The greatest sitcom, if not the greatest TV show in general, of all-time is still on, and people rarely talk about it. The Simpsons has been on for so long, has aired so many episodes, has blown through so many guest stars that it’s easy to forget, oh yeah, the program that gave us “Secrets of a Successful Marriage” is still around. I’d say it’s a shame, that a decade of occasionally great, sometimes bad, usually fine seasons has hurt The Simpsons‘ legacy, but it hasn’t: season 2-8 (or thereabout) are still as widely praised as any run a TV show has ever gone on, and even if it runs for 15 more years, at least we’ve still got “Homie the Clown” and “Marge vs. the Monorail.”
This past Sunday was the beginning of The Simpsons‘ 25th season, so because I was feeling nostalgic, and wanted a reason to talk about “You Only Move Twice,” I’ve ranked all of them, from least to most essential.
#25. Season 24 (2012–2013)
Every Guest Star: Ken Burns, Zooey Deschanel, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anne Hathaway, Don Pardo, Natalie Portman, Al Roker, Sarah Silverman, Jon Lovitz, Jeff Gordon, Jennifer Tilly, Anika Noni Rose, Marvin Hamlisch, Steve Carell, Alex Trebek, Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Patton Oswalt, The Decemberists, Tom Waits, Valerie Harper, Danny DeVito, Rashida Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Caro, Max Weinberg, Richard Dawkins, Tina Fey, Janet Reno, Wanda Sykes, George Takei, Edward Norton, Tony Bennett, Sonny Rollins, Ron Taylor, Justin Bieber, Bill Hader, Jane Krakowski, Patrick Stewart, Sigur Rós, Lisa Lampanelli, and Seth MacFarlane.
Best Episode: “The Day the Earth Stood Cool”
Most Emblematic Episode of the Season As a Whole: “Moonshine River,” because it brought back characters from post-golden era seasons that even hardcore fans would have trouble recalling. Remember when Anne Hathaway played Jenny in season 20’s “The Good, the Sad and the Drugly,” or Sarah Silverman as Nikki in season 21’s “Stealing First Base”? Me neither, and yet, they, along with two more former-love interests of Bart’s, returned in “Moonshine River,” a sort-of sequel to the far superior “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson.”
#24. Season 25 (2013–2014)
Every Guest Star (So Far): Kristen Wiig
Best Episode: “Homerland”
Most Emblematic Episode of the Season As a Whole: “Homerland,” because season 24 was THAT bad.
#23. Season 20 (2008–2009)
Every Guest Star: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Robert Forster, Denis Leary, Brian Grazer, Joe Montana, Will Shortz, Merl Reagle, Scott Thompson, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Mark Cuban, Jeff Bezos, Marv Albert, Emily Blunt, Fall Out Boy, Ed Begley, Jr., Colm Meaney, Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Anne Hathaway, and Ellen Page.
Best Episode: “Lisa the Drama Queen”
Most Emblematic Episode of the Season As a Whole: “Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words,” because it shows Homer at his cruelest. He starts a company where he breaks up romantic relationships for their cowardly partners, AND bets against Lisa in a crossword puzzle competition. “Lisa the Greek,” it ain’t.
#22. Season 22 (2010–2011)
Every Guest Star: Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Ira Glass, Stephen Hawking, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Amber Riley, Mark Zuckerberg, Muhammad Yunus, Chris Hansen, Mike Scioscia, Bill James, Hugh Laurie, Daniel Radcliffe, Danica Patrick, Rachel Weisz, Martha Stewart, Katy Perry, Jon Hamm, Alyson Hannigan, Kristen Wiig, Scott Thompson, Michael Paul Chan, James Lipton, Garry Marshall, David Mamet, Ricky Gervais, Halle Berry, Russell Brand, Nick Park, J. B. Smoove, Werner Herzog, Tommy Chong, Cheech Marin, Martin Landau, Jack McBrayer, Ricky Jay, Penn & Teller, David Copperfield, Kristen Schaal, Ken Burns, and Joey Kramer.
Best Episode: “MoneyBART”
Most Emblematic Episode of the Season As a Whole: “Flaming Moe,” because I love the editorializing in the Wikipedia description for this episode: “Moe Szyslak and Waylon Smithers turn Moe’s tavern into an ultra-trendy gay bar after Smithers is rejected from Mr. Burns’s will and Moe’s business is (once again) in a slump.” “Once again.” Moe’s Tavern has gone through as many changes as Comic Book Guy has tacos in a wheelbarrow.
#21. Season 15 (2003–2004)
Every Guest Star: Jerry Lewis, Dudley Herschbach, Jennifer Garner, Oscar De La Hoya, Glenn Close, Michael Moore, Tony Blair, J.K. Rowling, Ian McKellen, Jane Leeves, Evan Marriott, Charles Napier, Jackie Mason, Mr. T, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Thomas Pynchon, Tom Clancy, Isabel Sanford, Nick Bakay, William Daniels, Dick Tufeld, Simon Cowell, Jon Lovitz, Brave Combo, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Charles Napier, and Nichelle Nichols
Best Episode: “The President Wore Pearls”
Most Emblematic Episode of the Season As a Whole: “I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot,” because BattleBots was popular in 2001. This episode aired in 2004. That’s late even by The Simpsons‘ always-delayed production cycle. (This was also the last season John Swartzwelder wrote an episode for.)
#20. Season 21 (2009–2010)
Every Guest Star: Seth Rogen, Chuck Liddell, Jonah Hill, Neve Campbell, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Cooper Manning, Kim Cattrall, Jordan Nagai, Huell Howser, the Smothers Brothers, Mitch Albom, Anne Hathaway, Gary Larson, Jackie Mason, Eartha Kitt, Chris Martin, Bob Costas, Wren T. Brown, Sarah Silverman, Angela Bassett, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yael Naim, Jane Kaczmarek, Eddie Izzard, Don Pardo, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Ellen DeGeneres, Kara DioGuardi, Ryan Seacrest, and Rupert Murdoch.
Best Episode: “Thursdays with Abie”
Most Emblematic Episode of the Season As a Whole: “The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed,” because there’s no reason the Simpsons had to visit Israel. Australia, London, Brazil, Delaware, Africa, India? Sure, whatever, but whereas those episodes work to varying degrees, “The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed” wants to be subversive and make a larger point about religion and blah blah blah all faiths coming together blah blah blah, and ultimately fails. Plus, Homer’s a Carolina Panthers fan (like me!) now? Wut.