For more than 30 years, The Simpsons has been a pillar of our collective cultural knowledge. Even if you’ve never seen an episode, you likely know at least one joke that came from the show originally. Because the show has been running for so long, though, it can be hard to home in on which episodes are essential, and which ones you can probably skip.
- 10. Treehouse of Horror V (season 6, episode 6)
- 9. 22 Short Films About Springfield (season 7, episode 21)
- 8. Flaming Moe’s (season 3, episode 10)
- 7. And Maggie Makes Three (season 6, episode 13)
- 6. The Springfield Files (season 8, episode 10)
- 5. Treehouse of Horror VI (season 7, episode 6)
- 4. Homer at the Bat (season 3, episode 17)
- 3. Mr. Plow (season 4, episode 9)
- 2. Marge vs. the Monorail (season 4, episode 12)
- 1. Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part One) (season 6, episode 25)
While there’s plenty of greatness scattered across the show’s entire run, these are the 10 best episodes of The Simpsons that you definitely shouldn’t miss.
The Treehouse of Horror series feels like an ideal place to start this list, in part because these episodes are a staple of every Simpsons fan’s episode diet. This episode in particular features a loving parody of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, but also a great running bit where Willie rushes in to save the day and is immediately killed by an axe. Mostly, though, this episode is just rife with brilliant jokes, and is a reminder of how good The Simpsons can be at packing in gag after gag.
The Simpsons are at the core of the show that bears their name, but this season 7 episode allowed viewers to focus on the many other colorful characters that inhabit Springfield. Framed as a series of vignettes, 22 Short Films About Springfield packs so many stories into its tight running time that it can feel overwhelming, but the jokes are so good that you won’t mind watching it over and over again.
A cameo by legendary rock band Aerosmith is just a teaser for the greatness that is Flaming Moe’s. The episode sees Moe the bartender taking credit for a drink that Homer invented, and really just feels rock-solid from front to back.
The jokes all hit, we get a few surprisingly tender moments that help us better understand Moe, and plenty of time with Homer as he attempts to process how Moe could have betrayed him like this.
A shockingly sweet episode, And Maggie Makes Three gives us a flashback to a time when there were just four Simpsons. Homer finds himself with an opportunity to leave the nuclear power plant, until he discovers that Marge is pregnant with Maggie.
After Homer realizes that he can’t leave his job, he’s gifted a nice plaque from Mr. Burns that reminds him of his unending toil, and also puts pictures of Maggie in his office as a reminder of the reason he gets up every morning and goes to work.
A straight-up parody of The X-Files that even features Mulder and Scully, The Springfield Files is a reminder that while people may complain about how reliant modern Simpsons are on on easy parodies and references, the show used to be able to carry them off with aplomb.
Mulder and Scully come to town to investigate an alien that Homer claims he saw in the woods, and we even get a bit of Leonard Nimoy in a framing story. Like so many of the best Simpsons episodes, it understands The X-Files well enough to know how to best skewer it, and that’s what makes it one of the show’s very best.
This list needed at least two Treehouse of Horror installments to feel truly complete, and Treehouse of Horror VI has long been a fan favorite. The episode’s segments include one where the town’s various advertisements come to life and begin to attack the residents, another that parodies the horror movie A Nightmare on Elm Street, and a third that sees Homer become a 3D animated character and enter the real world. This kind of bold experimentation is what made early Treehouse of Horror segments so wonderful, and each of these segments is hilarious for totally different reasons.
Mr. Burns is almost always trying to stand between Homer and his glory, and that’s never more clear than in Homer at the Bat. When Homer joins the power plant’s softball team, he finds that Burns has stacked the opposing team with legendary MLB players, all voiced by the real guys.
What follows is a pretty convincing send-up of sports movie tropes, as each of the professional players get eliminated from the game in truly outlandish ways. In the end, Homer finds that he may actually be able to get his moment of glory after all, and The Simpsons‘ writers knew that they didn’t need to undercut that.
Although Homer spends most of The Simpsons working at the power plant, he’s accumulated some memorable side gigs over the course of his many years on the show. One of the most memorable, though, was Mr. Plow, when he became a minor celebrity because of his snow-plowing business.
When Homer’s drinking buddy Barney decides to get into the business as the Plow King, the rivalry between the two comes pretty close to a boil. Along the way, we get plenty of perfect joke delivery and loads of memorable moments between Barney and Homer.
A rare focus on Marge in the show’s early seasons also turned out to be one of the show’s very best outings. In addition to being consistently hilarious, Marge vs. the Monorail also doubles as a parody of The Music Man, and a pretty great one at that.
The musical number at the center of the episode is wonderful, as is Marge’s earnest questioning of whether the town of Springfield really needs such a convoluted piece of new technology.
The Simpsons didn’t need to parody other pop culture to be great, but it never hurt when it did. Who Shot Mr. Burns? — a riff on the legendary Dallas storyline Who Shot J.R.? — is actually a two-parter, but it’s the first episode that lands at the top of our list.
After Mr. Burns hatches a dastardly plot to block out the sun, he winds up shot, and almost everyone is a suspect. Clues as to the killer’s identity are actually carefully placed throughout the episode, as are enough jokes to make this one of the funniest things you’re likely to ever see.
The Simpsons is streaming on Disney+.
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