The Simpsons is one of TV’s longest-running shows, and throughout its three decades on television, audiences have been introduced to the many residents of the town of Springfield. One of the reasons the show is so popular is because the characters are so compelling. While just a cartoon on the surface, The Simpsons actually resonates with viewers on a much deeper level.
Every character we meet on the show is unique, yet oddly relatable. It’s as if we already know them (or at least someone like them). And while all the characters are entertaining and relatable, some are more likable than others. But what exactly makes a character likable? After all, to many horror fans, Freddy Krueger is extremely likable despite the fact that he’s a child molester and murderer…so, why?
Likability can come in many different forms. Some characters are relatable, while others are funny, compelling, badass, or just plain fun. Every character has their own story and reason why they’re likable, there’s no set formula to it, it’s an organic relationship the audience forms with a character. Here are 10 from The Simpsons that stand out above the rest.
Voiced by the late, great Phil Hartman, Lionel Hutz often found himself representing the Simpsons in court. His educational background is unverified, his skills as a lawyer are dubious at best, and his only goal seems to be getting paid. On paper, Hutz is an incredibly unlikable character, but Hartman did such a fantastic job at bringing this shmuck to life that viewers can’t get enough.
He personifies the problems with America’s legal system and the endless ire it brings, giving viewers a way to vicariously laugh at it. Plus, with lines like, “Mr. Simpson, don’t you worry. I watched Matlock in a bar last night…the sound wasn’t on, but I think I got the gist of it,” you can’t help but love every scene he’s in.
Another Phil Hartman staple was Troy McClure. You may remember him from such films as Earwigs…Ewwww, Alice’s Adventures Through the Windshield Glass, Firecrackers: The Silent Killer, and Whoa! Don’t Touch Me There! McClure is a struggling B-list actor who now settles for any gig he can get – usually hosting public broadcast TV shows or narrating some straight-to-video educational film. But despite his acting failures, he has the confidence of an A-List Hollywood star.
Even though McClure is a total ham, you can’t help but like him. Something about his headstrong bravado despite his endless failures as an actor makes him hilarious and, in an odd way, even a little endearing.
Like the rest of Phil Hartman’s characters, McClure was seldom seen after Hartman’s murder in 1998. His last voice appearance was in season 10, though, much like Lionel Hutz, he can still be seen in some nonspeaking scenes in more recent episodes. Despite only being part of the show’s first nine years, Hartman left a lasting legacy that, thanks to reruns and streaming apps, continues to live on.
Lindsey Naegle seems to pop up everywhere. She’s been an executive, a financial planner, a consultant, and more. Originally, Naegle started off as a gag character, someone who was thrown into a scene that needed a bitchy, go-get-’em business type. And yet, after almost thirty years of being on the show, she’s developed into one of the most recognizable Springfield residents. The show has even poked fun at Naegle’s numerous careers a few times throughout the years, including an episode of the current season where Naegle has a business card that reads, “Daytime TV Producer (This Week).”
Naegle also gets all the best lines. Being the face of capitalism and the ruthless side of the business world, Naegle has no shortage of scene-stealing lines like, “Well, Lisa, I would be proud if one of the eggs I sold turned out like you,” and “I’m Lindsey Naegle, and I don’t want to spend another fiscal year alone.”
There’s a reason why The Simpsons always bring her back season after season – she’s a scene-stealer and audiences can’t help but like her. Funny, quick, a bit ruthless, and the original #GirlBoss before that was even a thing, Lindsey Naegle is a force to be reckoned with.
Edna Krabappel is a surprisingly complicated character. On the surface, she’s the antagonist of Bart, being his totally-over-it 4th-grade teacher who doesn’t fall for his tricks. But more broadly, she embodies the type of teacher many of us had at some point in our lives: Unimpassioned, bored, and wishing for a better life than being surrounded by children.
And yet, when you grow up and mature a bit, you realize Mrs. Krabappel isn’t bad, she’s just miserable. In numerous episodes, we get to explore more of Edna’s life and her longing for love and adventure. She became a tragic character in a way, always trapped in a life she doesn’t want.
You feel for her and want her to succeed. You suddenly find yourself rooting for Mrs. Krabappel and wondering if all those teachers you hated so much as a kid were actually just lonely, sad women. It’s impossible not to like Edna, whether for her quippy lines like, “Bart, are those liquor bottles? Take them to the teacher’s lounge…You can have whatever’s left after school,” or her deeper storyline that proves she was more than just a side character.
Homer is another complicated character, but for different reasons. As a viewer, you can’t help but love him because he’s the embodiment of that inner child that still lives inside us all…but, he’s also incredibly immature, selfish, and stupid. He regularly puts his family in danger and hurts them – from marrying other women in Vegas to framing Marge for drunk driving (not to mention his many strangulation attempts).
At best, he’s a lovable oaf. At worst, he’s a reckless and dangerous moron. But audiences still love him. Perhaps it’s because he’s one of the main characters and we’re naturally primed as viewers to root for the protagonist, or maybe it’s because viewers like to fantasize about living a life like Homer’s, where actions don’t have consequences. At his core, Homer is innocent in a way most adults aren’t. The many problems he creates all seem to happen because he just doesn’t comprehend the idea of consequences. While incredibly infuriating, there’s also something strangely charming and adorable about that.
Throughout the years, a lot has been written about whether Homer is a good person or not and the answer always seems to be inconclusive. The reality is that Homer makes tons of mistakes…and that seems to be what endears viewers to him.
“I Choo-Choo-Choose You” has gone down as one of the most heartwarming moments in Simpsons history, but why? Because audiences love Ralph. He’s the child of Chief Wiggum and it’s assumed that he might suffer from some kind of brain damage or disability, but that doesn’t stop him from getting some of the biggest laughs of the entire series with lines like, “Bushes are nice because they don’t have prickers…unless they do…this one did…ouch.”
Matt Groening himself even loves Ralph, telling USA Today in 2018 that he is one of his favorite supporting characters. Ralph has an innocence about him that naturally draws you in and makes you want to protect him. He doesn’t have the ability to be mean or cruel, so as a viewer you can’t help but love the little guy, almost wanting to protect him from the dangers of the world.
Marge is an avatar for mothers around the world – unappreciated, overworked, and the only one holding her family together. She has a virtually endless amount of forgiveness for Homer and the things he does to her, and she loves her family more than anything in the world. It’s impossible not to like Marge.
In fact, most of Marge’s best moments are when she starts behaving badly, and that likely stems from how much audiences want her to have some fun since she’s more than earned it. From Marge getting road rage in the Canyonero to becoming a witch in “Treehouse of Horror VIII,” sometimes, our favorite Marge is the naughty one. But again, that’s only because we feel for Marge and understand that she’s always the one forced to clean up other people’s messes. We all see how hard Marge works and so nothing is more fun than watching Marge let her hair down and create the mess for a change.
How could you not love Ol’ Gil Gunderson? Chronically down on his luck, Gil pops up numerous times throughout the series, always as a desperate, destitute, and depressed old man who just can’t catch a break. His failed careers are numerous: salesman, security guard, wannabee lawyer, and solicitor, among many others. On top of all that, he’s often having marital problems, too.
And yet, he steals every scene he’s in. You just can’t get enough of Ol’ Gil, because we’ve all had our own Gil moments. We all know what it’s like to fail, to feel down on our luck, to feel hopeless, and most of us also know the feeling of overexaggerating our misery when we’re down, making Gil a hilariously relatable character. We’ve all been Gil at some point in our lives, and that’s exactly why we can’t help but love him. It’s no wonder he’s a meme and GIF staple the internet can’t get enough of.
Some fans have also pointed out a potentially bright future for our downtrodden friend. In “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular,” a commercial comes on for Gunderson’s Unshelled Nuts. Since Futurama is also created by Groening, fans theorize that Gil may have frozen himself like Fry, finally finding career success in the distant future. Plus, an unshelled nut company sounds exactly like the kind of enterprise Gil would create.
Intelligent, go-getting, and mature…it’s hard to believe that Lisa is actually a Simpson. Despite being the most talented and gifted member of the family, she’s often treated as the black sheep because she’s just too intellectual for anyone else to understand. This often brings out one of Lisa’s most relatable traits: rebelliousness. While Bart is notably a rebel in the most generic sense of the word, it’s often Lisa who truly challenges her family and the town of Springfield.
From questioning her family’s blind religious beliefs in “She of Little Faith,” to confronting the maker of the Malibu Stacy doll in “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy,” and even forcing her mom to accompany her to a beach cleanup in “Bart After Dark,” Lisa isn’t afraid to challenge those around her. She’s likable because she actually wants to make the world a better place and she’s not afraid to personally take on the responsibility.
Naturally, the townspeople tend to find her annoying. Like many in the real world, the people of Springfield are too self-consumed and lazy to fight for what’s right, often letting corruption and greed go unchecked. Lisa is one of the only characters brave enough to stand up and make her voice heard.
Bart Simpson is one of the most influential and memorable characters in television history. He’s a bit of a brat, but he’s also loveable and undeniably hilarious. He gets himself into trouble, but it’s always in the youthful type of way that makes you forgive him over and over again.
Plus, without Bart, the Simpson family never would have wound up on their many adventures. From almost starting a war with Australia to creating the ‘Angry Dad’ cartoon, Bart has always had a way of putting his family (and all of Springfield) through turmoil…but also excitement, hilarity, and moments of bonding.
In a way, Bart was a ’90s version of Dennis the Menace. He was like everyone’s conniving younger brother. And, throughout the years, his character hasn’t changed much, which is oddly refreshing. Despite how much the world has been through in the last few decades, we can always rely on Bart to still be that same ’90s kid, filling us with a sense of innocence and nostalgia.
You can stream the newest season of The Simpsons on Hulu and watch seasons 1-33 on Disney+.
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