Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Essential Simpsons

I think we all know that The Simpsons isn't as good as it used to be.

Sure, it still has it's moments, but for the most part the show is a shadow of what it once was. But man, when it was good, it was GOOOD. So good in fact it should be a required part of every geek's DVD collection.

Not the whole series of course, just these five seasons:

Season Five - The Golden Era Begins.

Because really, this is where all the good stuff starts. Seasons one and two are pretty not good as the creators really tried to get a handle on the characters, and while seasons three and four are better, they're still not quite The Simpsons (It's a good thing this was airing on Fox in the early 90s).

I just recently bought this season and I can't get over how relevant these episodes from 1993 still are (aside from a few technological advancements, like phone modems), from government bankruptcy and the right to bear arms, to the prissiness of today's college freshmen, these are episodes that could have come out last year and you'd have no idea. It's unreal! From Bart Gets an Elephant and Cape Feare to Deep Space Homer and $pringfield, season five is almost nonstop awesomeness.

The Best Episode - Homer Goes to College
Homer, after being shown to be totally under-qualified for his job, is forced to go back to school to earn his degree and ends up hanging out with a bunch of nerds. Also it's written by Conan O'Brien. Need I say more? Also they make fun of D&D and that makes me smile.

The Worst Episode - Lady Bouvier's Lover
Because a season is only as strong as their worst episode. Honestly I've just never been a fan of the Marge's mother episodes so this one always just drags for me. It still has some quality gags and a solid B-Story, but it was an A-story that would probably have been better served as a B-Story.

Season Six - The Best of The Best!

This is my favorite season. Shocker, I know. It contains the best Treehouse of Horror (The last one to feature rampant death and destruction too!), the first part of Who Shot Mr. Burns (the only two parter of the entire series!), the first (and only!) episode to be set in Shelbyville, and at least one iconic moment per episode. If you only had one season of The Simpsons, this should be it.

The Best Episode - Toss up.
Honestly, I'm sitting here looking at the list of episodes and I can't figure out which is the best. Lisa on Ice, Treehouse V, Itchy and Scratchy Land, Homer the Great, bart vs Australia, Lisa's Wedding, Lemon of Troy, and Who Shot Mr. Burns are all classics in their own right and I can't pick between them. Let's just say that if you randomly pick an episode from this season, chances are it's going to be awesome.

The Worst Episode - Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy
Looking at the list this was the one episode that I always forget about. It's not that it's all that bad, it's just kind of there. Kind of like a season four episode but obviously way better.

Season Seven - Life After The Peak

Season seven is a really solid season and is pretty fantastic, it's just not quite as good as the last one. It did a great job combining the crazy ideas that make The Simpsons great, while integrating the heart that keep the people coming back. It's probably the most introspective season for The Simpsons with the introduction of Homer's mom, Lisa becoming a vegetarian, and Bart dealing with really disappointing Marge.

Also, it should also be noted, this season contains Matt Groening's favorite line: "The goggles, they do nuthing" from 'Radioactive Man'.

The Best Episode - Lisa the Vegetarian
Lisa realizes that everything meat once had a face, and with some help from Apu and Paul McCartney, becomes a vegetarian. One of the few episodes that actually established new continuity for the rest of the series.

The Worst Episode - Treehouse of Horror VI
While Homer Cubed was interesting and had some great math jokes, this episode really signaled a change in how these episodes were done. From here on out they become less about blood, gore, and horror comedy and become more about sci-fi, and light horror parodies.

Season Eight - The Beginning of The End

And so the seams begin to show. Don't get me wrong, there are still essential episodes in this season and nothing that's outright bad, but you can tell some it's teetering on the edge of 'not-goodness'. Nothing exemplifies this like 'Homer's Enemy'.

'Homer's Enemy' is where many people think the show jumped the shark. In said episode, Homer is introduced to Frank Grimes, a new hire at the Nuclear Plant, who starts to point out how grossly unqualified Homer is at his job and how Homer lives a privileged and undeserved life. The argument is that Frank's character really shined a light on how unrealistic Homer's life is which hurt the credibility of the show. I, on the other hand, thought it was a pretty funny episode.

The Best Episode - You Only Move Twice
Homer gets a new job working for a Bond Villain, voiced by Albert Brooks, and it's totally awesome! Seriously Hank Scorpio was an inspired character and it's almost too bad that he hasn't been seen since (almost, because I would hate for him to get cheapened with further appearances)

The Worst Episode - Burns, Baby Burns
Where Mr. Burn's estranged son comes to town, fakes getting kidnapped, and ultimately leaves never to be spoken of again. Poor Rodney Dangerfield, he can't even get respect in The Simpsons...

Season Nine - Where It All Falls Apart

Season nine is a rough season. It has the only episode that will never be aired again (The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson), the last full season with Phil Hartman (he has one episode in season ten), and has more than it's share of clunker episodes. This was the season where the tone of The Simpsons really changed.

I remember watching these as they aired and 'The Principal and The Pauper was the first episode I actively disliked. In the years since, and a recent screening, I realized that my issue isn't so much with the idea that Principal Skinner is really Armin Tanzarian, but rather how they resolve everything. Instead of adding it to the continuity officially as with Lisa's Vegetarianism, Milhouse's parent's divorce, or Apu's Marriage, or casually ignoring it like Homer's trip to space or his time with the B-Sharps, the issue is resolved with a quick resetting of the status quo and an explicit banishment of it from cannon. It just felt cheap, easy, and started a long line of episodes that started pointing out they were resetting the status quo instead of casually doing it and not mentioning it again. Much like people's issue with "Homer's Enemy", my problem lies with them pointing out the inconsistencies of the series.

The Best Episode - The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson
Homer faces one of his greatest fears and heads to New York City where hilarity ensues. What can I say? I have a soft spot for episodes that are banned from airways for stupid reasons.

The Worst Episode - Das Bus
How could my 'Jump the Shark' episode not be the worst episode? Because while 'The Principal and The Pauper' may have a shaky premise and ending, at least it has a solid storyline and some funny jokes. Das Bus, on the other hand, follows the kids as they get stranded on a desert island. It feels like a very slap dash episode with an opening with no bearing on the rest of the show, a weak plot, and a sloppy ending (a VO by James Earl Jones). That said, Milhouse has never been more pathetically funny.

So there you go, the five seasons you ought to own to be a true geek. Plenty of great classic episodes to watch and love over and over again, with a smattering of terrible ones to give you something to complain about, everything a Geek wants.


  1. Why is The City of New York vs Homer Simpson banned?

    Also I think it's interesting that The Simpsons toyed with having an episode naming convention(the "vs" thing, which seems to pop up regularly) but never stuck it to. Chuck now uses a vs in every one of it's titles, which fits the spy theme. Wonder if it's also a Simpsons shoutout?

  2. Actually the majority of Simpons episodes are parodies of popular culture, it was just a strange twist of fate that I mentioned two of the versus episodes. As for Chuck, while I'm sure they have their fair share of Simpsons references, it could be a shout out to Ben Edlund and The Tick, for the majority of that show's titles followed that versus convention.

    Oh, and the New York episode has been banned because a big hunk of it takes place at the Twin Towers and, you know, the best way to get over that whole thing is edit them from past shows as if they never existed. sigh.