Just like any show that’s been on the air for more than three decades, The Simpsons doesn’t exactly have a perfect track record. The “Golden Age” is roughly defined as the show’s first 10 seasons. After that, many believe that started to go downhill. After those 10 seasons, which contain some of the greatest television ever produced, The Simpsons became yet another up-and-down sitcom with an overreliance on celebrity guest stars, scraping the bottom of the barrel for story material.
But the so-called Golden Age has a couple of mediocre episodes hiding amid the comedy gold, and the recent seasons have produced stronger episodes than they’re given credit for.
10 Great Recent Episode: Brick Like Me (Season 25, Episode 20)
When it was announced that a season 25 episode of The Simpsons would be animated with Lego, it just seemed like another gimmick to boost ratings. However, “Brick Like Me” ended up being a fantastic episode.
The writers thought up just about every gag imaginable involving Springfield and Lego, while the episode’s emotional backbone revolving around Homer and Lisa is typically sweet.
9 Bad Golden-Age Episode: Some Enchanted Evening (Season 1, Episode 13)
When Homer and Marge decide to get some alone time, they hire a babysitter to look after the kids in season 1’s “Some Enchanted Evening.” The babysitter turns out to be a child-maiming criminal on the loose. This episode is terrifying — it doesn’t even try to be funny.
“Some Enchanted Evening” was originally slated to air as the show’s pilot episode before being pushed back. It’s a good thing it was replaced with “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” or the show might not have survived past the first season.
8 Great Recent Episode: The Day The Earth Stood Cool (Season 24, Episode 7)
Hipsters got their satirical due from The Simpsons in season 24’s “The Day The Earth Stood Cool,” in which Homer befriends some hipsters from Portland. Homer loves them, but Marge thinks they’re bad parents and Bart can’t stand their ostentatious son.
For an episode tackling hipster culture, The Simpsons’ producers secured pitch-perfect guest casting: Portlandia’s Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein play the hipster couple, Patton Oswalt plays their son T-Rex, and the Decemberists play themselves.
7 Bad Golden-Age Episode: So It’s Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show (Season 4, Episode 18)
The title of season 4’s “So It’s Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show” suggests the writers were fully aware of their own laziness when they copped out and made one of the fourth-season episodes a clip show, and did it anyway.
In the sixth season, the show delivered “Another Simpsons Clip Show,” which rehashes Homer and Marge’s backstory from episodes that already told the story much more effectively.
6 Great Recent Episode: Halloween Of Horror (Season 27, Episode 4)
The only non-“Treehouse of Horror” Halloween episode of The Simpsons, season 27’s “Halloween of Horror” arrived as a real surprise to fans who thought the show they’d been watching for three decades no longer had the power to surprise them.
After Homer costs some Halloween popup employees their jobs, they invade the Simpson house and terrorize the family, like the movie The Strangers. It’s genuinely creepy.
5 Bad Golden-Age Episode: The War Of The Simpsons (Season 2, Episode 20)
Homer is made needlessly unlikable in season 2’s “The War of the Simpsons,” which sees Marge encouraging marriage counseling after Homer leers at Maude Flanders. At the counseling retreat, Homer is more interested in catching a fish than fixing his relationship.
This was before the writers humanized Homer with a seldom-seen sweet side. It’s the same trajectory followed by Michael Scott in the early seasons of The Office.
4 Great Recent Episode: The War Of Art (Season 25, Episode 15)
When the Van Houtens have a yard sale in season 25’s “The War of Art,” Homer and Marge buy a painting from them that turns out to be worth a boatload. An argument then ensues over which couple deserves the loot.
The twist that the painting is a forgery carries a poignant message, while Max von Sydow gives an unforgettable guest performance as art forger Klaus Ziegler.
3 Bad Golden-Age Episode: The Principal And The Pauper (Season 9, Episode 2)
Widely regarded to be the first time that The Simpsons jumped the shark, season 9’s “The Principal and the Pauper” inexplicably reveals Principal Skinner — who’d enjoyed almost a decade of character development at this point — to be an impostor named Armin Tamzarian.
Both series creator Matt Groening and Skinner voice actor Harry Shearer objected to the episode. The writers later realized their mistake and never mentioned the name Armin Tamzarian again (except occasionally as a dig at themselves).
2 Great Recent Episode: Holidays Of Future Passed (Season 23, Episode 9)
The future-set episodes of The Simpsons are a mixed bag, ranging from the great (“Lisa’s Wedding”) to the dreadful (“Bart to the Future”), but season 23’s “Holidays of Future Passed” is a doozy.
Showrunner Al Jean revealed in an interview with former Simpsons writer Conan O’Brien that the episode was written as a series finale in case the cast’s salary negotiations fell through. And frankly, if that had been the case, it would’ve been a pretty satisfying ending.
1 Bad Golden-Age Episode: All Singing, All Dancing (Season 9, Episode 11)
Yet another clip show, season 9’s “All Singing, All Dancing” collects a bunch of musical numbers from the show’s history. But the songs don’t work without the context of the episodes they’re all from.
Despite the general laziness of the episode, however, the gag involving tough-as-nails stars Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson appearing in the lighthearted Western musical Paint Your Wagon is one of The Simpsons’ best movie parodies.
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