With 673 episodes spreading over 30 years, selecting 10 is a daunting feat. 10 only begins to scratch the surface of what makes The Simpsons arguably the greatest cartoon of all time.
These 10 classic episodes all stand out for their hilarity and brilliance. Even though you may know the entire plot and dialogue, changing the channel is not an option when these episodes are on. Some of them take on large themes and parody popular culture, some focus on a range of Springfield’s wacky citizens, and some are simply small family stories but packed full of laughs.
10. “Homer the Heretic” (Season 4, Episode 3)
Religion is a prevalent theme throughout The Simpsons. “Homer the Heretic” is both an interesting and hilarious look at faith.
On a cold Sunday morning, Homer decides to skip church and ends up having the best day of his life. This fantastic sequence sees Homer sleep in late, dance in his underwear, make his “patented space-age out of this world moon waffles”, win a radio contest, watch a football match, and find a penny under the couch.
Much to Marge’s dismay, he decides never to go to church again, but then has a dream where he meets God. God agrees with Homer’s point, and even the Flanders’ family cannot win Homer back to Christianity. Then, whilst everyone is at church, Homer accidentally burns the house down but is saved by Apu (Hindu), Krusty (Jewish), and Flanders (Christian). Reverend Lovejoy states God was working in the hearts of his friends.
9. “Homer’s Enemy” (Season 8, Episode 23)
Although we all love Homer on the show, he would be incredibly irritating if he were a real person. This is explored in the episode, “Homer’s Enemy”.
It sees a hard-working, normal but unlucky character, Frank Grimes, thrust into a cartoon world where people like Homer exist. When Grimes starts working at the Nuclear Power Plant, he immediately takes a disliking to Homer due to his poor work ethic and for calling him “Grimey.” Homer tries to win Grimes over with a lobster dinner, but this only infuriates him more as he sees Homer’s family and life experiences. The frustration mounts as nobody else seems to mind Homer’s incompetence.
Unfortunately, Grimes ends up killing himself by mocking Homer’s actions and grabbing a high voltage cable. At the funeral, Reverend Lovejoy says that he liked to be called “Grimey,” and then everyone laughs as Homer talks in his sleep.
8. “Treehouse of Horror V” (Season 6, Episode 6)
While the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes are hit and miss, the fifth edition saw the writers nail many horror clichés. Thus, proofing they are the masters of parody.
This is particularly true with the first of three tales, which is a parody of the horror classic, The Shining (or “The Shinning” as Willie calls it). The story and visual style are very similar to the film, but with plenty of added humor. The absence of beer and TV causes Homer to go insane. He later chops down a door and delivers the famous “Heeere’s Johnny!” line, before chasing the family out into the snow where he returns to sanity thanks to Willie’s TV radio.
The second story brilliantly explores the consequences of time travel, with the final black humor chapter seeing the Springfield Elementary staff eat the students.
7. “Lisa the Vegetarian” (Season 7, Episode 5)
In comparison to the other family members, Lisa is unexplored and often misunderstood. Her seriousness means that she is generally not a fan favorite. However, many of the writers list her as theirs.
“Lisa the Vegetarian” is the best exploration of Lisa and her struggles to fit her views with the world around her.
After visiting a petting zoo, Lisa decides to become a vegetarian. As a result, she sabotages Homer’s barbeque, seeing the roast pig shot through the air. Everyone turns against Lisa and she almost succumbs to the pressure to conform, but she then encounters Apu (a vegan) who introduces her to Paul and Linda McCartney. They convince her to commit to vegetarianism, while Apu teaches her about tolerating other people’s viewpoints. She and Homer then make up in a touching scene.
6. “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” Parts One & Two (Season 6, Episode 25 & Season 7, Episode 1)
As this list demonstrates, the show writers are masters of parody. This two-parter is a terrific parody of Dallas’ “Who Shot J.R?” storyline and other murder mysteries. It both looks and feels dramatic, with the first part — also serving as the end of season six — ending on a cliffhanger.
After oil is struck at the school, Mr. Burns steals the oil. He then plans to block out the sun so Springfield has to solely use his electricity. However, Mr. Burns is then found shot, after many people threatened him throughout the episode.
The second part sees suspects cleared one by one, with evidence then pointing to Homer. In a purposefully anti-climactic ending, the shooter is revealed to be Maggie Simpson. Mr. Burns admits he was trying to literally take candy from a baby before being shot.
5. “Rosebud” (Season 5, Episode 4)
In a parody of Citizen Kane, Mr. Burns has everything in the world except his beloved childhood teddy bear, Bobo. As it turns out, Maggie Simpson is in possession of Bobo and has become quite attached to the bear.
While “Rosebud” is very comical, it has a lot of depth. It humanizes Mr. Burns, who is usually such as despicable character. It also gives Homer some character development, as he declines Burns’ offer to buy Bobo.
The episode ends on a heartwarming note. Mr. Burns encounters Maggie in her sandpit, where she returns the bear.
4. “Homer the Great” (Season 6, Episode 12)
“Homer the Great” is one of the most famous and quoted episodes of The Simpsons. And for good reason.
The episode sees Homer become irritated by not being admitted to The Stonecutters. The Stonecutters are a secret society “who, since ancient times, have split rocks of ignorance that obscure the light of knowledge and truth.”
Homer is allowed to join after discovering Grandpa is a member. He then unwittingly becomes their leader after they find his “Chosen One” birthmark. The other members become bored under Homer’s regime and form The Ancient Mystic Society of No Homers; referencing an earlier joke of the No Homers Club that Homer was again not a member of as a youth.
3. “Marge vs. the Monorail” (Season 4, Episode 12)
A Flintstones spoof. A cameo by Leonard Nimoy. A fantastic musical number. The entire town acting stupidly. Homer adding another job to his CV. “Marge vs. the Monorail” has a bit of everything.
As the episode starts, Springfield comes into a large sum of money. When trying to figure out how to spend the money, a smooth-talking stranger convinces them to buy a monorail. However, Marge and Lisa are skeptical. They later discover that the monorail salesman intends to have the monorail break down so he can get away with the money. Although a close call, everything works out and the day is saved.
“Marge vs. the Monorail” is jam-packed with jokes and drama throughout. This makes it one of the most fun and exciting episodes of the series.
2. “Cape Feare” (Season 5, Episode 2)
There have been many great parodies over The Simpsons’ 30-year history. However, none have topped their take on the revenge classic Cape Fear.
“Cape Feare” is Sideshow Bob’s second appearance. It sees him paroled from prison where he then begins to stalk Bart. In order to protect themselves, The Simpsons enter the Witness Protection Program. As a result, they become The Thompsons and are relocated to Terror Lake. Sideshow Bob travels on the underside of their car. Unfortunately, he suffers some bad karma, which is punctuated by the famous rake scene.
1. “Last Exit to Springfield” (Season 4, Episode 17)
“Last Exit to Springfield” is an epic and dramatic episode. It tackles an enormous story and is rife with social commentary, parodies, and jokes. This depth makes it one of the best of all time and an example of fantastic writing.
Mr. Burns attempts to get rid of the Nuclear Power Plant’s dental plan. Realizing that he will have to pay for Lisa’s braces, Homer becomes the new union president. When negotiating with Mr. Burns, Homer inadvertently convinces Burns that he is a tough negotiator. The power plant workers strike. Eventually, Mr. Burn concedes as long as Homer resigns as union president. This causes Homer to celebrate wildly, seeing Mr. Burns realize that he was not, in fact, a masterful tactician at all.