The Simpsons--AKA, "Greatest Thing To Ever Emanate From the Glowbox"--turns 20 this season. To celebrate, TV Guide has compiled a list of their twenty favorite episodes.
Generally, I adore lists; when done correctly--with intelligence, passion, research, and playfulness--they can be stimulating and educational. (See: Listverse.) Executed poorly, they are transparent appeals to either the majority or minority audience, eschewing genuine opinion for the sake of stirring the mob into a frenzy.
TV Guide's list, as a rule, suck lots. It is simply impossible to satisfactorily break down the myriad of ways in which their "100 Greatest Episodes of All-Time" compilation is just wrong. You can use words from different languages (including sign), draw up many a graph and chart, emit primal exhortations from your disbelieving throat--you will never be able to get across that the mag's obsession with Seinfeld is an actual brain-clouding sickness that the rest of the world should be protected from. (When that particular show was nearing its end, "The Guide" sought fit to proclaim it the "Greatest Sitcom of All-Time," justifying the hyperbole by praising the shows everyman qualities, the way its viewers could so easily relate to the adventures of four New Yorkers who used their cars way more than four of my NYC-based friends ever do. The article then used, as an example, the episode where Elaine sends out Christmas cards featuring her picture on the front--and her nipple is showing! Yeah, who hasn't had that happen?)
So it is not at all surprising that the Simpsons list gets it right sometimes and wrong most times.
20. Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy--There's several Lisa-centric eps that deserve mention: "Lisa's Wedding," "Summer of 4 ft. 2," and the heartbreaking "Lisa's Substitute." She's a smart, passionate eight-year-old with daddy issues. But TV Guide has a process, you see, and if you shine a light on it, the creepy-crawlies scatter every which a way. Their review for this selection features the words "plasticized sexism"--so forget the heart, forget the laughs, TV Guide adores the issues.
19. Treehouse of Horror IV--Praised for its consistency. I suppose.
18. The Crepes of Wrath--The Simpsons is one of the few shows that can pull off DVD commentaries with six-plus people in a room talking about the same thing. The commentary for this particular episode is the only boring one in the history of The Simpsons on DVD. So for that, yeah, legendary.
17. Das Bus--"Go banana!"
16. Marge vs. the Monorail--See, now you know! God, if only Conan had thrown in a B-story about how mid-city monorails hurt the cause for Tibetan freedom!
15. Mr. Plow--Season 4, oh sweet Jesus. Season 4 of The Simpsons is in that rarefied air with Season 2 of AbFab, Season 2 of The Office, season 2 of 30 Rock, season 4 of Hill Street Blues, season 3 of Homicide. Utter perfection, where the hits off the cylinders ping. "Mr. Plow" has a ridiculously brilliant premise, great use of a secondary character, a TV jingle that's like a drill bit in the brain, and the magic of a jacket as an aphrodisiac.
14. Mom and Pop Art--Guest voices Isabella Rossellini and Jasper Johns. Al Jean's first script upon his return to the show. The latter is the reason TVG gives for loving it. What the shit.
13. I Am Furious Yellow--"Angry Dad" is forever winning, and Patrick and I still help ourselves to some stock from time to time. TVG digs that "it skewered two cultural phenomena at once: the dot.com bubble and 'The Incredible Hulk'." (Again, don't be funny, be topical!) Yeah, about that last one...there is no more maddening moment for me as a fan, personally, then when the show that used to reward your intelligence instead flips off your intelligence and then brags about fucking its mom. Cue a green, shirtless, enraged Homer wreaking mini-havoc. Then cut to a horrified Lenny, who proclaims, "It's the Incredible Hulk!" Only food or sex should ever make me moan that loud.
12. Bart of Darkness--Is funny.
11. Moe'n'a Lisa--Cameos from Jonathan Franzen, Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal. I do love me a lit-heavy episode. There's even an author brawl where a painting of Snoopy hunched over a typewriter gets smashed. You know I can't resist that. But this entry is like so much of the list--funny, good, yeah, but I can think of 20 more that are funnier and better.
10. Homer the Great--You know, the Stonecutters ep.
9. Flaming Moes--Top 250, maybe.
8. Three Gays of the Condo--Hilarious, especially for a post season 12 offering, but no better than my top 60. How is this so high? Oh right, the gay thing.
7. Cape Feare--The rakes. "The Bart the." The fucking rakes.
6. You Only Move Twice--Albert Brooks on The Simpsons is like almond crust on a sweet cut of salmon. Where the hell is "Life on the Fast Lane"?
5. Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind--Beloved, for reasons unfathomable to my asparagus brain, by the notorious hard heads at Nohomers.net Is it the "Homer's Life" montage? Hooray for computer animation and YouTube references and such? 'Cause I'll be damned if I can recall anything else from this one. In ten years, this one will fall in a lot of estimations.
4. King-Size Homer--Just reading or writing about this one makes me want to watch it. Without question the greatest entry on this sad-ass list. "I wash myself with a rag on a stick" is funnier than "Eternal Moonshine." Bart's post-daydream, fake rag on a stick is funnier than "Eternal Moonshine." A top 5 episode, easily.
3. Behind the Laughter--Of course, I mean, the entire thing lampoons a TV show. Happens to be funny though, so.
2. Two Dozen and One Greyhounds--"See My Vest." Rory Calhoun. That's it.
1. Homer's Phobia--It just got mad gay up in the piece. They did it so right with this one that "Three Gays" was really just superfluous. Scott Thompson ain't fuckin' with John Waters on any level in any capacity. I agree with the summation given here, that the writers nailed both the humor and the social commentary, using a lighthearted approach that shows Homer as a decent guy with some opinions that might not exactly strike some people as smart or even very funny. This makes my top 20, helped immensely by Waters' performance.
So, there it is.
When I make my top 50 list, and Patrick makes his...shit. New galaxies, y'all.