“The Simpsons” has returned for its 30th season. If you wish to honor this momentous occasion like a Stonecutter, you can do so by having ribs! However, we have chosen to commemorate this unbelievable milestone by putting together a list of the 40 greatest episodes of the series, ranked worst to best. Click through our photo gallery above and see if your favorite episodes made it on to the list.
America’s favorite cartoon family was the brainchild of cartoonist Matt Groening, known at the time for his comic strip “Life in Hell.” He was asked to help create a series of cartoon shorts for Fox’s Emmy winning sketch program, “The Tracey Ullman Show,” by Oscar and Emmy winner James L. Brooks. Groening drew from his own upbringing to develop “The Simpsons,” including naming the characters after his own family members. The family first debuted on April 19, 1987, and their popularity took off, leading Groening and Brooks, along with creative supervisor Sam Simon, to produce their own half-hour series. “The Simpsons” premiered on December 17, 1989, to the biggest ratings Fox had ever seen at that point. To date, the series has aired 640 episodes and has overtaken “Gunsmoke” as the longest running scripted series in primetime.
Since then, the show has become a touchstone of American pop culture. It’s helped introduce several new words into the American lexicon including, “yoink,” the purposefully made up words, “embiggen” and “cromulent,” and, of course, Homer’s trademark phrase, “d’oh,” which appears in scripts as “annoyed grunt.” The show also inspired several recurring gags that still persist to this day including Bart writing lessons he’s forced to learn on the chalkboard, Marge’s trademark groan, Homer’s memorable drooling over things he finds delicious, Troy McClure’s resume of films you might remember him from and the iconic couch gags that open every episode.
The Emmys were quick to take notice of the show and have never shied away from their love for it. The series has racked up 90 individual nominations over its run including 27 for Best Animated Program, which it has won 10 times, more than any other program in that category. The show has also picked up six additional wins from their nominations including four trophies for Best Character Voice-Over Performance: Dan Castellaneta (2009), Anne Hathaway (2010), Harry Shearer (2014) and Hank Azaria (2015). The show has also collected 17 juried awards over the years including 12 for voice acting before the field got its own category. Castellaneta (1992-93, 2004) and Azaria (1998, 2001, 2003) each won three juried prizes. Other cast members who took home juried awards include Nancy Cartwright, Julie Kavner, Jackie Mason, Yeardley Smith, Marcia Wallace (all 1992) and Kelsey Grammer (2006).
On a personal note, I want to stress that this list was very difficult to make. I’m someone who basically communicates in references from “The Simpsons.” This has led to some amazing friendships, including one person where I ended up serving as a groomsman for his wedding. When I completed my first elimination round of the show’s 639 episodes, I had knocked off 84% of all their episodes. Unfortunately, this still left 103 episodes and the task of getting rid of an additional 63 episodes was a daunting one. I’m sure there will be episodes that aren’t on this list that will make you say, “How could he leave that one off the list? It’s essential!” You’re probably right and odds are that it was very tough for me to leave whichever episode you’re thinking of off the list. Rather than thinking of it as a snub, I prefer to see it as a testament to the amazing quality that the show has had over the years. You could make another list of 40 great “Simpsons” episodes, have only five of the same episodes as this one and it would still be a justifiable ranking.
To tease our photo gallery above, here are just a few episodes in our rankings. Can you guess what’s #1?
LAST EXIT TO SPRINGFIELD (S. 4, E. 17)
When Lisa finds out she needs braces, Homer becomes president of the union so he can save the company dental plan. Best line/gag: Grandpa Simpson’s long and pointless rant about the time he caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. He needed a new heel for his shoe, so he decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So, he tied an onion to his belt.
KRUSTY GETS KANCELLED (S. 4, E. 22)
A rival kids program causes Krusty to be cancelled and he ends up turning to Bart and Lisa to help him with his comeback. Best line/gag: When “Itchy & Scratchy” move to “The Gabbo Show,” Krusty is forced to replace them with Eastern Europe’s number one cat and mouse team, “Worker & Parasite.”
CAPE FEARE (S. 5, E. 2)
Bart starts receiving death threats. It turns out to be from Sideshow Bob, who gets released from prison and forces the family to join Witness Protection. Best line/gag: Sideshow Bob walking on all the rakes and getting repeatedly hit in the face.
LISA VS. MALIBU STACY (S. 5, E. 14)
Frustrated with Malibu Stacy’s sexist portrayal of women, Lisa decides to make her own doll to promote female empowerment. Grandpa decides to get a job. Best line/gag: Homer saying, “I’m a white male, aged 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are,” and then pulling out a can of “Nuts & Gum – Together at last!”
ITCHY AND SCRATCHY LAND (S. 6, E. 4)
Bart and Lisa persuade Homer and Marge to go to Itchy & Scratchy Land for their family vacation. Best line/gag: Bart pointing to the stuffed animals for the “Itchy & Scratchy & Friends Hour” and revealing a character named Ku Klux Klam, with the upper half of its shell shaped like a KKK hood.
TREEHOUSE OF HORROR V (S. 6, E. 6)
The family takes care of a hotel in “The Shinning,” Homer discovers time travel in “Time and Punishment” and the faculty of Springfield Elementary start eating the students in “Nightmare Cafeteria.” Best line/gag: Homer needing a title for his book, “No TV and No Beer Make Homer” Something Something. Marge replies, “Go Crazy?” Homer says, “DON’T MIND IF I DO!”
WHO SHOT MR. BURNS? (PARTS ONE AND TWO) (S. 6, E. 25, S. 7, E. 1)
After stealing oil from the local school, destroying the retirement home and blocking out the sun to increase his stranglehold on local energy, Mr. Burns is shot after a town hall meeting. Everyone in town is a suspect. Best line/gag: Chief Wiggum’s “Twin Peaks” dream where a backwards talking Lisa tells him to look at Mr. Burns’ suit.
22 SHORT FILMS ABOUT SPRINGFIELD (S. 7, E. 21)
A compilation of stories everyday people experience around Springfield. Best line/gag: The short with Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers that introduced us to “steamed hams.” Every bit is golden and culminates with Skinner claiming the fire in his house is aurora borealis.
BROTHER FROM ANOTHER SERIES (S. 8, E. 16)
Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) is released from prison so he can work for his brother, Cecil (David Hyde Pierce). Bart is convinced Bob hasn’t changed and is determined to prove it. Best line/gag: Bart jumps on top of Cecil, covering his eyes and saying, “Guess who?” Cecil replies, “Maris?”
BEHIND THE LAUGHTER (S. 11, E. 22)
The Simpsons are shown as a real family that stars in their own show and we see all the turmoil that’s happened behind the scenes of the show. It also revealed Springfield as being in Northern Kentucky, though some repeats on Fox had it as being in Southern Missouri. Best line/gag: Marge’s censored recollection of telling Homer to just make his own show already: “Finally, I said, ‘So do it. Either [bleep] or get off the pot.’”