Thirty years ago today, America’s favorite animated family made their debut on Fox. To celebrate, Consequence of Sound is re-broadcasting live from Springfield by revisiting their picks for the top episodes of The Simpsons, a feature which originally ran in 2017. Sounds simple? Oh, if only.
Hi, I’m Blake Goble. You might remember me from other Consequence of Sound mega-posts such as “A Burns for All Seasons at 20: Cinema’s Citizen Lame?” and “Radiohead: I hate every Kid I see from Kid A to Kid Z.” Today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to one of Consequence of Sound’s latest and greatest efforts in ad-slathered pop culture: a perfectly cromulent ranking of the 30 best episodes of The Simpsons! But where to begin?
Don’t panic, dear readers! This isn’t a Crisitunity. Sure, The Simpsons’ legacy is massive. There are about a million quotes, anecdotes, personal histories, and so on that could open this piece. We could marvel at the lucky history of Matt Groening hastily pitching The Simpsons as a series of sketches for FOX. We could thank Tracey Ullman for getting TV’s first family on the air. The writers. The voices. The characters. The bootleg t-shirts and universe of product placements. We could talk about this show’s eternal life on TV, the billions it’s made Rupert Murdoch, or how the show has become damn hard to follow since the 14th … well, 12th season.
But for the sake of expediency, we’re simply here to celebrate Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie’s 30 years of hilarity and share the best episodes of The Simpsons. Our panel of Simpsons experts (all graduates of Bovine University) have assembled the very finest in Simpsonia. No Frinkiac needed. The best Simpsons episodes were usually the product of unusual ideas, insanely specific humor, and the realization that animation has no limits in terms of the jokes and stories that can be told. Three-eyed fish and monorails, anyone? Oh, and don’t forget an arsenal of Harvard grads writing by committee.
And don’t be alarmed if the episodes mostly come from the first 10 seasons, aka The Golden Age of The Simpsons. Who in the hell has been watching this show over the past 10 years, anyway, beside Al Jean? (Even Matt Groening has been caught off guard by the fact that his creation is a Guinness record holder.)
Anyway, The Simpsons have come a long way since a John Ford lookalike turned crude sketches into comic gold to allegedly pay off gambling debts. Who knows what adventures they’ll have between now and the point at which the show becomes unprofitable. And judging by Fox’s constant renewals and that Don Hertzfeldt couch gag, The Simpsons may just last beyond all known life and humanity. Again, I’m Blake Goble, and I’ll leave you with what we all came here to see: hardcore nudity!
30. Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk
Season Three, Episode 11
Premiere Date: December 5, 1991
Writers’ Room: Talk about writing by committee. To start, Jon Vitti scribed “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” with a pitch about the nuclear power plant being bought out by the Japanese. Vitti laid the groundwork, but it seems like everyone pitched in. According to Al Jean on the commentary, the Japanese were dropped for fear of being cliché, and swapped with Germans during the writing process. Phil Hartman knew German, and assisted with dialogue. Sam Simon lobbed the amazing idea of “Homer and the Land of Chocolate.” And according to Mike Reiss, again on the commentary, the writers all had to band together come up with just one suitable Moe’s Tavern phone prank. What went to air was a thematically dense and joke-rich episode.
Essential Quote: Ever feel like the universe is working against you? “Attention workers, we have completed our evaluation of the plant. We regret to announce the following lay-offs, which I will read in alphabetical order:” Pause. “Simpson, Homer.” Pause. “That is all.”
D’oh! Moment: Poor Homer is the subject of job evaluations by the Germans. They’re huge on safety, and well, Homer’s never been strict with all that. “Hey, Homer. Aren’t you the safety inspector?” “D’oh.”
Best Visual Gag: The “Land of Chocolate” daydream fantasy is so classically Homer. The chocolate rain drops. That poor little Poochie that Homer rips a bite out of. And the whimsical fantasy music feels straight out of Wonka. And the best part of the long-form gag is that it’s built off Homer’s fear of getting canned from the power plant, which gives the gag a streak of nervous reality – who wouldn’t want to escape somewhere safe when the fear of the everyday is breathing down your neck? They have gum drop streets and cane sugar lamp posts there!
Willkommen zu Springfield: Guten tag, Herr Fritz und Hans und Horst! Ja, aber… Apologies, this is a predominantly English publication is it not? Hans, Fritz, and Horst, the German consortium representatives, were created for the episode. Also, the white-haired Horst was played by the late, great Phil Hartman with a jolly German accent. And in a bit of TV dweeb inside referencing, Horst’s look was modeled after Sgt. Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes. Man, these writers loved Hogan’s Heroes!
Episode as a GIF:
Analysis: “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” (which poorly translates to “Burns Sells the Power Plant”) is an episode that operates on a ton of levels. We get some real, in-depth characterization from Monty Burns, and his late-life existentialism. Sell the plant? Life his life? Burns longs for something more, or at least the chance to be and do more — even if it is a short-lived jaunt. But it’s a shade deeper than his usual comic book villainy. And Homer’s lay off produces rich comedy and drama for the Simpsons family. They struggle with being poor. Home haircuts, carrot-stuff cat food, and balls of soap made from little slivers – the Simpsons family’s struggle was downright Chaplinesque. And finally, the German humor, meine güte! Vitti and the writing staff came up with playful, non-offensive jokes that would become a casually defined interest of the series (Hello, Uter!). The consortium’s manners, strictness, and enablement for strolls down Chocolate Lane provide ample, memorable humor. And we’re still trying to figure out where that damn chocolate town is!
29. Homer’s Triple Bypass
Season Four, Episode 11
Premiere Date: December 17, 1992
Writers’ Room: Nobody in The Simpsons writing room wanted an episode about Homer having a heart attack. The material was too serious, the consequences too grave. But the episode was the brainchild of producer James L. Brooks, who believed enough in the idea to make it a reality. Perhaps because the staff didn’t quite know how to approach the episode, it was instead farmed out to freelancers Gary Apple and Michael Carrington, with Brooks himself helping create the pivotal scene where Bart and Lisa visit Homer pre-surgery.
Essential Quote: “Well, if it isn’t my old friend Mr. McGregg, with a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg!” –Dr. Nick Riviera
D’oh! Moment: Homer briefly dies in Mr. Burns’ office, his soul leaving his body. The only thing that brings it back is the revelation that Mr. Burns will be sending Marge a ham. Once Mr. Burns realizes Homer’s alive, however, he cancels the ham. Cue: “D’oh!”
Best Visual Gag: In the episode’s funniest bit, Homer tailgates and then violently rams into a house on wheels driven by Hans Moleman. Homer’s aggression is funny enough on its own, but the joke’s brilliance is revealed by a sign that distinguishes the house as the “birthplace of Edgar Allan Poe.” Homer runs it off the road and, in true Simpsons fashion, it bursts into flames the moment it veers off-track.
Welcome to Springfield: While this wasn’t the first appearance of cheapskate M.D. Nick Riviera, it was absolutely his first chance to shine. The episode contains some of his best lines — “The coroner? I’m so sick of that guy!”; “These gloves came free with my toilet brush!”; and, of course, his concerned “What the hell is that?” right as Homer passes out — and offers perhaps the only sympathetic glimpse of the crackpot.
Episode as a GIF: “Woo! Look at that blubber fly!”
Analysis: Heart attacks aren’t funny. The staff was right to be wary of Brooks’ idea. But The Simpsons has dealt with inherently tragic content before; just look at its pilot, which finds Homer blowing all of his money at the racetrack right before Christmas. In many ways, “Homer’s Triple Bypass” compensates for its heaviness by taking both its touchstones — humor and heart — and cranking them up to 11. The humor is both zanier and nastier than usual — he runs Hans Moleman off the road — while the moments of sentimentality are elevated that much more. We see Homer pray and potentially say goodbye forever to his family, while the surgery itself is given the stakes such an event deserves. Sure, it’s not like the show was ever going to kill off Homer, but damned if the show didn’t go to every length to make us think they would. It also still resonates today. “Don’t worry, Marge,” Homer says. “America’s healthcare system is second only to Japan. Canada, Sweden, Great Britain … well, all of Europe.” Oof.
28. The Springfield Files
Season Eight, Episode 10
Premiere Date: January 12, 1997
Writers’ Room: Producers Al Jean and Mike Reiss, who returned to the series for a short window despite being under contract with The Walt Disney Company, originally conceived of the crossover idea five years earlier at a writers’ retreat when they were showrunners during seasons three and four. Jean had seen The X-Files on the cover of a TV Guide and thought it might be nice to throw a bone to the then-budding series. Half a decade later, Chris Carter’s game-changing sci-fi series had long been a ratings juggernaut for the network, so it was essentially a no-brainer to finally bring Mulder and Scully to Springfield. In fact, Carter thought it was an “honor” to be parodied by The Simpsons.
Essential Quote: The FBI aren’t the only ones with the goods in this episode; Springfield’s own Chief Wiggum gets in on the action with some lucrative sarcasm as he listens to Homer’s “alien encounter” and tells him, “Your story is very compelling, Mr. Jackass, um, Simpson. Let me just type it up on my invisible typewriter.” That line’s been a go-to for this writer ever since.
D’oh! Moment: There are two for Homer on this go-around. The first arrives when he scares away the “alien” by stumbling into campfire, and the second pops up when he discovers a nearby vendor selling “Homer Was Right” shirts actually sold out of his supply of “Homer Is a Dope” shirts. Writer Reid Harrison triples down on the joke by revealing that Marge bought one, to which she goes to great lengths explaining its quality, all of which prompts Homer to buy one himself.
Best Visual Gag: Blame it on the behind-the-scenes excitement over the episode’s blockbuster crossover — you have to remember, The X-Files was at its peak popularity around this time (especially for sci-fi geeks) — but “The Springfield Files” goes H.A.M. on the pop cultural references and most of them are hilarious visual gags. A few of them aren’t very subtle (see: Milhouse pouring 40 coins into an arcade game adaptation of Kevin Costner’s box office mega-flop Waterworld), while others require a sharper eye (Lisa’s reading an issue of Junior Skeptic, undoubtedly a nod to Mulder’s saner half, Special Agent Dana Scully). But really, none of them hold a candle to the ridiculous, speedo-wearing photo that Mulder has in his wallet, which is actually a deep, deep reference to a scene from The X-Files’ iconic season two gem, “Duane Barry”.
Welcome to Springfield: Given that Homer’s strange encounter sparks interest from everyone in town, “The Springfield Files” features a healthy spread of fringe characters that only come out from time to time. (In some respects, the first 10 minutes feels as if we’re watching a redux of the “22 Short Films About Springfield” as we follow everyone’s average Friday night around town.) However, this episode marks the first and only time that David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson would slum it with Homer, and the two have a ball poking fun at their respective characters, especially when Mulder brushes off Scully’s report of “drugs and illegal weapons coming into New Jersey,” scoffing: “I hardly think the FBI is concerned with matters like that.”
Let’s also not forget about the return of Leonard Nimoy, who plays himself in the episode’s glorious Plan 9-spoofing bookends:
Episode as a GIF:
Analysis: “The Springfield Files” is a pleasant reminder of how a crossover of this magnitude was once the type of Event TV that The Simpsons could parody with aplomb — you know, before they actually succumbed to the medium on a weekly basis. From beginning to end, the episode never removes its tongue from its cheek, radiating with a brand of self-awareness that’s brighter than Mr. Burns’ green, nuclear hue. Sure, it’s not without a glut of dated pop-culture references — though, to be honest, we still chuckle at the nods to Speed and those swampy Bud-weis-er! commercials — but most of the cherry-picked homages are to artifacts that remain just as (if not, even more) popular today. Narratively speaking, the episode’s a little cluttered and wonky — the bonding between Bart and Homer, for instance, does seem shoehorned in — but it’s irreverent chaos done well. At this point, both series were oozing with untouchable confidence, and while “The Springfield Files” was certainly a victory lap for Fox, the episode never once stops sprinting, packing in one essential gag after the other, which is why we also get genius shit like this…
27. Homer the Vigilante
Season Five, Episode 11
Premiere Date: January 6, 1994
Writers’ Room: Written by Jim Swartzwelder, the script is notable for how signature it is to his style. He loves slapstick, physical jokes, and the script displays them proudly via Chief Wiggum rubbing himself with a cloth that his scent dog is supposed to trace, Homer sleepwalking and being fed sausages as a distraction in the same manner as Santa’s Little Helper, or the home that sprouts legs to run away from its burglar. Swartzwelder would go on to have one of the most impressive resumes of any of The Simpsons’ writers.
Essential Quote: “Thank you for coming, I’ll see you in hell!” –Apu and “Now I don’t believe in nothing no more. I’m going to law school!” –Jimbo
D’oh! Moment: Early in the episode, Homer’s family informs him that they’ve been robbed. He lets out a “woo-hoo” when Lisa says her saxophone has been stolen, but “D’oh!”s at Bart’s revelation that they also lost their portable TV.
Welcome to Springfield: Though Malloy wouldn’t recur on The Simpsons, Sam Neill’s turn as the elderly cat burglar is a classic guest turn. Malloy serves as an example of how the elderly should not be discounted, with Neill’s silky British accent folding completely into his character.
Visual Gag: When Malloy breaks into the Simpson house, he goes to pick the lock, only to see Homer’s keys (with a keychain reading “Homer”) already sitting in the lock.
Episode as a GIF:
Analysis: “Homer the Vigilante” has a heart and moral, with Homer’s father, Abe, dismissed throughout the episode, only to help catch the cat burglar, who also happens to be a senior citizen. And that bigger message helps to make the joke barrage all the more effective. Because elsewhere, things are much less linear. We see cuts to Chief Wiggum’s incompetence, Kent Brockman’s fear mongering, Professor Frink’s ineptitude, and, most importantly, the town forming a vigilante mob. The jokes are big and frequent — Lisa with the jug! The guns going off at the Simpson’s house! Homer busting the kids for drinking and ending up getting wasted with them! — while allowing the focus to be looser and less plot-driven. In fact, episodes like “Homer the Vigilante” are largely the inspiration for shows like Family Guy that would come later.
26. Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson…
Season Seven, Episode 22
Premiere Date: April 28, 1996
Writers’ Room: “Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in ‘The Curse of the Flying Hellfish'” came about when writer Jonathan Collier kept reading story after story about lost paintings popping up after so many years gone. Given its WWII saving of European art, it has a charm akin to the true story of the later book/movie The Monuments Men. The tontine angle, however, came from an old Barney Miller episode, courtesy of showrunner Bill Oakley. The episode also established a wartime history between Grampa Simpson and Mr. Burns, alongside the fathers of several notable Springfieldians.
Essential Quote: The Simpson men have a hilarious habit of revealing how serving themselves is a close second to caring for others. They’re each keenly focused on their current pursuit and yet so very easily distracted. So after saving Bart from a watery grave, which allows the treacherous Mr. Burns to escape, Grampa of course reassures his grandson with, “Oh, the fortune doesn’t matter, boy; the important thing is you’re safe. Now let’s get that fortune!”
Best Visual Gag: In the rainy cemetery, Mr. Burns asks: “Oh, Simpson, can’t you go five seconds without humiliating yourself?” Right on cue, Grampa Simpson’s suspenders instantly pop off with a cartoonish sound, and his pants fall down to reveal polka-dotted underwear. After a moment of mournful evaluation, Simpson asks: “How long was that?” Even without the punchline, that instant failure of clothing gets you in the gut.
D’oh! Moment(s): The best exclamation of “D’oh” comes from Assassin Fernando Vidal after he fails to kill Grampa in the retirement home. The only reason Grampa even lives — by dodging a thrown dagger, no less — is because he grows highly suspicious about his family supposedly coming to visit him. He’s right on the money, as it’s really Mr. Burns dressed as Marge, Smithers dressed as Bart, and a frustrated Vidal ripping off his Homer costume and dropping a Latin-flavored version of Homer’s catchphrase.
Meanwhile, the “D’oh” most true to its nature comes from Abe and Bart in unison, when the cemetery light reveals the secret spot of the Flying Hellfish treasure. It starts with a slow pan over the nearby tombstones and then quickly zooms over to a deep body of water.
Welcome to Springfield: The episode introduces “the world’s most devious assassin,” Fernando Vidal, who Mr. Burns hires to kill Grampa. It’s a misleading title, though, since he fails to even remotely harm his target. In his final attempt, Vidal informs his client: “There is one more way to kill a man, but it is as intricate and precise as a well-played game of chess.” Then he kicks open the door of the retirement home blasting a machine gun. Guy knows how to (almost) deliver.
Episode as a GIF: Abe’s so badass in this episode…
Analysis: Like many of the town’s seniors, Grampa Simpson is a playful combination of fully embraced, absent-minded crotchetiness and an unusually high spirit. But he wasn’t always like that. As this episode properly freshens your memory, Abe Simpson was tough as nails in his youth, and he operated with a rather black-and-white moral code. The episode also establishes a strained relationship between Grampa and Bart and resolves the distance between them in the best way the show does, with a debonair plot that’s almost too wild, yet makes so much damn sense by staying true to the characters involved. For added value, there’s a welcome backstory, context, and overall strength to a character who often serves the purpose of an easy laugh. It’s as epic as it is personal, reminding you to never assume that a Simpsons character only has one side. –Jake Kilroy
25. Bart Gets Famous
Season Five, Episode 12
Premiere Date: February 3, 1994
Writers’ Room: It’s (almost) always fun when The Simpsons goes meta, and “Bart Gets Famous” is no exception. Episode writer John Swartzwelder and the rest of the writers’ room had a bone to pick here. They wanted to show how stupid catchphrases can be and how easily we, as a culture, reward cheap and easy laughs. They underlined how fleeting such fame can be, how little reward it brings, and despite Marge’s assertion that Bart “was making people happy,” that such fame comes at a cost. We swear to god it’s a funny episode.
Essential Quote: “A powerful tidal wave in Kuala Lumpur has killed 120 people. [changes voice] Ay, chihuahua! Whoa, whoa, whoa!” –Bumblebee Man
D’oh! Moment: This is the D’oh-est of the “D’oh!”s. After breaking a lamp in the family room, Homer’s standard reply begets a string of Simpsons catchphrases, one that ends only when the assembled characters turn to Lisa, who glowers and says, “If anyone wants me, I’ll be in my room.”
Best Visual Gag: Let’s go with Bart’s Kriss Kross-inspired album cover…
Welcome to Springfield: Martha Quimby, the First Lady of Springfield. Her Jackie O. drag is deeply messed up. Also, Conan O’Brien as himself.
Episode as a GIF:
Analysis: For such an enjoyable episode, “Bart Gets Famous” sure does get depressing. For Bart, there’s monotony pre-Krusty — they take a field trip to the box factory, again — followed by the monotony of show business, followed by the monotony of fame, then back to the monotony of everyday life. No one’s interested in Bart’s attempts to prove he’s more than a catchphrase, but nor does anyone appreciate Lisa’s refusal to have one. No matter what happens, life’s a drag. Fame just puts a fancier face on it.
That said, the very existence and longevity of The Simpsons decries this. Bart has gone through a number of catchphrases, had many shorts eaten, and seen many cows had, and yet he’s still there. That’s the point, of course — The Simpsons has always had more substance. “The I Didn’t Do It Boy” may be a hollow shell, but Bart Simpson and company contain multitudes, and that’s why they’re still around. Ay caramba, indeed.
24. Cape Feare
Season Five, Episode Two
Premiere Date: October 7th, 1993
Writers’ Room: When Wally Wolodarsky caught Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear in 1991, the writer pitched it as a Bob vehicle and a Max Cady parody, and Jon Vitti would later write the final script. Drawing from the source novel, The Executioners, while also spoofing both Cape Fear films, the episode developed into a calling card for the crazed, revenge-hungry Bob Terwilliger.
Essential Quote: “No one who speaks German can be an evil man.” And that’s the second knock on Germans in the episode! After Up Late with McBain, with your announcer, Obergruppenfuehrer Wolfcastle!
D’oh! Moment: It would appear no one said “D’oh” in this episode, but the next best thing was Homer freaking out when he realizes “Ice Cream Ville” is “Screamville.”
Best Visual Gag: Fudge. The Knox Fair cigar? The “WIDE LOAD” tattoo on Homer’s butt? “Hannibal Crossing the Alps” word by word on trampling elephants? All delirious, but come on. You know it’s the rakes. How does one go about typing the sound Bob makes when thwacked by rakes? And the joke was the product of stretching the episode to pad out time. It’s the classic rule of running a joke long enough that it becomes so unfunny that it becomes even funnier if protracted long enough.
Welcome to Springfield: It’s worth mentioning the FBI Men just to shout out the great, failed Witness Protection Program interview. “Now, when I say, ”Hello, Mr. Thompson” and press down on your foot, you smile and nod.”
Episode as a GIF: The episode’s like an adult thriller made by the Looney Tunes…
Analysis: The three greatest strengths of “Cape Feare” are 01.) Kelsey Grammer, 02.) the level of perfection on display with its parody, and 03.) that rake gag. The cautionary tale of a sick and twisted Southern stalker is perhaps the furthest thing from comedy, but in the land of the spoof, The Simpsons proved it was king. Every grim story beat from the Marty movie gets filtered through countless gags and non-sequiturs, and in the end, “Cape Feare” makes the movie look preposterous if you revisit it. Also, the legend goes something like the staff of The Simpsons loved, loved, loved having Kelsey Grammer come on the show as Bob. Writers on DVD commentaries boast that he’d come up with great stuff, was a chummy presence, and was always a pleasure to work with. Plus, that menacing baritone. When the opportunity for a Bob episode came by way of Max Cady, the idea was perfect. Oh. And that famous, truncated rake gag. Anyone else imagine that going on forever and Bob’s still taking hits to his slender face?
23. Deep Space Homer
Season Five, Episode 15
Premiere Date: February 24, 1994
Writers’ Room: Season five showrunner David Mirkin toyed with the idea of an episode that spoofed the real-life Teachers in Space Project. NASA’s idea was to spur teachers, students, and other common people to reach space, so Mirkin wondered, Why not let blue collar slobs like Homer Simpson in on the action? (The exact phrasing from the episode: “Sir, how would you like to get higher than you’ve ever been in your life?”) Some of the staff had trepidations. This was too far. There’s nowhere else to go with Homer after this. And Groening himself was a vocal opponent. But Mirkin won out.
Essential Quote: “The only danger is if they send us to that terrible Planet of the Apes. Wait a minute. Statue of Liberty. That was our planet! You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!!!” It should be noted, Dan Castellaneta screamed this so loud you can hear the reverb of the recording studio. And it slays the writers on the episode commentary. Again – Dan Castellaneta is Homer Simpson.
D’oh! Moment: Homer, feeling snubbed after losing out on an employee recognition award to an inanimate carbon rod (wow), tries to find solace in television. “TV respects me. It laughs with me, not at me,” he says. But when he turns on a random channel: “You stupid!” followed by audience laughing. “D’oh!”
Best Visual Gag: Homer’s face transforming in to Nixon and Popeye are choice. So is his deep, terrified sweat after seeing an extremely violent and space-themed Itchy and Scratchy. But for our money, the entire “Blue Danube Waltz” sequence is a perfectly executed gag. Aping the same visual cues from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Homer’s intergalactic ballet of eating the ruffled chips he snuck aboard is divine comedy. And the punchline of Homer crashing in to the ship’s ant farm delivers an all timer of a line: “FREEDOM! HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE FREEDOM!”
Welcome to Springfield: There were two terrific cameos in Buzz Aldrin and James Taylor. And Mirkin and the writers stammered selling jokes to the two. In the commentary, Mirkin acknowledges clamming up when he asked Aldrin to make light of himself being the second man on the moon. Aldrin, ever the amiable hero, was fine with the line, “second comes right after first.” And then Mirkin admits that he was scared to ask James Taylor to alter “Fire and Rain” for this episode to have space jokes. Taylor was also fine with The Simpsons’ humor and requested revisions. Hm. It’s as if people want to be on The Simpsons, and would do anything the show asks just for the chance to be lampooned. Who’dathunkit?
Episode as a GIF:
Analysis: “Hello, is this President Clinton? Good! I figured if anyone knew where to get some Tang, it’d be you. Shut up!” In one way, that joke works as an act of bafflement. How the hell did Homer get Bill Clinton’s number in 1995?? But then hear the joke again. It’s a goof on Tang, which is a short hand for space food and spacier jokes that dates to the Coneheads. Hear the joke one more time? Wow, that’s a dirty euphemism at Slick Willy’s expense! That’s the level that “Deep Space Homer” works on. That’s the referential depth David Mirkin’s absurdist mind and humor works on.
“Deep Space Homer” is a gold mine of references. The Right Stuff. Planet of the Apes. Mr. T. Popeye. Nixon. The Beverly Hillbillies. Married…With Children. Star Trek. Home Improvement (“Looks like it’s back to jail for me!”). And of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Mirkin took a preposterous concept – putting a very dumb and dangerous man in to the space program and letting him make it past lift off – and made a mint of gags, goofs, and all around great bits. Now, if we could just figure out where to get some Tang.
22. Marge Be Not Proud
Season Seven, Episode 11
Premiere Date: December 17, 1995
Writers’ Room: Episode writer Mike Scully based “Marge Be Not Proud” around some of his own experiences being peer-pressured into shoplifting as a child, and the subsequent fear of disappointing one’s loved ones as a result of doing so. It was also the hook for the first Christmas episode since the show’s series premiere, although we don’t how how “Mr. Plow” isn’t at least a spiritual successor for the holiday somewhere in there. Funnily enough, despite their reluctance, the strong critical and audience reception of “Marge Be Not Proud” is what engendered all those other classic holiday episodes of the show.
Essential Quote: Among the episode’s many classics, its Troy McClure joke is an all-timer: “Hi, I’m Troy McClure. You might remember me from such public service videos as Designated Drivers: The Life-Saving Nerds and Phony Tornado Alarms Reduce Readiness. I’m here today to give you the skinny on shoplifting, thereby completing my plea bargain with the good people at Foot Locker of Beverly Hills.”
D’oh! Moment: No D’oh from Homer this outing, actually. Aside from establishing his own chiseled physique in snowman form, Homer’s fairly quiet throughout “Marge Be Not Proud”, given that it’s about parenting and Homer’s best suggestion is that Bart not steal for at least three weeks.
Best Visual Gag: As Bart struggles with his conscience in the Try-N-Save’s video game aisle over Bonestorm, a knockoff Mario and Luigi appear to tempt him into stealing the game, followed by Donkey Kong and Sonic. The angel on his shoulder encouraging him to deny temptation? Lee Carvallo of Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge, who offers some sage advice: “Don’t do it, son. How’s that game going to help your putting?”
Welcome to Springfield: Lawrence Tierney makes a gruff, hilarious appearance as store security guard Don Brodka: “If I wanted smoke going up my ass, I’d be at home with a pack of cigarettes and a short length of hose.” Tierney only gets a handful of lines, but he makes the most of them with his gravelly delivery. Speaking of gravel: “Someday he’ll be a grown man stealing stadiums…and quarries…”
Episode as a GIF:
Analysis: Some die-hards see “Marge Be Not Proud” as a more saccharine offering from the show’s golden years. But while it’s definitely on the sentimental side for The Simpsons during that era, it’s also one of the more emotionally rewarding half hours of the show at large. The simple arc of Bart taking his mother’s “excessive” affections for granted until he screws up badly enough to lose them is heartbreaking, especially when Bart’s expected tuck-in time is replaced with a flat, despondent “good night.” There are a ton of fantastic jokes throughout the episode (WELCOME THRILLHO, the final credits), but it’s heavier on the pathos, down to Bart helping Mrs. Van Houten label Christmas cards just to feel like part of a family again. But the final reveal of Bart’s separate portrait is among the show’s most kindhearted, a moment of skewed family unity when it counts: at Christmastime.
21. Lisa the Iconoclast
Season Seven, Episode 16
Premiere Date: February 18, 1996
Writers’ Room: When you decide to write a part for Donald Sutherland, you had better bring your A-game. In creating Hollis Hurlbut, writer Jonathan Collier certainly did. Hurlbut’s a worthy foil for Lisa, in that they both dive headlong into whatever most interests them. How else could Lisa counter Hurlbut’s “Jebeditis” joke with her own “Chester A. Arthuritis”?
Essential Quote: “This is nothing but dead white male bashing from a P.C. thug. It’s women like you who keep the rest of us from landing a husband!” –Miss Hoover
D’oh! Moment: “Congratulations, Ned! You are our new town crier!” “D’OH!”
Best Visual Gag: The headline of the Springfield Shopper reads thus: “PARADE TO DISTRACT JOYLESS CITIZENRY.” Bonus: “Springfield Historical Society, Where the Dead Come Alive (Metaphorically).” Bonus bonus: “The Copy Jalopy – We Tried to Make Copying Fun.”
Welcome to Springfield: Well, Donald Sutherland’s Hollis Hurlbut is introduced, but as he’s a one-and-done, let’s welcome “cromulent” and “embiggen.” Both were cooked up for this episode by its writers, and have since gone on to post-Simpsons lives of their own. “Cromulent” has even embiggened the dictionary.
Episode as a GIF:
Analysis: Lisa haters, watch and be silenced. The wonderful thing about “Lisa the Iconoclast”—well, besides the fact that it’s particularly rich in throwaway jokes, even by Simpsons standards—is that Lisa’s fight for justice comes up against something that’s equally as important, albeit in a completely different sense. Her realization that, in this case at least, the power of the symbol matters more than the truth behind it ranks among the most grown-up of Lisa’s many discoveries. Many of the best episodes of The Simpsons are pure, demented silliness from start to finish. “Lisa the Iconoclast” has plenty of that—the battle between Springfield and Washington alone is a deranged delight—but it’s also got something to say. Truth matters. So does hope, and sometimes the happiness of others is more important than being right.