Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Simpsons Challenge, part two

After much struggle, I came up with a list of my 25 favorite "Simpsons" episodes of all time. Read about the previous five.

"Homer's Triple Bypass"
Category: Heart
A strong emotional core that doesn't sacrifice humor. Gained personal relevance to me when, a mere two years after it originally aired, my own dad would have a triple bypass. One of the best punchlines in the history of television is Lisa's description of what it feels like for the "MTV generation" to feel neither highs nor lows.

"I Love Lisa"
Category: Heart
Another signature episode of the series. So iconic that the whole shebang is brought to most people's minds by intoning five simple syllables: "I choo-choo-choose you." This episode is the only reason I know that William Henry Harrison died 30 days after becoming president... and that he was a president at all.

"Last Exit to Springfield"
So many memorable set pieces in one episode. "Dental plan/Lisa needs braces." Lisa in the sky, without diamonds. Burns' Grinch-like awakening. And, of course, the sitcom-skewering ending that goes out on all the characters sharing a laugh... due to some medical assistance.

Category: Heart
Here's how brilliant "The Simpsons" is (was): This episode first aired when I was 13 years old. I hadn't seen Citizen Kane, hadn't heard much of The Ramones, and had a sub-basic knowledge of Charles Lindbergh (some kind of dancer?)... and none of that mattered! It's still a great, hilarious, original story perfectly understandable to that 13-year-old kid. This gets to the heart of why "The Simpsons" in its prime was far superior to the countless imitators springing up in its wake. Too many shows and movies learned only part of the lesson that "The Simpsons" was teaching: that it can be hilarious to reference and make fun of other cultural things. The important part of the lesson should have been: do it because it integrates naturally with your characters and your story. 13-year-old me didn't know from Charles Foster Kane. All I knew was Mr. Burns had this stuffed animal he loved (something we can all relate to), and now he had a chance to get it back. Suggesting a familial relationship to George Burns, for example, would be shoehorned in forcibly on other shows. Here, it's a throwaway gag that works naturally with the timeline.  Brilliant.

Probably the best treatment the series has ever given to Marge. But what really clinches this episode for me is Burns' descent into Howard Hughes-ian madness.

Read the next five...