Here comes the first half of the Top Ten Best Episodes according to me. Outside of the countless hours I’ve spent watching this show, I don’t have any further credentials.
#5: Deep Space Homer
Original Air Date: February 24, 1994
PLOT: In an effort to boost ratings of shuttle launches, NASA sends average Joe Homer to space.
Anyone who paid attention to the first four and a half seasons of the Simpsons would tell you that sending Homer to space would probably be a disaster. And it was, but at least it was fun to watch.
Looking back, its kind of mind-boggling that this was a plot line this early into the show run. It seems like a story more fitting for a struggling series, but here we find it smack dab in the show’s heyday. Fear not, however. This episode is an all-time classic.
What makes this episode so great is how bad an idea it is to put Homer in a space shuttle. There are 6 billion people in the world and Homer is the last one to bring near rockets. And he doesn’t disappoint in this episode. He messes up a simple mission with a bag of potato chips. Just like Homer.
Great moments in this episode include Homer’s angry phone calls, the press conference, the training sequence, and James Taylor’s cameo. It even introduced us to the most important inanimate object in the show:
I like how this episode also delves into Homer’s desperation for his children’s approval. It’s a pretty human turn in that aspect and I like that he does get a little bit of redemption in that manner. But really, this episode isn’t about some sort of character turn. This is about Homer going to space, Barney going crazy on nonalcoholic champagne, and Kent Brockman welcoming his ant overlords.
#4: 22 Short Films About Springfield
Original Air Date: April 14, 1996
PLOT: A series of vignettes takes us on a day-in-the-life tour around Springfield.
This is one of the very first anthology episodes the The Simpsons ever tried, outside of the Treehouse of Horror episodes and it is one of the best. What is great about this episode is that it is a shining moment in a lot of the familiar characters’ stories. We get to see a moment in their lives that we usually don’t get to see. Finally, we get to see it from their side, rather than from the Simpsons’ perspective.
I like the idea of the non-traditional story structure. As the show has gotten a bit more stale, the structure and formula of an individual episode has become pretty evident. In these sort of episodes, it helps to shake it up a bit and can really come off as refreshing.
There are some great storylines here and my favorite happens to be the Skinner story. I just love it for this exchange:
Skinner: Oh Superintendent, I was just, er, stretching my calves of the windowsill, isometric exercise. Care to join me?
Chalmers: Er, right. Seymour why is there smoke coming out of your oven?
Skinner: Oh no! That isn’t smoke, that’s steam. Steam from the steamed clams we’re having. Mmmm steam clams.
[Skinner runs across to Krusty Burger to buy burgers to replace his burnt roast. He enters the dining room with them.]
Skinner: Well Superintendent I hope you’re ready for mouthwatering hamburgers!
Chalmers: I thought you said we were having ‘steamed clams’?
Skinner: Oh no, I said ‘steamed hams’. That’s what I call hamburgers.
Chalmers: You call hamburgers steamed hams?
Skinner: Yes. It’s a, regional dialect.
Chalmers: Oh yeah? What region?
Skinner: Er, upstate New York.
Chalmers: Really. Well I’m from Utica and I’ve never heard the phrase ‘steamed hams’ before.
Skinner: Oh no, not in Utica it’s an, Albany expression.
Chalmers: I see. You know these hamburgers are quite similar to the ones they have at Krusty Burger?
Skinner: Haha, oh no, patented Skinner burgers. Old family recipe.
Chalmers: For steamed hams?
Chalmers: Yes and you call them steamed hams, despite the fact that are obviously grilled.
Skinner: Uh you know… One thing I should… excuse me for one second.
Chalmers: Of course.
[Skinner enters and leaves the kitchen swiftly upon seeing it is now on fire]
Skinner: Well, that was wonderful. A good time was had by all. I’m pooped.
Chalmers: Yes, I should be, 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?
Skinner: Er, no.
Agnes: Seymour, the house is on fire!
Skinner: No, Mother, it’s just the Northern Lights.
I also love the Wiggum storyline as it is basically one long Pulp Fiction reference.
#3: Homer at the Bat
Original Air Date: February 20, 1992
PLOT: Homer excels on the company softball team, but when Mr. Burns makes a wager with the owner of a rival plant, he enlists the help of professional ballplayers in order to win.
In terms of guest appearances, this is the crowning achievement in the show’s history. The ability to get all of these players to record over a span of 6 months is amazing and a testament to how popular the show had become by 1992. This did not go unappreciated, as this episode marked the first time that the Simpsons had trumped a brand new episode of The Cosby Show in the ratings battle. Oh yeah, it also beat the Olympics.
I love this episode because of my love of baseball and in 1992, there was nothing I loved more. At seven, baseball was my life and the only thing that might have rivaled it was The Simpsons. This was basically combining peanut butter with chocolate to me. I also must mention that at this age, my idol was Don Mattingly; I even let my hair grow out so I could imitate him. If only I could’ve grown a ‘stache.
Looking past the personal reason, this episode is just flat out hilarious, the best part being the unfortunate fates that befall each All-star except Darryl Strawberry, who has probably the best part of the show, as the kiss-ass of the group. My favorite mishap is definitely Wade Boggs, who gets punched out by Barney while arguing over who was England’s best prime minister. Ridiculousness only the Simpsons can provide, but he deserves it for suggesting Pitt the Elder.
If you’re a Simpsons geek like me, listen to the DVD Commentary on this one. It is truly a nice treat to hear the writers and show runners discuss the process of putting together the episode. It’s interesting to hear who was completely game (Roger Clemens doing his own chicken noises), who was the biggest perfectionist (Ken Griffey Jr.), and who was a complete dick (Jose Canseco). I recommend all the commentaries, and the staff does one for nearly every episode, but this is one that I can’t help but recommend. It’s brilliant people talking about one of the finest piece of works they’ve ever put together.
#2: Cape Feare
Original Air Date: October 7, 1993
PLOT: Sideshow Bob is paroled and promptly seeks his revenge on Bart, prompting the family to go into the Witness Relocation Program.
This is as perfect an episode as you will find. A nice, taut plot, a recurring character at his best and some of the funniest gags the show has ever featured. That’s what this episode has to offer. From beginning to end, it is flawless in execution.
First of all: Sideshow Bob. In the history of television, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better villain and this is, without a doubt, his best episode. Kelsey Grammar is terrifying and hilarious always, but the combination of this character and a pitch-perfect homage to Cape Fear puts this running theme over the top. It is a match made in heaven and the writers do not disappoint in the execution.
In terms of plot, this is probably the best written episode. Obviously, they were following a template, but without a doubt, the plot shines here the most.
I love how this episode is equal parts thriller and comedic masterpiece. Its a perfect parody with some of the most hilarious moments in the show’s history. I don’t know what I find more hilarious: the Mr. Thompson scene or Sideshow Bob’s scene with all the rakes. Two classic moments that any Simpson fan should remember. Also lesser recognized moments like Bob strapped to the bottom of the car or the classic “Bake him away, toys.” contribution from Chief Wiggum are so hilarious that this review would not do the episode justice if I didn’t mention them.
#1: Bart Sells His Soul
Original Air Date: October 8, 1995
PLOT: To prove a point, Bart sells his soul to Milhouse, then spends the night trying to get it back.
I wouldn’t say that this episode being #1 is a controversial pick, but it doesn’t seem to make a lot of lists when dealing with the best Simpsons’ Episodes. The best I could find online is a #11 placing in a list made by WhatCulture! Matt Groening himself, however, counts this as his very favorite episode and it is mine as well.
Depth. That’s what this episode offers. If you look back at my selections, you’ll see that I hold dearly those episodes that bear a little more substance than the average Simpson episode, and to me, this one ranks above all the others. In this episode, the creative team decided to raise the existential question of what exactly a soul is and shows the great lengths Bart is willing to do to get it back; even though he doesn’t really understand what it is either. That is what makes this episode so special.
Bart is an innocent child. Not innocent in a legal standpoint; he’s as bratty as they come. Here, though, he is a scared 10-year-old boy looking to undo what he has done. It’s an emotional turn we rarely get to see out of Bart, which makes his last chance plea to God all the more heartbreaking.
This isn’t an overwrought sobfest, though. There are some truly classic comedic moments in this episode. The cold open – Bart changing the weekly hymn with “In a Gadda da Vida” – is one of the best in the history. Moe’s b-story about turning his bar into a casual dining restaurant also has some great moments. (Owww. My freakin’ ears!) But without a doubt, my favorite comedic moment of this episode happens when Bart finds Milhouse at his Grandma’s house.
Milhouse: I’m really sorry… I kind of traded your soul to the guy at the comic book store. But look! I got some cool pogs:
Milhouse: Alf pogs! Remember Alf? He’s back… in pog form!
It’s just so ridiculous it still makes me laugh to this day.