Bart’s Comet, A Streetcar Named Marge, Last Exit to Springfield, Rosebud, Cape Feare. What will be in my top 5?
5. Who Shot Mr Burns Part 1 & 2 (Season 6, Episode 25 & Season 7, Episode 1)
“Burns was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was then transferred to a better hospital where doctors upgraded his condition to ‘alive’,”
I know it’s a bit of a cheat, putting two episodes in the same space, but hey, let’s be realistic here. When an oil well is discovered below Springfield Elementary, Mr Burns pirates the oil and builds a giant machine to block out the sun. The town goes into an uproar, with many swearing revenge. Mr Burns is subsequently shot by an unseen assailant.
The episode was famously a competition for the viewers to solve between seasons. The producers of the show went to incredible lengths to keep the culprit’s identity a secret. Even the director was kept in the dark, and only one animator knew. Thankfully this was before the days of the internet.
Aside from the fact that there’s a ton of great jokes and character moments, this is a genuinely good mystery. It’s well paced, nicely developed, there’s a great deal of suspense, and the mystery is actually solvable. There’s a ton of very clever clues peppered throughout Part One. It’s actually a lot of fun to go back and watch the episode to see the hints and red herrings.
But even if you know who shot Mr Burns (and come on, we all do!), it’s still an excellent episode which remains one of a kind. To date, this is the only two part episode The Simpsons has ever produced.
4. Hurricane Neddy (Season 8, Episode 8)
“Well my family and I can’t live in ‘good intentions’, Marge! Oh, your family’s out of control, but we can’t blame you because you have GOOD INTENTIONS!”
Hurricane Barbara sweeps through Springfield, but only the Flanders’ house is destroyed. The townspeople rebuild the house in the most inept fashion imaginable, and Ned Flanders finally cracks. His resulting breakdown causes him to commit himself into a mental institution, and it’s up to his childhood therapist to find the root of Ned’s trauma.
This was actually the very first episode of The Simpsons I ever watched, aged 6. I didn’t get three quarters of what was going on and I was genuinely worried that Lisa was going to be in a pie.
It might have been my age, but Ned Flanders and his outburst was completely lost on me. Of course, as I grew older, I realised what a truly inspired episode this is. My older brother used to say “Be a Christian, but don’t be Ned Flanders,”
The comedic value of Ned Flanders is his nauseating optimism, and his unshakeable faith in God. He’s the perfect neighbour, and Homer hates him for precisely no reason.
This is the episode where we finally see Ned become a three dimensional character. Sure, they’ve had a couple of other episodes where he shows an emotion other than optimism (When Flanders Failed, Dead Putting Society), but here is the first time he actually loses his temper. It’s hilarious to see Ned finally put the town in their place, and the flashbacks to his childhood are always a riot. Not only was it a milestone from a character point of view, it was the episode which sparked the fire in me, however insignificant it seemed to me at the time. But it’s a fire that rages inferno to this day.
Confession: Reciting Ned’s massive rant is currently my favourite party trick.
3. Marge vs. the Monorail (Season 4, Episode 12)
This episode needs no introduction. Mr Burns is fined $3 million for illegally dumping nuclear waste in the park. A smooth talking con-man (Lyle Lanley) convinces Springfield to build a monorail, and Homer becomes the conductor. However, Lanley embezzles the money and creates a faulty monorail, putting everyone on board in danger.
Marge vs. the Monorail is the quintessential example of everything that makes The Simpsons great. Tons of jokes that hit bullseyes, a hilarious set up, parodies and pop culture references that actually work in the world of the story, and a perfect celebrity cameo from Leonard Nimoy.
I don’t need to say anything else about this episode. You all know the song, you all know the jokes, you can all quote these lines. It’s just brilliant from beginning to end.
2. Lisa’s Substitute (Season 2, Episode 19)
“Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand”
Lisa’s Substitute is usually touted as the most touching episode, the most dramatic episode, the most heartfelt. And….yeah. It really is.
Miss Hoover is replaced by substitute teacher Mr Bergstrom while she recovers from Lyme disease. Mr Bergstrom nurtures Lisa’s intelligence and vivacity and she develops a crush on him.
Lisa is probably the most three dimensional character in the series. Creator Matt Groening has said Lisa is his favourite character as she is the “only one with a hope of escaping Springfield”. But that’s a discussion for another blog.
I identify with Lisa a lot in this episode. She feels isolated from people because she’s different. Her brain and creativity separates her from everyone. Mr Bergstrom teaches her that her uniqueness is something to be embraced, not hidden. He recognises her frustration with Homer. He encourages her. And when he leaves, it’s genuinely tragic.
We’ve all lost important people in a variety of ways, and seeing this episode can bring it all flooding back. Mr Bergstrom has to go, and he doesn’t ever reappear in the show. And you know what? That’s life. That’s how it works. People can appear in your life for only a season.
Homer of course has a beautiful scene with Lisa where he finally shows the kindness in his heart. But Marge has one of her finest parenting moments in this episode too, and it’s always overlooked. I would like to call attention to Marge’s brilliant line right here and right now.
“Homer, you’re not allowed to have hurt feelings right now! There’s a little girl upstairs who needs you. Her confidence in her father is shaken and no little girl can be happy unless she has faith in her daddy,”
Bravo Marge. Bravo. This is a mothering lesson to behold. She recognises Lisa’s need is far greater than Homer’s, and she refuses to let him wallow in self pity or elicit sympathy from her. She makes him step up and be a man.
Yes, Homer ideally should do this himself but that’s not the point. The point is that Marge sides with her daughter over her husband, and basically forces him to take responsibility. Go Marge.
With Lisa’s Substitute, The Simpsons showed us why we love the show. They have this ability to splice crazy scenarios which could only exist in the world of animation with dramatic touching life lessons. This episode will always have a very special place in my heart, and the hearts of fellow fans.
The time has come to unveil my number one favourite episode. But first, the runners up.
Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy
Bart vs. Australia
The PTA Disbands
- THE CITY OF NEW YORK VS HOMER SIMPSON (Season 9, Episode 1)
“I’m getting out of this town alive if it kills me!”
Barney is designated driver one wild night at Moe’s and afterwards disappears for two months with Homer’s beloved car. Homer discovers the car is illegally parked in New York, between the Twin Towers. Having had a bad experience years ago in New York, Homer reluctantly travels with the family to retrieve the family sedan. Marge and the kids have a magical experience in the big city, but Homer has the worst day of his life.
To be honest, I wasn’t aware of this episode for a long time. The episode was immediately pulled from syndication following the 9/11 attacks, and only appears on TV with several jokes permanently edited out.
All that aside, this is the episode which kills me. Homer stuck in New York doesn’t sound like a particularly funny concept, but believe me, it is. The simplicity of the setting allows for a number of hilarious scenarios pulled directly from real life. Homer is trapped with a car that he can’t drive anywhere. Having had my first flat tyre experience this year, I can now join the club of the Stranded Motorists. Homer has to wait for a government official. Again, we’ve all had to wait for someone to turn up who was taking their sweet time. And finally, he becomes increasingly desperate for the bathroom.
Raise your hand if you HAVEN’T been in that situation.
*looks around, crickets chirp* I didn’t think so.
The best kind of comedy comes from misery, and is based in truth. We have ALL been where Homer is in this episode. The pain of those memories allows us to laugh along with him and share his agony. Interweave Homer’s terrible situation with the rest of the family having the time of their lives, and you have an episode which is side-splitting. The way Homer gets the boot off his car absolutely kills me every time. No other Simpsons episode makes me laugh like this. And the really amazing thing is that it was the opening to season 9. What a way to open!
The City of New York vs Homer Simpson is just as hilarious now as it was the first time I watched it all those years ago. And that alone is enough to make it my number one episode.
Didn’t see your favourite episode here? Wondering why I didn’t talk about the Halloween specials? Well, stay tuned. 2016 will be kicking off with the Top Ten Touching Simpsons Moments.
Next week: Best and Worst Disney Princesses!