Watch + Listen: Top 50 Simpsons Episodes (Pt. 2)

by Kevin on June 28, 2011

Click here for Part 1.

"I think Bart's stupid again, mom."

30. “Bart the Genius”
(Season 1, Episode 2)
The first proper episode after the holiday special “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” finds Bart in over his head after cheating off Martin Prince and ending up in a post-hippie arts school surrounded by, well, geniuses. Despite the rough animation and occasionally stilted dialogue, this episode is particularly memorable for Bart’s heartfelt apology and Homer’s excessively hostile reaction to it. It’s no wonder Bart rarely fesses up to his crimes.

29. “$pringfield (Or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)”
(Season 5, Episode 10)
Marge is flawed but well-meaning, and up until “$pringfield” she seemed to have no real vices (unless you count “being a doormat” as a vice). Strange, then, that shortly after the building of Burns’ casino she should get sucked into the world of legalized gambling (and taken prisoner by the neon-clawed creature known as Gamblor). While “$pringfield” isn’t especially rich in character-development, it’s interesting to see Marge in the role of the downfallen and a terrific example of the ways that the glitz and glamor can overtake even the best of us.

Better open up the "stick with your wife" barrel.

28. “The Last Temptation of Homer”
(Season 5, Episode 9)
Ah, Mindy. Colonel Klink’s vision might have suggested that Homer and Marge would have been better off apart, but love rarely follows the logical course. Like Marge’s temptation Jacques in “Life on the Fast Lane,” Mindy only serves to remind Homer that sometimes the difference between love and lust is as simple as a message in a fortune cookie. Despite all the obstacles, Homer knows deep down his only true happiness is with his wife and family, and Mindy is never heard from again. Crisis averted.

27. “Treehouse of Horror II”
(Season 3, Episode 7)
The first “Treehouse of Horror” is an interesting experiment that doesn’t quite hold up in hindsight, so it’s surprising just how good the second outing really was. The story of the cursed monkey’s paw and Bart’s Twilight Zone nightmare are classics, as the writers found inspiration and a formula that works. “Treehouse II” marked the moment when the “Treehouse” episodes transitioned from amusing novelty to annual tradition.

26. “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”
(Season 2, Episode 11)
With The Simpsons in its second season, no one really expected Homer, perhaps the show’s most essential character, to actually die. Still, the buildup to the climactic moment of “One Fish,” helpfully narrated by Larry King reading the Bible, is perfectly executed, right down to the framing of Homer’s arm going limp at sunrise. “One Fish” faces death head on: life is a fragile, fleeting thing, and a casual night out could turn dark more easily than most of us would dare admit.

Now we love the house!

25. “Bart After Dark”
(Season 8, Episode 5)
The Simpsons‘ writers have an endearing obsession with all things antiquated, as evidenced by Burns’ old-timey slang and endless references to classic films. But putting a burlesque house in the middle of Springfield? That takes dedication, and the result is a fantastic episode with conflict, music, and hilarious moments involving the unsavory exposure of Springfield’s upper crust. The throwback vaudeville acts and PG-13 routines hardly seem out of place in Springfield, despite Marge’s attempts to bulldoze the house of ill fame.

24. “Radio Bart”
(Season 3, Episode 13)
Like most small towns, Springfield’s residents are obsessed with tragedy. The “boy trapped in a well” story plays out in “Radio Bart” in much the same way it might anywhere else: sympathy, round-the-clock news coverage, cash-grabbing, and a celebrity charity single. Once Bart’s prank is revealed, the town turns its back on him out of spite, only to eventually rally to his rescue with an old-fashioned hole digging. Somewhere Springfield has a soul worth saving, though it seems to rarely make itself known.

23. “The Way We Was”
(Season 2, Episode 12)
“The Way We Was” tells the story of when Homer met Marge, and it’s a classic love story: boy meets girl, boy tricks girl into spending time with him, girl goes to prom with someone else, boy goes to prom anyway, girl comes back to boy in the end, and they live happily ever after. Flashback episodes typically have a level of sweetness that transcends the eternal stupidity of its characters — especially Homer — and “The Way We Was” assuages any doubts over whether Homer and Marge’s marriage can truly last.

22. “Bart Sells His Soul”
(Season 7, Episode 4)
The Simpsons typically approaches religious topics from the perspective of the Abrahamic religions, most notably Christianity and Judaism; however, “Bart Sells His Soul” is expansive and philosophical, never quite defining the soul in any one context. Rather, Bart’s fateful decision to “sell” his soul to Milhouse by writing “Bart Simpson’s soul” on a piece of paper in exchange for five dollars leads Bart on a quest for redemption through a hodgepodge of Western and Eastern ideologies. As Bart’s humanity begins to slip away and his journey becomes more desperate, he discovers what it is that makes us all complete, and that even the abstract concept of the soul has tangible importance.

Careful, they're ruffled!

21. “Deep Space Homer”
(Season 5, Episode 15)
“Deep Space Homer” came at a perfect time in The Simpsons‘ run: any earlier and it might have seemed ridiculous, any later and it would have been an obvious and unlikable ploy for ratings. Right in the middle of the fifth season, though, seems like the perfect time to send Homer into space, because, well, why not? Homer is, of course, unqualified for practically every job he’s ever had, including his constant job at the nuclear plant, so his ineptitude as an astronaut nearly gets everyone killed. Thankfully, the inanimate carbon rod was there to save the day.

20. “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”
(Season 6, Episode 25/Season 7, Episode 1)
The two-part cliffhanger episode “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” was at the time the most ambitious episode The Simpsons had done. Characters’ natures and motivations are prodded by circumstance until they lash out: Homer’s need to be respected, Moe’s livelihood, Bart’s love and loyalty to his best friend (Santa’s Little Helper, not Milhouse). Of course, Mr. Burns’ plan would never have worked in the long run, since the sun-blocker would have had to constantly adjust for the rotation of the earth; but in The Simpsons‘ universe, one day of eternal darkness was enough to result in violence. Since it turned out that (SPOILER!) the shooter was Maggie, the assassination attempt is perhaps not as conspiratorial as it could have been; either way, Burns takes the point and accepts defeat.

19. “Mr. Plow”
(Season 4, Episode 9)
Since everyone has likely seen “Mr. Plow,” I’d like to offer a possible reading of the episode as a commentary on the pitfalls of Western capitalism. Homer’s purchase of a snowplow allows him to launch a side business, which works out fine for him until Barney creates some “friendly competition.” The rivalry between the two “snowplow people” escalates and turns life-threatening, and it’s only when Homer chooses friendship over money that their lives are spared. Or it’s just a really funny episode where Homer gets a plow. Either way, really.

I'm a major player down at the cracker factory.

18. “A Milhouse Divided”
(Season 8, Episode 6)
Milhouse is easily one of my favorite characters on The Simpsons, and his sad sack father serves as a window into his son’s pathetic future. “A Milhouse Divided” is about divorce but it’s also about love, as Homer begins to worry about his marriage once he sees the Van Houtens’ disintegrate. After all, it’s not “a solid foundation of routine” that makes a strong marriage, as Homer initially asserts, but communication and love, and the demonstration that nothing matters so much as the other person’s happiness. Once you’re fighting over Pictionary, though, it’s probably too late.

17. “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet”
(Season 5, Episode 1)
“Homer’s Barbershop Quartet” is the Beatles’ career told through the lens of the B-Sharps, making dozens of references with equal parts satire and admiration. My favorite is probably Barney as John Lennon working with the “Japanese conceptual artist” to record a send-up of “Revolution #9” with his signature belches, but I also appreciate the little things, like Moe’s bar being called Moe’s Cavern after the legendary Cavern Club where the Beatles got their start. It’s a strong episode with an appreciation for its subject matter and a fun look at Homer that goes beyond the usual gags.

16. “I Married Marge”
(Season 3, Episode 12)
“I Married Marge” has some of the richest, deepest moments I’ve ever seen on The Simpsons. Homer’s desperation shortly after his marriage to Marge and the birth of Bart is palpable, and shows immense character that has been demonstrated many times throughout the episodes on this list. When Homer leaves it’s a devastating moment, and even though we know how it turns out I can’t help but be moved by his situation. “I Married Marge” adds depth and dimension to pick up where “The Way We Was” left off, eschewing contrivance for something more meaningful.

"It was a gummi bear."

15. “A Star is Burns”
(Season 6, Episode 18)
After longtime showrunners Al Jean and Mike Reiss left The Simpsons in 1994 to create The Critic, this crossover featuring Jay Sherman could have gone extremely badly. What might have been an advertisement for The Critic became instead one of The Simpsons’ best episodes, using a film festival as a backdrop to explore some familiar character traits, such as Burns’ thirst for power and Homer’s desire to prove himself to his family and his peers. Jon Lovitz steals the show as usual, and while “A Star is Burns” might be a “cheap cartoon crossover” it works brilliantly from start to finish.

14. “Lisa’s First Word”
(Season 4, Episode 10)
“Lisa’s First Word” channels sibling rivalry to tell the story of Lisa’s birth and a young Bart’s reaction to her. The best flashback episodes are the ones with the most amount of realism, and Homer and Marge’s struggles to balance the responsibilities of a new baby with the behavioral problems Lisa’s presence creates in Bart seem completely believable. Eventually the situation resolves itself, but the development of the core relationship between Lisa and Bart couldn’t have been explained more perfectly.

13. “Treehouse of Horror IV”
(Season 5, Episode 5)
“The Devil and Homer Simpson.” “Terror at 5½ Feet.” “Bart Simpson’s Dracula.” I could probably leave it at that and my case for this episode would be made, but I’d like to add that the gruesome final scene in “Terror at 5½ Feet” is still somewhat unsettling. The “Treehouse” series works best when it makes a genuine attempt to be a bit scary, or when its source material helps to sell itself. And the Night Gallery parody is outstanding.

12. “Bart the Daredevil”
(Season 2, Episode 8 )
When I was finalizing this list, I was a little surprised at how many Bart episodes there were. Bart has never been one of my favorite characters, but I find his reactions to the situations the writers put him in to be especially relatable. The writers also transitioned Bart over the years from the cool kid in school to a geeky outcast, targeted by bullies and ignored by everyone but Milhouse. The difference is that Bart never seemed to catch on to the shift, and I think Bart still looks back on those days in “Bart the Daredevil” when he was the center of attention in a positive way for a change.

"Grace, c'mere, there's a sinister looking kid I want you to see."

11. “Bart of Darkness”
(Season 6, Episode 1)
With a title that parodies Joseph Conrad and a plot that reworks Rear Window, “Bart of Darkness” gets at the heart of what it means to feel isolated and completely helpless. Bart’s cabin fever caused by a summer with a broken leg results in authentic Hitchcock paranoia, where a series of escalating misunderstandings lands Ned Flanders in the role of a suspected murderer. Lisa is the reluctant Grace Kelly to Bart’s Jimmy Stewart, but fortunately Ned is guilty of killing only a houseplant. As homages go, “Bart of Darkness” is pitch perfect, and as The Simpsons episodes go, it’s a classic.

 

Click here for #10-1.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Pat B July 3, 2011 at 9:19 am

#11 is classic!! Might be my all time favorite simpsons episode, Milpoooooollllll

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