On April 19, 1987, The Simpsons debuted as an animated short titled “Good Night” on Fox’s The Tracey Ullman Show. While the drawings were less sophisticated than they are now, the dynamic and humor of the Simpson family was there from day one. After 48 shorts over three seasons on The Tracey Ullman Show, their own primetime animated series debuted in May of 1989 and has been on the air ever since. After 30 years on television, it’s hard to imagine popular culture, and life, without the dysfunctional family of five. In honor of this tremendous TV feat, we look back at the best seasons The Simpsons has to offer.
While seasons one and two are full of good episodes, season three is really where the show found its footing. Episode quality and storylines were more consistent, and the show received numerous Primetime Emmy Award wins and nominations to boot. The list of guest stars continued to grow with the series scoring some of the biggest names across all of pop culture at the time, from Michael Jackson (using the pseudonym “John Jay Smith”) to Sting to baseball greats like Ken Griffey Jr. and Ozzie Smith. And Sideshow Bob comes into his own this season as a recurring character and nemesis to Bart and the rest of the Simpson family.
Must Watch Episodes: “I Married Marge,” “Homer at the Bat,” and “Separate Vocations”
Season four continued the momentum that had started the previous season. The episodes got better and better, and the show got even more big name guest stars to voice animated versions of themselves throughout the season, including Johnny Carson, Leonard Nimoy, and Elizabeth Taylor. Phil Hartman continued to voice multiple characters during the season, including his most famous one-off character, monorail salesman Lyle Lanley. This season also saw Conan O’Brien become a writer for the show, where he helmed one of the most famous episodes of the series “Marge vs. The Monorail.”
Must Watch Episodes: “Marge vs. The Monorail,” “I Love Lisa,” and “Krusty Gets Kancelled”
The Simpsons kept trending upward during season five, and it was arguably the most musical season of the show featuring many original songs and singers making guest appearances as themselves. The season started off on a high note with “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet” which featured the show’s second guest appearance by a member of the Beatles with George Harrison voicing himself (Ringo Starr had previously guest starred as himself in season 2’s “Brush with Greatness”). Harrison wasn’t the only musician to make a guest appearance, and though he didn’t sing during his episode, James Taylor, Robert Goulet, and The Ramones all took turns singing on the show. There were many other great musical moments during the season, including the Primetime Emmy nominated “Who Needs The Kwik-E Mart?” from “Homer and Apu” as well as Sideshow Bob singing the score of the H.M.S. Pinafore to Bart in “Cape Feare,” plus all the songs sung by The Be Sharps in the season premiere.
Must Watch Episodes: “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet,” “Cape Feare,” and “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song”
Season six saw The Simpsons really become a cultural phenomenon. While the show was always popular and critically acclaimed during the previous seasons, the season finale episode “Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part One)” really brought the show to another level. This was the first time the series had ended a season with a cliffhanger, and while storylines had always connected to each other, the two-part episode added a different type of continuity to the show. The excellent parade of guest stars continued with Meryl Streep voicing Reverend Lovejoy’s daughter, Jessica, in the episode “Bart’s Girlfriend.” The first crossover of the series happened with character Jay Sherman from The Critic (which was produced by former Simpsons staff members) making an appearance in the episode “A Star is Burns.” This season also arguably had the best Treehouse of Horror episode, featuring the hilarious send up of The Shining in the segment titled “The Shinning.”
Must Watch Episodes: “Itchy & Scratchy Land,” “Sideshow Bob Roberts,” “Homer Badman,” and “Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part One)”
“Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part Two)” bookended a time when Simpsons mania was at its peak. During the time between seasons, everyone was talking about who might have shot Mr. Burns. The show even held a contest for people to send in their guesses where the winner’s prize would be to have their likeness animated into a future episode. All summer fans poured over clues and attempted to filter out red herrings trying to figure out the identity of the gunman, which was eventually revealed in the episode to be Maggie Simpson. Even after the hype over “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” had died down, season seven still had a lot to offer. Paul McCartney became the final living member of the Beatles to voice himself on the show in a memorable episode where Lisa becomes a vegetarian. Season seven also lays claim to arguably one of the most emotional episodes of the series, “Mother Simpson,” where Homer reunites with his long lost mother, only to heartbreakingly have to say goodbye to her again at the end of the episode. The season’s Treehouse of Horror episode was also remarkable for its 3D sequence and Homer becoming a part of the human world.
Must Watch Episodes: “Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part Two),” “Lisa the Vegetarian,” “King-Size Homer,” and “Mother Simpson”
Season eight marked the end of the glory years for The Simpsons. Though it was still a cohesive and entertaining show, the plots started to become a little more outlandish and disconnected, and after the high of the “Who Shot Mr Burns?” arc, there wasn’t really any place else to go but down. This season still has some of the most outstanding and fan favorite episodes of the series, though. Homer meets his enemy in fellow power plant employee, Frank Grimes, in “Homer’s Enemy,” and Johnny Cash voices a talking coyote Homer hallucinates after a chili cook-off in “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer.” The series had its first crossover with a non-animated show when Mulder and Scully from The X-Files visit Springfield to investigate Homer’s alien sighting in “The Springfield Files.” Three fan favorite songs are included in this season with the town coming together to sing “We Put The Spring in Springfield,” Kirk Van Houten crooning “Can I Borrow A Feeling?” trying to win back his wife Luann, and Mr. Burns’ “See My Vest,” a parody of “Be Our Guest” that he sings while going through his closet and looking at all the clothing he has that is made out of animals.
Must Watch Episodes: “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show,” “Homer’s Phobia,” and “Homer’s Enemy”
Though most fans think the last good season of The Simpsons is either season nine or ten, there are still some really great episodes and show moments up through about season fifteen, with season twelve being one of the highlights. It brought back some of the magic of the earlier seasons and had the consistent quality that the previous few seasons were lacking. With guest stars ranging from the Williams sisters to NSYNC to Michael Keaton, there was a little something for everyone. “Trilogy of Error” was a fresh take on a regular Simpsons story with the episode being told from the perspectives of multiple characters. While there are definitely some duds, the good episodes seemed more like early season episodes even though the rest were indicative of the later season stumbles. And though later seasons still had some good episodes, season twelve was the last season that really channeled what fans loved about the show from the beginning.
Must Watch Episodes: “Skinner’s Sense of Snow,” “Tennis the Menace,” and “New Kids on the Blecch”
Though Homer once famously sang, “You could close down Moe’s or the Kwik-E Mart and nobody would care,” that’s definitely not the case for Simpsons fans. Despite complaints about consistency and quality, the show has kept a sizable fanbase for 30 years who never want to see The Simpsons leave the air. From its short time on The Tracey Ullman Show through 28 seasons on its own, many fans have grown up with the show and view it as an essential part of their lives. After 30 years, thankfully, it seems like there’s no end in sight for The Simpsons.
What’s your favorite season of The Simpsons? Let us know in the comments!