Hi, I’m BrokenTV’s Mark X. You may remember me from such things as “bitching about 10 O’Clock Live on Twitter” and “writing a television blog that was quite good for three weeks in 2007”.
So, the 500th episode of The Simpsons airs in the USA tonight. PREDICTION: it’ll be a hugely disappointing episode, only it’ll have more guest stars than usual, and we’ll have completely forgotten what happened in it about three days after watching it. No matter what happens in it (LeBron James and Skrillex turn up to help Homer get a spot on X Factor USA or something probably), it’ll never dilute the majesty of classic-era Simpsons.
Join us now* as we spend a week – A WHOLE WEEK - looking at the history of the greatest American comedy series of all time. First up (in several parts) THE TWENTY BEST SIMPSONS EPISODES OF ALL TIME EVER. Later on, we’ll provide THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO WHICH SEASON OF THE SIMPSONS IS BEST, and to round off, EVERY SINGLE EPISODE SCORED OUT OF TEN. And some other stuff too, if we think of and get around to it.
(*And at various times throughout said week.)
First up, THE TOP 20 SIMPSONS EPISODES EVER.
THE TOP 20 SIMPSONS EPISODES EVER
20. Treehouse of Horror III
Season 4 episode 5
original airdate 29 October 1992
“Where d’you get all that money, Grandpa?” “The government. I didn’t earn it, I don’t need it, but if they miss one payment, I’ll rise hell!”
Talking Krusty doll, King Homer, and the one with all the zombies. Three great segments, with not a dud amongst them. So packed with brilliant lines, we’re slightly regretting using that one up there to mark it. But hey, we’ve transcribed it now. Almost accurately, too.
This ‘House episode is so goshdarned great, a plot development that took up a whole episode in a later episode (Patty coming out of the closet) was actually given away thirteen years earlier, with her reacting to a naked doll-fleeing Homer dashing through the kitchen with the comment “well, there goes the last lingering threat of my heterosexuality”. It was an episode with a number of firsts in fact, such as the first glimpse of Marge’s father (fleetingly), the first Treehouse spoof of a specific film (King Kong – a far cry from the awful cut-n-paste jobs made for more recent Treehouses), and indeed, we think the first direct mention of Smithers’ sexuality (“Well, I think women and seamen should not mix.”).
FUN FACT! The King Homer segment was the longest continuous monochrome segment the show had seen at that point, leading Simpsons writer Al Jean to worry that some viewers may be concerned that the colour control on their TV sets had gone awry.
19. Sideshow Bob Roberts
Season 6 episode 5
original airdate 9 October 1994
“And we remind you, there is a one per cent margin of error."
Mmm, that’s good satire. Unlike, say, the episode with the Enron rollercoaster ride that ended with a voiceover smugly announcing, er, “mmm, that’s good satire”. Sideshow Bob gets released from prison after lobbying by right-wing talk radio host Birch Barlow and runs for office. First sight (we think) of the Republican Party Headquarters-slash-Lair-Of-Doom, the first appearance of talk show host Birch Barlow (who crops up in a few episodes from the last few years), and sadly the only appearance of the Maaaatlock Expressway.
What with this being the first time the show concentrated so heavily on political satire – for a show that was so phenomenally popular around the world – it’s commendable how accessible it all is for people who don’t know a caucus from a cactus. Despite being focused on the Republicans, the Democrats don’t get off lightly either, with Mayor Quimby showing how desperately frantic he is to curry favour with anyone (“If you were running for President, he’d vote for you”), despite being largely incompetent. Though as his campaign commercial tells us, it’s not his fault the stadium collapsed.
All deftly done, with a great payoff to boot. What could have been preachy and cloying (as would be seen in later episodes like “E Pluribus Wiggum” or “Politically Inept, with Homer Simpson”) turned out to be perfectly judged, and every bit as enjoyable if you don’t care about satire. In short, what the writers of 10 O’Clock Live wrongly imagine the sketches they write for Jimmy Carr are like.
FUN FACT! A rare example of a Simpsons episode that didn’t include a couch gag when first broadcast. On most repeat showings, couch gags from other episodes are edited into the title sequence.
18. A Fish Called Selma
Season 7 episode 19
original airdate 24 March 1996
“Please, don’t smoke in our restaurant. We don’t serve contemporary cuisine in your lungs.”
For such an unlikeable character, it’s quite interesting how many Selma-centred episodes are amongst the best the show has seen. Prime example: this episode where Miss Bouvier becomes Mrs McClure, unbeknownst to her that the star of Give My Remains To Broadway is only in it for the sake of his career.
Possibly the finest Simpsons moment for the tragically late Phil Hartman, with his Troy McClure character stepping up from his previously occasional short scenes wonderfully.
FUN FACT! Due to the slow talking speed of Troy and Selma, the episode's audio track ended up overrunning by several minutes. This meant that multiple scenes had to be cut, including Troy's bachelor party, and Jeff Goldblum had to re-record his dialogue as McClure’s agent at a faster pace in order to get the episode’s duration down to just under 23 minutes.
17. Mother Simpson
Season 7 episode 8
original airdate 19 November 1995
“Do I know what rhetorical means?”
The first Simpsons episode written by Cleveland Show co-creator Richard Appel, and he set the bar remarkably high for himself. After faking his own death to avoid working on a Saturday, Homer is reunited with his mother for the first time in 27 years.
So, possibly the most honest and touching a Simpsons episode would get for years, and it opened with (what was assumed to be) the body of the main character being fatally sucked into a turbine. From that point on, things got even more cynical, with the local electric company cutting off the family’s power supply due to Homer’s insistence on sticking with his charade (“the juice stays off until you get a job or a generator… oh, and my deepest sympathies”). That’s until Homer stumbles across his ma, and we’re onto one of the most memorable plots from the entire series.
One thing we’ve always liked about The Simpsons is the way that despite Springfield being packed with so many different characters, so many big parts of the family’s life are left deliberately underfilled. Whatever happened to Marge’s father has never been explored, with him only having a couple of lines throughout the entire run of the show (and those only in a previously-repressed memory uncovered by Marge after counselling). The neighbours on the other side of the Simpson residence have only made fleeting appearances in episodes aside from New Kid On The Block, and for all we know the house opposite 742 Evergreen Terrace is still occupied by Gerald Ford. And yet, when we DO get to find out these nuggets of information, it only serves to highlight what a rare treat that kind of thing is, and of such episodes (Fear Of Flying, HOMЯ, D'oh-in in the Wind), this is easily the best.
FUN FACT! The final word spoken by Mona Simpson in the episode was recorded by Pamela Hayden instead of Glenn Close, because Close hadn’t been able to say “d’oh!” properly.
FUN FACT 2! The Spiro Agnew alarm clock featured in one of the flashback scenes was a real item:
“I guess he must work there or something.” (Yes, we know it’s a different episode.)
16. Bart's Comet
Season 6 episode 14
“It’s a silent testament to the never give up and never think things out spirit of our citizens.”
An episode that seems simple enough – Bart pulls a prank on Skinner, gets punished but subsequently famous in a field of science that Skinner adores. From there however, we’re onto an episode that shows the population of Springfield at their very best. By which we mean “selfish, disorganised and idiotic”. Yay!
The plot: Bart discovers a comet that astrologers soon discover is about to slam into the town. Chaos and hilarity ensue. And, best of all, a wonderful moment that sees Homer make a selfless charitable act without having a lengthy clumsy build-up to it beforehand. Something that the show really should have seen more of, if we’re honest. (Yes, we know it came just after he’d acted like a massive arsehole, shush.)
“Now, let’s burn down the observatory so this’ll never happen again!”
Most charmingly mid-1990s moment: one of Lisa’s nerdish friends being nicknamed ‘Email’. Because, of course, the only people who would use email are huge geekwads.
FUN FACT! Kent Brockman's pre-annihilation, what-the-hell list of outed celebrities is comprised of the show's production staff, who had to sign legal agreements that they would not sue their own show.
Okay, that’ll do for now. Next time on BrokenTV: numbers 15 to 11 on our countdown. Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow at, er, when we’ve written it. Will ‘Saddlesore Galactica’ be in there? We’re not telling!
(No. No, it won’t.)