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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?"

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.

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.

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 belong to…Leon Kompowsky?!

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.

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.

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Last updated on May 11, 1999 by Jouni Paakkinen (