Now that it’s been on the air for 30 seasons, The Simpsons has officially become the longest running primetime series in the history of American television. With over 650 episodes under its belt, the show once described by The AV Club as “television’s crowning achievement regardless of format” has beaten out Gunsmoke for the title.
And it’s not stopping any time soon; Fox has just renewed the show for seasons 31 and 32. With any luck, the surreal, satirical, and ultimately human story of the Simpson family will keep going for years and years. So, here are All 30 Seasons of The Simpsons, Ranked.
30 SEASON 21
Season 21 sees a series that has been worn thin over two decades. It opens with the somewhat inspired “Homer the Whopper,” guest-written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and guest-starring Rogen, but devolves quickly into a season of episodes with shallow setups just to get celebrity guest stars in.
29 SEASON 29
Season 29 is, generally, a lame duck of a season. However, it does have some gems. Lisa and Marge teaming up to write a graphic novel in “Springfield Splendor” is a standout, because of its gorgeous visuals and tear-jerking story. Plus, the season’s “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween special has a rare combination of three great segments. But other than that, it’s not a good season.
28 SEASON 20
By season 20, the show was reduced to such thin non-plots as Bart and Milhouse finding Denis Leary’s cell phone and Homer and Flanders teaming up as bounty hunters. “Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words” and “In the Name of the Grandfather” are among the small handful of strong episodes, but it’s an overall weak season.
27 SEASON 26
Season 26 began with a tremendous disappointment, as Fox had promoted the season with the promise of a major character’s death. It turned out to be Krusty’s father, who no one really cared about. Still, there are some pretty good episodes: “Covercraft,” “Super Franchise Me,” “Opposites A-Frack” etc. Plus, the Futurama crossover “Simpsorama” gets points for ambition, even if it’s not amazing.
26 SEASON 30
Season 30 has shown us that The Simpsons is still happy to unabashedly lampoon religion and politics, while also tackling semi-current issues like Black Friday sales and self-driving cars. So, while it’s not as great as it used to be and there have been ups and downs over the years, this is still The Simpsons and, thankfully, it looks like it won’t be leaving our screens any time soon. Plus, comedy fans will appreciate Krusty the Clown joining Marc Maron in the garage for an episode of WTF.
25 SEASON 17
This season is hit-and-miss, with far more miss than hit. The season premiere episode “The Bonfire of the Manatees” guest-starring Alec Baldwin is one of the series’ best, but it goes downhill from there.
24 SEASON 12
While the odd episode like “Simpson Safari” or “New Kids on the Blecch” are entertaining enough to sustain viewers’ attention, season 12 is, on the whole, weak. The scene in “Homer vs. Dignity” that implies Homer is sexually assaulted by a panda is one of the series’ all-time low points.
23 SEASON 22
Season 22 is woefully so-so. There are no really terrible episodes in it, but there are no really great ones either. It settles into a comfortable averageness with episodes like “Angry Dad: The Movie” and “Moms I’d Like to Forget.”
22 SEASON 19
Season 19 is a mix of really great episodes – “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind,” “Dial ‘N’ for Nerder,” “Any Given Sundance” – and really terrible ones – “Smoke on the Daughter,” which betrays Lisa’s character, and “That ‘90s Show,” which shamelessly retcons so much Simpson family history that watching it is pretty much unbearable. This is probably a result of the writing staff being exhausted, since this was the first season produced after The Simpsons Movie, as well as production being delayed by a 100-day Writers Guild of America strike.
21 SEASON 24
The best episodes of The Simpsons these days are the ones that tackle current issues, looking ahead rather than getting stuck in the past. Season 24 has a few examples of this, with the best being “The Day the Earth Stood Cool,” a hilarious satire of the hipster subculture.
20 SEASON 11
The Simpsons’ downward slope into mediocrity was picking up momentum by the eleventh season. “Saddlesore Galactica” is a classic example of jumping the shark; “Missionary: Impossible” begins with a sharp satire of PBS, but has a dull cop-out ending; and “Bart to the Future” is a disappointing glimpse into the future that has since been retconned anyway. The episodes aren’t all bad – “Last Tap Dance in Springfield” and “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” are classics, while “Behind the Laughter” makes a great meta season finale – but on the whole, this is an unsatisfactory season.
19 SEASON 22
Season 22 has some pretty good episodes. “Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts” is surprisingly wonderful, while “Politically Inept, with Homer Simpson” is sharply satirical. However, there are also some dreadful ones. You know the show is running out of ideas when there’s a whole episode about Moe’s rag. On the whole, the season is okay – but at least it’s far from terrible, which is a lot to expect from a latter-day Simpsons season.
18 SEASON 16
The plots of season 16’s episodes don’t provide anything new or groundbreaking for the characters as the writers settle into being comfortable with mundanity. But the gags still come thick and fast, and the non-sequitur jokes combined with spot-on pop culture parody maintain the show’s idiosyncratic sense of humor.
17 SEASON 27
While season 27 doesn’t add much new to the now-tired Simpsons formula, it does get bonus points for taking some risks. The episode “Fland Canyon,” for example, is fresh and exciting, while Homer’s live Q&A at the end of “Simprovised” deserves credit for at least trying something new.
16 SEASON 9
Some episodes in the ninth season show early signs of the show’s unfortunate decline in quality. For starters, there’s that infamous episode where Principal Skinner is revealed to be an impostor. However, “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” is a stellar premiere episode, despite its now-infamous depiction of the World Trade Center (it originally aired in 1997).
15 SEASON 25
Season 25 has enough terrific episodes to carry the season’s weaker episodes. “The War of Art” is a much more contemplative study of a serious issue than the usual gag-driven zaniness the show is known for, which pays off beautifully. Plus, “Homerland,” “Steal This Episode,” and “Days of Future Future” are fantastic episodes.
14 SEASON 18
There are some real standouts in season 18. With hysterically self-deprecating cameos from the likes of Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal, and Jonathan Franzen, “Moe’N’a Lisa” is a delight for any fan of literature. Meanwhile, the season finale “You Kent Always Say What You Want” has a lot of bold things to say about censorship, journalism, and free speech.
13 SEASON 28
Season 28 is perhaps the best of the later Simpsons seasons, purely for its ambitious episodes like the hour-long “The Great Phatsby,” a combo spoof of The Great Gatsby and Empire, and its skewering of current issues like T--mp University and Pokemon Go. Plus, “The Last Traction Hero” is one of the few recent episodes of the show that are genuinely great.
12 SEASON 1
When it first expanded from sketches on The Tracey Ullman Show into a full half-hour primetime series, The Simpsons took short a while to find its feet. The storytelling in season 1 is fantastic, but the humor isn’t quite the show’s unique blend of realism and surrealism yet.
11 SEASON 10
Despite being a part of The Simpsons’ downslide, season 10 has some gems. “Homer to the Max” is an example of a simple premise expanded masterfully into a classic episode, while “Viva Ned Flanders” once again proves that the Homer/Flanders dynamic works better when they get along than when they don’t. The season premiere “Lard of the Dance” is, pound for pound, one of the funniest episodes of the entire series. Also, “Mayored to the Mob” makes terrific use of guest star Mark Hamill (“Luke, be a Jedi tonight!”).
10 SEASON 13
Season 13 is a mixed bag containing both duds and classics. “Gump Roast” and “Tales from the Public Domain” are limp excuses for episodes, while “Little Girl in the Big Ten” and “A Hunka Hunka Burns in Love” are solid installments. Plus, “She of Little Faith” is one of those brilliant episodes that combine hilarity with well-put social points.
9 SEASON 14
For a relatively late season, season 14 is very funny. The problem with a lot of later seasons is relying too heavily on the guest stars attracted by the show’s success and forgetting to explore the show’s own characters, but season 14 deftly balances the big-name guests (“How I Spent My Strummer Vacation”) with character-driven plots (“Bart vs. Lisa vs. the Third Grade”).
8 SEASON 8
Season 8 saw the writers delving deep into their characters’ psyches with mixed results. Milhouse’s parents’ ultimately permanent divorce was terrific, while “Hurricane Neddy” took things a little too far. Still, the eighth season saw the show tackle social issues, like homosexuality in “Homer’s Phobia,” with both insight and hilarity, which about the best thing an audience can ask for.
7 SEASON 15
With formula-rattling episodes like the Simpson family’s trip to London in “The Regina Monologues” and the Evita parody “The Princess Wore Pearls,” The Simpsons’ fifteenth season managed to fend of the show’s downfall by another year by delivering a laugh-a-minute handful of episodes.
6 SEASON 2
The Simpsons expanded its supporting cast in season 2, which led to a fast gag rate and more varied storylines, but it still hadn’t reached the euphoric Pythonesque bliss of its glory days yet. Still, the season has some great standouts, including “Bart the Daredevil,” featuring Homer accidentally jumping Springfield Gorge, and “Lisa’s Substitute,” featuring guest star Dustin Hoffman.
5 SEASON 5
The Simpsons’ fifth season has some unforgettable knockout episodes, including the Beatles-inspired rise and fall of the Be Sharps, Homer going to space and being overshadowed by ant overlords and an inanimate carbon rod, and the remake of Cape Fear starring Sideshow Bob.
4 SEASON 6
From Marge joining the police force in “The Springfield Connection,” one of the most all-out hilarious episodes of the series, to Homer joining a secret society called the Stonecutters, this was a terrific season of television.
3 SEASON 3
The episodes in season 3 work because they follow an engaging narrative structure. Everything in each episode – from “Radio Bart” to “Flaming Moe’s” to “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington” – works towards driving forward a plot. It sounds simple, but shows like this can easily get bogged down by favoring jokes over storytelling.
In The Simpsons’ third season – and most of its early seasons, but most effectively in this one – the jokes flow naturally from the stories.
2 SEASON 7
Season 7 began with the conclusion of The Simpsons’ first and so far only two-part episode, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” and only got better from there. The season mixes contemplative character pieces – “Bart Sells His Soul,” “Lisa the Vegetarian” – with interesting conceptual stuff – “22 Short Films About Springfield,” “Radioactive Man.”
Plus, there’s that great episode where the writers get even with George H.W. Bush for badmouthing the show.
1 SEASON 4
Season 4 is when The Simpsons stepped up its game and perfected itself. The writers figured out what kind of gags worked for the show and they figured out the ideal blend of absurdist jokes and pop culture references with real, identifiable family situations and true moments of pathos.
“Marge vs. the Monorail,” “Last Exit to Springfield,” “Mr. Plow,” “Whacking Day,” “Brother from the Same Planet” – the list of great episodes in this season is endless. It is, without a doubt, the finest season of the show, and it probably always will be.