Friday, October 18, 2013

The Simpsons Challenge, part five

This is the final installment of a five-part series listing my favorite 25 "Simpsons" episodes in chronological order.  Click here to start at the beginning of the list.

"Lisa the Iconoclast"
Category: Social commentary
Back when Jebediah Springfield was little more than a statue for Bart to saw the head off of, who would have guessed the amount of world-building "The Simpsons" would get out of him? Part of why I love this episode is that it taps into my own teenaged indignation at realizing the history taught in school was essentially a lie. But I also love that the show takes a challenging thematic turn and sides with the "print the legend" philosophy, with Lisa coming around to the fact that there's value in the fictions we tell ourselves.

"Summer of 4 Ft 2"
Category: Kids being kids
I'm a sucker for a good summertime story, and this episode has it in spades. Lisa's attempt to become a different person may be similar to her "Bart of Darkness" storyline; but whereas she sought popularity there, she's looking for nothing more than simply to have a friend here. Bart's strategy to turn Lisa's new friends against her is so devastating because it's so real, and we can immediately see how effective it will be. This episode also contains some of the best Milhouse-getting-shit-on the show has ever done.

"The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show"
Category: Social commentary
Like any good comedian, "The Simpsons" is never more coldly critical of any target than it is of itself. The writers take the opportunity to vent about bad network notes, the inherent flaws in market testing (particularly when the test subjects are children), industry greed, and their own laziness. The whole concept of "Roy" mirroring for "The Simpsons" what was happening in "Itchy & Scratchy" was brilliant. Wish they could have gotten June Foray to be in this episode, rather than substituting the character "June Bellamy." Interestingly, this episode debuted Comic Book Guy's catchphrase "Worst. Episode. Ever." The writers took that critique from an early online message board. The criticism was lobbed against the episode "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie," which was an episode I liked so much that it made my list here.

"Homer's Enemy"
Ah, the controversial Frank "Grimy" Grimes episode. I love it. I love the fact that this mainstream, primetime show was willing to go so completely dark. I think the people who hate this episode think it was being too cynical about humanity. It's really not. There's a genuine lesson here: Grimes doesn't die because the universe was against him; he's done in by his own deep-seated rage. If Homer hadn't brought it out of him, someone else would have.

"Wild Barts Can't Be Broken"
Category: Kids being kids
How I love this episode! Instantly takes me back to that childhood mindset of thinking every adult is against you, and it's unfair that they have all the power. That the kids sneak out for a horror movie at a drive-in is such pristine americana, as is the stage-musical finale.


Well, that does it for my top 25 favorite "Simpsons" episodes of all time.  It still hurts my soul a little bit, the episodes I had to toss aside.  It ain't right, I tell ya.

Some stats from my list:
  • The earliest episode on my list, "Lisa's Substitute," is from the end of April 1991, meaning that season two barely made the cut
  • This list spans seasons two through ten, but has no episodes from season nine... awkward!
  • The most-represented season on this list is season six, with seven episodes earning a spot on my top 25
  • Coincidentally, the first episode I ever disliked was also from season six: "Sideshow Bob Roberts" aired on October 9, 1994, directed by Mark Kirkland and credited to the writing team of Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein (who are credited with one of my top 25 episodes, "$pringfield," and were show runners on two damn fine seasons: seven and eight)
  • Far and away, the most-represented writer on this list is John Swartzwelder, which will come as no surprise to hardcore "Simpsons" fans; with seven episode credits on this list, he wrote 28% of my favorite episodes
  • The director category was more competitive; Jim Reardon is the most-represented director on the list with five episodes, just topping Wes Archer's four
So what are your favorite "Simpsons" episodes?  Post your answers in the comments!