The Simpsons is the longest-running primetime show in the history of television, and through the show's 28-season run, there have been way too many memorable characters to name. Yes, you have the members of the titular family, but the show has grown so far beyond that. You have the numerous supporting characters, like Ned Flanders and Mr. Burns, as well as those weird background characters that just help to make Springfield a little stranger.
While those characters are certainly memorable in their own right, there are some characters who have left a lasting impression despite their short screentime. These are not the regular or recurring characters but the ones who stole the show for one episode, then disappeared. We're not talking about cameos of celebrities playing themselves, but the original characters who made us fall in love with them and then were never seen again (ignoring the occasional non-speaking cameo).
It takes a special kind of character to standout among hundreds and hundreds of episodes, but we still remember them fondly for their short-but-sweet appearances. Here are the 15 Greatest Simpsons Characters Who Only Appeared In One Episode.
The Simpsons have owned a variety of interesting pets over the years, like a monkey, horse, and even an elephant. But if you were to ask Homer which pet was most beloved it would no doubt be his heavily pampered lobster, affectionately named Pinchy.
After realizing that he can't afford a full-size lobster, Homer, being the financial genius that he is, buys a eight dollar lobster which he will then fatten into an eighty dollar lobster and eat the profits. But after nurturing the little guy into a massive crustacean and feeding him sausage links, when the time comes to throw him into the pot, Homer can't bring himself to do it. So Pinchy becomes part of the family, much to the chagrin of the other seafood-hungry Simpsons. Then tragedy strikes when Homer gives Pinchy a nice hot bath and forgets to take him out. To honor his favorite pet, Homer selflessly insists on eating the entire massive lobster by himself, because that's what Pinchy would have wanted.
If you think about it, that's actually a pretty dark way to end the saga of Pinchy, but still undeniably funny. If only Homer had been a little more mindful, we could have had plenty of more adventures with Pinchy.
14 Guy Incognito
Poor Mr. Incognito. His only crime was being thirsty and having an unfortunately uncanny resemblance to Homer.
Guy Incognito, a foreign gentleman from an unspecified part of the world, is out on the town and looking to wet his whistle. He has the bad fortune of choosing Moe's Tavern as his watering hole after Homer had recently been banned from the establishment. Guy enters and politely orders a drink. However, due to his odd accent and (apart from the mustache and fancy clothes) looking exactly like Homer, Moe and the others assume it's their former patron trying to weasel his way back in. Guy insists he isn't Homer, but in another stroke of bad luck, his name sounds completely made up. So Moe and the boys beat Guy up and throw him outside only to be discovered by the real Homer, who is quickly distracted from his doppelganger by a dog with a puffy tail.
Guy's short appearance has gone on to become one of the funniest gags the show has ever done. The ridiculousness of the lousy disguise is funny enough but when it turns out Guy is a real person, the whole bit becomes comedy gold. We're actually glad Guy never showed up again as it might have sullied his perfect appearance.
It's probably safe to say there has never been a more selfless character on the show than Homer's one-time, short-term assistant, Karl. He is a bit of an oddity as far as citizens of Springfield go because he dedicates himself wholeheartedly to helping someone else and takes little in return.
Karl comes into Homer's life after the Simpsons patriarch grows a full head of hair, which leads to a promotion at work. Karl interviews as Homer's assistant and quickly calls him out for being a fraud. He insists that if Homer is to succeed in the cutthroat executive world he needs to be a man of confidence and Karl is the man to give him that confidence. He continuously goes the extra mile, dressing Homer like a professional and even getting Marge an anniversary present when Homer forgets. However, after a jealous Smithers finds grounds to fire Homer, Karl steps in to take the bullet. With Karl gone, Homer is left to succeed on his own. Of course, he quickly finds himself demoted back to his old job.
While his effects didn't last long, Karl stands out as an incredibly good person. His die-hard loyalty and dedication was heartwarming, giving audiences a rare character who believes in Homer Simpson. And he was all the more memorable thanks to the very distinct vocals of Harvey Fierstein.
12 Laura Powers
Despite a few schoolyard crushes over the years, we haven't seen Bart take much interest in girls. He always seems more interested in causing mischief than finding that special lady. However, the one time we saw him fall head over heels was with his older neighbor, Laura Powers.
For Bart it, was love at first sight and he immediately begins trying to woo the older girl. He and Laura share a bond over juvenile things like prank calls and rough-housing. Just when it seems like he's getting closer to making Laura his girlfriend, she tells him that she's seeing Jimbo, Bart's bully, which makes for the vivid dream sequence in which Laura literally rips Bart's heart out of his chest.
While Laura and Jimbo don't last long, Bart doesn't get the girl either. Instead she gives him a parting kiss and moves away, never to be seen again. Laura's appearance gives us a rare glimpse at Bart's vulnerable side. It's the first time we see the young Simpson experience heartbreak.
11 Shelbyville Dad
Springfield has always had a bitter rivalry with their neighboring town of Shelbyville. As the legend goes, the settlers of each town were once partners but split over a disagreement about whether it was okay for cousins to marry. Since then, the two towns have been at odds, seen most notably in the classic "Lemon of Troy" episode.
After some young Shelbyville scoundrels steal Springfield's beloved (but rarely mentioned) lemon tree, Bart and some other boys sneak into the town to take it back. The Springfield kids track the tree down to an impound lot, owned by the father of the Shelbyville ringer-leader. This leads to Homer and the other Springfield parents to face-off with the Shelbyville father and they quickly demonstrate that adults can be as immature as kids.
It's hard to say what makes this character so memorable. A lot is due to the fact that this is one of the best Simpsons episodes of all time. It could also be the unusual way the character speaks, which the creators have said is based off Walter Matthau. But the greatness of the character can really be summed up in one moment, when he takes a big bite of a lemon just to spite Springfield. The image of his eyes filling up with tears and face scrunching up while attempting to look arrogant is priceless.
10 Don Brodka
Aside from the annual Halloween episodes, it's safe to say the Christmas specials are among the most anticipated of each season of The Simpsons. "Marge Be Not Proud" is one of the best of the show's holiday offerings and it also gives us one of Bart Simpson's most formidable foes.
After Homer and Marge refuse to buy Bart a violent video game, he decides to shoplift it from the local supermarket, Try-N-Save. However, Bart didn't count on Don Brodka, the chain-smoking, grizzled store detective, who doesn't take too kindly to shoplifters. After a very intimidating meeting with the gravel-voiced mall cop, Bart is free to go on the condition he never steps foot in the store ever again. Of course, Bart is dragged along with the whole family to go Christmas shopping at the Try-N-Save where Brodka confronts him and tells the family of his crime.
Brodka is a genuinely intimidating character and a far cry from the Paul Blart version of mall security. But despite his effectiveness as an antagonist, Brodka still manages to be strangely hilarious, with odd qualities like leaving bizarrely conversational messages on answering machines and ending random sentences with "Uh-huh" regardless of how appropriate it is. He's threatening, yes, but also fittingly weird for The Simpsons.
9 Leon Kompowsky
As The Simpsons has gotten more and more popular over the years, the show was accumulated an insane amount of guest stars. At this point, the show could get just about any movie star, music icon, or superstar athlete to lend their famous vocals to a character. However, this remains one of their most impressive gets and one of the most unique ways to use a celebrity on the show.
In the episode "Stark Raving Dad", Homer gets thrown into a mental institution after wearing a pink shirt to work. There he meets a balding, overweight inmate who believes himself to be superstar Michael Jackson (voiced by the King of Pop himself). When Homer is released, he invites MJ to stay with the family. After disappointing the whole town for not being the actual Michael Jackson, MJ redeems himself by helping Bart write a special birthday song for Lisa. In the end it's revealed that the man is actually Leon Kompowsky, and he only pretends to be Michael Jackson to make people happy. And with that he moves on to his next town to shed some good cheer.
It's impressive enough to get maybe the biggest star on the planet to appear on the show, but character of Leon is a pretty unique creation. He's like a guardian angel, and even allowed some opportunities to poke fun at Jackson's persona. Also, "Lisa It's Your Birthday" is a pretty catchy song.
8 Larry Burns
Montgomery Burn is one of the best characters on The Simpsons, with his cartoonish evilness and preposterously old age providing endless laughs. We've seen glimpses into his past over the years, but it still came as a surprise when we learns in "Burns, Baby, Burns" that he has a long-lost son. Even more surprising was that his progeny could not be less like Burns himself.
Larry Burns is a roadside souvenir salesman who heads to Springfield to seek out his father. While the elder Burns at first tries to form a real relationship with his son, the vast differences in their personalities makes this incredibly difficult. Larry's unsophisticated ways continually embarrass his father, and even worse, he becomes fast friends with Homer. In the end, the two Burns sort of reconcile, even though Mr. Burns acknowledges he can't be a real father to Larry. But Larry isn't too hurt as he has a family back home, remembering, "I told them I was going for coffee. That was a week ago."
Voiced by Rodney Dangerfield, Larry shares a lot in common with the legendary comedian and is essential a carbon copy of his character from Caddyshack. That could be why Larry is so easily likable, with his fun-loving attitude and hilarious goodhearted put-downs. Plus, few characters can get the whole town of Springfield to throw-down at an impromptu, nonsensical party.
The Simpsons has had a few gay characters over the years, such as Smithers, Marge's sister Patty and the aforementioned Karl. But Jon was the first instance in which the show explicitly identified a character as gay.
The Simpsons met Jon at his vintage collectibles shop and the whole family is very taken with him, especially Homer. All that changes when Homer is told what is already very clear to everyone else... John is gay. The revelation terrifies Homer, who becomes paranoid that John is "turning" Bart gay as well. This leads to Homer taking Bart hunting to make a man out of him, but when things go wrong, John comes to the rescue, and Homer realizes the error of his ways.
John is basically a cartoon version of famed indie director John Waters (including Waters' own vocals) so already the character is awesome. His fascination with the Simpson family from the perspective of a modern gay man is hilarious and he's just an effortlessly charming guy. The character also provides an opportunity for the show to tackle a subject like homophobia while also keeping the laughs coming.
6 Mr. Bergstrom
While The Simpsons has been a constant source of laughs over the years (less so in more recent years), sometimes it can surprise you with a real emotional wallop. Such is the case with the episode "Lisa's Subsitute" and the character of Mr. Bergstrom.
After Ms. Hoover falls ill, Mr. Bergstrom steps in as Lisa's temporary teacher and quickly shows he's a different kind of educator than Springfield Elementary is used to. He's a genuinely caring and encouraging teacher who laughs as the kids poke fun at him and celebrates their creativity. Needless to say, Lisa forms an immediate attachment to him, but alas the life of a substitute is not permanent and the man who meant so much to Lisa is soon out of her life forever. But before he leaves, Bergstrom gives Lisa a notes and tells her to read it whenever she feels alone. The note simply reads, "You are Lisa Simpson". Excuse me, there's so much dust in my eye just now.
Dustin Hoffman provides the perfect voice work for Bergstrom (though under a pseudonym) and that just makes him all the more lovable. His farewell to Lisa and the impact he made on her over such a short time remain some of the most emotional moments in the show's history.
5 Jessica Lovejoy
While Bart's brief romance with Laura Powers was his first real crush, the introduction of Jessica Lovejoy taught him how dangerous a crush can be. She was also one of the few characters who proved to be more than Bart could handle in the mischief department.
Jessica was the seemingly angelic daughter of Reverend Lovejoy who Bart immediately falls for. He even tries fighting all his instincts to act like a good, church-going boy only to discover that Jessica is much more interested in his troublemaking side. She continuously goads him into various pranks to the point that Bart begins to think she's too evil even for him. Jessica finally goes too far when she steals the church collection plate and lets Bart take the fall. But justice is served when Jessica is found out in front of the whole town and Bart gets to go back to being the second biggest trouble-maker in Springfield.
It's not too often we get to see Bart in a sympathetic position, much less the voice of reason, but his relationship with Jessica showed that this spiky-haired hell-raiser has a conscience after all. While it's ultimately revealed Jessica is just seeking attention, her antics are so devilish it makes Bart look like an angel. It also doesn't hurt that she is voiced by America's beloved treasure, Meryl Streep.
4 Shary Bobbins
The Simpsons has always embraced its love of musicals so it was just a matter of time before they did a full-fledged musical episode, and they took a few cues from a genre classic for good measure.
When an overworked Marge needs some help around the house, the family hires a British nanny named Shary Bobbins, and while she might resemble a certain Disney character in more than one way, she insists she's a original like Rickey Rouse and Monald Muck. Bobbins is a big help around the house, even if her catchy tunes about cutting every corner and local boozehounds aren't as wholesome as you might have expected. However, the Simpsons' dysfunction soon wears her down and she eventually flies off on her magic umbrella to find the next family in need... before being sucked into a jet engine.
This is The Simpsons going full-on ridiculous. They really embrace the absurdity with this character, who's nothing more than a hilarious parody of a beloved children's character. Bobbins provides the show with some of its catchiest songs, and she even got one of the most memorable character exits ever.
3 The Spirit Guide
The show has had its fair share of weird characters over the years, but Homer's Spirit Guide from the episode "The Mysterious Voyage of Homer" is by far the trippiest. Which makes sense, since he's really just a hallucination.
After eating a few too many Guatemalan Insanity Peppers, Homer begins seeing visions and is soon confronted by a talking coyote who introduces himself as Homer's Spirit Guide. Throughout the hallucination, the coyote offers Homer advice and wisdom while helping him on his quest to find his soulmate. He also tries to eat Homer's leg, which is understandable-- he is a coyote, after all.
Honestly, this character could have been just a weird addition to the massive roster of characters without standing out, if not for one very special ingredient; the ultra-cool vocals of Mr. Johnny Cash. The legendary country singer brings an astounding amount of gravitas to the role and gives a surprisingly good performance. Pretty impressive for a character that doesn't even exist.
2 Hank Scorpio
Have you ever watched a spy movie like James Bond and wondered how those evil geniuses convince so many people to work for them? Well, The Simpsons answered that question with the character of Hank Scorpio, because not only is Hank one of the world's most feared terrorists, he's also the world's coolest boss.
In "You Only Move Twice", a fan-favorite episode, Homer is suddenly offered a lucrative job at the mysterious Globex Corporation in Cypress Creek. There, Homer meets his energetic and caring boss, Hank Scorpio. While Scorpio goes out of his way to make the Simpsons feel welcomed, he is also bent on world domination (all of which Homer is oblivious to). However, the other Simpsons don't enjoy their new home as much as Homer, so he decides to leave his dream job and boss for the sake of his family. Once they return to Springfield, they find that Scorpio has sent Homer a thank you gift for all his work-- the Denver Broncos.
Like Shary Bobbins, Scorpio is so memorable for how ridiculous and over-the-top he is. The whole character is an outrageous parody of James Bond villains, even going so far as to have Scorpio successfully kill Bond at one point. The character is also full of bizarre quirks, like carrying loose sugar in his pockets. Albert Brooks brings a lot of improvised brilliance to the role. As icing on the cake, Scorpio even gets his own Bond-style theme song over the closing credits.
1 Lyle Lanley
If there is an unsung hero in the long history of The Simpsons, a good argument could be made that it is Phil Hartman. The late, great comedic actor and Saturday Night Live alumni was not a regular cast member but lent his voice to several random characters over the years, including classic recurring characters like Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure. It seems only fitting that he also voiced the greatest single-episode character in the show's history.
The episode "Marge vs. the Monorail", written by none other than Conan O'Brien, is quite possibly the best episode in the show's entire historic run, and much of that is due to Lyle Lanley. Taking inspiration from The Music Man, Lanley is a con man who swindles Springfield into buying a monorail. After building the incredibly unsafe machine, Lanley skips town with all the money.
Sure, Lanley defrauded the whole town and put everyone's lives in danger, but boy, is he charming! The man knows just what to say to get anyone on his side. Even Lisa falls under his spell. And of course, we can't forget that he was the man who gave us the "Monorail" song; probably the best, catchiest song in the show's history, which will now be stuck in your head for days. You're welcome!
Which one-shot The Simpsons character is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!