken in order to create the semi-stable household that it is in our series proper. As their younger selves we can profile Homer and Marge perfectly, the former a loving husband who tries to do right despite his crippling idiocy and short attention span, and his lovely wife, who is sweet, gentle, and who he’d do anything for. This is also one of the sweetest episodes of the series, with multiple moments that pack an emotional whollop, but also we’re shown that the funny never stops, and more importantly, doesn’t interfere with the tone of a scene. We can be touched by Marge reading Homer’s simple, yet truly heartwarming proposal paper, and laugh as we see his buttcrack in her face as he continues to fish around the seat for it. Now needing to support a pregnant wife, Homer’s arrested development is shaken as he strongholds his way into an adult job; he was thrust into responsible adulthood, which explains his sometimes childish outlook. This episode sets up a lot, and given that everyone at least has a cursory knowledge of the series, is not alienating as a prologue, and is my ideal start.

2. Dog of Death (season 3, episode 19)
This is my idea of a “normal” episode, as we watch the family as they manage through a true-to-life situation, in this case what to do when the dog falls ill and his operation comes with a high price tag. After the emotion-heavy introduction, this is to show the series’ strongest asset: humor. In my opinion, this is one of the funniest episodes ever, with so many absolutely hysterical bits. All the lottery hysteria at the beginning feels very real, but then you also have crazy shit like the insane frenzy the town gets whipped up in, and Homer’s gold giant dream, perhaps the best dream sequence of the whole series. Doggie heaven, Burns training Santa’s Little Helper to be a bastard, Brockman becoming a smug asshole after winning the lottery, the laughs keep coming hard and fast. But the foundation of a solid, relatable story is still constant, and while we feel good when Bart and SLH are reunited, we then laugh at Homer scoffing at the idea of petting the cat (“What’s the point?”)

3. Three Men and a Comic Book (season 2, episode 21)

After those two as a set-up, I figure we’d examine each Simpson on their own adventure, and their role in the show. First up is Bart; to me, the best Bart episodes are when he’s just a precocious, devious youngster, be it struggling in school, playing pranks, or engaging in idol worship with his TV hero Krusty the Clown. In this episode, a limited edition comic book is like manna to our favorite spiky haired ten-year-old… but unfortunately he’s got to work for it. This episode also shows how the tone of a show can turn on a dime, but still feel like a cohesive story; we open with the big comic book expo spoof, rich with satire, then we have Bart working under Mrs. Glick, then by act three it turns into a Treasure of the Sierra Madre parody with heightened action and drama. But even through all that, the plot seems to flow and nothing seems like it’s coming out of left field. It’s like a twenty-two minute roller coaster, and it’s one hell of a good ride.

4. A Streetcar Named Marge (season 4, episode 2)
Now it’s Marge’s time to shine in this show, which also further examines her relationship with her husband. From the start we see Homer is forgetful and inattentive to Marge’s new creative and social venture, but never do we feel his rude behavior comes from any sort of malice. In one of the most telling lines ever, when Marge asks him why he never told her he never had any interest in her hobbies in the past, he responds, “You know I’d never say anything to hurt your feelings.” That sums it up right there; he occassionally may say hurtful things, but he never knows he’s saying them. Meanwhile, Marge proves to be a powerhouse performer in the “Streetcar” play, channeling her anger at her husband, and also showing off her own talents, which gives her some sense of identity outside of the house. Also critical is the music; one of the great pillars of this show is its amazing songs, and this episode, turning the ultimately somber Tennessee Williams play into a rousing, show-stopping musical, is the king of them all. The upbeat “You Can Always Depend on the Kindness of Strangers” may be the most brilliant thing this show has ever done ever. And remember, a stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met. You haaaaven’t meeeeet… Streetcar!

5. Lisa’s Substitute (season 2, episode 19)
I see this one a lot on people’s top episodes lists; I don’t know if I’d put it amongst my absolute favorites, but in terms of illustrating Lisa’s character, it’s the perfect representation. She’s the eternal big fish in a small pond, trapped in a town of idiots and a family that may support her, but will never truly be able to reach her on an intellectual or emotional level. Since by nature of her character, she must remain somewhat miserable in the status quo, most Lisa episodes involve her finding happiness and it being taken from her, in this case the enter and exit of the brilliant and sensitive substitute teacher Mr. Bergstrom. He’s everything Lisa could ever want in a teacher, nay, a human being, and their emotional connection only makes it tougher to see them part ways. Also through this is seeing Homer’s disconnect with her daughter; if anyone in the family has less of a chance reaching her, it’s him. But we once again see the critical element of Homer in that he loves his family, in an ending where he attempts to make amends, and succeeds, in his own simple-minded way.

6. Homer’s Triple Bypass (season 4, episode 11)
Last up is the big man himself, in a hysterical episode involving a father of three suffering a heart attack and needing to undergo serious surgery. A big part of Homer is his incredible gluttony, and here we see it finally come around to bite him in the ass. This episode is a crowning example of the show dealing with truly devastating subject matter, but remaining consistantly funny with absolutely no clash in tone. We go right from Lisa hugging her father and sobbing when he announces his operation, to Homer saying how Abe Lincoln sold poisoned milk to school children within three seconds, and you can still laugh. We get our fill of great moments, with the always hilarious Dr. Nick, Homer’s penchant for his adjustable hospital bed, and visits from Moe, Barney and Krusty (“This ain’t make-up!”), but we also can truly appreciate the tender moments of Homer’s nighttime prayer, and his perhaps final words to his children, which again is peppered with great moments of humor with Bart telling him what to say (“And Lisa, I guess this is the time to tell you… that I’m adopted and I don’t like you. …Bart!!“)

7. Brush with Greatness (season 2, episode 18)
Another Marge show, kind of in the same vein of “Streetcar” in showing her talents apart from her normal housewife identity. It’s a bit more prominent in this one, showcasing her artistic talents, a trait that’s continued through a few token episodes. There’s a lot more great stuff here though, like the Mt. Splashmore opener and Homer attempting to lose weight. But more importantly, this episode illuminates one of the greatest members of our supporting cast, C. Montgomery Burns. He’s at his most fiendish here, but we also see a more vain, vulnerable side to him (I love his earnest “Can you make me beautiful?” to Marge). As despicable as he is, he’s still human, as explained in the final reveal of Marge’s painting, one of the show’s best examples of blending outrageous humor with a genuine meaning. This series certainly wouldn’t be the same without its supporting cast, and the finale to this show almost acts as Mr. Burns’ thesis statement.

8. You Only Move Twice (season 8, episode 2)
In terms of its emotional core, this episode kind of complements “I Married Marge” and the other flashback shows, in showing that in the thick of it, Homer will always choose his family over himself. He finds himself in a cushy job, great house and a boss that seemingly respects him, but finds he can’t be truly happy if his family isn’t. But on top of all that is mountains and mountains of humor, with Hank Scorpio at the top of them all. Albert Brooks has voiced many memorable characters over the series, but Scorpio tops them all, the elaboration on the great premise of what if a James Bond villain were the world’s greatest boss? Every line of his is hysterical, thanks to the sharp writing and Brooks’ own ad-libs. This episode is to show off the series’ ability to create one-off characters that truly stand the test of time, and Scorpio definitely is at the front of the line.

9. Bart vs. Australia (season 6, episode 16)
This is a show that skewers every facet of American life and culture, but that’s not even enough; nowhere on Earth is safe from ridicule. There seemed to be a lot more travel episodes in later seasons, all of which were mostly toothless, and at worse possibly culturally offensive, but this episode rules because of tackling a foreign country and foreign policy simultaneously. The United State and Australia end up both coming off like idiots, attempting to calm an international incident accidentally caused by a ten-year-old. We get Phil Hartman playing his best one-off role as the American ambassador (“Then it’s agreed: during the bargaining session, we each get two candy apples… all right, one candy and one caramel,”) the immortal game of Knifey Spoony, and Bart mooning the highest ranking Australian officials, only to be escorted out by helicopter in a shot resembling American troops retreating from Vietnam. What more could you want out of an episode?

10. Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily (season 7, episode 3)
At its core, The Simpsons is about… well, the Simpsons, this family whose members never seem to find real acceptance or happiness out in the world, but remain a strong unit in themselves. Sure, they bicker and squabble, but deep down Homer and Marge love their kids, and vice versa. Nowhere is this better displayed than this episode, where parents and children are separated thanks to an avalanche of misunderstandings. Playing amongst the humorous bits of bizarre life at the Flanders house and the morons at the proper parenting course, we get amazing scenes of Homer and Marge sadly walking past their kids’ empty rooms, and Bart and Lisa in bed reminiscing about great moments with their parents. For better or for worse, as broken as their family may seem, they all belong together. The shot at the end is a perfect encapsulation of this, a beautiful shot of Marge cradling her baby (“Maggie, you’re a Simpson again.”) Followed by Maggie removing her pacifier and belching. As crude and dysfunctional as they may be, the Simpsons are happy just as they are.

Whelp, I guess that’s it. For real this time, I can conclude I have no interest in anything from season 22 on. I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to read and comment throughout my journey. Hopefully you enjoyed my exuberance and my suffering, and I hope I’ve inspired some of you to go back and revisit great moments from this truly tremendous series. Smell you later!

17 responses to “Ten Defining Episodes

  1. This blog has been an amazing journey, almost like a roller coaster ride but one that has continued to plummet.

    You’ve done a great job Mike, fantastic reviews and screengrabs, esp. the ones above and the last one is perfect to end this blog with (or maybe the one with The Simpsons sitting together from “Behind The Laughter”).

    The robot in the window of the above episode “Three Men and a Comic Book” (season 2, episode 21) reminds me of Bender from Futurama btw.

    Also: The 2 Best shows ever made and that dominated the 90’s and even now…. The Simpsons and Seinfeld, these last names changed TV forever… 🙂

  2. On a side note, when I say cont. to plummet I mean The Simpsons and not this blog itself!

  3. My list of favorite episodes changes pretty frequently, but these almost always seem to end up high on the list:

    -Homer at the Bat
    -Mother Simpson
    -Treehouse of Horror V
    -Who Shot Mr. Burns? Parts 1 & 2
    -The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show
    -Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming
    -The Boy Who Knew Too Much
    -Lemon of Troy
    -Lisa on Ice
    -Homer’s Enemy

    Thanks (again) for a fun blog to follow.

    • My top 10 favorite episodes are:

      Treehouse of Horror V
      22 Short Films about Springfield
      Cape Feare
      Who Shot Mr Burns
      You Only Move Twice
      Homer the Heretic
      Mr Plow
      Homer’s Enemy
      Homer the Great
      El Viaje de Nuestro Jomer

  4. Perfect finish, Mike – exit on a high. This post justifies loving the Simpsons, and explains the fury behind the last 15 years of dreck. Look forward to seeing what you do next (so long as it includes DHS).

  5. Thanks for all the hard work Mike, it’s been a blast!

  6. Thanks allot for the blog, Mr, Amato.

  7. This blog became my personal Bible barely a month ago. Although it would be nice to see you trash the new seasons (maybe even find some hidden gems), rest assured that what you’ve done is brilliant enough to warrant a ton of insightful bathroom breaks. A million thanks and greetings from a Spanish Simpsons fan.

  8. Joey Joe Joe Shabadoo

    This was one of my favorite blogs of all time – thank you for all your time and effort on this. You have a gift for writing, and your reviews were extremely well done. Thanks again!

  9. Thanks for this great list of episodes and for this awesome website. I unfortunately didn’t really watch the show that much growing up mainly because it was more difficult for me to understand the appeal of animated sitcoms back then and that I was more into whatever stuff CN, Disney and Nick were showing at the time.

    Plus the vast amount of episodes this show has now always intimidated me not to watch and I had heard so much about the show’s declining quality that I wanted to spare myself the truth from having to realize how bad this once great, influential show became. I’d also cite coming from a lower income family as a reason because there were many times that I couldn’t afford to buy specific DVDs I wanted. I feel embarrassed to say any of this seeing how I love animation so much.

    There are still literally tons of episodes from this show I’ve never seen before and hopefully, your site will be very helpful in making sure that I don’t waste time trying to watch subpar crap.

  10. I’m gonna bring in a Nostalgia Critic style line here and say that when it comes to those crappy episodes, you watched them so the rest of us don’t have to. For that, thank you so much.

  11. Great list. If I were to disagree with anything on here, i would replace Bart vs. Australia with either 22 Short Films or the episode where the Simpsons get a pool and Bart breaks his leg. Both of those do an excellent job showcasing the rich supporting cast that resides in Springfield and have some truly memorable lines.

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