My Top Five Simpsons Episodes
WORDS BY JASPER BRUCE
Like many people my age, I genuinely do not remember life before I started watching The Simpsons. I’ve probably watched every episode from seasons 1 to 12 ten times. At least. Sitting patiently through Tim Bailey’s weather report in the lead-up to 6pm Simpsons was a dogmatic part of my childhood. As a media student, I’m not qualified to do much. But I definitely am qualified to make a good case as to what the five best episodes of this show are. Enjoy.
Honourable mentions: “You Only Move Twice”, “Cape Feare”, “Bart Gets an F”, “Homer Badman”, “King-Size Homer”.
#5 “A Streetcar Named Marge” (S4, Ep2)
Synopsis: Marge is cast as Blanche in a musical version of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire”.
It’s probably my inner theatre nerd that draws me to this episode. On a broader level though, I love that The Simpsons is a point of entry into “high-brow” culture. Obviously, eight-year old me had no idea that Homer and Marge’s relationship in this episode was mirroring that of Stanley and Stella/Blanche in Williams’ iconic play, nor did I appreciate Maggie’s Great Escape homage until a much later date. But the way the show makes these culturally canonic texts accessible really is something that marked The Simpsons as unique. It also no doubt went on to inspire Family Guy, South Park and countless other shows’ penchant for cultural references. And who doesn’t love a good song and dance number – they’re something The Simpsons excel at, and this episode has them in spades.
#4 “Marge Be Not Proud” (S7, Ep11)
Synopsis: Bart is caught trying to steal a video game in the lead-up to Christmas.
One of the things that I think made golden era Simpsons so special was its combination of satire and sentiment. This episode strikes that balance immaculately. Beyond that, of the relationships between the four major characters, I feel the Marge/Bart dynamic is probably the most under-explored. That’s probably because they have the least in common, and as a comic duo, aren’t as navigable as say Homer/Bart or Bart/Lisa. This episode really shows the potential that the mother and son have as a duo. I also love Christmas episodes that play against the traditional notions of the holiday season; where other sitcoms would run a predictable “Christmas dinner goes wrong” scenario, this cartoon ran a tale of theft and shattered family bonds. It’s relatable, ambitious and incredibly well executed.
#3 “Bart vs. Australia” (S6, Ep16)
Synopsis: After pranking an Australian over the phone, the family must visit Australia, so Bart can apologise.
This episode is an integral part of the nostalgia for and renewed interest in The Simpsons today. It’s the show at its most quotable, and also its most ridiculous. But, as with all the best satire, the truisms behind the absurdity are what makes this episode compelling and hilarious. It’s an incisive look at Australia’s diplomatic relations, our backwardness, our irreverence and our place in popular culture. I find it a little bit disheartening that this episode was poorly received by the Australian press at the time of its release. Any viewer should be able to appreciate the amount of effort that went into not just making fun of Australia, but actually providing some accurate references to our history and development as a nation.
#2 “Homer’s Enemy” (S8, Ep23)
Synopsis: A neurotic new employee at The Power Plant, Frank Grimes, clashes with Homer on almost every level.
At its core, The Simpsons is both a satire of and a love-letter to middle America – it’s aware of its flaws but endears us to its modesty. "You're what's wrong with America, Simpson. You coast through life,” Homer’s foil, Frank Grimes, snaps, “if you lived in any other country in the world, you’d have starved to death long ago.” We know, of course, that he’s completely right. But we also know that behind Homer’s oafishness is a genuine love of his family and friends, an effort to get on with others and not an ounce of malice. I once watched an interview where a Simpsons writer said the best way to write Homer is as a big dog; he’s destructive and slow, but everything he does comes from a good place. This episode scrutinises that character trait, but also shows its charm. If that’s what makes a good Homer episode, this one is a gold mine.
#1 “Marge vs. The Monorail” (S4, Ep12)
Synopsis: A conman convinces Springfield to build a monorail, but when it spins out of control, it’s up to the conductor, Homer, to save the town.
This really was a turning point for The Simpsons. Beginning as a very grounded, wholesome satire of working-class America, the show’s status as a cartoon soon became a vehicle for more absurd storylines. In my opinion, this is the first episode that crossed the line into zaniness cohesively. In a way, it set the show up for the success it found from seasons 5 to 8 (arguably its peak). It’s also just got everything that makes The Simpsons great – absurdity, the hilarious consequences of mob mentality, a song, cultural references, Homer being an idiot, inner monologues and punchy one-liners. If I were to show an episode of The Simpsons to someone who’d never seen the show before, this would be it. That alone speaks volumes of its quality.