Let’s be honest, The Simpsons are past their prime. Hell, they’re past being past their prime, with the best seasons feeling more and more distant with each passing year. With that said, this show is still capable of being really funny, even in its oft-questionable later years. With that in mind, here are 10 episodes from the past five seasons that are worth reconsidering.
10. “A Totally Fun Thing Bart Will Never Do Again” – Original Airdate: April 29, 2012
A stray joke from a Season 13 episode (The Simpsons are goin’ to Antarctica…next year.) actually gets played out in an episode involving a nightmarish experience on a cruise ship. Bart is miserably bored by his life at home (as the opening scene illustrates perfectly), and when he realizes his vacation fun is about to end, he pulls off a last-ditch effort to keep the cruise going without realizing the consequences. Naturally, it backfires horrifically and the entire ship loses its mind. The Simpsons are finally exiled from the ship just as it reaches Antarctica. Okay, fine, there’s a lot of ridiculousness here, but anyone can relate to Bart’s unrelenting boredom, and the scenes on the cruise ship after Bart’s stunt are hilarious (“Mankind was told to run near the pool. Mankind did not listen. This is his reward!”). The fact that this actually happened in real life last year only makes it funnier.
9. “Donnie Fatso” – Original Airdate: December 12, 2010
How much you enjoy this one depends on how much you are willing to look past a questionable ending and just enjoy how good the first 21 minutes are. After Homer is sent to prison on a bogus charge, he has no choice but to infiltrate the mafia and take down Fat Tony. We see the two become extremely close, and it feels genuinely heartbreaking when Homer betrays him, and you get the feeling that Homer is actually remorseful about what he was forced to do. Unfortunately, the episode does have a really strange ending: Fat Tony dies, and is then replaced by his cousin Fit Tony, who eats a ton of fatty food, and…you can guess where this is going. Fans were outraged that a character was killed and replaced in such a lazy fashion, but I’m willing to overlook it in favor of how strong the rest of the episode is. Homer’s entrance into mob life is surprisingly engaging, and if not for the ending, this episode would have likely topped this list.
8. “The Bob Next Door” – Original Airdate: May 16, 2010
Ok, this is a somewhat controversial episode, mainly due to one admittedly gross scene in which Sideshow Bob actually carves his face off and switches it with another prisoner. Yes, it’s a bit gruesome to watch, but I’ll give it a pass because of how well everything else here works. The presence of a new neighbor who happens to sound exactly like Sideshow Bob is understandably frightening for Bart, and the episode manages to play things so coyly that after awhile, we aren’t totally sure what’s going on. But of course, Bart’s instinct are dead-on, and the second he lets his guard down, Sideshow Bob is taking him across the country in order to execute Bart at the Five Corners (“I fire bullet in one state, it hits you in another, I haven’t committed any crime in either state.”) Of course, Bob is foiled once again, but this episode was surprisingly suspenseful, and showed that after two decades, The Simpsons is capable of pulling inspired episodes from the Sideshow Bob well.
7. “The Food Wife” – Original Airdate: November 13, 2011
The Simpsons take on foodie culture — written by Matt Selman — who is a celebrated eater in his own right — winds up being an inspired (and fairly loving) tribute to the hipsters who are always on a quest to find the next great obscure restaurant. The episode partially centers on Homer and Marge’s struggle to be the “fun” parent, but the best scenes tend to involve the food itself, like El Chemistri, the hip restaurant that serves porkchops 100 ways, and has customers eat salads made from foam and air. There’s also an inspired guest spot from Tim & Eric, who provide “Bloggin A food Blog,” one of the best songs to be featured on The Simpsons in years.
6. “500 Keys” – Original Airdate: May 15, 2011
This one takes a fairly common problem — too many keys cluttering up the house — and turns it into a highly original storyline, as each member of The Simpson family has an adventure with one of the random keys set out on the kitchen table. Marge has a wacky adventure with a farting toy train, Homer finally gets to ride the Duff Blimp, Bart’s pranks keep turning into good deeds, and he is rewarded with the key to the city. The main story, though, involves Lisa’s quest to get to the bottom of a secret room that keeps changing shape. It first presents a classroom full of mannequins, then it completely disappears, in the style of an old Hollywood mystery. I won’t spoil the ending, but it winds up being pretty dark. Poor Otto may be scarred for life after what Skinner and Chalmers did to him. No wonder he smokes so much pot….