This is a writing project that is years in the making for me. "The Simpsons" is as much a part of my life in real life as it is here on Daily Kos, where I've been sprinkling the site liberally with quotations and references to the show for at least 4 years now.
When people notice this about me, they want to know about my favorite episodes, if not my very favorite. This is a show that spans more than 20 years, and I've been watching it for the majority of my time here on Earth. Asking me to pick a favorite is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child!
But though I've long avoided this, it is time. It was an incredibly painful process for me and paring this list down to 10 was almost unbearable (although I allowed myself to list five runners-up).
So, without further Apu, here's the list, ordered from 10 to 1:
10. "The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show" (Season 8)
"Poochie needs to be louder, angrier, and have access to a time machine." --- Homer
Synopsis: Feeling the show has lost its edge, the creators of "Itchy and Scratchy" create a new character named Poochie the Dog, who is voiced by Homer. Upon its broadcast, Poochie's first appearance is dubbed "Worst Episode Ever" by fans of the show and the media alike. Homer fights to save Poochie, believing in his potential, but it turns out this shallow product of committee thinking is destined to die on the way back to his home planet.
Why I Picked It: This show is rife with animation in-jokes and meta humor as Poochie becomes a symbol for entertainment blandness and mediocrity. Through Poochie (and one-shot character Roy, who comes to live with the Simpsons for a few days), the writers and creators of the show make a pretty solid defense of the long-running series itself. They've given us all hours of entertainment for free, so what more do they owe us, as Bart, speaking for the writers, puts it.
9. "Homer the Heretic" (Season 4)
"But what if we picked the wrong religion? Each week we're just making God madder and madder!" --- Homer
Synopsis: After having the best day of his life staying in on a Sunday morning, Homer decides, much to Marge's chagrin, that he will never return to church. In a vision, Homer asks the (five-fingered!) God Himself, "I'm not a bad guy, I work hard, and I love my kids, so why should I spend half my Sunday hearing about how I'm going to hell?" -- a question even the Almighty cannot answer. But in the end, it's the good deeds of individual believers themselves, who save Homer from his burning house, that win Homer back into the fold -- sort of.
Why I Picked It: "The Simpsons" has had a lot of funny, irreverent, thought-provoking takes on religion over the years, but this one is my favorite not so much for the points it makes (although they are good), but for Homer's hilarious spiritual journey. His day at home making "Moon Waffles" wrapped around a whole stick of butter is great, and the writers' take on God is funny and appropriately respectful too.
8. "Homer's Enemy" (Season 8)
"God, I have worked every day of my life, and what do I have to show for it? This briefcase and this... haircut!" --- Frank Grimes
Synopsis: A struggling, self-made man named Frank Grimes comes to work at Springfield Nuclear only to discover that the plant's bumbling, inattentive safety inspector, Homer Simpson, is beloved by all despite countless screw-ups and bottomless negligence. He declares Homer his enemy, much to Homer's shock. I love the way things get even worse when Homer attempts to smooth things over by inviting Grimes over for dinner, where Grimes gets even more angry at Homer's inexplicable economic and social success.
Why I Picked It: This show is a favorite because I think we've all felt a bit like Frank Grimes from time to time. A lot of people have called this episode "cruel," but I find it empathetic to Grimes. It's easy to relate to the feeling that the laziest, stupidest people have it the easiest in life. But the introduction of a character like Grimey who seems to function in the real world into the crazy atmosphere of Springfield is a perspective-shifting moment in the show's history, and quite a daring move. A real person wouldn't last long having to work alongside Homer, after all.
- "Deep Space Homer" (Season 5)
"I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords, and would like to remind them that, as a trusted television personality, I can be trusted to round up others who will toil in their underground sugar caves." --- Kent Brockman
Synopsis: In an attempt by NASA to boost ratings of their televised space launches, the space program decides to send an everyday person into orbit. After besting Barney (sort of) Homer gets aboard the program, hoping to win the respect of his family -- only to have an inanimate carbon rod steal the glory in the end.
Why I Picked It: More than just the episode where Homer is launched into space, this show demonstrates the unique ability of "The Simpsons" to render the heirarchy of culture utterly meaningless as it skewers both high and low culture. Everything from "Married With Children" and "Star Trek" to "2001" and Gilbert and Sullivan is referenced here. Furthermore, this one is also a good showcase of the writers' and animators' ability to pull off hilarious side-jokes and asides that give the show its comic strength through sheer cleverness and utter strangeness.
6. "Homer's Phobia" (Season 8)
Homer: This is a nightmare! You people are sick!
Gay Steelworker: Oh, be nice!
Synopsis: When the Simpsons make a new family friend, a kitch-loving toy collector named John (played by John Waters), Homer's issues with homosexuality cause tension and suspicion. This show tackles homophobia directly, and in an uproariously funny way. I especially love Homer's misguided attempt to turn Bart straight by taking him to what he discovers to be a "gay steel mill." In the end, John wins Homer over by saving his life with a campy robotic Santa Claus, concluding that if every gay man could just do the same, Homer would be set.
Why I Picked It: This show hit the airwaves just a few month's before the episode of "Ellen" where the character played by Ellen DeGeneres came out, as did the comedianne herself. "Homer's Phobia" is not remembered as being that monumental in TV history, but it impacted a younger, homophobic me in a profound way. I'm not going to say it made a GLBT activist out of me, but it definitely laid the foundation for future life-changing realizations.
5. "You Only Move Twice" (Season 8)
"Hey, lookit my feet. You like these moccasins? Look in your closet, there's a pair for you. Don't like 'em? Then neither do I! Get the hell out of here! Heh. Ever see a guy say goodbye to a shoe?!" --- Hank Scorpio
Synopsis: The Simpsons leave Springfield for a corporate planned community called Cypress Creek, where Homer works for Hank Scorpio, CEO of Globex Corporation. The change impacts every member of the family, with Bart attending a well-funded school, Marge enjoying a huge house and its modern conveniences, and Homer succeeding at his new job -- oblivious to the fact that Mr. Scorpio is in actuality a cartoonish super-villain ripped straight from a Bond movie.
Why I Picked It: I like the realistic struggles the family faces in this move to their new environment. It's an ambitious episode for that reason. But the insane, dynamic performance of A. Brooks as Hank Scorpio (my favorite one-time character in the entire show's history) is what makes this episode work so well. The final scene where Homer tells Hank he has to return to Springfield as Hank fights off encroaching secret agents and the military is zany brilliance.
4. "22 Short Films About Springfield" (Season 7)
Chalmers: Good Lord, what is happening in there?!
Skinner: Aurora Borealis.
Chalmers: Aurora Borealis? At this time of year, at this time of day, in this part of the country, localized entirely within your kitchen?!
Chalmers: May I see it?
Synopsis: An episodic show with no real plot, "22 Short Films" pushed the envelope of what an episode of "The Simpsons" should be, while at the same time containing everything that makes the show great. Virtually every ancillary character in the show has a moment: Bumblebee Man, Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, Apu, Professor Frink, Burns and Smithers, and most hilariously of all, Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers. A new character, the Very Tall Man, is also introduced -- and I love that guy. I love this show because it expands the show to include the entire city of Springfield rather than just limiting it to Bart, Homer, Lisa, Marge and Maggie.
Why I Picked It: A lot of the show's so-called fans dislike this show, and point to it as the moment where the series "jumped the shark." But this is a funny, risky episode. Not only is the premise of the show a step away from the ordinary, the Snake-Chief Wiggum-Herman "Pulp Fiction" parody is pretty edgy too, for a cartoon show. The hilarious dialogue between Skinner and Chalmers is probably one of my favorite moments in the entire show's history. And Lisa's humiliating experience of getting gum stuck in her hair -- and getting advice on how to remove it from just about everyone in Springfield -- was great as well.
3. "Lemon of Troy" (Season 6)
Jebediah Springfield: People, our search is over! On this site we shall build a new town where we can worship freely, govern justly, and grow vast fields of hemp for making rope and blankets.
Shelbyville Manhattan: Yes! And marry our cousins.
Springfield: I was- wha-- what are you talking about, Shelbyville? Why would we want to marry our cousins?
Shelbyville: Because they're so attractive. I thought that was the whole point of this journey.
Springfield: Absolutely not!
Shelbyville: I tell you, I won't live in a town that robs men of the right to marry their cousins!
Synopsis: Probably the closest the show has ever come to an epic, this episode explores the deep-seated and yet strangely arbitrary rivalry between Springfield and its mirror-image Bizarro World town, Shelbyville. Filled with a new sense of town pride, Bart is shocked at the theft of a Springfield landmark, the old lemon tree at the border between the two towns. Bart gathers together his friends to head into Shelbyville to get it back.
Why I Picked It: This is a wonderful kid-centric episode. I love Nelson's frustration at Marvin's nerdiness and the way Milhouse believes his camoflage kit will hide him from his enemies -- as well as his confrontation with his Shelbyville doppelganger ("So this is what it's like... when doves cry!"). The explanation of the towns' rivalry, tracing back to the upright Jebediah Springfield and the cousin-fancying Shelbyville Manhattan is another great moment, as is the Shelbyville kids' "celebratory" glasses of turnip juice at the end. I can't even explain why I like it so much, but from start to finish it's hard for me to think of a single episode I enjoy more.
2. "And Maggie Makes Three" (Season 6)
"Dear Lord, the gods have been good to me. As an offering, I present these milk and cookies. If you wish me to eat them instead, please give me no sign whatsoever... Thy will be done. (eats cookies)" --- Homer
Synopsis: A flashback episode, this one tells the story of how Homer once considered his life completely perfect -- until the unplanned pregnancy that resulted in Maggie. With his debts settled and a modicum of financial security attained, Homer quits his job at the power plant (playing his boss' head like a bongo and literally burning a bridge on the way out) to become a "pin monkey" at Barney's Bowl-A-Rama. In the end, Homer must suffer the humiliation of begging Mr. Burns to have him back. The final scene shows Homer using pictures of Maggie to turn Burns' "de-motivational plaque" into a heartwarming message that reminds him of why he does it all -- "Do it for her."
Why I Picked It: This episode is one for working men and fathers. I have to say I view it in a very different way now that I am a dad. It's about the sacrifices you make for your family and your children, as well as the healing love you have for them that makes it all worth it. I dare you to watch that final moment and not get a lump in your gullet at least.
1. "Lisa's Substitute" (Season 2)
"The tragedy of the middle class is that you will always be abandoned by those you need for those who need them more" --- Mr. Bergstrom
Synopsis: A substitute teacher named Mr. Bergstrom (voiced by Dustin Hoffman, credited as "Sam Etic") comes to teach in Lisa's second-grade class at Springfield Elementary. In the fourth grade class, Bart challenges the nerdy Martin Prince for the position of class president. Mr. Bergstrom's inspirational teaching methods give Lisa a great respect for the substitute that even borders on romance. But the romance, as well as Mr. Bergstrom's continued presence at the school, are not meant to be. He leaves her sadly, with a note he tells her to read whenever she feels alone and unwanted -- it reads only, "You are Lisa Simpson."
Why I Picked It: This is not the funniest episode of the show, but in my opinion it is the greatest. It shows what makes the Simpson family work, and it delves into who Lisa Simpson is. Lisa is the heart of the family, the soul of the show, and the often-irritating conscience that lives inside every compassionate person. Her struggle to find her place in the world is my own, and I really love her character. This show also shows Homer's depth, as he goes room-to-room to help his children feel better about themselves one at a time before he proclaims, "I am on the greatest roll of my life!"
Within the show's narrative, this episode introduces what will be a recurring theme -- Lisa and Homer's often-strained relationship and the drive (based in their love for each other) that they both have to make it all work. I love this episode, and even though it was written when I was only 10, it still carries a lot of meaning for me.
And now, the honorable mentions! It killed me to cut these out just for the sake of having a round number. I like these episodes a lot more than round numbers.
"Homer Goes to College" (Season 5)
"Lisa the Vegetarian" (Season 7)
"Sideshow Bob Roberts" (Season 6)
"Bart of Darkness" (Season 6)
"Homer Simpson Vs. The Eighteenth Amendment" (Season 8)
So that's the list. Maybe after reading it, my fondness for the show can be a little better understood.