With the 25th anniversary of its very first episode coming up in November, and FXX currently in the midst of a full series marathon ahead of the launch of its Simpsons World, we here at Hitsville have chosen our some very favourite episodes from everyone’s favourite Springfieldianite family.
Bart The Daredevil (Season 2, Episode 8) chosen by Megan Fozzard “Bart the Daredevil” was the first Simpsons episode I ever remember watching (not when it originally aired, I’m not that old). As I watched it, I was about as transfixed as Homer and Bart watching the advert for the Monster Truck Show featuring Truckasarus in the opening few minutes of the show. This newly found programme was hilarious to 10 year old me and a transition between ‘kids’ and ‘adults’ tv. And I couldn’t believe that according to the TV Guide it was on every single night on BBC2 at 6 o’clock, which was right after dinner as well (when the programme moved over to Channel 4, this lead to a dark era of ‘kids’ to ‘adult’ TV which introduced me to Hollyoaks). I wasn’t really watching for the ingenious cultural references and satire that has become a hallmark of The Simpsons, such as Dr Hibbert showing Bart a ward of children that have been injured trying to copy violent things they have seen on TV and commenting that ‘as tragic as all this is, it’s a small price to pay for countless hours of top notch entertainment’. I didn’t really understand all that yet. I was in it for the slapstick, as Homer accidentally tries to jump The Springfield Gorge with a long sequence showing him hitting various rocks on the way down, only to be airlifted back up, and then the ambulance crashes and Homer is heading back down the gorge again on a stretcher hitting the same rocks. Looking back, it was a great introductory episode of The Simpsons for me, showing Homer as the manchild parent and Bart as the mischievous boy, but of course I’ve learnt they’re more than just that in the past 11 years. Happy Birthday, The Simpsons!
Three Men And A Comic Book (Season 2, Episode 21) chosen by James Daly “Three Men And A Comic Book” is perfect example episode of The Simpsons. The plot is based around Bart (my favourite Simpson), but the main appeal for me is that the story is original. I know it’s riddled with homages, but the story isn’t a carbon copy of anything else and that gives this episode an integrity that many others just don’t have. For those who haven’t seen it, the plot follows Bart as he teams up with best friend Milhouse and resented acquaintance Martin in order to pool their funds and buy a rare Radioactive Man comic book. It’s not long before the alliance gives way to bickering as the three decide to the keep the coveted article in Bart’s tree house and all spend the night resulting in a sort of Lord Of The Flies styled conflict between the three that ultimately ends with the comic book being destroyed. The weight of this tragic occurrence is cleverly juxtaposed by Homer and Marge’s complete ignorance of the turmoil that the three-way comic book ownership caused, suggesting that what’s important as a child may not be when all grown up. On a personal level, this episode really appealed to me when I was younger because it combined my love of superhero culture – which I was a bit too removed from and therefore even more fascinated by it – with my childhood desire to have friends over and stay in a treehouse.
Mr Plow (Season 4, Episode 9) chosen by Josh Bunham “Do you come with the car?” I once got really drunk and broke into my girlfriend’s bedroom to tell her I loved her, made her watch Mr Plow with me and then fell asleep on her kitchen table table. That’s how great this episode is. That’s how quotable this episode is. I thought that if I didn’t get my girlfriend to watch it at that moment then we might spend the rest of our lives slightly out of sync, with her never quite knowing why I was telling people I had been at a pornography store, buying pornography. I would argue that Mr Plow is possibly the most quotable episode of The Simpsons ever. I know a lot of people would argue with me but….witch-ah. Yes, I do expect you to agree with me because I made a stupid noise. Homer and Barney find themselves pitted against each other in a lot of other episodes, but there are very few where they prove how much they care for each other as friends. Guest spots from Adam West and Linda Ronstadt (who she is I’m still not really sure but, Senor Plow no es macho…) are among some of the best executed in the history of the show and top off what is simply a perfect episode from a perfect season of a perfect show.
Lisa’s First Word (Season 4, Episode 10) chosen by Liam Whear The Simpsons is a show without continuity, yet still one that involves you emotionally. Maybe it’s the sheer power it’s held over pop culture since its 1989 debut, making these characters unescapable. Or maybe it’s the sheer quality in the show’s writing during its peak. “Lisa’s First Word” is a shining beacon of this. It’s also hilarious. What works best about “Lisa’s First Word” is it creates a great snapshot of 1983 America, struggling in the grip Reagan bought down on it, as young families have to adapt to survive. Marge and Homer nearly have the chance to own their dream house crushed because of monetary woes, until Grandpa Simpson comes through in a heartwarming scene. The Soviet boycott of the Summer Olympics puts Krustyburger into bankruptcy. Cyndi Lauper is topping charts. The world seems to be on the edge of something but it doesn’t know what. In between all this confusion, Homer and Marge somehow find the time to bring Lisa into the world. Straight from Marge’s announcement of her pregnancy, scriptwriter Jeff Martin places the emphasis straight on Bart. His prankster side becomes a lot bitterer, screenwriter Jeff Martin capturing how it must feel for a baby boy to be shoved from the spotlight. It becomes almost emotionally draining to see him being ignored by Patty and Selma, and to see him taking his jealousy out on here. But it’s ultimately rewarding in the payoff, when Lisa’s first word is ‘Bart’, setting up the close yet feisty relationship Bart and Lisa develop throughout the entire show. The emotional dynamics explored in “Lisa’s First Word” have certainly been touched on an infinite amount of times before, and an infinite amount of times after. But “Lisa’s First Word” simply does it the best, and in a mere 20-minute episode that doesn’t sacrifice humour for sentimentality. And of course, there’s that perfect bittersweet ending. You know what I’m talking about.
Marge Vs The Monorail (Season 4, Episode 12) chosen by Joe Murphy There really is nothing on earth like a genuine, bona fide, electrified six-car monorail. There may be more important episodes of The Simpsons, more inventive or possibly even funnier ones, but few condense everything brilliant about the show into a single package as neatly as “Marge vs. The Monorail”. Every line is perfect, every visual gag inspired, and it is as good an episode as any in the fourth season to mark the point at which The Simpsons embraced a new level of weirdness and never looked back. Above all else it offers a quite literally show-stealing turn from Phil Hartman, the greatest guest voice-actor the show ever had (Can it really be a coincidence that the golden age of The Simpsons ended around the same time that Hartman died?). The people of Springfield banding together in an act of mass idiocy was a theme the show had used before, and would continue to use to great effect for years to come, but here it reaches its peak, proving beyond doubt that a song, a dance and a sly suggestion of Shelbyville’s superiority are all it takes to whip Springfield into a frenzy. So, all together, sing it with me now: “Monorail, monorail…”
Last Exit To Springfield (Season 4, Episode 17) chosen by Chris Taylor “Last Exit to Springfield” is one of those episodes that even the writers look back on fondly and go, “Yep, we definitely did a lot of things right here”. For a very long time, this was the perfect example of The Simpsons’ mix of highbrow and low brow humour - often within the same jokes – at least until John Swartzwelder’s phenomenal run of episodes from 1995 to 1997. Focusing on the politics of the Springfield Power Plant and Homer’s employer Mr Burns, it sees Homer becoming head of the union to fight Burns’ plans to revoke their dental plan (“Dental plan! Lisa needs braces!”) It all sounds rather routine for an episode of The Simpsons but, in that half hour, the show manages to pile in as many jokes, references and parodies as they possibly can until the whole thing feels like its fit to burst. Moby Dick and “Classical Gas” bumps up against The Beatles and Batman, with a nice stop-over into Homer’s image of the world of crime a la The Godfather II. Even with so many jokes, it doesn’t feel too heavy handed and the traditional Simpsons heart still beats within. It’s hilarious, it’s heartwarming, it’s quintessential Simpsons. In its tidy half an hour length, it manages to boil down the very essence of what makes The Simpsons so great, creating something of a microcosm of the show as a whole. Pretty much the perfect starting point for anyone not yet acquainted with The Simpsons.
Bart Of Darkness (Season 6, Episode 1) chosen by Joe O'Brien ’Twas an understandably difficult and virtually impossible task to pick a favourite episode of The Simpsons. Of the 500-odd episodes the show has produced, I adore at least 200 of them, and picking an all-time favourite is beyond my decision-making skills. “Bart Of Darkness” though, is an episode that always stood out for me. Season 6 is quite possibly the season I’ve watched more than any other and this season/DVD opener is one of the cleverest, most memorable and most quotable of the bunch. If you’re reading this, you are probably a massive Simpsons fan yourself and so describing the plot of the episode would be pointless. To keep it short; it’s the one where Bart breaks his leg and The Simpsons get a swimming pool. Although it’s terribly obvious to me now as an educated film fan, there must have been at least a dozen times where I’ve watched this episode and not known that it was largely a parody of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. As if my appreciation for the episode wasn’t great enough, discovering this fact a few years ago certainly gave me a whole new level on which to enjoy it. In fact, it’s only been in the last five or six years that I have started to notice just how many references The Simpsons cram into every episode. It’s quite remarkable, and for a pop culture guy like me, it’s an absolute treat. All that aside though, what truly makes “Bart Of Darkness” a classic is the comedy. To me, some of the show’s most unforgettably hilarious moments can be found in this episode, from “trashcan or no trashcan!” to “Shut up, brain! I got friends now, I don’t need you anymore.” to “'Tis a fine barn, but sure ‘tis no pool, English” to “Oh, I see! Then I guess everything’s wrapped up in a neat little package!” to “Take your best shot! I’m wearing seventeen layers!”, “Bart of Darkness” is relentless when it comes to delivering the funnies, and let’s not forget the infamous creation that is “Milpool”.
And Maggie Makes Three (Season 6, Episode 13) chosen by Lewi Hudson-James A reoccurring theme throughout The Simpsons seems to be Homer’s carefree, almost dumbfounded attitude towards his job, his family and life in general, and although there are episodes where he shows his feelings and an emotional side, this is normally left to the female characters or the more sensitive males, such as Millhouse or Ned Flanders. However, in Maggie Makes Three, I was literally bought to tears at how the writers approached the theme of the episode, and the sweetness, genuineness and sentiment of Homer’s actions. After paying off all of his debts, Homer is finally able to go for his dream job at the Springfield Bowling alley. But, when Marge becomes pregnant for the third time (with Maggie), Homer has to quit the job he had been wanting for so long as the wages he earns there aren’t enough to support his growing family and their needs. He asks Mr Burns for his old job back at the power plant, and at his work station are the words on a plaque which read “Don’t Forget, You’re Here Forever”, which Homer partially blots out with photographs of Maggie – both on her own and with him, leaving the sentence “Do It For Her”. The both heart-warming and heartbreaking actions of Homer, acting as a third time father and showing his deep down caring side, and sacrificing a large part of his financial and personal happiness, really resonated with me, and clearly affected millions of other viewers too, as this episode was the fourth most viewed Simpsons show the week it aired on Fox in January 1995.
A Fish Called Selma (Season 7, Episode 19) chosen by Sean Lewis I’m not a big believer in black and white thinking, but one of the few things I am adamant on is that Planet of the Apes: The Musical is the funniest three minutes to ever be broadcast on television. I love the name. I love the concept. I love legitimate theatre. I really just want to shake the hand of the writer who thought of the idea of replacing the words to “Rock Me Amadeus” with “Dr. Zaius, Dr. Zaius”. The fact that I still get that song stuck in my head at completely random times is a testament to how great that whole bit is. The other moment that cements this episode as my favourite is the perfectly paced scene where Homer and Troy McClure are drinking on the night before Troy’s wedding, and Troy admits that he’s only marrying Selma as a publicity stunt. The classic Simpsons “suspense” noise plays. It then cuts to the wedding day. The camera slowly pans across to Homer. It focuses in on his head, and we hear him thinking… the riff to “Rock ‘N’ Roll Part 2” by Gary Glitter. I literally have no idea what is said in the next scene, because I’m always laughing too hard by that point.
El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (Season 8, Episode 9) chosen by Joe Armstrong The brilliance of “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer” is the way it balances relatable issues with its surreal storyline, offering the best of both worlds. In an entertaining tale about Homer going on a vision quest, the episode still manages to address everyday problems such as loneliness, relationship complacency and alcoholism. Much of the episode takes place at Springfield’s annual chilli cook-off. Chief Wiggum’s been trying to cook up a batch that can singe Homer’s legendary fireproof stomach, and, thanks to the help of some Guatemalan insanity peppers, it looks like he’s succeeded. That is, until Homer coats his mouth with molten candle wax to avoid the chillies burning his mouth. Then things start to get weird. Eating the psychotropic peppers causes Homer to trip balls (I think that’s the technical term). This part of the episode contains some of the finest visuals and animation the show has ever produced. Homer’s body takes on a strange fluidity, swirling and splashing as though he’s made of liquid. Stars and planets coalesce in the sky to reveal the grinning face of a coyote, his spirit guide (voiced by Johnny Cash). The coyote’s message to Homer is to find his soulmate, a journey that leads him to a lighthouse and finally to a greater appreciation of Marge. This episode’s one to savour for years to come.
The Springfield Files (Season 8, Episode 10) chosen by David Scott If you were to ask me what is one of my most vivid childhood memories, it wouldn’t be a family holiday, or maybe my first kiss. It would be the words, high pitched and creepily sing-song, “I bring you looooove”, spoken by a drugged out, glowing (and genuinely kind of creepy) Mr Burns. "The Springfield Files" has stuck with me in a way few episodes of television have. Sure, the episode is home to some truly iconic jokes that are hard to forget, from Homer’s horror at a billboard proclaiming him to DIE (or something far worse), his hypnotic 'lava-lamp’ jiggling or Abe’s battle with a toothy tortoise. But there’s a mad genius to every scene, whether it’s beautiful little details - The X-Files’ iconic Cigarette Smoking Man lurking during Homer’s explosive lie detector, the “most illegal shot” of the show’s history exploding the episode’s sci-fi references in just a few seconds, or Homer’s camping equipment, all tagged with “property of Ned Flanders”- or some truly bizarre and stupid jokes, like Leonard Nimoy’s utterly ridiculous introduction - “and by true, I mean false" - Moe’s hidden orca or "The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down”, that I just cannot help but adore. Like Urkel! To me, “The Springfield Files” is quintessential Simpsons. Jokes fire at rapid pace, brimming with genius and joyous stupidity at every turn. Scene after scene chock full of the kind of pop cultural markers that Simpsons nerds adore and iconic visual gags that are still passed around in photosets and gifs to this day, and it is just an incredibly fun and entertaining watch. Plus, it’s hard to ignore Fox Mulder resplendent in a speedo on his FBI Badge. Stupid sexy Mulder.
LET’S BREAK DOWN THE SIMPSONS/ FAMILY GUY CROSSOVER PREVIEW CLIP.
0:23: Oldest joke in the book.
0:32: Thank god.
0:37: MAD Magazine did it.
0:58: Bart hasn’t prank called Moe’s in about ten years, but sure, let’s dust this one off. What could go wrong?
1:28: WHAT THE FUCK
1:33: I appreciate this nod toward Family Guy’s cutaway bits, but instead of doing a cutaway bit, I would have liked to have seen this scene from Homer’s perspective, watching Peter stare off into space, imagining something. Also, doesn’t Family Guy get self-aware about these types of jokes a lot now? What’s the point?
2:02: This is a nice little nod to the programming block. The mildest of kudos to you.
2:15: I don’t get what’s funny about this bit. Is the joke that babies can’t skateboard?
2:31: And we arrive at the inevitable “Family Guy is a ripoff of The Simpsons” jokes. To be honest, I’ve never felt that way. From the beginning, Family Guy was more crass, more blunt, more referential than The Simpsons, and only ripped them off in that Peter is fat and Lois is a nag (and in that case they’re ripping off nearly every family sitcom that’s ever existed). Shows about dumb dads are nothing new, and the two shows pull their story ideas from such different places, the comparison isn’t apt. They’re like Mario and Sonic, or Conan and He-Man: it’s a riff on an established concept, but in a big enough different direction that it’s not quite a rip-off, or a parody, or an homage, it’s just its own thing.
3:11: Oh, good, a drawn-out fight scene. If Family Guy put more money into these things, they’d be fantastic. As they are, I’m just waiting for an actual joke.
3:34: Come on, Ralph Wiggum is one of the best characters on the show, you can’t come up with a better line than that?
3:49: WE GET IT.
4:40: Seeing Springfield Gorge is… honestly comforting. If anyone’s gonna bring this classic back, this is the time to do it.
Conclusion: I’ll probably watch this dumb bullshit when it comes out to point out how unnecessary it is and complain about it on the internet, as is my right, decreed to me by the great Jeff Albertson.