15. Duffless (season 4)
Plot: After visiting the Duff Brewery, Homer is arrested for DUI. He loses his driver's license, and Marge challenges him to give up beer for a month. In the subplot, Lisa conducts an experiment for a school project: "Is my brother dumber than a hamster?"
Why do I love it?: It contains many great sight gags. For example, when the quality control guy at the Duff Brewery is distracted and we see Hitler's head (among other things) inside bottles of Duff, going past on the conveyor belt. This is also the episode where Hans Moleman admits he is 31 years old during an AA meeting. Another great thing about this episode is Homer's When I Was Seventeen song. You know, the one where he drank some very good beer that he purchased with a fake ID. I also think the subplot of this episode is rather strong, and if you examine the picture above, you'll notice an homage to A Clockwork Orange. But the thing I love most about this episode is the ending. Homer turns down a beer at Moe's to go bike-riding with Marge. The sun is setting and they sing Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head, which plays into the end credits. Just perfect.
14. Itchy & Scratchy Land (season 6)
Plot: The Simpsons head to Itchy & Scratchy Land, and things turn disastrous when the robots malfunction and turn on the tourists.
Why do I love it?: As with other theme park/carnival episodes like Selma's Choice and Bart Carny, the writers create all sorts of absurd comic situations that could not have worked in other locales. A personal favourite is the BORT license plate scene. Maggie getting trapped in the ball pit is another favourite sequence of mine, as is the hilarious log ride scene. It's just hilarious how unprofessional and inept everyone at the park is. It's one of those episodes where everything that could possibly go wrong, goes wrong.
13. Homer's Enemy (season 8)
Plot: The Springfield Nuclear Power Plant hires Frank Grimes as a new employee. Homer is friendly towards Grimes, but Grimes grows frustrated with the fact that Homer is lazy and nonchalant, yet lives a more comfortable life than he does. In the subplot, Bart buys a dilapidated factory for a dollar at an auction.
Why do I love it?: First of all, this is one of the darkest episodes of the show that has ever been produced. Personally, I empathise with Frank Grimes: a man who has brains, but due to circumstances that have befallen him, has not progressed far in life. I almost feel like punching Homer in the face when I watch this episode. As funny as he is, his daftness almost peaks in this episode, and he is rather frustrating to watch at times. The subplot doesn't get a lot of screen time, but it's still one of my favourites. I especially love when Milhouse uses the coffee machine and it dispenses a rat.
12. The PTA Disbands (season 6)
Plot: When Ms Krabappel calls a teacher's strike at Springfield Elementary, the students react in different ways. Lisa forgets what it feels like to be graded, and Bart gets up to all sorts of mischief. Meanwhile, the Springfield townsfolk is called upon to fill in as substitute teachers.
Why do I love it?: This is a sorely under-appreciated episode, which is weird because it's shown quite frequently on television. It's one of those episodes where there seems to be a joke in absolutely every scene. A lot of small gags culminate to form one solid, memorable episode. The antagonism between Krabappel and Skinner is priceless, but there are several small jokes that I love. "Purple monkey dishwasher", Lunchlady Doris mincing gym mats, and the way the different teachers flee the school when the strike is called. I especially love Lisa in this episode. When she's at home and plays the tape of Ms Hoover saying "Sit up straight. Eyes forward. No talking. Is that gum? Is that gum? Is that gum?" THAT'S a clever scene, just like when she freaks out because she's "losing [her] perspicacity." And who can forget when Jasper lectures the class "That's a paddlin'"? Or, as the picture above shows, when he gets his beard caught in the pencil sharpener?
11. Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy (season 5)
Plot: Lisa grows tired of how sexist the Malibu Stacy doll is, and with the help of the original creator of Malibu Stacy, creates the doll Lisa Lionheart to inspire young girls. In the subplot, Abe Simpson gets a job at Krusty Burger.
Why do I love it?: Again, here's an episode that never gets the wraps it deserves. Maybe some people think it's too politically-loaded, or maybe a lot of people just don't like Lisa-centric episodes. All I know is that it cracks me up every time I watch it. Like The PTA Disbands, it's strengthened by several small gags that remind us why we love the show. An example of what I'm talking about is when the gates to Stacy Lavelle's mansion open up, and some random guy runs into the frame and proclaims "All right! I've been waiting nine years to get my frisbee back!" He retrieves it, and within seconds, throws it back over again. Another great scene is when Lisa needs to use Smithers' computer. She turns it on, and a bitmapped Mr Burns appears: "Hello, Smithers. You're quite good at turning me on." A very underrated gag is when Krusty speedily records the lines for his talking doll before the technician can even turn around to face him. And what about the executives at Malibu Stacy who care more about ordering Chinese food than they do about combating Lisa's doll? Abe Simpson has some killer lines in the subplot. I really enjoy when he quits Krusty Burger and tells his boss "I never once washed my hands!" I also love when he says: "Why are you people avoiding me? Does my withered face remind you of the grim spectre of Death?"
10. Homer the Great (season 6)
Plot: Homer joins an ancient secret society known as the Stonecutters. Just as he is about to be banished from the Stonecutters, it is discovered that Homer is "The Chosen One", and he is subsequently worshipped by the other members.
Why do I love it?: This is a favourite among many fans of the show, and it's easy to see why. The structure and pacing of this episode is perfect. It's also one of the more atmospheric episodes of the series. It's hard to forget the song We Do, which was nominated for a Primetime Emmy. And how funny is it that the Stone of Triumph is larger than the Stone of Shame? I think this episode works so well because it has no subplot, which allows the viewer to fully invest in one story arc. My favourite gag in this episode would have to be the whole 'No Homers Club' scenario. When Homer Glumplich sticks his head out the window and laughs at Homer Simpson (twice)...that gets me every time.
9. Bart Sells His Soul (season 7)
Plot: Bart declares that there is no such thing as a soul, and to prove it, he sells it to Milhouse for $5, in the form of a piece of paper that has 'Bart Simpson's soul' written on it. After this transaction, strange things begin happening to Bart. In the subplot, Moe renovates his tavern, turning it into a family restaurant called 'Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag'.
Why do I love it?: This is yet another dark episode of The Simpsons, perhaps a candidate for the darkest episode of the show. There are two moments in this episode that are particularly haunting. The first is when Bart has a nightmare that the children of Springfield are on a beach, accompanied by their souls. Each kid gets into a rowboat with their soul, leaving Bart stranded by himself on the shore. The other moment is when Ralph is alone in his father's squad car, and Bart approaches him with the proposition "I need a soul, Ralph. Any soul! Yours!" Ralph is petrified and breaks down in tears. Thankfully some excellent comic relief is supplied by the subplot, which is one of my all-time favourites. Todd Flanders' proclamation "Ow! My freaking ears!" is one of my favourite Simpsons quotes, period. And what about when Rod orders the million dollar birthday fries? P.S. I can do a great impression of Moe saying "Please take the fries off my head, kid. The basket is extremely hot!"
8. Lisa the Vegetarian (season 7)
Plot: After bonding with a lamb at a petting zoo, Lisa decides to become a vegetarian. As a result, she is ridiculed by her schoolmates and family members.
Why do I love it?: The great thing about this episode is that you don't have to be a vegetarian to empathise with Lisa. When she steals the roast pig at Homer's barbecue, you want her to dispose of it because everyone around her has been giving her a hard time. This episode features arguably the funniest Troy McClure video, which is essentially a propaganda film produced by the Meat Council. Other memorable moments include the "You don't win friends with salad!" conga line, and Mr Burns promising to donate a million dollars to the local orphanage..."when pigs fly." And which writer's idea was it to make a boot an ingredient of a hot dog? Absolute genius. The episode changes its tone in the final five minutes, when Lisa meets with Paul and Linda McCartney on the roof of the Kwik-E-Mart, and in a very cute gesture, Homer gives Lisa a 'veggieback' ride home.
7. Team Homer (season 7)
Plot: Homer starts a bowling team with Moe, Apu and Otto. When Mr. Burns discovers the team was funded with his money, he insists on joining. In the subplot, Springfield Elementary adopts a uniform dress code after Bart wears a shirt that says 'Down with homework', which incites a riot.
Why do I love it?: Oh boy, this episode is PACKED with great jokes. I love that Otto chooses the lobster harmonica over the Harvard diploma in the claw machine. I love the fact that there's a Harvard diploma in there to begin with! How delicious is the irony when Moe whacks Mr Burns in the leg with a cane, hoping to injure him, but instead popping his dislocated knee back into place? It's really easy to relate to the Pin Pals in this episode. Mr Burns is so irritating in this episode—an unrelenting pest. We've all been in a situation where we've had no choice but to team with someone less capable than us. It sucks, and this episode really captures the frustration involved in such an instance. The subplot is a classic, peaking during the scene where the kids play a game of tag (or 'tip', as it's called in Australia) with no enthusiasm whatsoever. Todd Flanders tags Lisa and says "You're 'it'." Lisa tags Milhouse and tells him "Now you are the one who is 'it'." Milhouse mournfully accepts this: "Understood."
6. Bart Gets Famous (season 5)
Plot: Bart gets a job as Krusty's personal assistant, and becomes an accidental star when he utters the words "I didn't do it" during a failed sketch.
Why do I love it?: The episode begins with the kids of Springfield Elementary on a field trip at a box factory, and the tour guide is hilarious. One of my favourite quotes in this episode is from Lisa, and it isn't even a joke: "If I ever become famous, I want it to be for something worthwhile, not because of some obnoxious fad." Bart replies: "Obnoxious fad?", and the look on his face is priceless. And how funny is it when Bart actually WANTS to learn in class, but his classmates and Ms Krabappel just stand around him, demanding him to say the line? For me, the funniest scene is when Bart performs on Krusty's show for one last time, and no one in the audience finds his act funny. He walks out and says the line "I didn't do it." One woman gives a slight chuckle, and another man clears his through. He repeats the line, only to be met with chirping crickets. Desperate, he tries the line "Woozle wuzzle?" The crowd is bewildered and leaves. Afterwards, Krusty tells Bart that he is "finished," and says "That's show business for you: one day you're the most important guy that ever lived; the next day you're some shmoe working in a box factory." The box factory guide from the beginning puts his head out the window and says "I heard that." That whole sequence is in turns hilarious and poignant. But what most people remember this episode for is the ending, when various characters deliver their catchphrases. Lisa doesn't really have a catchphrase, so she settles on: "If anyone wants me, I'll be in my room."
5. And Maggie Makes Three (season 6)
Plot: Lisa notices that there are no photos of Maggie in the family photo albums, which leads to a recount of Maggie's birth.
Why do I love it?: To me, this is the most touching episode of the entire series, and I'm usually not the type to get sentimental about babies. I love how, in the flashback scenes, Homer is oblivious that Marge is pregnant, even when Moe TELLS HIM TO HIS FACE "Hey, Homer! Way to get Marge pregnant." Then Homer barges in on the baby shower, and Marge's pregnancy doesn't sink in until Maude Flanders congratulates him on his new job at a bowling alley. Homer's farewell from the bowling alley is moving, and you really feel for him when acid rain decimates his going-away jacket. He then heads to the power plant to get his old job back, and Burns tells him without any remorse, "Don't forget: you're here forever!" A demotivational plaque with this exact sentence is screwed to the wall in Homer's sector. This allows for the episode's most memorable moment: the ending. It turns out there are no photos of Maggie in the family albums because Homer keeps them where he needs the most cheering up. Cue the demotivational plaque, transformed into a motivational plaque that reads "DO IT FOR HER." Absolutely perfect.
4. Summer of 4 Ft. 2 (season 7)
Plot: The Simpson family heads to Ned Flanders' beach house for a vacation, where Lisa makes some friends, which incites jealousy in Bart.
Why do I love it?: This episode means a lot to me. Like Lisa, I do not have a whole lot of friends. You know, REAL friends that you hang out with and stuff. So I see a lot of myself in her. This episode has some good gags, but it's not the humour that makes this episode a winner. It's the pathos and the atmosphere. Flanders' beach house is located in the fictitious Little Pwagmattasquarmsettport, and the animators have captured this location beautifully, so that it has a personality of its own. I think Milhouse is a crucial part of this episode. He is constantly the fall guy, and you can't help but feel sorry for him. Back to Lisa's storyline...I can totally relate to when she has to scan a compliment for sarcasm, and I have since quoted "scanning for sarcasm" in conversation. Christina Ricci supplies the voice of Erin, and her delivery is really sweet and comforting. Trivia: Ricci recorded her lines over the phone, rather than going into the studio. As vindictive as Bart is in this episode, I can understand things from his perspective, too. There are just so many emotions connected to this episode, that no one is intrinsically 'good' or 'bad'. Rather fittingly, this episode served as the season 7 finale.
3. Bart on the Road (season 7)
Plot: Bart creates his own fake driver's license. He rents a car and takes Martin, Milhouse and Nelson on a road trip to Knoxville, Tennessee. In the subplot, Lisa spends a day with Homer at the power plant.
Why do I love it?: You probably weren't expecting this to make my top 15, let alone my top 3, but it's just so damn likeable. It works because of the odd quartet of Bart, Nelson, Milhouse and Martin. With the exception of Bart and Milhouse, you generally wouldn't see these characters hanging out together. Thanks to this episode, we discover that Nelson is fan of Andy Williams' music. Who'd have thought? It's funny that Bart nonchalantly picks up a hitchhiker, even stopping for ice cream when he requests it. Hilariously, Martin spends their last ten dollars on an Al Gore doll that says "You are hearing me talk" when you pull its string. The subplot is very cute and funny, and is memorable for Homer's line: "Purple is a fruit." Even if this episode is unrealistic, the main plot ties in with the subplot very nicely to make for a solid 22 minutes of entertainment.
2. Lemon of Troy (season 6)
Plot: The children of Springfield wage war on Shelbyville after their beloved lemon tree is stolen from them by Shelbyville children.
Why do I love it?: It's a classic "us vs them" storyline. How can I NOT love it? The writers cleverly make several similarities between Springfield and Shelbyville, and I especially love how there's a kid called Milhouse in Shelbyville, who, like the Springfield Milhouse, has blue hair. The episode is well-paced and builds up to a nice climax. It also feels as though there's something at stake for the viewer. Like the kids of Springfield, we want the lemon tree returned to its rightful place. I think the episode works so well because writer Brent Forrester understands how kids think and behave, and it is ultimately the kids, from both towns, that give the episode its character.
1. 22 Short Films About Springfield (season 7)
Plot: There isn't really a 'plot', per se. Rather, this is a look inside the lives of various characters on an average day in Springfield.
Why do I love it?: This is an episode I wish I could watch for the first time, every time. Alas, every time I watch it, it's still very fun. My five favourite segments in this episode would be:
* Principal Skinner having Superintendent Chalmers for lunch, serving him Krusty burgers and passing them off as 'steamed hams'. I'm calling this one of the funniest scenes in Simpsons history.
* Milhouse going to Android's Dungeon to use the bathroom. Comic Book Guy doesn't let him use it without first making a purchase. I love how Milhouse has to buy the cheapest comic book in the store, which is a used 'Hamburglar Adventure' magazine. The poor kid doesn't even get to use the bathroom because Kirk comes and retrieves him. He tries Herman's Military Antiques instead, where a Pulp Fiction scenario is playing out with Chief Wiggum, Snake and his own father.
* The cops comparing a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with cheese and a Krusty Burger with cheese.
* The Very Tall Man teaching Nelson a lesson.
* Any scene involving an attempt to remove the gum from Lisa's hair.
There are many other great sequences, and the only segments that bore me are Apu's and the Bumblebee Man's (the latter is not significant enough to warrant his own segment). The segments connect in imaginative ways, so the episode never feels clunky or forced. Bart sums up the episode with the line "Everybody in town's got their story to tell. There's just not enough time to hear them all." We then see Professor Frink frantically trying to get some screen time, but the credits have already begun rolling.