See here for positions 20 -11
10. Lisa the Iconoclast (7×16)
Ahh Lisa. If not my favourite character, then the one I relate to the most. She’s the main focal point for some of my favourite episodes of The Simpsons, including my very favourite. This is because the show always treats her efforts, passions and insecurities seriously, even if they start to bore or annoy other characters in her family and in Springfield at large. She’s also the focal point for many of my least favourite episodes because her earnestness can sometimes start to bore the audience as much as it does those around her.
That quality of Lisa is not necessarily why this episode is on this list. I enjoy this episode for its myth building qualities in relation to Springfield, exploring further what’s only been referenced obliquely or passed off as a gag in the past and providing a definitive narrative of the town’s history. The episode also builds a nice little mystery while allowing for a cute Homer-Lisa episode to emerge. But this episode is deathly dull in parts. All the scenes that take place in the realistically unexciting historical museum with Donald Sutherland’s character (not a man known for his fast-talking quips) slow to a halt and are a bore to watch. The less-than-engaging narrative makes Lisa’s decision on whether to expose the town or let them wallow in their own crapulence (a perfectly cromulent word) fall dramatically flat.
9. Saturdays of Thunder (3×09)
This is really just a poor man’s version of Season 2’s Dead Putting Society that doesn’t really earn the pathos it tries to achieve in the episode’s closing moments. Free from any subplots, this episode struggles to create 22 minutes of incidence and what incidence there is contains very few laughs. Watch Boyscoutz n’ The Hood instead.
8. Burns, Baby Burns (8×04)
An episode where Rodney Dangerfield shows up as Mr. Burn’s son. There’s something we’ve all been waiting for.*
There are 2 things that jump out at me from this episode and they both occur before Larry Burns shows up.
1) ‘If it’s clear and yella, you got juice there fella. If it’s tangy and brown, you’re in cider town’
2) ‘That’s what I said, foilage. It doesn’t take a nucular scientist to pronounce ‘foilage’.
*Statement may contain traces of sarcasm
7. Hurricane Neddy (8×08)
This episode really feels like it’s from the Mike Scully era of silliness and bizarre characterisation. This is the worst example of the ‘bringing new dimensions to minor characters’ ethos that Oakley and Weinstein were so fond of in their time as show-runners.
The issue is that they stretch Ned’s character way too far and provide him with a backstory that plays more like an extended joke than a serious deepening of his character. The show could have done a great ‘Flanders has a breakdown’ episode, the Ned equivalent of Season 3’s ‘Homer Alone’, but to imply that Ned developed his verbal tics as a child as a way of repressing his anger is simply stripping away the inherent satire of the Flanders character for a gag. Of course Flanders is repressed and of course he uses overly optimistic and fun phrasing to create a mask of happiness. Attributing this to childhood rage issues and centring an entire episode around it takes all the fun out of his character.
6. A Fish Called Selma (7×19)
First things first (oh dear, Iggy Azeala has ruined that phrase for me) let me say that the ‘Planet of the Apes‘ Musical is one of the most inspired things The Simpsons has done. The words ‘I hate every Ape I see, from chimpan A to chimpanzee’ will be seared into my brain long after old age takes my wits and memories of loved ones. So will the image of monkeys breakdancing while ‘Dr Zaius, Dr. Zaius’ is chanted in the background accompanied by 80’s synths.
As for the rest of the episode, it’s in the same vain as ‘Selma’s Choice’ and ‘Principal Charming’. It’s great that a popular primetime family comedy is willing to focus on a love-lorn middle-aged woman and take her desire for a loving relationship seriously. This is a dramatically potent episode that treats Selma’s interests with integrity and a surprising amount of realism. She’s willing to settle for a sham marriage but she couldn’t handle the idea of bringing a child into a loveless marriage; it’s a touching moment. One could easily argue that episodes like these are superior to the wackier, gaggier season 4-6 episodes like ‘Brother from the Same Planet’, ‘The Front’, ‘Homer’s Barbershop Quartet’ and ‘A Star Is Burns’ and I wouldn’t argue with you. But when I’m going through my DVDs, I’m much more likely to skip the sincere but slower episodes like this than I am the sillier episodes, because I feel I’m getting more bang for my buck with those. They’re fast paced, have more jokes per minute and are more likely to spread their time across 2 or 3 plots, offering a greater diversity of characters, situation and humour.
5. Lisa Vs. Malibu Stacey (5×14)
Sometimes I feel like I’m punishing episodes for being too small and not wacky enough, but that’s not the case. In fact, the crazier moments in this episode like Stacey and her G.I. Joe ex-boyfriend come off as too silly and broad and grate with the modest scale of the episode.
My main issue as always is that an 8 year old trying to produce a doll that is aspirational for the young girls who play with them is just not very fun. The episode works best when it’s exposing the hypocrisies and the ravenousness of consumerism, especially when it comes to marketing aimed at young children, a topic that is still highly topical.
4. Lady Bouvier’s Lover (5×21)
As with ‘A Fish Called Selma’, it’s great to see a show that is mostly targeted at a younger audience, take its elderly characters seriously. But also like that episode and ‘Burns Baby Burns’ (another episode which deals with elderly characters with more-or-less dramatic realism), it’s not all that fun to watch.
3. The Twisted World of Marge Simpson (8×11)
The most entertaining Marge-centric episodes are the one’s where she is swept up in something crazy and impulsive despite her good natured passivity which instinctually tried to stop her from doing crazy, impulsive or dangerous things. Episodes like ‘Marge on the Lam’ and ‘The Springfield Connection’ show her tapping into the darker, more impulsive corners of her psyche only to then realise she’s not cut out for that world. ‘In Marge We Trust’ shows that her blasé attitude towards Ned’s worries leads to him almost being eaten alive by monkeys. These episodes are successful because they either throw Marge into situations which bring out a different side of her or because they use her recognisable traits of kindness and helpfulness and show the potential flaws of maintaining that sort of open-hearted personality and how quickly it can be corrupted.
You know what this episode has? Marge making fucking pretzels. *drops mic. leaves room*
2. When Flanders Failed (3×03)
This episode probably has some of the most egregious post-season 1 animation goofs with wonky off-character designs and ugly framing. But it certainly doesn’t help that the visuals are accompanying one of the most sincere, unfunny episodes of the series. Sincerity is certainly not the enemy of comedy. In fact the sincerity of Flanders’ character is his funniest asset far beyond the religious zealotry that has come to define this character. His character amuses because he is a unicorn of warm spirits and good intentions in a world of arseholes like Homer. Similar to Marge, Ned’s pairing with Homer works best when it brings out something primal and repressed in Ned (but think Homer Loves Flanders not Hurricane Neddy) even if it’s subtle like ordering a white wine spritzer in Viva Ned Flanders (that was a pretty poor episode too but Ned wasn’t the issue). In episodes like this where Homer has to become a nice guy and help Flanders out, it lacks the edge and the satire that Flanders embodies.
1. Scenes From the Class Struggle In Springfield (7×14)
I was tossing up between this episode and ‘The Twisted World of Marge Simpson’ for the top spot on this list, but at least that episode ended with a crazy mafia/yakuza showdown.
I’m not a Marge hater in the slightest but she works best as a sitcom parody of the well-intentioned mother being slowly crushed by the selfishness of her husband and children and to paraphrase Marge ‘taking her abuse with good humour’. Marge trying to impress the Springfield Elite by maintaining an impeccable jacket has no teeth and (I know I’m repeating myself) mines the situation for little humour. This is an example of a short scene that uses marge well from Season 8’s ‘A Milhouse Divided’. Marge decides to have a conversation with herself and decides that even her imaginary conversation partner has no interest in hearing about her day. The topper of the scene is Homer yelling out to shut up the conversation because he’s trying watch TV, but without even paying enough attention to realise Marge is talking to herself and not someone else. This scene shows Marge a defeated woman and then piles more humiliation on top of her.
The drama and stakes of this episode are too low-key to add any new shades to Marge’s character, leaving a limp, rather dull episode in its wake – another by Jennifer Crittenden who also wrote ‘The Twisted World of Marge Simpsons’. But let’s be fair, even the poorest episode of The Simpson’s classic era is better than most of the crap you see on TV, so I’m not saying this is a bad episode of television, merely the worst of a fantastic bunch.