Thursday, 14 March 2013

My Top Ten Favourite Simpsons Episodes

1. A Streetcar Named Marge
While this episode may not be everyone's first choice, I've always found it hilarious and touching, especially for an episode centered around Marge, who is usually the straight man of the show. As with most episodes that deal with Homer and Marge's marriage, it's rather bittersweet. I'm assuming that anyone reading this is familiar with the plot of any Classic Simpsons-era episode, so I'll refrain from summarizing the plot. However, I will say that the arc of this episode is a rare insight into Marge's sad little life and troubled, repressed psyche. Her life as a housewife is far from intellectually or artistically stimulating, and her idea of "branching out" is to audition for a hokey community theatre production. Homer is a complete asshole to her about it, and she channels her pent-up frustrations in her performance of Blanche DuBois. By the end of the episode, Homer has acknowledged that he's been neglectful of Marge's feelings. He doesn't promise to change, nor does he show any particular insight into her frustrations. It's quite sad, really. 
Aside from that, though, the writers manage to pull off an epically scathing parody of every shitty community theatre production ever, as well as musicals in general. The opening number of "Oh! Streetcar" is perhaps one of the greatest moments in the show's history. From the hilariously cutting lyrics to the needless exposition, to the giant Superdome prop that exists only to illustrate a single rhyming couplet, it's a masterpiece of parody. 
Also worth mentioning is the inspired B-plot involving Maggie which both parodies The Great Escape and skewers Ayn Rand. 

2. Last Exit to Springfield
Many have argued that "Last Exit to Springfield" is the greatest Simpsons episode ever, and I would be hard-pressed to disagree with them. In fact, I believe that if a Simpsons movie had been made in the 90s as originally planned, "Last Exit" would make the perfect feature film. I love this episode because it shows a side of Homer that is sorely lacking in recent episodes: his compassionate side and his love for his family. His motivation to lead the strike? His love for Lisa and his desire to see her get the best dental care possible.
What makes this episode truly great is its spot-on parodies of pop cultural motifs. Specifically, the spoof of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", the "Yellow Submarine" dream sequence, and the ending, where everyone laughs collectively over a stupid pun (reminiscent of every lame '70s sitcom ever.)

3. Homer's Barbershop Quartet
As a Beatles fan, it's no wonder that this episode is among my very favourites. Of course, everyone knows that this episode is one big tribute to the Beatles and their relatively short rise and fall- but what really gets me is how nuanced the Beatles tributes are. There are, of course, easily-identifiable references to Abbey Road, "Revolution 9", and the merchandising boon that was Beatlemania. What makes this episode truly enjoyable for a Beatles aficionado is the subtle and obscure references to their career and personal lives.
"Wiggum forever, Barney never!" is a reference to a real chant from the Beatles' early days at the Cavern Club when they replaced their first drummer Pete Best with Ringo Starr. The fans chanted "Pete Best forever, Ringo never!", but as we all know, Ringo won over the Cavern Club crowd much in the same way that Barney won over the patrons of Moe's Tavern. 
The episode is nostalgic and warm without being overly fawning towards the Beatles, and manages to get a few jabs in here and there. Every time I watch it, I manage to find another hidden reference that the writers stuck in.

4. Cape Feare
Although it helps to be familiar with the film Cape Fear to get all of the jokes in this episode, it isn't necessary in order to enjoy it. I loved this episode as a kid long before I had seen the movie or had any idea what the show was referencing. Regardless, I believe "Cape Feare" to be some of the finest television ever broadcast. It's a fantastic piece of writing, animation, editing, and voice acting and an all-around gem.
What I really love about "Cape Feare" isn't the all-around plot so much as some of its excellent throwaway gags and one-liners. Every time I see Santa's Little Helper tied up at the dock, swimming around in a circle, I bust a gut laughing, and the "Homer Thompson" routine never, ever, gets old. Ditto for the "Sideshow Bob steps on rakes" scene, which is often cut in syndication, losing most of its appeal. This episode is perfectly paced and full of plenty of action and excitement. It's fast-moving, features the incredible voice talents of Kelsey Grammer (who, as time goes on, seems to resemble Sideshow Bob much more than Fraiser Crane, personality-wise), and, most incredibly of all,  includes an amazing and hilarious tribute to Gilbert and Sullivan- hardly typical fare for a primetime Fox comedy in the 1990s. I'm trying my absolute best not to just parrot my favourite lines from these episodes, but I JUST have to say- "BARTYOUWANNASEEMYNEWCHAINSAWANDHOCKEYMASK?"

5. Lisa's Wedding
Unsurprisingly, I'm quite a big Lisa fan. What can I say? For a little growing up in the '90s as a bookish outcast, she was a role model for me. She made me feel like I wasn't alone in the world. As a 22-year-old today, I still relate to her in almost every way, and this episode speaks volumes to me.
Lisa fell in love with Hugh because he represented to her, the intellectual elitism that she had been idealizing and chasing her entire life. He was charming, British, and respected her for her brains. And yet, he revealed his true colours when he refused to even humour poor Homer, who was, after all, doing his very best to welcome Hugh into the family. 
Love can be so incredibly painful, especially for people like Lisa and me, who grew up insecure and unsure of our place in the world. When someone comes along and assures you that you've been right all along, that you really are better than everyone else, it can be thrilling... for a while. After some time, you realize that as much as you disparage your roots, they still made you what you are today, and you can't turn your back on them.
I guess this is one of those episodes that I like more for the emotional resonance than the jokes and gags. Lisa episodes tend to strike a very melancholy chord with me, for although they suggest that Lisa will eventually find a better life beyond Evergreen Terrace, they also give the impression that she will always be an outsider and just a tad dissatisfied.

6. King-Size Homer
This is probably the only Homer-centric episode on the list. I don't want to seem as if I don't like Homer. He's a great character who manages to be sympathetic even when his motives (as in this particular episode) are rather selfish. I think this is probably because Homer, as a character, though he may be buffoonish and slightly ill-mannered, still has an intrinsic human characteristic that a great many of us share: the desire to be liked and accepted. In the hands of less skilled writers, "King-Size Homer" could turn into one long, cruel fat joke. Instead, it turns into a treatise on both acceptance of others and pride in oneself. The episode also includes some of my favourite jokes, including Homer's ineptitude with a home computer, and Ralph's classic, "I heard your dad went into a restaurant and ate everything in the restaurant and they had to close the restaurant." 

7. Lisa's Substitute
Another Lisa episode! And this one with Dustin Hoffman, one of my celebrity crushes (it's those Semitic good looks). As a Lisa fan, I find her episodes are most often the most emotionally poignant, and I enjoy the way the show explores her relationship with Homer. "Lisa's Substitute" is an episode about a schoolgirl crush (and I can certainly relate to that) but it is also an episode about a father and daughter struggling to relate to each other (I can relate to that too). 
While the show's writers often use Lisa as a mouthpiece to spout liberal rhetoric, I find her most compelling and effective when she acts like an eight-year-old girl. For although she has intellect far beyond her years, she also has the naiveté and enthusiasm of the young girl that she is. Her adorable crush on Mr. Bergstrom, her embarrassment over her father, and her eagerness to prove herself are all typical traits of a child her age. 
The episode ends on a bittersweet note, again with the suggestion that there is a better life for Lisa, but also again with the knowledge that she still has a long way to go. You know, the more I think about it the more I reckon I'll have to devote an entire post to Lisa as a character. She's so relatable and sympathetic to me. 

8. Rosebud
"Oooh, a head bag. Those are chock full of... heady goodness."
That quote is just one of many reasons to love "Rosebud".  Although the episode is ostensibly a parody of Orson Welles' classic Citizen Kane, like "Cape Feare", you needn't have watched the movie to enjoy the episode, because it's more than just a parody. Like Citizen Kane, it's a commentary on capitalism, ruthlessness, and the drive to succeed that makes us neglect the things in life that make us more happy than money ever could.
Mr. Burns is, at times, an over-the-top caricature of megalomaniac villains, so it's nice to see his human side once in a while, as in this episode. Although he's put Homer, the family, his employees, and the citizens of Springfield through some hellish bullshit, he still manages to evoke a tiny bit of sympathy in this episode. Perhaps because Mr. Burns is an example of the American dream taken to extremes. He's only done what society has drilled into our heads as the ultimate accomplishment- become filthy stinking rich. And, like William Hearst (who Citizen Kane was based upon) or his modern-day equivalent Donald Trump, he's become a shell of a man, unhappy in the very thing that he believed would finally bring him satisfaction.
Aside from the social commentary, this episode also has some brilliant one-liners and sight gags, including the very final scene set in the future featuring Mr. Burns as a preserved head in a jar, which Matt Groening cites as his inspiration for Futurama.
It's hard to say anything about "Rosebud" that hasn't already been said better at or in a Popular Culture Studies term paper, but the episode stands as a golden moment for the Simpsons and television in general.

9. Marge Vs. The Monorail
You know how some people still mourn Heath Ledger's death and watch all his movies on the anniversary of his passing? And upload gifsets to Tumblr with profound quotes? That's how I feel about Phil Hartman.
"Marge vs. The Monorail" is a fantastic episode all around, but what makes it truly great is Phil Hartman's inspired performance as old-fashioned shyster Lyle Lanley. In a plot clearly heavily influenced by The Music Man, Lanley convinces the townspeople of Springfield to build a monorail with a surplus of money they've recent;y come into. This being the Simpsons, of course, his intentions are far from honourable and he builds a slipshod monorail, planning to run off with the profits. I'm sure you've all seen this episode so there's no need to go into what happens. But this episode blends the humanistic comedy that the Simpsons became famous for with the wacky plots that they would later be defined by. Some of the humour in this episode is just so out-there- (the guest appearance by Leonard Nimoy, the "scientist" that Marge meets)- that it comes as no surprise that this episode was penned by Conan O'Brien, who at the time was just a promising young upstart.
"Marge vs. The Monorail" is a perfect distillation of everything that's great about Golden Age-era Simpsons. If you know somebody who has yet to be introduced to the series, I recommend this episode.

10. Krusty Gets Kancelled
I have a huge fascination with fame and stardom, so this episode makes my top ten list not only because of the numerous celebrity cameos, but also because of the way it serves as a biting satire on flash-in-the-pan celebrities like Gabbo and longtime showbusiness schmucks like Krusty.
Krusty the Klown is an unusual character because he represents not only bored, tired children's entertainers of yore, but also classic superstars and their seemingly neverending careers. This episode in particular seemed to follow the Elvis Presley model. Like Elvis, Krusty was pushed aside for newer, hipper acts, became depressed and overweight, but managed to make a comeback with a huge, well-received TV special (the episode even references Elvis' '68 Comeback Special almost directly when we see Krusty's name lit up behind him in huge lights).
Of course, I'm also totally on board for all the great celebrity guest stars, in particular Elizabeth Taylor, whose cameo was short but sweet and surprisingly self-deprecating, and Bette Midler, whose cameo makes me want to shout "I'll get you for this Midlerrrrrrrrr!" every time I see her anywhere else.
All in all, this episode is the perfect send-up of what it means to be a celebrity constantly clawing their way up back to the top. Later-season episodes pander to the celebrity guest stars so much more than this episode did, and it's refreshing to see huge stars like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Luke Perry (well, huge at the time) take the piss out of themselves.

1 comment:

  1. I was searching for "The Simpsons" backgrounds for Halloween (Treehouse of Horror preferably) and came across one of the photos used on your blog. I have to say, I rarely read blogs as I have the attention span of a fruit fly. However, I really enjoyed reading your favorite Simpsons episodes and had to agree with nearly all your choices! (One of my favorite episode is the one where Homer eats the incredibly hot pepper and hallucinates all kinds of bizarre images). Anyway, I just wanted to comment on your blog because it was so well-written and very enjoyable.) Thank you! :) Kathy