The Simpsons is currently in its 30th nseason, which means there is no shortage of episodes up for debate. As a phenomenon in the ‘90s and an inspiration to so many comedic voices of today, it’s no surprise that people are passionate about their favorites. There have been decades of discussion about what is the best season or the best episode or when the show started to drop off in quality. There are no right or wrong answers here, as long as you’re watching The Simpsons, you’re doing it right.
That being said, there are lots of episodes that earn their praise like “Last Exit to Springfield," "Lisa’s Substitute" and "Cape Feare." But with over 600 episodes, it is daunting to look at the entire catalogue and choose what’s worth watching. Here are a few fantastic episodes that aren’t as often mentioned and some that may not be worth the hype they receive.
20 UNDERRATED: BART SELLS HIS SOUL
This episode is not often in the conversation when it comes to best episodes of the show, but it has every element of a great Simpsons episode. The writers never backed away from tackling religion or existential questions in an episode, and here is another prime example. They use Bart as the facilitator to debate the existence of a soul and what it means to have one. The dream sequence with Bart trying to row his boat alone is actually quite beautiful as a metaphor.
But all of this is snuck in beneath a mountain of jokes and a hilarious sub plot with Moe converting his bar into a family friendly restaurant. This is the kind of the episode that is always worthy of a re-watch, whether it’s to catch a joke you missed last time or to question one’s divine purpose.
19 OVERRATED: 22 SHORT FILMS ABOUT SPRINGFIELD
This episode is in the minds of many as an iconic episode, but if you revisit the episode as a whole, you’ll find it fairly forgettable. In an episode comprised of multiple stand-alone segments, some are fantastic and some really miss the mark.
The ‘Steamed Hams’ scenes with Skinner and Chalmers are perfection and it’s possible the resurgence of those as a recent meme kept this episode alive. People seem to have a fondness for the Pulp Fiction parodies but looking at them now, they are more of an homage than anything, looking for laughs at merely referencing a popular film.
18 UNDERRATED: THE SEEMINGLY NEVER-ENDING STORY
Here is a hilarious episode from Season 17. Long past its prime, the show doesn’t always deliver like it used to, but this episode has a fresh, fun spin. Years before Inception, The Simpsons did the trick of delivering a story within a story…within a story… within… you get it. When the family is stuck in a cave, Lisa tells a story to pass the time. It soon becomes Mr. Burns’ story, and then Moe’s, creating the layered narrative.
This unconventional technique works well for keeping up the pace of the episode and allows everything set up in these stories to come colliding together at the end. The episode won an Emmy in 2006, proving the show still had amazing stories to tell.
17 OVERRATED: LISA'S WEDDING
It’s surprising how well regarded this episode is, given the natural of the story. It’s an episode about Lisa visiting a fortune teller and having her future foretold. But to watch this future play out is fairly unremarkable. There are a few stellar moments like the running gag of the robots’ heads melting but overall, the humor feels kind of cheap.
The episode relies on long time fans to be dazzled by the basic thought experiment of ‘what if…’ It’s not a terrible episode, but it does operate under the assumption that just seeing these beloved characters years down the line is enough to crack us up. It’s a fun way to switch it up, but these flash-forward episodes are never the show’s strongest.
16 UNDERRATED: RAGING ABE SIMPSON AND HIS GRUMBLING GRANDSON IN 'THE CURSE OF THE FLYING HELLFISH'
In the immortal word of Mr. Burns: “Excellent." This is certainly an episode that took some leaps with the premise. The unique pairing of Grandpa Simpson and Mr. Burns gives us a new dynamic and wild backstory for the two. If you throw Bart in the mix, there’s even more to work with. This episode is an example of how to do this kind of ‘jump the shark’ writing well. “The Principal and the Pauper” on the other hand is an episode where the writers tried to throw in an elaborate war era backstory and ended up making an episode, which many mark as the decline of The Simpsons.
Years before that, however, they got it right. This is an outlandish episode with the feel of an old adventure tale. The vibe is pure joy. There is a wonderful stupidity jokes like Grandpa’s pants dropping in the graveyard.
15 OVERRATED: BART THE GENIUS
Most of Season 1 does not stand the test of time. These episodes are fondly remembered from an age where this animated show dared to break the conventions of a family sitcom and shocked some viewers in 1990. These aspects don’t hold up. The only thing these early episodes are better than are the Tracey Ullman shorts that preceded it.
As for “Bart The Genius," it is often found on lists of the top episodes, but it hardly compares to the episodes in future seasons, which even handle similar subject matter. Try “Bart Gets an F” from season two, which is a more interesting episode with far more emotional depth.
14 UNDERRATED: SIMPSONCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALA(ANNOYING GRUNT)CIOUS
Perhaps it’s the recent viewing of Mary Poppins Returns talking, but this is a hidden gem of an episode and worth revisiting with the parodies landing better than ever. It’s home to a few fun, cinematic musical numbers, some spot on meta jokes and a delightfully dark ending.
Nestled in between some other fantastic episodes, this is just another example of how strong the show was, even after eight years. As the only one this season to be written by the juggernauts of Al Jean and Mike Reiss, this can’t be undersold.
13 OVERRATED: HOMER'S BARBERSHOP QUARTET
Baby… Off Board. People might remember this episode primarily because it brought together some excellent secondary characters. There is also something to be said about songs making episodes stick in people’s minds. But this one shouldn’t really have the label of a ‘classic.'
The tunes may get stuck in our heads and we may picture the image of the four men singing on a rooftop, but beyond that, it’s really a middle of the pack episode. Surrounded by much funnier in Season 5, there’s no reason to re-visit this one.
12 UNDERRATED: BART ON THE ROAD
This one deserves lots of recognition for the hilarious A plot and the heartfelt B plot. The road trip with Bart, Millhouse, Nelson and Martin is a terrific character combo that is always a treat. Just like in “Lemon of Troy”, an episode that seems to garner more respect, the kids really shine. This episode provides a departure from Springfield, which opens up the possibilities. And you know we’re all voting for a trip to the World’s Fair in Knoxville.
The B plot is a delightful pairing of Lisa and Homer. Homer is used expertly here as the writers never betray his character, but rather facilitate his natural instincts to be a good father. There is nothing more wholesome and touching than seeing the two giggling and bonding at their power plant sleep over.
11 OVERRATED: KING SIZE HOMER
This is a very memorable episode but some may question if that’s simply because of the distinct visuals. A lot of the longest running jokes on The Simpsons attack Homer’s weight, laziness and love of food. All of these culminate in this episode, and that may not be a good thing. These gags are consistent and a staple of the show, but not necessarily the tools used to build a great episode. Many of these jokes are right across the plate.
This episode was written by Dan Greaney, who also wrote “Summer of 4 Ft. 2.” There is an ocean between these episodes, despite airing only a few months apart. “King Size Homer” does far less examining of the human condition and more laughing at the inabilities of severely overweight people.
10 UNDERRATED: MARGE IN CHAINS
It is astonishing how this episode falls under the radar. Many episodes focusing on Marge get less love than they deserve though. The great Phil Hartman is on full display here in an episode that begins with Troy McClure and gives Lionel Hutz some of his best bits of all time.
The ending could be stronger, as the town falls to pieces without Marge’s marshmallow squares to boost the bake sale. Other than that, you have a hilarious episode at the show’s peak. Brimming with jokes, it spreads the wealth to countless side cast from Quimby to Maude to Wiggum.
9 OVERRATED: BART THE DAREDEVIL
Here is an overrated episode from a time before the show hit its stride. The scene of Homer falling into the gorge and then falling AGAIN into the gorge on the stretcher is widely known and the strongest bit in the whole episode. The events leading up to this gag however are unlikely to be fondly remembered.
The jokes, storytelling and animation are all quite simple. This and other ‘classic’ season two episodes are certainly laying the foundation of what is to come, but will never be the shows greatest feats. Instead, opt for a better season two episode like “Lisa’s Substitute” or “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.”
8 UNDERRATED: 24 MINUTES
This parody of the show 24 is expertly done and the reason this episode stands out in the later seasons. With the use of split screens, text and rapid cutting, this episode gave itself the opportunity for a wide swath of new joke formats.
The parody is top notch and even with the elaborate premise and suspension of disbelief there are some fantastic bits that could easily have been from the show’s heyday. An example of this is the quick glimpse we get of Moe attempting to practice dentistry on himself. Perhaps because the story breezes right past it, but it’s moments like that that make a longtime fan feel right at home.
7 OVERRATED: BART GETS AN ELEPHANT
Here is an episode with very little heart or charm. In a season with many outrageous plot lines and physical gags, you can find far better ones in other Season 5 episodes like “Deep Space Homer” or “Cape Feare."
There are some undeniably great bits, but very few come from Stampy, the elephant. There are a lot of repeat gags of him picking people up and putting them in his mouth, scaring other, more common, pets and causing general destruction. None of these should warrant this one-off character to be honored the same way we honor something great like say, that inanimate carbon rod.
6 UNDERRATED: SWEET SEYMOUR SKINNER'S BAADASSSSS SONG
Season 5 is jammed packed with antics and wild conceptual episodes but this episode slows it down. Focusing on the relationship between Bart and Principal Skinner, it is an excellent example of how fleshed out the show’s secondary characters can be.
As the 100th episode, it was fittingly placed in the hands of Simpsons heavyweights Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein. They do a tremendous job of creating an episode filled with quotable lines, pop culture parody and the real genuine moments that set this show apart.
5 OVERRATED: TREEHOUSE OF HORROR III
This is an underwhelming episode, especially because it falls in Season 4. It may be the weakest of the first three Halloween specials and this really shows when IV and V are some of the best the show every produced.
All the early "Treehouse of Horror" episodes are held in high regard but this one is pretty lackluster. The three stories are: the killer Krusty doll, the King Kong parody, and Bart and Lisa raising the dead. The only often quoted bit from the whole episode seems to be Homer’s line: “He was a Zombie?”
4 UNDERRATED: SUMMER OF 4 Ft. 2
How do you not love an episode that starts with Millhouse doing impressions of the different kinds of sprinklers? This episode is an awesome character study and fun departure from Springfield. It proves once again, that Lisa is the heart of the show and can provide some of the most engaging episodes. Your heart breaks on this journey of a girl trying to re-invent herself in order to make friends.
Beyond the relatable aspects, we find some hilarious parts as well. The best might be Bart drawing ‘The Dud’ card in a board game, revealing a picture resembling Millhouse. With the subtlety lost on Homer, he turns to Millhouse and says, “Hey, he looks just like you poindexter.” Simpsons at its finest.
3 OVERRATED: HOMER'S ENEMY
This is an ambitious and well executed episode, although it doesn’t hold up the same way others do. This expertly breaks from the established form and shines a new light on a fan favorite character: Homer. By adding the objective third party of Frank Grimes, the writers were able to show Homer and his life for how it would truly appear to an outsider. He’s not a likable man.
It is a fun reversal and dark end to an episode that is continuously praised. But unfortunately, this episode doesn’t have much beyond this reverse of expectations. When you’ve seen the episode before, there isn’t much delight to experiencing this flip a second time.
2 UNDERRATED: THE PTA DISBANDS
Overlooking this episode? That’s a paddlin’. This is one of the most purely funny Simpsons episodes of all time. It doesn’t have the heart or the depth of some of the other truly great episodes, but when it comes to jokes, this is one of the most jam-packed episodes.
As an episode in Season 6, it’s understandable that it would be lost in the shuffle. It lies right in the show’s prime. However, it should not be ignored. This episode is one of the best showcases of The Simpsons’ incredible cast of side characters. It is an ensemble episode housing some of your favorite lines. You’ve probably quoted this episode without even realizing it.
1 OVERRATED: MARGE VS. THE MONORAIL
This is an episode that you will see on the top of many lists as the best Simpsons episodes of all time. It is a hilarious episode in its absurd gags and iconic musical number, but does it really deserve the top spot? The episode is a stand out in Season 4, and helped usher in the era of more outlandish bits, utilizing the cartoon format to not confine it reality.
But people might be overselling its greatness. Some may be blinded by fandom of the writer, Conan O’Brien. Do we remember any of our favorite jokes coming from this episode or do we just remember the tune to the ‘monorail song’?