On April 19, 1987, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie made their debut during a short on The Tracey Ullman Show. Two years later, Fox gave them their own program. In the three decades since, The Simpsons has become an American institution. To celebrate the 30th birthday of the greatest set of television characters of all time, let’s look back at the stories behind the 100 best Simpsons episodes.
To compile this list, I sought feedback from both hardcore Simpsons fans and former members of the show’s creative staff. Still, it was an inherently subjective undertaking. "You could choose every other episode from the first 200 episodes for your top 100 and you wouldn’t be too far off," one Simpsons writer told me. I don’t claim to be a scientician, but I tried to be meticulous. So crack open a Duff and enjoy.
Below you’ll find numbers 100 to 91 of our top-100 ranking. Click here for the entire list.
100. "Marge Be Not Proud"
Season 7, Episode 11
Airdate: December 17, 1995
Written by: Mike Scully
When writer Mike Scully was a kid, a security guard at Bradlees department store in his hometown of West Springfield, Massachusetts, caught him shoplifting a 1910 Fruitgum Company record. His greatest fear was that his mother would find out. She never did, but decades later he spun his residual guilt into a Simpsons episode.
"Marge Be Not Proud" centers on the fallout from Bart’s unsuccessful attempt to steal a copy of a Mortal Kombat–like video game called Bonestorm. He spends the first Christmas episode since the series premiere trying to make it up to Marge, who before her son earns back her trust, distances herself from her Special Little Guy.
The comically gruff security guard who catches Bart is voiced by movie tough guy Lawrence Tierney. "If I wanted smoke blown up my ass," he tells Bart, who he thinks hasn’t come clean, "I’d be at home with a pack of cigarettes and a short length of hose." Without telling the production staff, a Fox censor cut that line from the episode’s first airing. In response, seasons 7 and 8 co-showrunner Bill Oakley said that executive producer James L. Brooks, who didn’t tolerate network interference, "went crazy and rained down hell on them."
99. "Lemon of Troy"
Season 6, Episode 24
Airdate: May 14, 1995
Written by: Brent Forrester
It’s Springfield vs. Shelbyville in a battle for regional supremacy. The neighboring towns start feuding when the latter’s kids steal the former’s famed lemon tree. When Bart and his friends head next door to retrieve it, they encounter the Shelbyville versions of themselves. (It’s a less elaborate precursor to the 1996 Seinfeld episode "The Bizarro Jerry.") "So, this is what it feels like when doves cry," Milhouse says after meeting another Milhouse. With the help of their parents, the Springfield kids get the precious tree back. The story ends with Grampa Simpson extolling the virtues of the lemon to a group of children, while in Shelbyville an old man cheers the banishment of the lemon tree "because," he says, "it’s haunted."
98. "Much Apu About Nothing"
Season 7, Episode 23
Airdate: May 5, 1996
Written by: David X. Cohen
Depressingly on the nose in 2017, "Much Apu About Nothing" follows the title character’s quest to become an American citizen. After a bear strolls through Springfield, Mayor Quimby institutes taxpayer-funded bear patrols (there’s a shot of a white stealth bomber with a bear patrol logo). When the town’s citizens complain about said tax, Quimby blames illegal immigrants and proposes Proposition 24, which, if passed, would lead to their deportation. "I knew it was them," Moe the bartender says. "Even when it was the bears, I knew it was them." (Helen Lovejoy’s infamous and now ubiquitous "Think of the children!" line originated here.)
When Indian immigrant Apu admits to Homer that his visa has long since expired, the owner of the Kwik-E-Mart buys fake documents from mobster Fat Tony and assumes the identity of an American born in Green Bay, Wisconsin. At that point, Homer, who’s been all for Prop 24, finally comes around. "You must love this country more than I love a cold beer on a hot Christmas morning," he tells Apu, who drops the charade, vowing to both stay true to his heritage and take the American citizenship test. The Simpsons help him study and he passes — but so does the odious bill in a landslide. "Just thank heaven everything worked out for the people we care about," Marge says, without seeing the cruel irony of her statement. The episode ends with a shot of Scotsman Groundskeeper Willie on a ship sailing away from America. "Ach," he says. "Ingrates."
97. "Like Father, Like Clown"
Season 3, Episode 6
Airdate: October 24, 1991
Written by: Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky
This parody of The Jazz Singer introduces Krusty the Clown’s Jewish heritage while thankfully eliminating the film’s use of blackface. Comedian Jackie Mason (born Yacov Moshe Maza) guest stars as Krusty’s disapproving rabbi father, an Emmy-winning role that for him wasn’t a stretch. Before becoming a Borscht Belt star, he was a rabbi.
Two rabbis, Lavi Meier and Harold Schulweis, served as consultants on the episode. "I thought it had a Jewish resonance to it," Schulweis told author Mark I. Pinsky for his book The Gospel According to the Simpsons. "It was profound." Also: Homer is shocked that the former Herschel Krustofsky is Jewish. When Lisa ticks off a list of Jewish entertainers, her father asks, "Mel Brooks is Jewish?"
96. "Homer Alone"
Season 3, Episode 15
Airdate: February 6, 1992
Written by: David M. Stern
"Homer Alone" is a sympathetic exploration of Marge’s psyche. According to writer David M. Stern, his colleagues rarely wanted to center episodes on her. "Everybody wanted to write Homer or Bart," he said. During an extremely stressful day for Marge, Maggie’s bottle explodes in the car. This triggers Marge to park her car on a bridge. She’s arrested and released, and then sent to Rancho Relaxo, where she can rehabilitate. The goal, Stern said, was to "just get inside her head and see what’s in there."
A note on the episode’s title: Stern’s brother, the actor Daniel, played the taller half of the Wet Bandits.
95. "Bart’s Girlfriend"
Season 6, Episode 7
Airdate: November 6, 1994
Written by: Jonathan Collier
Good Simpsons guest appearances rarely involve celebrities playing themselves. The very best cameos are made by famous people who can help create well-developed characters in short periods of time. Take Meryl Streep, for example. In "Bart’s Girlfriend," she voices someone who’s far more manipulative than Miranda Priestly. As Reverend Lovejoy’s devious daughter, Jessica, she charms Bart and leads him astray.
"It’s given me more credibility in my home than anything I’ve ever done," Streep told the Associated Press in 1994. "Now, as far as [my kids are] concerned, I can do no wrong."
94. "The Joy of Sect"
Season 9, Episode 13
Airdate: February 8, 1998
Written by: Steve O’Donnell
In "The Joy of Sect," devised by seasons 5 and 6 showrunner David Mirkin, the Simpsons join the Movementarians. The group, which is based on several cults of the 20th century, worships The Leader and promises a perfect life on the planet Blisstonia. At first, Homer resists. It’s fun watching the cult members realize that it’s harder to brainwash an unfocused buffoon than a rational person. (They finally hook him by leading a sing-along of the Batman TV show theme with the superhero’s name swapped out for "Leader.")
While clearly mocking Scientology at points — Homer says that he’s given the Movementarians a commitment of 10 trillion years of labor — the episode also points toward hypocrisy. "This so-called ‘new religion’ is nothing but a pack of weird rituals and chants designed to take away the money of fools," Reverend Lovejoy says. "Let us say the Lord’s prayer 40 times but first let’s pass the collection plate." In the end, after Marge deprograms her kids (with fake hoverbikes) and husband (with beer), Homer exposes The Leader as neither good nor great.
93. "Bart on the Road"
Season 7, Episode 20
Airdate: March 31, 1996
Written by: Richard Appel
Bart, Milhouse, Nelson, and Martin go on a road trip to the World’s Fair in Knoxville. The unique scenario in which those four characters are thrown together in a rental car (Bart makes a fake driver’s license) leads to an entertaining episode. When the boys reach their destination, they learn that the World’s Fair closed in 1982. "The sunsphere" has been turned into "the wigsphere," which the quartet ends up patronizing. "Josh or Bill or both of them," writer Steve Tompkins said of seasons 7 and 8 showrunners Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley, "were obsessed with wigs."
92. "Bart the General"
Season 1, Episode 5
Airdate: February 4, 1990
Written by: John Swartzwelder
Bully Nelson Muntz makes his first appearance in this memorable early installment, the first scripted by the legendary John Swartzwelder. He ended up writing 59 total episodes, by far the most of any Simpsons staffer. To take down his tormentor, Bart rounds up an army of his own. His water-balloon-equipped soldiers prevail, but their leader comes to a somber realization: "There are no good wars, with the following exceptions: the American Revolution, World War II, and the Star Wars trilogy."
91. "Bart vs. Thanksgiving"
Season 2, Episode 7
Airdate: November 22, 1990
Written by: George Meyer
Though it actually aired on the fourth Thursday of November 1990, "Bart vs. Thanksgiving" is less a celebration than it is a look at the stress the holiday season can bring a family. It’s the first episode solely credited to George Meyer, who seemed to be the writer best suited for the subject matter. "I have a deep suspicion of social institutions and tradition in general," he told The Believer in 2004.
While fighting with Lisa, Bart mistakenly tosses her Thanksgiving centerpiece into the fireplace. The family rightfully lashes out at Bart, who runs away, stumbles into a soup kitchen, and finally returns home. Still, he refuses to apologize, believing that he’s being scapegoated. He doesn’t see the light until his sister tells him to look inside himself and "find a spot. Something you wish wasn’t there." Bart finally says sorry, and Homer, who’s eavesdropping, turns to his wife and says, "You know, Marge, we’re great parents."
Click here for episodes 90 to 81.
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