The Simpsons, an animated sitcom about a working-class family of parents and their three kids, is the longest-running American sitcom ever, having been on the air for 30 seasons since 1989. Despite how long the series has run – viewers who were 10 when they first started watching would now be pushing 40! - the family never ages. Homer and Marge remain their spritely selves, Bart is always a trouble-making 10-year-old, Lisa a precocious and intelligent eight-year-old, and Maggie a rarely-speaking, pacifier-addicted baby.
Of the 662 episodes of the series that have aired to date, it’s inevitable that a few would not be quite as strong as the others. Indeed, as the show has aged, some episodes, particularly over the last decade, have not lived up to the clever, funny, and engaging stories presented in earlier ones. Here’s a list of the 10 worst episodes that have aired to date, according to IMDb ratings.
10 "The Bonfire of the Manatees" (2005)
Kicking off the 17thseason, this episode didn’t actually get things off to a strong start. Homer is in debt to Fat Tony after falling for a football betting scam and must allow Fat Tony to shoot a porno film in his house to make good on what he owes. It was too far, even for a risqué series like The Simpsons.
Then, the storyline about manatees, which sees Marge getting stuck in a phone booth with one of the marine mammals, is weird, even for this show. The phone booth, with manatee and Marge still inside, is snagged by a marine biologist, Marge develops an affinity for the creature, and when jet skiers attack a pack of them, Homer saves the day. It was just…bizarre.
9 "A Midsummer’s Nice Dreams" (2011)
It seems this episode, which was a parody of William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream combined with reference to Cheech and Chong’s film Nice Dreams, didn’t quite compute with the show’s audience. From season 22, Homer joins a live show in place of Chong, and realizes that their supposed stoner persona is all a farce. Cheech, meanwhile, is replaced by Seymour Skinner in his new duo.
Meanwhile, in Marge’s efforts to help the Crazy Cat Lady get over her hoarding, she ends up keeping many of the items and cluttering her own home. The poorly-rated episode was the lowest-rated one of that season.
8 "The Nightmare After Krustmas" (2016)
Another later season episode, this episode from season 28, and the 18th Christmas-themed episode of the series overall, wasn’t quite as festive as viewers had hoped. Krusty and his daughter spend Christmas with the Simpsons, Reverend Lovejoy tries to find new parishioners for the church (including Krusty, who converts), and Maggie is haunted by a creepy Christmas Gnome in Your Home (a parody of Elf on a Shelf).
In Marge’s nightmare, the gnome attacks Maggie, Marge meets Santa Claus with the Abominable Snowman and Wayne Gretzky (?), and she’s eaten by the gnome. It seems The Simpsons got its Christmas and Halloween episodes mixed up.
7 "Clown in the Dumps" (2014)
No one likes a sad clown! Krusty the Clown retires after he feels hurt by a comedy cable channel roast, and his father dies before telling him whether he thinks he’s funny or not. A funeral, a clown sinking into a deep depression, then Lisa reacting to the news by wrapping Homer in bubble wrap to protect him, was all too real.
Viewers just want to watch The Simpsons to laugh and be uplifted, not feel sad and think about death and despair.
6 "The Musk Who Fell to Earth" (2015)
Elon Musk, who voices himself, comes to Springfield and befriends Homer in his efforts to modernize the nuclear power plant. But he goes too far, leaving Homer to figure out a nice way to break ties.
Mr. Burns, meanwhile, tries to assassinate Musk, and when Homer finally tells the billionaire tech mogul that they can’t be friends, Musk takes off in his rocketship. A story that cleverly touches on technological innovation, job losses, and major corporations losing millions, it just wasn’t what viewers were looking for when they tuned in that week.
5 "What to Expect When Bart’s Expecting" (2014)
From season 25, this is the first episode on the worst list that isn’t centered around the parents. Here, Bart puts a voodoo spell on his art teacher and she ends up getting pregnant, to which Ralph screams to the entire school that Bart got a teacher pregnant. Talk about a highly inappropriate joke! As word spreads, Bart is asked to help other couples conceive, believing he can make them pregnant, too. It’s just all…wrong.
It gets even weirder when Bart is kidnapped by Fat Tony who wants him to use his newfound baby-making skills to help him breed thoroughbred horses. Can this episode just be over already?
4 "Every Man’s Dream" (2015)
Another lackluster premiere, in this one from season 27, Homer is diagnosed with narcolepsy (no surprise there) but decides to get drunk instead of taking his medication. He and Marge separate, and Homer starts dating a young pharmacist named Candace after she drugs him and takes him home. When Homer realizes his mistake and returns home, he finds Marge having dinner with the kids and Candace’s dad.
In the end, it was all a dream. But the whole idea of Homer and Marge not being together, and infidelity, was too heavy for a comedic series. We need to see the entire Simpson family together for the series to work.
3 "The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed" (2010)
Delving once again into religious territory, this episode from season 21 sees Ned bringing Homer along to a church retreat in Jerusalem in an attempt to save his soul. Homer defiling sacred sites might have offended some viewers, even from a cartoon known for towing the line sometimes.
But the episode went even farther, with Homer lost in a desert after losing a camel, and seeing visions that suggest he’s a chosen Messiah, right before he’s rescued and diagnosed with Jerusalem Syndrome. It was just highly inappropriate and probably rubbed people the wrong way.
2 "Moe Goes from Rags to Riches" (2012)
In this totally odd episode, during a town meeting at Moe’s Tavern, people joke that Moe’s bar rag is his best friend. Then the rag (yes, the rag), voiced by Jeremy Irons, tells a story of its history and how it got its start as a medieval French tapestry before ending up in the bar. The rag is seemingly stolen, returned fully cleaned by Marge, and Moe realizes that the Simpsons are true friends. It’s a heartfelt story, but an episode about a talking rag? No thanks.
Meanwhile, Bart and Millhouse fight and make up once Bart lets Drederick punch him as a sign of his deep love for his friend. Boys will be boys?
1 "Lisa Goes Gaga" (2012)
Dubbed the worst episode of the series to date, which, given the number of episodes, is saying a lot, this episode is from season 23. Lisa attempts to make herself popular, but her plan backfires (thanks to Bart) until she gets help from Lady Gaga. The musician just happened to be passing through Springfield on her want to a concert and decides to stop there when she notices how low everyone’s self-esteem is there.
Even Gaga guest starring as herself couldn’t save this episode. While the idea to run an episode that teaches kids to have confidence and feel better about themselves was great, the delivery was not. And the duet at the ending was a sour cherry on the top of an already really bad episode.