As you may have guessed by now, we are huge fans of "The Simpsons" here at Mandatory. I personally am in the minority that has seen every episode, no matter how hit-and-miss the show has become. And until a whole season goes by without one great episode, I simply can't give up hope. Therefore, in honor of the series having reached the end of its 24th season (the finale is Sunday, May 19), we've decided to compile a list of the best episodes from each season to date. Feel free to weigh in on our comments board below with your thoughts. Here are the best episodes from each season of "The Simpsons" (and a runner-up for seasons 10 through 1).
Season 24, Episode 18: "Pulpit Friction"
Sometimes, a little familiarity is all you can hope for. While the storyline for this episode feels like pretty worn territory (Homer becomes a church deacon after Rev. Lovejoy is replaced by a new, hotshot priest), what sets this one apart from the pack is its witty humor and sharp jokes, much in the same vein as the early seasons. And while that may not seem like much, sadly, it puts an episode way over par these days.
(Editor's note: We'll see if the season 24 finale guest-starring Seth MacFarlane can top this episode soon.)
Season 23, Episode 19: "A Totally Fun Thing Bart Will Never Do Again"
Call us softies for an episode with heart, this one packs a one-two punch at the end. After Bart convinces his family to take a vacation on a cruise, he realizes he will never have this much fun again, so he fakes a disaster on land to keep the ship at sea forever. Eventually he is found out and the Simpson family is jettisoned in Antarctica, where Bart discovers he needs to make the best of what he's got. Not only did this episode have the trademark "Simpsons" sentiment, it truly felt like it could have passed for a series finale.
Season 22, Episode 22: "The Ned-liest Catch"
By this point in the series, some side characters had been fleshed out ad nauseum. Ned Flanders and Edna Krabappel fit that bill pretty well. So it was a refreshing surprise when the two were paired up as lovers and it actually worked. "Says who?" you might be asking yourselves. Actually, says the fans, as at the end of the episode, it was left up to them to vote whether or not the two should stay together. The results were revealed in the premiere of the next season, and the answer was YES.
Season 21, Episode 19: "The Squirt and the Whale"
This season, believe it or not, actually had a string of pretty amazing episodes toward the end of it. However, what made this episode stand out was again that classic "Simpsons" vibe. Sure, it was very formulaic, but it hit every beat it needed to while still bringing the laughs at a consistent rate and ended on a very sweet note, with Homer risking his life in order to defend something Lisa cared for deeply. In this instance, it happened to be baby whales.
Season 20, Episode 7: "Mypods and Boomsticks"
While the plot revolving around a Muslim family moving to town and Homer suspecting them of being terrorists was pretty predictable (and recently borderline infringed by an episode of "Family Guy" titled "Turban Cowboy"), it was once again great jokes that not only saved this one, but put it over the top.
Season 19, Episode 18: "Any Given Sundance"
Especially now that celebrity guest voices on "The Simpsons" can be so bland and forgettable, it was fun to not only witness good satire of a famous film festival, but also have independent filmmakers such as Jim Jarmusch poke fun at themselves. Couple this with a hilarious Nelson Muntz documentary and several great gags along the way, and we have a clear winner for the season.
Season 18, Episode 21: "24 Minutes"
Speaking of great satire, it doesn't get much better than an entire episode of "The Simpsons" directed like an episode of the hit FOX show "24," starring Kiefer Sutherland. The actor even makes a quick and memorable appearance as his television counterpart, Jack Bauer. If you are a fan of both series, this episode was all the more enjoyable.
Season 17, Episode 13: "The Seemingly Never-Ending Story"
If there is one thing "The Simpsons" rarely botches, it's a high concept episode. In this case, we are told a story which then becomes a character within that story telling a story, and so on and so on until there are at least three or four (we forget) to keep track of. In addition, we get some great origins for characters like Edna Krabappel and Snake Jailbird, who it turns out, wasn't always a criminal. In the end, the stories come together in the original story, and you are left to wonder "How do they come up with this stuff?" But in a good way.
Season 16, Episode 16: "Don't Fear the Roofer"
Sometimes an episode can come together at the end in such a way that it makes the entire thing as a whole all the more enjoyable. When Homer hires a roofer named Ray Magini (voiced by Ray Romano) to fix their leaky roof, people begin to think he's insane when the guy never shows up, with Lisa even convincing Homer that the name Ray Magini is just an anagram for "imaginary." In the end, however, the explanation is much more simple: he's a contractor. The joke hits its mark, the episode is clever, and that's enough to pull it ahead of the rest in season 16.
Season 15, Episode 9: "I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot"
This one contains two stories that work beautifully. While one could be considered a sign of jumping the shark, with Snowball II being killed and then a string of new cats suffering the same fate until a cat who looks exactly like Snowball II finally avoids death and is again named Snowball II to avoid confusion, it could at least be taken with a grain of salt because it's just their dumb, seldom used cat (Side note: this was done in a more recent season with the character Fat Tony to a much more irritating effect). However, the other main storyline involves Homer building a robot for Bart to use for Ultimate Robot Fighting that is simply entertaining throughout.
Season 14, Episode 12: "I'm Spelling As Fast As I Can"
This is a Lisa-centric episode about spelling bees, but strangely enough the laughs ensue regardless. Plus, when you throw in a side story about Homer following the Ribwich (spoof on McDonald's McRib) on a cross-country Krusty Burger tour, it makes for a hilarious half-hour. The ending of the episode is quite endearing as well, with the town of Springfield praising Lisa as "the biggest winner this town has ever had," despite losing the national spelling bee in the end.
Season 13, Episode 5: "The Blunder Years"
"The Simpsons" flashback episodes don't usually do much these days except screw up already established continuity for the worse. But back in season 13, they could still surprise you in fun and interesting ways that wouldn't make you mad in the end. This story here revolves around Homer waking a suppressed memory of a dead body he found in a quarry when he was 12. The Simpson family then embarks on a journey to discover who the body belonged to. The result even winds up explaining Waylon Smithers' sexuality in very comical fashion (a flashback that contributes without taking away). This episode may be one of the last great examples of such for the series.
Season 12, Episode 18: "Trilogy of Error"
We've now reached the point where many "Simpsons" fans feel the show started going south. Sadly, they may be right, as there are only two episodes that easily stand out above the rest, with "Skinner's Sense of Snow" losing by just a hair. Again, it's hard to beat a good high concept episode, especially one that could be considered the series' best in that department. Mimicking the films "Run Lola Run" and "Go," with the same story told from three different points of view, the episode was even originally titled "Go, Simpson Go." It could be considered one of the last classic episodes no matter which way you look at it.
Season 11, Episode 22: "Behind the Laughter"
This one was a no-brainer. An episode of "The Simpsons" that self-satirizes itself to no end in the style of a VH1 "Behind the Music" episode would likely win the best episode of the season contest for 90 percent of the series.
Season 10, Episode 11: "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken"
Looking back, this appears to be the actual season where noticeably weak side-stories, as well as the show's slow decline in general, began. While every episode has its laughs, the day is won by this episode because there isn't much of a side-story to bog it down. It focuses only on the children of Springfield revealing secrets about the townspeople over the radio in order for their curfew to be lifted. It also contains one of the last great "Simpsons" tunes, a parody of "Kids" from "Bye Bye Birdie."
Runner-up - Season 10, Episode 5: "When You Dish Upon a Star"
Season 9, Episode 1: "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson"
From this season on, it's going to get controversial, as they're all pretty great for the homestretch. It was a close one between our winner and either "The Last Temptation of Krust" and "Lisa's Sax," but you have to give it to an episode that is not only hysterical, but historical due to the events of 9/11 and the World Trade Center being so heavily featured. The episode was even pulled from syndication until 2006. And even then, lines such as "They stick all the jerks in Tower 1," were permanently taken out for obvious reasons. Yet, even the edited version will crack you up and make you feel nostalgic all at once.
Runner-up - Season 9, Episode 15: "The Last Temptation of Krust"
Season 8, Episode 18: "Homer vs. the 18th Amendment"
It's hard not to give the title of best episode to one with "Homer vs." anything in the title, and since our runner-up was the Frank Grimes episode titled "Homer's Enemy," we don't feel that bad about it. When Rex Banner moves to town to enforce prohibition on Springfield, an "instant classic" is already in the making. Sure enough, this nabs the title of the best of season 8, if only by the skin of its teeth.
Runner-up - Season 8, Episode 23: "Homer's Enemy"
Season 7, Episode 21: "22 Short Films About Springfield"
This one deserves the season's top spot on the merits of telling 22 stories in one half hour alone. But to top it off, they're all great, and there is not a single one that throws the episode off. It's this type of seamless story-telling that made the show great, and will sustain it even if it suffers from another 15 seasons of lackluster episodes (although we hope to God it won't).
Runner-up - Season 7, Episode 7: "King-Size Homer"
Season 6, Episode 6: "Treehouse of Horror V"
While this season did contain such classic, near-perfect episodes like "Lemon of Troy," "The PTA Dispands" and "Homie the Clown," there can be no doubt in any true fan's mind that three Halloween tales will ever be told in succession that are superior to "The Shinning," "Time and Punishment," and 'Nightmare Cafeteria." Hopefully, if you think of it that way, it will be hard to argue our decision, even though it may have been the hardest decision we've ever made in our lives.
Runner-up - Season 6, Episode 21: "The PTA Disbands"
Season 5, Episode 2: "Cape Feare"
This ep just barely edges out the competition, due to being Sideshow Bob's best half hour and also containing some of the best bits of the season. Furthermore, Homer's exchange with witness protection and never coming to terms with the fact that he is now "Homer Thompson" maybe be one of the series' best bits as a whole. In any case, surely we'll catch flak for this one, but if Bob's bout with an endless amount of rakes is wrong, then we don't wanna be right. "Bake him away, toys!"
Runner-up - Tie between Season 5, Episode 1: "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" and "Season 5, Episode 12: "Bart Gets Famous"
Season 4, Episode 12: "Marge vs. the Monorail"
Well, duh. This episode has arguably the best musical number the show has ever produced, and it was written by none other than Conan O'Brien himself. Trying to justify it anymore doesn't even make sense. Enjoy:Runner-up - Season 4, Episode 10: "Lisa's First Word"
Season 3, Episode 17: "Homer at the Bat"
Gather up an entire roster of nine of the greatest baseball players in the league and write an entire show that utilizes them to even half of the hilarity as this one episode, and we will gladly reconsider our decision. This one is an all-time classic, and so is this song:Runner-up - Season 3, Episode 10: "Flaming Moe's"
Season 2, Episode 8: "Bart the Daredevil"
Look, even the biggest, nerdiest "Simpsons" fans probably don't love the first couple of seasons. They all kind of blend together in mediocrity, as the show hadn't quite hit its stride yet. Therefore, we kind of have to go with the episode that featured one of the show's most iconic scenes, with Homer falling down Springfield Gorge...twice.
Runner-up - Season 2, Episode 21: "Three Men and a Comic Book"
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Season 1, Episode 1: "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire"
It's all come down to this. Again, the first two seasons of the series weren't all that much to get excited about, especially looking back on them now. But even from that standpoint, this was probably one of the most controversial episodes the series ever did in accordance with the times (originally aired in 1989 as a Christmas special). And you know what, we still really like this episode, as it introduces all the characters pretty well. While they may sound and look a little different, their overall essence remains the same as it was all the way back in episode numero uno. And that, to us, warrants the episode's rightful place at the top of "The Simpsons" first season.
Runner-up - Season 1, Episode 5: "Bart the General"