A Dozen Doozies
© TV Guide, January 3-9,1998.
Decisions, decisions. TV Guide's list of 12 terrific Simpsons episodes may look tidy, but it's the result of much agonizing debate and
relentless squabbling. So if by chance one of your favorites is missing, all we
can say is, don't have a cow.
#1 LISA'S WEDDING
Airdate: March 26, 1995
This is the premier example of what makes a Simpsons episode work.
We admire its humor as much as we are drawn to its heart and its truth. Here, a
fortune-teller predicts an ill-fated romance-to-be for Lisa. Suddenly we're in
2010: Lisa falls for the handsome Hugh St. John Alastair Parkfield (the voice of
Mandy Patinkin) when they both reach for the same book at the university library
(shades of "Love Story"!). Hugh lays down the law: Once married, Lisa
can have nothing to do with Homer and her siblings. Forced to choose, she opts
for her family. "Lisa's Wedding" (right) makes us realize that we've
come to know these characters so well that we actually care about what happens
to them -- in fact, that we believe they have futures and that they change and
grow. In that way, they're really real.
#2 THE WAY WE WAS
Airdate: January 31, 1991
Of all of TV history's "origins" shows -- the episodes that take
you back in time and show you how everything in the series got started -- there
are only a handful of great ones: how John Reid became the Lone Ranger, the
beginnings of St. Elsewhere, how Mulder got involved with the X-Files.
And this one: a superbly observant, hilarious, perfect time capsule that tells
how Homer Simpson wooed and somehow won Marge Bouvier. One night, when the TV
breaks, the Simpsons are forced to actually talk, and Marge and Homer relate the
tale of how they met in high school detention -- he was there for smoking, she
for burning her bra (it was 1974). Theirs is an up-and-down romance, but
they end up together forever, soul mates of destiny -- or, as Bart puts it, "They
got married, had kids and bought a cheap TV."
Airdate: May 19, 1996
The generation gap has been standard sitcom fodder for decades. Leave it to
The Simpsons to find something fresh to say about it. To convince his
kids that he's cool, Homer takes them to Hullabalooza, a touring rock
concert/freak show that features Cypress Hill (right) and offers the chance to "Bungee Jump Against Racism." When a
cannon accidentally discharges into Homer's ample midsection and causes no
damage, the crowd pronounces him hip. Even though Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic
Youth also appear in this episode, it's not about Generation X; it's about the
classic tough relationship between fathers and sons and what one will do to be a
hero to the other.
#4 KRUSTY GETS KANCELLED
Airdate: May 13, 1993
Under Bart's incorrigibility and Lisa's precocious wisdom, there lurk the
hearts of true, believing children. The Simpsons never captured this so
perfectly as when the kids' beloved Krusty the Clown (right) is knocked off the
air by the ventriloquist Arthur Crandall and his dummy, Gabbo. Incensed when
they see their hero Krusty reduced to begging on the roadside (WILL DROP PANTS
FOR FOOD), Bart and Lisa organize an entertainment extravaganza to resuscitate
his career, successfully recruiting guest stars Johnny Carson, Bette Midler,
Luke Perry and Red Hot Chili Peppers to the cause. Krusty gets his show back,
the kids get their clown back, and Simpsons fans get a star-packed
keeper that in its own twisted way reflects the pure faith and goodness at the
heart of every classic children's tale.
#5 TREE HOUSE OF HORROR
Airdate: October 24, 1990
The weekly brilliance of The Simpsons often takes on an added sheen
when the writers turn the family loose in familiar pop-culture vehicles -- as
we saw here, when Homer & Co. stumbled into scary-movie spoofs of "Psycho"
and "Fall of the House of Usher" and even a Twilight Zone
episode. The first section of this three-part show finds the Simpsons attempting
to stay in their new, haunted house overnight, despite blood dripping down the
walls. The second sees them abducted by aliens, whose generous catering
convinces Lisa that the family is being fattened up for an E.T. feast. The final
chapter brings us Lisa reading Edgar Allan Poe's horror classic "The Raven"
in the tree house while Homer listens, terrified, in the yard. The
trick-or-treat conceit worked so well that it has become a Simpsons tradition.
#6 LIKE FATHER LIKE CLOWN
Airdate: October 24, 1991
Krusty the Clown a Hasidic Jew? The concept has oy vey written all
over it -- unless, of course, you factor in the satirically gifted Simpsons
writers. With a nod to "The Jazz Singer," Krusty reveals to the
Simpsons a painful secret: His father, Rabbi Krustofski, disowned him for
choosing pies in the face over piety. Flashing back to kiddie Krusty's
shtetl-like surroundings and early entertaining impulses would've been enough;
but Bart and Lisa's attempt to crack the Rabbi's hardened heart with Talmudic
teachings made it the most learned half hour of humor in history. For added
authenticity, the role of Rabbi Krustofski was played by Jackie Mason, who could
relate: Like Krusty, he came from a long line of rabbis, and like Krusty, he
would rather be clowning.
#7 MARGE VS. THE MONORAIL
Airdate: January 14, 1993
Turning from the Simpsons household to the town of Springfield, this episode
skewers the loony underside of civic boosterism. Sooner or later, monorail mania
grips every medium-size burg that yearns to join the big time, so when
Springfield wins a multimillion-dollar settlement from corrupt nuclear-power
mogul Mr. Burns, town residents entrust their jackpot to monorail huckster Lyle
Lanley (Phil Hartman, at his oleaginous best). While everyone else joins in
choruses of "The Monorail Song" -- one of the show's classic
original tunes -- Marge (left) frets and fights back. At the monorail's
opening, Mayor Quimby says to honored guest Leonard Nimoy, "May the force
be with you." Nimoy responds, "Do you even know who I am?" Says
Quimby, "I think I do. Weren't you one of the Little Rascals?"
#8 22 SHORT FILMS ABOUT SPRINGFIELD
Air date: April 14, 1996
Only the clever Simpsons writers could spoof an obscure art-house
movie about an eccentric classical pianist -- "Thirty-two Short Films
About Glenn Gould" -- and do so with hilarious results. Here we get a
blizzard of quickie takes on life in Springfield, from shocking developments
(Barney finally paying his bar tab) to charming domestic scenes (Marge trying to
get gum out of Lisa's hair by using olive oil, lemon juice, tartar sauce,
chocolate syrup, gravy, bacon fat, hummus, baba ghanouj, peanut butter and
mayonnaise). Once, The Simpsons was primarily a show about a brat named
Bart. In this episode the writers have brilliantly realized an
entire community; the glimpses of Springfield life seen here demonstrate how
layered the portrait has become.
#9 HOMER'S PHOBIA
Airdate: February 16, 1997
Never one to shy away from hot-button social issues, The Simpsons
used irreverent wit to tackle one of the trickiest:homophobia. John Waters plays
an openly gay, kitsch-loving shop owner (sample merchandise: an $8,500 TV GUIDE
once owned by Jackie O.). John (right) hits it off with Homer, but their budding
friendship wilts when Marge tells Homer the obvious: "He's 'festive.'
John is a ho-mo-sexual." From here it's all Archie Bunker-style logic: What
if it's contagious? It takes John saving the lives of Homer, Bart, Moe and
Barney for reluctant tolerance to prevail. "Maybe it's just the concussion
talking, but any way you choose to live your life is OK with me," Homer
says. It's a start.
#10 STARK RAVING DAD
Airdate: September 19, 1991
Sure, it's a blast to see Homer committed to a sanitarium for the "emotionally
interesting," but it's Michael Jackson who pushes this episode over the
edge. The singer plays an oafish, white inmate who thinks he's Michael Jackson.
He talks like Jacko, sings like Jacko, moonwalks like Jacko. He and the unaware
Homer make a bizarre duo, but it's Bart and Lisa who profit from their dad's new
friendship. "Michael" helps Bart write a birthday song for his sister:
"Happy birthday, Lisa. Lisa, it's your birthday.
" A simple song
but memorable, especially when sung in that famous falsetto that turns out to
#11 NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
Airdate: November 12, 1992
Conan O'Brien wrote this most tender of episodes, and Roseanne's
Sara Gilbert perfectly voiced 15-year-old Laura (right), the first girl to break Bart's
heart. Bart is so smitten, he even takes a bath ("Hey, sometimes a guy just
likes his skin to look its yellowest") before greeting his new babysitter
at the door in smoking jacket and pipe (bubble pipe, that is). But what she
wants to tell him is that she has a boyfriend, and all Bart can feel is pain --
and all he can think of is revenge. This flawless little gem about love and
getting even is not only right-on in its depiction of a kid's first crush, it's
just plain funny.
#12 DEEP SPACE HOMER
Airdate: February 24, 1994
The Simpsons take on space in this out-of-this-world episode.
Distressed over poor ratings for a recent mission ("We've been beaten by
A Connie Chung Christmas!"), NASA bigwigs decide to beam Homer
(right) beyond the stratosphere. Once in orbit, though, he breaks his own record
for buffoonery; he sets a bag of chips and an army of ants loose to float in the
shuttle's cabin. "Maybe I do have the right
what's that stuff?"
Homer muses at one point. One thing is clear: The Simpsons writers do.