By any metric, The Simpsons is a uniquely successful show. Since making its debut in 1989, The Simpsons has become the longest-running American scripted primetime television series, which is quite impressive for an animated show many wrote off as children’s nonsense in its early days. Even though The Simpsons has experienced a noticeable drop-off in overall quality over the years, it still ranks as one of the greatest TV series ever made and its legacy is ensured no matter how long it limps on for.
Of course, any series that produces more than 600 episodes over a near-three decade span is sure to have made some mistakes. More recently, The Simpsons has been mired in controversy for how its creators have handled criticisms of the character Apu. but that’s not what we’re here to discuss today. Instead, we want to look at some of the show’s continuity errors, plot holes, and the like. There are far too many to list off in a single article so instead, we’ve assembled 15 of our favorite blunders from the show’s rich history.
15. Opening Errors
We might as well start with the biggest recurring mistake in the history of The Simpsons. While the show’s opening credits sequence features a different couch gag in every episode, the rest has stayed pretty much the same for much of the early seasons. When Homer exits his car, you can clearly see a rake and other assorted items to the right of the inner garage door. However, when Homer is chased into the garage by Marge’s car, the rake is gone, replaced by two boxes that appear of out of thin air. Surprisingly, this isn’t the only continuity error in the opening credits! When Maggie goes through the grocery store checkout, Marge’s shopping cart is grey with a red handle. In the next shot, the entire cart is now turquoise with no red handle.
14. Black Smithers
If you’ve seen the first season of The Simpsons, you’ve no doubt noticed this continuity error but it’s become so infamous that it needs to be pointed out here. Everyone knows that Mr. Burns’ personal assistant has yellow skin like many of the show’s characters, but he looks decidedly different in his very first appearance on the show. During the episode “Homer’s Odyssey” (Season 1, Episode 3), Smithers is depicted with a dark skin tone, but this was changed in all subsequent episodes featuring the character. According to series creator Matt Groening, the animation director at the time wanted Smithers to be African American, but the character was later changed to “yellow.” There’s no significant reason for the change, as Groening says it was simply “a mistake.”
13. Sideshow Bob is a Free Man
Kelsey Grammar’s Sideshow Bob, a disgraced children’s entertainer who is constantly seeking revenge on Bart Simpson for putting him in jail, is easily one of the show’s best recurring characters. Over the years, Bob has found inventive ways to get out of prison in order to make another attempt on Bart’s life (or run for mayor, work for his brother Cecil etc.), but there’s an episode early on in The Simpsons that shows Bob out of prison with no explanation. In “Bart Gets An F” (Season 2, Episode 1), Sideshow Bob can be seen singing with the townsfolk during a snowy outdoor scene. We don’t see Bob’s first release from prison until the Season 3 episode “Black Widower,” so this shouldn’t be possible.
12. Blue Haired Lawyer’s Doppleganer
The blue-haired lawyer is one of the show’s most prominent unnamed characters and is usually seen representing high-powered clients such as Mr. Burns and Roger Meyers Jr. in court. The character’s first appearance comes in “Bart Gets Hit by a Car” (Season 2, Episode 10), defending Mr. Burns after he’s sued for running Bart down with his automobile. At one point in the episode, there’s a scene in which the blue-haired lawyer is questioning Marge on the stand. For a split second, you can see the lawyer also sitting in the background next to Mr. Burns! We can only assume this was a case of animators not paying close enough attention to the background shot to notice that the lawyer was seemingly in two places at once.
11. Marge Ignores/Forgets Bart’s Food Allergy
Bart Simpson has several severe food allergies, including peanut shrimp and butterscotch (as well as imitation butterscotch). We learn about the latter allergy in “Blood Feud” (Season 2, Episode 22) when Marge mentions it, yet this fact is later contradicted when Marge offers to cook Bart a special butterscotch chicken dinner as a reward for a good dental checkup in “A Milhouse Divided” (Season 8, Episode 6). We don’t want to call Marge a bad mother, but forgetting about her son has a severe allergy to butterscotch of all things is a tad worrisome, to say the least.
10. Brain & Nerve Tonic
Even the best episode of The Simpsons, “Homer at the Bat” (don’t @ us) contains a pretty big continuity error, though odds are you never even noticed it. During the scene where Mr. Burns is introducing nerve tonic to his softball team, the “&” symbol on the ‘Brain & Nerve Tonic’ label flips around multiple times. First it’s facing backward, but when Burns pulls the bottle away it faces forward. Then, as he moves the bottle around while he’s talking, the “&” switches between facing forward and backward again, all in one shot!
Ralph Wiggum is best known for offering dim-witted, non-sequitur material such as “I’m learnding!” and “Me fail English? That’s unpossible!” but his characterization has varied quite dramatically over the years, especially in the early seasons. This can be attributed to The Simpsons writers and animators still trying to figure certain characters out early on, but it’s still jarring to see Ralph’s appearance look quite different (the Season 1 episode “Moaning Lisa”) or even sound different.
In “Lisa’s Pony” (Season 3, Episode 8), Ralph can be seen cheering Lisa on as she rides by on her horse. When he replies to the boy next to him, Ralph’s voice sounds similar to Nelson Muntz’s, suggesting that even by the third season, the writers were still trying to figure Ralph out.
8. Homer’s Hat Switch
Color changes are one of the biggest recurring continuity errors on The Simpsons, which makes sense given just how much animation work goes into just a single episode. One example of this that probably went over many viewers’ heads (pun intended) happens during “Marge Gets a Job” (Season 4, Episode 7). During the scene where Homer says “You can’t take our donuts,” he’s wearing a red hat. However, in the next shot, his hat is blue and it stays this color for the rest of the scene (this error is actually addressed on the Season 4 DVD commentary track). We get that the plant staff were all wearing fun hats as per Marge’s recommendation, but it’s doubtful that Homer was wearing one capable of changing color in an instant.
7. Melting Snow
The classic Season 4 episode “Mr. Plow” contains a couple of significant continuity errors that you may have never noticed, but will have a hard time ignoring once you’ve seen them. The first actually detracts from the slapstick comedy the scene is trying to convey. The scene in question comes just after Homer plows a path for Bart’s school bus, thereby ensuring that the students of Springfield Elementary won’t have a snow day. The first shot of the bus is from the school doorway and we can see that the pathway to the school is covered in footprint-dotted snow. When the scene transitions to Principal Skinner and Bart near the bus, the snow on the pathway is suddenly gone. In the very next shot when Bart is pummeled by a flurry of snowballs, the snow returns.
The second error is a sudden color change that comes later in the episode when Homer is preparing to drive up a mountain to save Barney. In the first shot, Marge is holding Maggie, whose coat is blue. But later when the family is watching the mountain goat fall down the mountain, Maggie’s coat is now orange.
6. Time Paradoxes
The Treehouse of Horror V (Season 6, Episode 6) segment “Time and Punishment” deals with the unexpected consequences of time travel, but even that premise can’t explain away its continuity errors. The first occurs after Homer initially opens the toaster up. Before he takes the back off, the toaster has no wires on the outside but right after he puts the piece back on, the toaster is suddenly sporting two wires taped to the side.
The next mistake happens during the alternate future in which the world is ruled by Ned Flanders. As the Simpsons’ house is being picked up by a machine to be taken to the ‘Re-Neducation Centre,’ you’ll notice that the garage is on the wrong side of the house. When Homer escapes and returns to the house, the garage is on the correct side.
5. It’s 3 A.M.?
“The Cartridge Family” (Season 9, Episode 5) After purchasing a gun, Homer is told he has to wait a few days before he’s allowed to bring it home. This causes Homer to impatiently sit out in the yard for hours on end and pace through the house at night. At one point, Lisa is awoken by her father’s muttering and pleads with him to stop, stating it’s “3 A.M.” However, if we look to Lisa’s alarm clock on her nightstand, the time closer to 9:50.
4. Hi Everybody!
Everyone knows there are only two medical doctors worth knowing in Springfield: the reliable Dr. Hibbert and the woefully incompetent but lovable Dr. Nick Riviera. If you’ll recall, Dr. Nick was shockingly killed off during The Simpsons Movie which, as far as we know, is Simpsons canon. Imagine our surprise then to see him pop up just a year later in “Lost Verizon” (Season 20, Episode 2). We’re all for bringing back great characters, but the writers could have at least addressed the fact that Dr. Nick was dead the last time we saw him.
3. Dr Marvin Monroe Not Dead After All?
Another doctor who seemingly returned from the dead, psychatrist Dr. Marvin Monroe made several appearances in the early seasons of The Simpsons before it was revealed in the 138th episode spectacular that he had died along with Bleeding Gums Murphy. Nearly a decade later, the writers either ignored or forgot about this little detail when Monroe made an appearance in “Diatribe of a Mad Housewife” (Season 15, Episode 10).
Seeing as how the 138th Episode Spectacular was a bit of an unconventional episode, The Simpsons could have gotten away with not making Monroe’s death canon had it not been for the fact that we also see his grave in “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” (Season 11, Episode 14). Perhaps the show’s creators were hoping we’d overlook all of this since Dr. Monroe was, by the show’s own admission, never a popular character?
2. Didn’t That House Burn Down?
In “E-I-E-I-D’ oh,” (Season 11, Episode 5) the episode that famously introduced us to Tomacco , the Simpson family is forced to hide out at the farmhouse where Homer grew up after he challenges the wrong man to a duel. This would be fine expect for the fact that we’d already seen that same house burn down years before in the Season 6 episode “Grandpa vs. Sexual Inadequacy.” Considering the sorry state the family finds the house in, we’re going to go ahead and assume that it wasn’t rebuilt after it burned down, so we’re just going to chock this one up to forgetting about what happened with the house previously, which is understandable considering how much history the The Simpsons had already built by the eleventh season.
1. Banned From Florida (Or Maybe Not?)
The Simpsons have traveled to many different destinations over the years, including multiple trips to Florida. The family’s first trip to the orange state comes in “[Destroy] The Alligator and Run” (Season 11, Episode 19), which sees Homer take in a Kid Rock concert and accidentally kill a locally-famous alligator. The episode ends with the family being banned from ever entering the state again and yet since then, the family has returned to visit the Epcot Center in “Special Edna” (Season 14, Episode 7) and Miami in “Catch Em’ If You Can” (Season 15, Episode 18). Either that ban wasn’t as serious as we were led to believe or the writers simply forgot about this seemingly important detail.