Extra extra! Todd smells…and The Simpsons are coming to FXX. And not just episodes from the last five seasons, which are the only ones Fox plays on syndication anymore, but EVERY episode, all 548 of them (and counting!). The 12-day marathon, and the subsequent availability of every episode on FXNOW, isn’t until August 21, but we can start planning now. Here are the first 12 episodes I’d recommend watching. Now, before we begin, I should say these aren’t necessarily the 12 best episodes, or even my 12 favorites (there’s no “A Milhouse Divided,” for instance) — they’re 12 episodes, ranging from season two to season eight, that perfectly showcase the different kinds of episodes The Simpsons can pull off, from sentimental flashbacks to goofy space adventures. Also, they’re all fantastic.
1. “The Way We Was” (season 2)
It’s hard skipping the pilot (you can wait until Christmas), but I recommend you begin your marathon with “The Way We Was,” the flashback episode where we learn how Homer and Marge became Homer and Marge. It’s sweet and never sappy, but what truly separates it from the early-season pack is, like any great romantic origin story, it starts with a quippy action hero throwing his captain out the window.
2. “Stark Raving Dad” (season 3)
Come for the Michael Jackson cameo; stay for the story about a middle-aged man who dares to be different (by wearing a pink shirt) and a brother who desperately tries to do something nice for his sister. Also, “Pancakes… football… boobies…”
3. “Homer at the Bat” (season 3)
Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Darryl Strawberry are three of the greatest baseball players of all-time, but ultimately, their true stamp on history is the time they clucked like a chicken, got addicted to Brain & Nerve Tonic, and cried on animated TV show. “Homer at the Bat” is a wonderful episode for baseball fans, but it also works for those who can’t tell the difference between Steve Sax and Sax on the Beach. You don’t need to know who Ozzie Smith is to realize that eternally falling down the Springfield Mystery Spot is hilarious. It’s to John Swartzwelder’s immense credit that he was able to fit in a story for nine guest stars, as well as Mr. Burns, and still have Homer be the hero.
4. “Lisa’s First Word” (season 4)
I can basically quote every single line of every single episode in seasons three-five, because why yes, I did have an active dating life in middle and high school, thank you very much, but the first episode I memorized front-to-back was “Lisa’s First Word.” The whole damn episode is one giant reference. Pick a line, any line, to read out loud in a crowded room, and at least one other person will be able to respond to “iron helps us play” with “HELLO JOE.” Plus, that final scene? Gets me every time.
5. “Marge vs. the Monorail” (season 4)
“The name’s Lanley, Lyle Lanley. And I come before you good people tonight with an episode. Probably the greatest…aw, it’s not for you. It’s more of a Shelbyville episode.” “Now, wait just a minute. We’re twice as smart as the people of Shelbyville. Just tell us your episode and we’ll vote for it.” “All right. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll show you my idea. I give you…”
That’s why “Marge vs. the Monorail” might be the best Simpsons ever. Except for maybe…
6. “Last Exit to Springfield” (season 4)
DENTAL PLAN. LISA NEEDS BRACES. DENTAL PLAN. LISA NEEDS BRACES.
7. “Homer Goes to College” (season 5)
Conan O’Brien only wrote three episodes of The Simpsons — two of them are on this list. The show, which began as a fairly traditional family comedy, except everyone is yellow, began to tonally shift around season four, thanks partially to Conan’s wacky sensibilities. No longer could the writers do a simple episode about Bart pretending to be a genius. Instead, if Homer wanted to go to college, he had to cause a nuclear meltdown, befriend a trio of nerds, run over a dean with a car, and steal a pig with powerful friends. Not every show could pull off such a drastic switch. The Simpsons did (it).
8. “Deep Space Homer” (season 5)
IN DEEP SPACE HOMER WE TRUST. (Homer’s slow Planet of the Apes realization is one of the five best things to ever happen on television.)
9. “Lemon of Troy” (season 6)
Long before citizens of Pawnee and Eagleton built a wall separating their towns, Springfield and Shelbyville were locked in a battle over a lemon tree. “Lemon of Troy” is a universe-expanding episode — Shelbyville had been mentioned a lot, but never seen, until Bart, Milhouse, Nelson, Martin, Todd, and Database crossed the line separating those who don’t marry their cousins and those who do. Shelbyville is a bizarro version of Springfield, so “Lemon of Troy” is probably an episode better enjoyed by long-time fans, but if you don’t find, “Hey, everybody, an old man’s talking!” funny, you’re probably not going to like The Simpsons anyway.
10. “Summer of 4 Ft. 2” (season 7)
“Summer of 4 Ft. 2” is rarely mentioned as a pantheon episode, but Lisa’s been as ignored as the Dud card so far, so it’s time the smartest Simpson got some love. Simply put, this is a really good episode with a lot of great lines. The story of Lisa wanting to be anyone but herself is familiar, but setting the episode outside of Springfield and in Little Pwagmattasquarmsettport makes it feel fresh. Though the real MVP is Milhouse, who in only 22 minutes added, “School’s out! Up yours, Krabappel,” “And she looks like Blossom,” and “see you in the car” to the cultural lexicon. Sweet merciful crap, what an episode.
11. “You Only Move Twice” (season 8)
“You Only Move Twice” is a tremendously huge episode with wonderfully small jokes. The Simpsons move from Springfield to Cypress Creek so Homer can work for Globex, a corporation led by the indomitable Hank Scorpio. That’s a huge leap for the show to take — and it took FOREVER for animators to finish the episode — but what makes “You Only Move Twice” so special are the little details, like Hank offering Homer package-less sugar from his pants, as well as “some cream” (Homer’s stuttering response, “Uh… I… no,” is how to tell a subtle dirty joke). The hammock monologue, Marge’s wine “addiction,” Lisa’s allergies, Tom Landry’s hat — you’re CUCKOO CUCKOO CUCKOO CUCKOO if you don’t love “You Only Move Twice.”
12. “Homer’s Enemy” (season 8)
Finally, we come to the darkly brilliant “Homer’s Enemy,” which some fans this is the one of the greatest Simpsons episodes of all-time, while others believe it, along with “The Principal and the Pauper,” are the beginning of the end. I agree with the former, because it’s not as if anyone, except for maybe Matt Groening, could have known the money train that is The Simpsons would still be on 17 seasons later; “Homer’s Enemy” was arguably the birth of Jerk-Ass Homer, but that trope hadn’t beaten to death then as it has been now.
And hey, if you hate the episode: