The Simpsons has famously dropped in quality in the recent seasons. In its early years, it was lauded as the greatest show on television. With its sharp, fast-paced storytelling, lovable characters, real-life family situations, and endless supply of pop culture references, it was one of the highest rated and most critically acclaimed shows on the air.
But for a few years now, it’s just been passable at best. It might be the only show in the history of television to have hit such insane highs and such dreadful lows. So, here are The 5 Best (And 5 Worst) Episodes Of The Simpsons.
10 Worst: ‘That ‘90s Show’
The Simpsons has retconned the future of its characters a bunch of times, because the future, by its very nature, is an abstract concept. It could easily be changed because it hasn’t happened yet and depends entirely on what happens in the present. But the past can’t be retconned.
Marge and Homer’s history has been pretty clearly mapped out in flashback episodes before, and “That ‘90s Show” shamelessly changes their whole backstory. It puts Marge in college in the 1990s and Homer in a grunge band with Nirvana-level fame called Sadgasm. If it was a great episode, that would redeem it, but it’s not – it’s terrible.
9 Best: ‘Bart Sells His Soul’
After swapping out the church organist’s sheet music for Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” Bart sells his soul to Milhouse for $5. He then begins to experience surreal and haunting changes in his life. One of the most difficult things for comedy to do is being about something truly important or existential and carrying a message, as well as being hysterically funny and replete with jokes and one-liners, all at the same time.
But “Bart Sells His Soul” is a prime example of this kind of comedy being done right. Also, this is a rare example of an episode where the B-plot works as well as the A-plot, as Moe turns his tavern into a family restaurant and is driven mad by demanding children.
8 Worst: ‘Saddlesore Galactica’
Just because Comic Book Guy points out during this episode that it recycled its plot from “Lisa’s Pony,” that doesn’t make it any better. Meta humor can point out the failings of a show in a way that enhances it, but in this case, Comic Book Guy is right on the money.
The episode involves Homer and Bart training up a racehorse for some extra cash and falling in with a bad crowd of magical jockeys. Anyone who doesn’t understand what the term “jumping the shark” means should be shown the “Saddlesore Galactica” episode, because it is a prime example.
7 Best: ‘Homer at the Bat’
The Simpsons has a tendency to lean on its guest stars these days. The writers have gotten used to relying on the guest stars themselves instead of utilizing them properly. Back in the day, they used them for real jokes and fit them into the Simpson family’s story, rather than fitting the Simpson family into their story.
But “Homer at the Bat” is a perfect example of guest stars being used right, as Mr. Burns hires baseball legends like Don Mattingly, Darryl Strawberry, Wade Boggs, and Ken Griffey, Jr. to work at the nuclear plant so they can play on the plant’s softball team. But the episode’s story isn’t about them; it’s about Homer.
6 Worst: ‘Regarding Margie’
In season 17’s “Regarding Margie,” Marge suffers from amnesia, and when her memory returns, she remembers everyone except for Homer. We’ve seen Marge and Homer’s marriage tested a million times before and it got old a long time ago, but this is a particularly egregious example, because it shows both Homer and Marge at their worst.
At the end, when they get back together, the episode seems to make it clear that they shouldn’t be together, because Homer is an abusive drunk and Marge is a mindless enabler. We don’t need to be reminded of that – it’s not very funny.
5 Best: ‘Mr. Plow’
Everyone remembers “Mr. Plow” for its titular jingle: “Call Mr. Plow / That’s my name / That name again is Mr. Plow!” But the episode has a great plot, too. It pits Homer and Barney against each other as the former’s snow plow business inspires the latter to do the same, and then he starts stealing the former’s clientele.
This episode takes a small, intimate, fun family situation like a father setting up his own business so he can better provide for his family, and gives it a kooky, absurdist, hysterical Simpsons makeover. It’s one of the essential Simpsons episodes.
4 Worst: ‘Lisa Goes Gaga’
Early Simpsons episodes found a way to make it not seem weird that someone in the Simpson family would befriend a celebrity, like Bart would date a movie star’s daughter or Homer would be institutionalized with a pop star – or at least, a guy with a pop star’s voice, claiming to be that pop star.
But the later ones are lazier with it and just shove their guest stars into episodes. “Lisa Goes Gaga” does nothing to make the fact that Lisa befriends Lady Gaga seem real, and it doesn’t even satirize Gaga – it just recreates her zaniest on-stage stunts in animated form. It’s difficult to get through, frankly, due to its terribleness.
3 Best: ‘Marge vs. the Monorail’
There’s no dispute that “Marge vs the Monorail” is one of the most iconic Simpsons episodes of all time. It’s the hilarious, engaging story of a snake oil salesman who comes to Springfield and pitches an expensive monorail system, then skips town with the money, leaving behind a defective monorail on which Homer has a job.
It’s hard to imagine why Lisa’s voice actor Yeardley Smith would call this episode “truly one of our worst” and why the critics were initially averse to it, because it has a complex story with various facets tied together and plenty of brilliantly crafted jokes to bat.
2 Worst: ‘Homer vs. Dignity’
This episode is better known as “the one where Homer got sexually assaulted by a panda,” because that’s the scene that shrouded it in notable controversy. But other than that, it just has a tired, overused plot and not a single joke that lands.
It sees Homer becoming Mr. Burns’ “prank monkey” as his boss pays him wads of cash to do increasingly degrading things. It’s like that dark and twisted movie Cheap Thrills, except it’s supposed to be fun and family-friendly. Furthermore, in season 12, this is the episode that signaled the beginning of the end. The Simpsons’ decline in quality was close behind.
1 Best: ‘Last Exit to Springfield’
“Smithers, I’m beginning to think that Homer Simpson was not the brilliant tactician I thought he was.” The Simpsons’ skewering of corrupt workers’ unions, “Last Exit to Springfield,” promotes Homer to head of the union, so that he can get the employees of the power plant their dental plan back, because Lisa needs braces (it took him a while to put those two things together, remember?).
The episode has a tight script, a neat storyline with no fat on the edges, some hilarious character moments (particularly from Homer, Lisa, and Mr. Burns), and a bunch of pop culture references that land.