With 574 episodes to date spreading over 26 years, selecting just 10 is a daunting feat and only begins to scratch the surface of what makes The Simpsons the greatest cartoon of all time. These 10 classic episodes all stand out for their hilarity and brilliance, and even though you may know the entire plot and dialogue, changing the channel is not an option when these episodes are on. Some of them take on large themes and parody popular culture, some focus on a range of Springfield’s wacky citizens, and some are simply small family stories but packed full of laughs.
10. “Homer the Heretic” (Season 4, Episode 3)
Religion is a prevalent theme throughout the show, and “Homer the Heretic” is both an interesting and hilarious look at faith. On a cold Sunday morning, Homer decides to skip church and ends up having the best day of his life. This fantastic sequence sees Homer sleep in late, dance in his underwear, make his “patented space-age out of this world moon waffles,” win a radio contest, watch a football match and find a penny under the couch. Much to Marge’s dismay, he decides never to go to church again, but then has a dream where he meets God. God agrees with Homer’s point, and even the Flanders’ family cannot win Homer back to Christianity. Then, whilst everyone is at church, Homer accidentally burns the house down but is saved by Apu (Hindu), Krusty (Jewish), and Flanders (Christian). Reverend Lovejoy states God was working in the hearts of his friends.
9. “Homer’s Enemy” (Season 4, Episode 3)
Whilst we all know and love Homer, if he were a real person, he would be incredibly irritating. This is explored in this episode, which sees a hard-working, normal but unlucky character, Frank Grimes, thrust into a cartoon world where people like Homer exist. Grimes starts working at the Nuclear Power Plant, and he immediately takes a disliking to Homer due to his poor work ethic and for calling him “Grimey.” Homer tries to win him over with a lobster dinner, but this only infuriates him more as he sees Homer’s family and life experiences. This frustration mounts as nobody else seems to mind Homer’s incompetence, and then Grimey snaps, and ends up killing himself by mocking Homer’s actions and grabbing a high voltage cable. At the funeral, Reverend Lovejoy says that he liked to be called “Grimey,” and then everyone laughs as Homer talks in his sleep.
8. “Treehouse of Horror V” (Season 6, Episode 6)
The “Treehouse of Horror” episodes are hit and miss, but the fifth edition saw the writers nail many horror clichés, and furthered proof that they are the masters of parody. This is particularly true with the first of three tales, which is a parody of the horror classic, The Shining (or “The Shinning” as Willie calls it). The story and visual style is very similar to the film, but with plenty of added humor. The absence of beer and TV cause Homer to go insane, “no TV and no beer make Homer go something something…” He later chops down a door and delivers the famous “Heeere’s Johnny!” line, before chasing the family out into the snow where he returns to sanity thanks to Willie’s TV radio. The second story brilliantly explores the consequences of time travel, with the final black humor chapter seeing the Springfield Elementary staff eat the students.
7. “Lisa the Vegetarian” (Season 7, Episode 5)
In comparison to the other family members, Lisa is unexplored and often misunderstood. Her seriousness means that she is generally not a fan favorite, but interestingly enough, many of show writers list her as their favorite. “Lisa the Vegetarian” is the best exploration of Lisa and her struggles to fit her views with the world, and it is as hilarious as it is a great exploration. After visiting a petting zoo, Lisa decides to become a vegetarian and sabotages Homer’s barbecue, seeing the roast pig shot through the air (much to the confusion of Mr. Burns). Everyone turns against her and she almost succumbs to the pressure to conform, but she then encounters Apu (a vegan) who introduces her to Paul and Linda McCartney. They convince her to commit to vegetarianism, and Apu teaches her about tolerating other people’s viewpoint. She and Homer then make up in a touching scene.
6. “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” (Part 1 & 2) (Season 6, Episode 25 & Season 7, Episode 1)
As this list demonstrates, the show writers are masters of parody, and this two-parter was a terrific parody of Dallas’s “Who Shot J.R?” and other murder mysteries. It both looks and feels dramatic, with the first episode (also the end of the season) ending on a cliffhanger. After oil is struck at the school, Mr. Burns steals and launches the oil which causes devastation. He then plans to block out the sun so that the town has to solely use his electricity, but Mr. Burns is then found shot after a town meeting, after many people threatened him throughout the episode. The second part sees suspects cleared one by one, with evidence then pointing to Homer. In a purposefully anti-climactic ending, the shooter is revealed to be Maggie Simpson, as Mr. Burns admits he was trying to literally take candy from a baby. There are subtle clues to this throughout.
5. “Rosebud” (Season 5, Episode 4)
In a parody of Citizen Kane, Mr. Burns has everything in the world except his beloved childhood teddy bear, Bobo. As it turns out, Maggie Simpson is in possession of Bobo and has become quite attached to the bear (interestingly another encounter between these characters). This episode is very comical but also has a lot of depth to it, seeing it humanize Mr. Burns who is usually such as despicable (yet incredibly comical) character. It is also interesting to see Homer’s conflict, with Mr. Burns offering him riches if he gives him the bear, but Homer then sees how attached his daughter has become and proves himself to be a good father in the end (despite Mr. Burns shutting off the beer supply to Springfield). Mr. Burns then encounters Maggie in her sandpit, and she gives him the bear which sees the family get nothing in return.
4. “Homer the Great” (Season 6, Episode 12)
“Homer the Great” is one of the most famous and quoted episodes of all time, and this is for good reason. It sees Homer become irritated by not being admitted to a secret society known as The Stonecutters, “who, since ancient times, have split rocks of ignorance that obscure the light of knowledge and truth. Now let’s all get drunk and play ping-pong!” He is allowed to join after discovering Grandpa is a member, and then he unwittingly becomes their leader after they find his “Chosen One” birthmark. The other members become bored under Homer’s regime, and form The Ancient Mystic Society of No Homers (referencing an earlier joke of the No Homers Club that Homer was again not a member of as a youth). It is, as many are, an excellent Homer episode, plus, what The Stonecutters get up to make this a fan favorite with many.
3. “Marge vs. The Monorail” (Season 4, Episode 12)
This episode has a bit of everything, including a Flintstones spoof, Leonard Nimoy, a fantastic musical number, the entire town acting stupidly, Homer adding another job to his CV, and tons of throwaway gags. This makes it laugh out loud funny from start to finish, but it is also an episode where Marge is able to take point. The town comes into a large sum of money, and they are easily won over by the smooth talking stranger who suggests that they buy a monorail. Marge and Lisa are skeptical, and discover that he intends to have the monorail break down so that he can get away with the money. Although a close call, everything works out and the day is saved. It is jam-packed with jokes and drama throughout, making it one of the most fun and exciting episodes created, and also one which is highly quotable.
2. “Cape Feare” (Season 5, Episode 2)
There have been many great parodies over The Simpsons’ 26 year history, but none topped their take on the revenge classic Cape Fear. This would be Sideshow Bob’s (brilliantly voice acted by Kelsey Grammer) second appearance, and sees him paroled from prison where he then begins to stalk Bart (with several nods to the film). The Simpsons enter the Witness Protection Program and become The Thompsons and are relocated to Terror Lake. Sideshow Bob travels on the underside of their car, but suffers some bad karma which is punctuated by the famous rake scene. Family Guy is famous for repetitive jokes, but this was first with this unforgettable scene. There are many fantastic gags throughout, including Homer bursting into Bart’s room complete with a chainsaw and hockey mask, before Sideshow Bob sings the entire score to the H.M.S. Pinafore, where his plan is then once again foiled.
1. “Last Exit to Springfield” (Season 4, Episode 17)
“Last Exit to Springfield” is an epic and dramatic episode, which tackles an enormous story and is rife with social commentary, parodies and jokes. This depth makes it one of the best of all time, and an example of fantastic writing. With Lisa needing braces, Mr. Burns is attempting to get rid of the union’s dental plan, which leads Homer to slowly realize that he would have to pay for the braces (one of the most quoted moments—“Dental plan!/Lisa needs braces.” Homer becomes the new union president, and inadvertently becomes a tough negotiator and impresses Mr. Burns in some classic scenes. They go on strike and stand strong even when the power is turned off, and Mr. Burns then concedes as long as Homer resigns as union president. This causes Homer to celebrate wildly, seeing Mr. Burns realize that he was not, in fact, a masterful tactician at all.