Jan. 9th, 2014

missmediajunkie: (Default)
I resisted doing a "Simpsons" list for a long time for the usual reasons. It's been too long since I've seen many of the episodes. I quit watching regularly around the ninth or tenth season (though it seems like nearly everyone else did too). And my picks are heavily influenced by nostalgia since I saw most of the early seasons in junior high. However, I don't hesitate to call myself a "Simpsons" fan and we've got history together. So I'm adding the caveat that these are my favorite episodes of "The Simpsons" from the '90s. The 1999-2000 season is when Maude Flanders died and Apu had octuplets, to give you an idea of where the cutoff point is.

As usual, picks are unranked and ordered by airdate.

"The Way We Was" - The story of how Marge and Homer got together is one of the absolute essentials, the bedrock on which so much of their relationship and the show has been built. In the early years "The Simpsons" was still very much about the family's dynamics, and even though it spoofed on the tropes of suburban life sitcoms, it was still part of the category itself. The episode is simple, straightforward, and still mighty heartwarming. It didn't hit me how much until the Carpenters' callback in "The Simpsons Movie," really the only thing I liked about that film.

"Kamp Krusty" - There's always that one episode of a syndicated show that you love, but they only seem to play very rarely. For me it was "Kamp Krusty," the wonderfully twisted tale of Bart and Lisa being sent off to Kamp Krusty, which turns out to be full of death traps and forced labor. I always loved when "The Simpsons" got twisted and outrageous with nostalgic childhood activities, and "Kamp Krusty" is so lovingly detailed in its catalog of horrors that it's still one of my favorites. This was the fourth season premiere, which is by far its greatest year and the most well-represented here.

"A Streetcar Named Marge" - Where do we even start? The "A Streetcar Named Desire" musical with a melancholy solo for Apu as the paperboy? Marge as Blanche DuBois? Ned Flanders as the world's sweetest Stanley Kowalksi? The musical director played by Jonn Lovitz? The Maggie subplot at the Ayn Rand School for Tots? I bought the "Simpsons" album that had all the songs from this episode and can still sing most of them to this day. And I'm willing to bet that most of the former kids of my generation only know "A Streetcar from Desire" because of this episode.

"Marge vs. The Monorail" - The town of Springfield has become as important to the chemistry of "The Simpsons" as the Simpsons family. Mob mentality isn't just a phenomenon here, but practically a way of life. By the time this episode came around we had already seen the town's casual corruption and willingness to embrace the bizarre, but "Monorail" took it to new, wonderful extremes. Also note that while everyone remembers the extended parody of "The Music Man," but this was also the episode that started out with "The Simpsons'" take on the opening of "The Flintstones."

"Selma's Choice" - I honestly felt for Selma and her plight, but it's Duff Gardens that I love this episode for. The theme park experience was spoofed more thoroughly in "Itchy and Scratchy Land," but I thought Duff Gardens did it better with the beer-themed mascots and their alcohol-shilling version of "It's a Small World." Better yet, it gives a much more grounded version of a day at a theme park gone wrong with Bart on a malfunctioning ride and Lisa the Lizard Queen. This also contains one of the greatest "Simpsons" gags ever, Homer's epic relationship with a spoiled hoagie.

"Homer's Barbershop Quartet" - It would have been easy for the show to do a "Behind the Music" style parody, but by specifically mirroring the ups and downs of The Be Sharps on The Beatles gave it so many more dimensions and cultural resonance. In addition the the obvious references like Barney's conceptual artist Japanese girlfriend and the rooftop reunion, the installment is chock full of little details that any Beatlemaniac would appreciate. And then of course, there's "Baby on Board," a legitimately catchy earworm sung in part by Disneyland's Dapper Dans.

"Cape Feare" - The best of the Sideshow Bob episodes, and one of the last to be written by the show's original writing team. Now I've never seen either version of "Cape Fear," but Sideshow Bob makes such a great villain, I found him legitimately threatening (and terribly funny) enough for the plot to work. The show's gags never got better, defusing a lot of the tension with a lot of "Looney Tunes" silliness, including the beloved stepping-on-rakes bit. And the "Pirates of Penzance" ending is one of the most absolutely brilliant moments of time-stalling nonsense I've ever seen.

"Treehouse of Horror V" - Like many viewers, I tuned in for the yearly "Simpsons" Halloween specials long after I stopped watching the other episodes. My favorite of them was the fifth one, which contained "The Shinning," "Time and Punishment," and "Nightmare Cafeteria." So that's a parody of my favorite Stanley Kubrick film, a parody of a short story from one of my favorite science-fiction writers, and possibly the sickest and most gruesome concept the "Simpsons" writers ever came up with. Throw in the running gag with Groundskeeper Willie, and it's a classic.

"And Maggie Makes Three" - "The Simpsons" may be prized for its comedy, but it could also deliver moments of real warmth and poignancy. And even though the creators joked that Homer got dumber year after year, he was often at the center of the show's most heart-tugging episodes. In another of the great "Simpsons" flashback episodes, we get a look at the kind of life that Homer wanted, and learn about the sacrifices that he makes for his kids. It's not an especially funny episode, though I love all the stuff with Mr. Burns, but it's without question one of the very best.

"El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer)" - You gotta love a "Simpsons" episode that is essentially one long drug trip, though one brought on by Guatemalan insanity peppers instead of the more traditional mind-altering substances. This has some of the show's most wild and wonderful animation, as Homer journeys through beautifully surreal desert landscapes on a spirit quest. The Space Coyote he meets is voiced by Johnny Cash, of course. "The Simpsons" rarely got so wildly experimental, so it was great to see them really cut loose and break a lot of rules.

Honorable Mentions go to: "Bart the General," "Krusty Gets Busted," "Bart Gets an F," "Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish," "Bart the Daredevil," "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish," "Brush with Greatness," "Flaming Moe's," "Radio Bart," "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie," "Lisa's First Word," "I Love Lisa," "Whacking Day," "Lemon of Troy," "Bart Sells His Soul," "Treehouse of Horror VI," and "Homer's Enemy."
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