Practically any Simpsons snob will pinpoint where, how, and why the show stopped being good, whether you’re listening to them or not. And while there’s no denying a steep drop in average quality somewhere around the turn of the millennium, those who refuse to watch past the tenth season (or even the eighth, as some diehard purists claim) are cheating themselves out of a few diamonds in the rough. As it can be irritating to wade through that rough, we’ve rounded up some episodes that deserve recognition, if not stone-cold classic status.
“The Cartridge Family” (Season 9, Episode 2): This one harkens back to the old days with its wildly simple, all-American premise—Homer buys a gun. As spot-on a satire about firearm laws as you can hope for.
“Realty Bites” (Season 9, Episode 9): Too many episodes revolve around Homer getting a ridiculous job (with ridiculous consequences), but this down-to-earth entry features Marge getting into the home realty business in a Glengarry Glen Ross-type office, complete with the late Phil Hartman’s sleazy Lionel Hutz as manager.
“Viva Ned Flanders” (Season 10, Episode 10): Ned Flanders, realizing he’s barely lived out of an overactive sense of caution, recruits Homer to teach him how to live in the moment. The ensuing bender in Sin City was long overdue and flawlessly done—“Las Vegas doesn’t care for out-of-towners,” the pair is told when they’re dumped at the border afterward.
“Brother’s Little Helper” (Season 11, Episode 2): Bart’s trademark disruptive, capering ways lead him to a role as guinea pig for Focusyn, an Adderall-like behavior modification drug. A scathing look at the pharmaceutical industry and overmedication of children, with a fantastic last-act twist.
“A Tale of Two Springfields” (Season 12, Episode 2): Springfield is riven with class warfare when a new area code is forced on the “poor” half of town, ultimately giving rise to a Berlin-type wall of garbage in the middle. As ever, angry mobs provide some of the show’s best moments.
“The Computer Wore Menace Shoes” (Season 12, Episode 6): Early-era loyalists will insist that the end of this episode leans on the exact kind of absurdity that derailed the series. Everyone else will enjoy a wonderful parody of The Prisoner, preceded by Homer’s successful tenure as muckraking blogger.
“New Kids on the Blecch” (Season 12, Episode 14): Bart, Nelson, Milhouse, and Ralph are handpicked by a record label exec who wants to make them the next ’N Sync (who are great sports about their cameo). But an even weirder agenda is afoot.
“Weekend at Burnsie’s” (Season 13, Episode 16): Look, if you can’t see the merit in a plot where Homer adopts a flock of crows and eventually becomes hooked on pot—which only propels him into an upper-level position at the nuclear power plant—just don’t talk to me.
“I’m Spelling As Fast As I Can” (Season 14, Episode 12): Many of the old classics deal with Lisa’s moral quandaries, and that plot is expertly resurrected here, when she must decide whether to throw a national spelling bee for material gain. Egging her on is a crooked George Plimpton in perhaps the best as-themselves voiceover part ever.
“Bart-Mangled Banner” (Season 15, Episode 21): Aired in 2004, it’s the only episode to directly engage the George W. Bush administration, and does it ever. Bart accidentally moons the American flag at school, sparking a chain of events that land the entire Simpson family in permanent detention for treason.
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