For me, just compiling this list is the entertainment equivalent of Sophie’s choice; I maintain that, taken together, seasons 4-6 of The Simpsons are the funniest, highest quality comedy ever produced for television, and choosing just ten from the entire series run is probably impossible. But I’m doing it anyway, because I like to live a high-wire life, teetering on the edge of sanity. Or something like that. In any case, at its best, The Simpsons hit on so many subjects, genres and styles of comedy that you could miss two or three jokes and sight gags while laughing at the last one you heard or saw. In honor of that, here’s our take on the ten best episodes, ever.
10: “And Maggie Makes Three” (Season 6): The Simpsons could switch between satire and sentiment with ease, and this episode is my favorite example of both. Homer quits his job at the nuclear power plant — playing Mr. Burns’ head like a bongo drum on his way out — and starts his dream job at the bowling alley. When Maggie is born he has to beg Mr. Burns for his old job, but in the last scene we get an answer to mystery of where all of Maggie’s baby photos are kept: with Homer, at work, covering up a demoralizing plaque from Mr. Burns. Best joke: Homer spins in a circle, sings “I’m gonna make it after all!” a-la Mary-Tyler Moore, and throws a bowling ball in the air, which promptly smashes a hole in the bowling lane.
9. “Lemon of Troy” (Season 6): The historic rivalry between Springfield and Shelbyville — predicated on a debate about whether it should be legal to marry one’s comely, attractive cousin — comes to a head when Springfield’s historic lemon tree is stolen. Bart rounds up a gang and they sneak into Shelbyville to get the tree back. This episode features some of the best one-off lines from Millhouse, one of the most under-appreciated characters on the show. Best joke: Homer tosses a steak to a vicious dog chasing Bart. When the dog grabs and eats the meat in one motion, and continues to chase Bart, Homer cries out, “Faster boy! He has a taste for meat now!!”
8. “Radioactive Man” (Season 7): Radioactive Man finally gets his own movie, and Millhouse is cast as Fallout Boy. But the production is thrown into disarray when he cannot handle the pressures of fame, and bankruptcy from the kickbacks that Mayor Quimby demands from the studios. Best joke: Well, just watch:
7. “You Only Move Twice” (Season 8): Homer moves the family so that he can work for the Globex Corporation, whose boss, Hank Scorprio, has a laid back management style and — unbeknownst to Homer — is an international criminal mastermind. Homer is finally happy at work, but the family is so miserable in their new surroundings that Homer eventually quits and they move back to their abandoned home in Springfield.
6. “Marge Vs. The Monorail (Season 4): After Mr. Burns is forced to pay $3 million to the town, Springfield decides to spend it all on a monorail system, for which Homer obtains a job as conductor. Lyle Lanley, a charismatic traveling salesmen, convinces the town to build the system, but cuts corners everywhere, and skips town just as the maiden voyage goes haywire. Best joke: This exchange between Homer and Marge, as Homer is stuck on the malfunctioning monorail:
Marge: Homer, I think I have someone here who can help!
Marge: No, a scientist.
Homer: Batman’s a scientist.
Marge: It’s not Batman!
5. “Cape Fear” (Season 5): Kelsey Grammer is one of the best guest performers in the show’s history, and Sideshow Bob has had some classic episodes — season 3’s “Black Widower” springs to mind — but this is my personal favorite. Lampooning the Martin Scorcese movie of the same name, Sideshow Bob is released on parole and hunts down the Simpson family, now living on a houseboat in witness protection as the Thompsons. Best joke: This was tough to choose, but I like an exchange at the parole hearing in which Sidehow Bob explains that his “Die Bart, Die” tattoo is merely German for “The Bart, The,” and a woman on the parole board turns to another member and says, “No one who speaks German could be an evil man.”
4. “A Fish Called Selma” (Season 7): The only recurring guest performer better than Kelsey Grammer was Phil Hartman, who voiced both lawyer Lionel Hutz and d-list actor Troy McClure. After details of his sexual perversions (it is only hinted at, but it has something to do with his lust for fish) ruin his career, McClure rehabs his image as a family man by marrying Selma. Best joke: There are two here, and both need to be mentioned. The first is a recurring visual gag, in which you realize that McClure’s ultra-modern home is a giant aquarium, and that his bed is surrounded by fish. The second is the best musical spoof in the show’s history, as McClure stars in a musical version of “Planet of the Apes.”
(Note:Ignore the subtitles at the start, the song is in English, and this was the best version I could find).
3. “Marge on the Lam” (Season 5): Marge strikes up a friendship with the neighbor, Ruth Powers, and the two go out for a night on the town in a car that Ruth stole from her deadbeat ex-husband. It culminates in a desert chase between Marge and Ruth and Homer and Police Chief Wiggum, and ends on a great Thelma and Louise reference. Best joke: After getting both arms stuck in two different vending machines, a paramedic has this exchange with Homer:
Paramedic: Homer, this is never easy, but I’m going to have to saw both your arms off.
Homer: Ohh. They’ll grow back, right?
Homer makes it out with both arms when a paramedic figures out that he can’t get his arms out because he is holding on to the soda cans inside the vending machine.
2. “Last Exit to Springfield” (Season 4): For most fans, this is the series’ best episode. Not wanting to pay for Lisa’s new braces, Homer becomes union president at the nuclear plant to fight for dental coverage. The references to pop culture, film, history and politics come so quickly, and are so deft, that multiple viewings are required to appreciate all that is happening. This is 22 minutes of the finest satire that has ever been on American television. Best joke: before getting the dental plan at work, Lisa must settle for budget-friendly braces which, as the dentist tells her, “pre-date stainless steel,” and thus “cannot get wet.”
1. “Rosebud” (Season 5): In my mind, “Rosebud” and “Last Exit to Springfield” are very similar, in that they both represent the show at its absolute best: a combination of satire and absurdist humor working together at an incredibly high level. I just happen to find this episode funnier. In a nod to Citizen Kane, Mr. Burns longs to find his lost childhood bear, Bobo. After Bobo comes into Maggie Simpson’s possession, and Homer refuses to take it from her, Mr. Burns goes through a series of elaborate plans to steal it back. Best joke: Mr. Smithers hires The Ramones play Mr. Burns’ birthday party, but afterward a displeased Mr. Burns orders Smithers to “have The Rolling Stones killed.”