Most fans of The Simpsons agree that the show hasn’t been very good in the 21st Century. So when was the show’s so-called Golden Age? If you’re new to figuring out the best material in the over 600+ episodes of The Simpsons, it probably feels impossible to just dive in. With that in mind, here’s a useful definition of the show’s Golden Age, plus one episode from each of the first 10 seasons that helps define that period.
What Is The Simpson’s Golden Age?
There’s some dispute when it comes to finding an exact timeframe. The most common definition is the first 10 seasons of The Simpsons are the Golden Age. That’s when it was at its most daring, most innovative, and, most importantly, when it was at its funniest. However, die-hard fans often claim that’s too broad. If you’re a real purist, the extreme definition of the Golden Age is seasons 3-8, when the show was not just the funniest thing on TV; it was fundamentally redefining comedy on television in a way that arguably has not been seen before or since.
While the more strict definition pleases fanatics, the first 10 seasons work as a more fitting introduction for casual fans or new viewers, so we’ll stick with that. And if you don’t feel experimenting with a few episodes before taking on the emotional labor of watching, here is a quick rundown of 10 Golden Age episodes from each of the first 10 seasons that best summarize what made this show a cultural institution. All 10 episodes, along with every other episode in the show’s 29-season run, are available on the FX Now app. You can also buy the episodes individually on Amazon.
Season 1: “The Crepes of Wrath”
The first season is full of growing pains that come with a comedy finding its footing and some of the episodes feel like an entirely different show than The Simpsons we know and love. However, this episode, which features the mischievous Bart being sent to a Chateau in France as a part of a student-exchange program, gives viewers a glimpse into what was coming next. The jokes were nonstop, the premise was simultaneously absurd and grounded, and Bart was well on his way to becoming America’s favorite ne’er-do-well.
Season 2: “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge”
While Homer and Bart tend to hog the spotlight, Marge, in both her family and in the show, is the unappreciated glue that holds the family together with endless patience and the entirely unreasonable expectation that her husband and kids behave like civilized human beings. And Marge is never more mom than she is in this episode, as she crusades to get the hyper-violent, Looney Tunes-esque Itchy & Scratchy off the air after watching the show nearly causes Maggie to bludgeon Homer with a mallet. Along with the usual visual gags and rapid-fire dialogue, “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge” features some of the shows sharpest meta-humor, as a hit television show happily criticized the vapid wasteland of modern television, knowingly pointing the finger right back at itself.
Season 3: “Homer at the Bat”
Some of the best episodes of The Simpsons are a demonstration of the brilliance of thoughtful and meticulous storytelling. Others are just really fucking funny. “Homer at the Bat” is decidedly the latter, as the episode is so packed with jokes of all kinds that you are guaranteed to miss at least half the jokes upon first viewing. Plus, watching Homer casually rub elbows with massive superstars, in this case baseball legends, is always a reliable way to get big laughs.
Season 4: “Marge vs. the Monorail”
“Marge vs. the Monorail” is perhaps the most recognized episode of The Simpsons and for good reason. Nearly every line is quotable, almost every scene is iconic, and the late, great Phil Hartman has never been better than his performance as Lyle Lanely, the sleazy yet irresistibly charming salesman who manages to convince the small town The episode even has a message that is subtle enough to not get in the way of the incomprehensible amount of funniness stuffed into every moment. It’s not just one of the best Simpsons episodes ever; it’s one of the best episodes of television, period.
Season 5: “Cape Feare”
One of the best parts of the Simpsons universe is the countless side characters. From Chief Wiggum to Comic Book Guy, nearly everyone who speaks or even graces the screen helps build this intricate and insane world. And one of the greatest characters in the Springfield lore is Sideshow Bob, Krusty the Clown’s sidekick who also holds a homicidal grudge against Bart. And this is Sideshow Bob at his best, as he is released from jail after he easily convinces everyone he has given up his devious ways in favor of a life of righteousness and decency. Plus, it features possibly the funniest visual gag of all time, which you can watch below.
Season 6: “Homer the Great”
When Homer learns there is a secret society in Springfield known as ‘The Stonecutters’, he naturally does everything in his power to join. Eventually, Homer is allowed to join and it is discovered that he is the mythical Chosen One, who legend says is destined to lead the Stonecutters to greatness. This, of course, immediately goes to his head but before too long, his god-like status leaves him feeling isolated and he attempts to reconnect with his fellow members. It’s a weird episode yet the show is so self-assured that it barely even registers how fucking bizarre and silly the entire concept is.
Season 7: “Lisa the Iconoclast”
Poor, poor Lisa. In a town filled with deviants, buffoons, and deviant buffoons, she is often forced to act as the town’s conscience, which tends to get her labeled a massive buzzkill. This is never on display more prominently than in ‘Lisa the Iconoclast’, when she discovers that Jebediah Springfield, the revered founder of the town, was secretly a pirate scumbag who was a nemesis of George Washington. Along with being one of the funnier episodes in arguably the funniest season of the show, this episode teaches a hard lesson about standing by your convictions, even when the whole world hates you for it.
Season 8: “You Only Move Twice”
Homer’s lacking intellect has long been a go-to source of jokes but it’s never been put to better use than when he gets hired at Globex Corporation without realizing it’s a company run by Hank Scorpio, a Bond-esque villain (hence the episode title) bent on world domination. With every passing moment, Homer’s cluelessness only gets funnier, as he still thinks he is working a boring office job even as the walls around him are crashing down. It’s a hilarious twist on a Bond spoof that only gets funnier with each subsequent rewatch.
Season 9: “The Last Temptation of Krust”
Krusty the Clown has always been a proud sell-out but when he finds that audiences respond to an angry, cynical tirade during a press conference, he decides to rebrand himself as a bitter stand-up who treats his comedy as an art form. But before long, he finds himself drawn back to the irresistible allure of the almighty dollar. Along with some predictably great meta-commentary on comedy culture, this episode is perhaps the most in-depth examination of Krusty, highlighting the unparalleled depth of the show.
Season 10: “Lard of the Dance”
Homer has had hundreds of insane jobs over the course of the show but among the most memorable is when he tries to collect grease that he can sell at a profit. He eventually tries to steal grease from Bart and Lisa’s school, which gets him into a showdown with Groundskeeper Willy, who is determined to protect his domain. It’s equal parts dumb and brilliant in a way only The Simpsons can be.
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