[As you probably already know, starting on Thursday, August 21, FXX is running the Every Simpsons Ever Marathon, running through all 552 episodes of "The Simpsons," plus "The Simpsons Movie." To aid in your viewing process, Team HitFix is selecting our favorite episodes from each day, plus an episode or two that you can skip and use as a bathroom or nap break.]
Picking episodes for Day 1 of FXX's Every Simpsons Ever Marathon was relatively easy. Yes, "The Simpsons" was quite fine right off the bat and it only improved as the show moved into its second season, but the fans here at HitFix were able to cobble together a clear list of favorites without any hugely disappointing exclusions.
Day 2 was far more difficult. We have five participants picking episodes here and we each snagged two favorites for the day, which stretches from "Bart's Dog Gets an F" through to "Last Exit to Springfield," or from Episode 29 through Episode 76.
I think we represented many of the best episodes from this fertile early period, but if I had been about to select four or five, I could have easily done it.
My greatest regret is that we didn't have room for "Selma's Choice," which has possibly my favorite opening of the entire series -- Homer's refusal to stop eating an extra-long sandwich leads to food poisoning and, as a result, Selma has to take the kids to Duff Gardens -- and it also has Lisa's "I am the Lizard Queen" trip. It's a glorious episode. But if I only had two picks... I'm solid on the two I picked. I wish we could have found room for "Radio Bart" and "Kamp Krusty" and "Stark Raving Dad," with its gloriously odd Michael Jackson cameo.
And here's the scary part: The next two days after this one are even tougher, as we move into what is generally accepted as the show's Golden Age.
Check out our recommendations and chime in with your own favorites...
Alan Sepinwall Recommends:
"Homer the Heretic" (4:30 p.m.)
Why It's a Classic: On the occasion of the show's 500th episode, I was challenged to pick one episode and only one episode as my absolute favorite. I landed on this one — Homer has his best day ever after skipping church one Sunday, and decides to skip going altogether, much to the dismay of both Marge and Flanders — as a perfect combination of so many of the elements that made "The Simpsons" great. There is an abundance of Homer being gluttonous (his heart attack-inducing moon waffle recipe) and stupid (misreading the title to a country star's spoken-word album of his political beliefs), a wicked satire of organized religion in an episode that still manages to take a pro-spirituality stance (Homer even befriends God, even if it's only in his dreams), and a sense of sweetness that would sometimes elude the show when it took on sacred cows in later years. Like the football game that randomly interrupts the boring public affairs show Homer is watching, it's an episode that has everything a fan might want.
Favorite Lines: Keith Jackson's description of the aforementioned football game is a delight: "Oh, Doctor! A 98-yard triple-reverse ties the score at 63--63! We have seen nothing but razzle-dazzle here today, three visits from Morganna the Kissing Bandit, and the surprising return of Jim Brown!" Apu's indignant, "Please do not offer my god a peanut" when Homer attempts to feed his shrine to Ganesha is pretty splendid, too, as is God apologizing to Homer for an abrupt departure because, "I have to appear in a tortilla in Mexico."
Daniel Fienberg Recommends:
"Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk" (8:30 a.m.)
Why It's a Classic: For years, this episode was my White Whale. I'd missed it when it first aired and then somehow I kept missing it in syndication and my college roommate kept making references to it and I kept not getting them. So while there may be BETTER episodes from this period, no episode fills me with the pure satisfaction of catching this one in repeats. Your results, of course, may vary. However, I may be forced to distrust your values if Homer in The Land of Chocolate doesn't rank among your Top 10 "Simpsons" sequences. The episode also features one of Mr. Burns' best reversals of fortune, as he realizes that his power isn't merely linked to his wealth.
Favorite Lines: Oooh, the Germans are mad at me. I'm so scared! Oooh, the Germans! Uh oh, the Germans are going to get me!" "Please stop the 'pretending you are scared' game, please." [This is possibly only my second favorite "Simpsons" gag involving Germans. Or maybe the third, if I included, "Ahh - the Luftwaffe, the Washington Generals of The History Channel." The other one is almost certain to be a pick for Day 3 of the marathon.] "We regret to announce the following lay-offs, which I will read in alphabetical order. Simpson, Homer. [Pause] That is all."
Dave Lewis Recommends:
"Treehouse of Horror II" (6:30 a.m.)
Why it's a classic: After a haphazard initial offering in 1990, the second "Treehouse" really nailed the Halloween specials' ongoing format and set the template for years to come. The first story is especially essential. When a mystical Monkey's Paw gives the family four wishes, the writers spoof the show's own overnight success, satirize humanity's lust for violence ("Soon they'll make bigger boards with bigger nails until they make a board with a nail in it so big it will destroy them all!") and give Homer one of his best-ever food-related moments ("THE TURKEY'S A LITTLE DRY?!"). And there are still two other great segments, in which Bart re-names the U.S. "Bonerland" and Burns and Smithers get a chance to play "Frankenstein."
Burns: "Oh, Smithers, I was wrong to play God. Life is precious, not a thing to be toyed with. Now take out that brain and flush it down the toilet!"
Smithers: "Sir, his family might appreciate it if you returned the brain to his body."
Mr. Burns: "Oh come on! It's 11:45!"
Drew McWeeny Recommends:
"Marge Vs. The Monorail" (9:00 PM)
Why it's a classic: Because every single line is great, because the parody of "The Music Man" is both spot-on and savagely funny, because Leonard Nimoy's guest appearance is a hilarious piss-take on Nimoy's public image, because Phil Hartman's performance as Lyle Lanley is one of his best, and because Conan O'Brien's script showed exactly how big and how flexible the world of "The Simpsons" could be.
Homer driving home and singing his version of the "Flintstones" theme always cracks me up. "Simpson. Homer Simpson. He's the greatest guy in history. From the town of Springfield, he's about to hit a chestnut tree."
And, boy, do I love the exchange between Marge and Homer when they're trying stop the out-of-control monorail. "Homer, there's someone here who says he can help you!"
"No, he's a scientist!"
"Batman's a scientist!"
"It's not Batman!"
Josh Lasser Recommends:
“Flaming Moe's” (8 a.m.)
Why it’s a Classic: It offers great insight into Moe and shows, yet again, how a moment that could be utterly fantastic for Homer is destroyed. You see, Homer, when the Simpsons were low on liquor and he was desperate, created a drink which he called the “Flaming Homer.” He explains it to Moe one night at the bar and Moe steals it, making a fortune in the process. It is all ruined though when Homer spoils Moe’s chance to sell the secret recipe for the drink. Moe was going to give Homer half the proceeds (his waitress convinced him too), but the cash disappears once Homer reveals the secret ingredient for free. And, once Moe’s isn’t cool anymore, Aerosmith stops hanging out there (the band provide their own voices, the first band to do that for the show).
One of my all-time favorite “Simpsons" lines is in the episode, Homer concludes his explanation of the origin of the drink by saying, "I don't know the scientific explanation, but fire made it good."
Marge tries to tell Homer he shouldn’t be upset about Moe stealing the drink he responds in obvious sarcasm: "Oh, look at me! I'm making people happy! I'm the Magical Man from Happy-Land, in a gumdrop house on Lollipop Lane!… Oh, by the way, I was being sarcastic.”
Alan Sepinwall Also Recommends:
"Homer at the Bat" (11:30 a.m.)
Why It's a Classic: When Mr. Burns decides to fill the power plant softball team roster with ringers, he does not take half-measures, recruiting 9 of the biggest names in baseball at the time — Daryl Strawberry, Ken Griffey Jr., Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Don Mattingly, Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, Wade Boggs and Mike Sciosia — all but one of whom is then prevented from playing due to either a catastrophe (Griffey comes down with a case of gigantism from an overdose of nerve tonic) and the irrational whims of Monty Burns (who kicks Mattingly off the team for the — wholly imaginary — crime of having long sideburns). It's part homage to "The Natural," part tribute to the glorious and strange history of professional baseball in America, and one of the few "Simpsons" episodes that manages to take this many guest stars and give them all something funny to do.
Favorite Lines: If you love baseball even a little, is there a line of this episode that ISN'T wildly quotable? But if I can only pick a few, I start with Barney and Wade Boggs getting into a violent argument over England's greatest Prime Minister ("LORD PALMERSTON!" "PITT THE ELDER!"), followed by Mr. Burns ordering Smithers to "Scour the professional ranks. The American League, the National League, the Negro League!," and then a radiation-poisoned Mike Sciosia declaring "Can't... lift arm... or speak... at... normal... rate."
Daniel Fienberg Also Recommends:
"Last Exit to Springfield" (11:30 p.m.)
Why It's a Classic: Let's take the surface level first and we can praise one of the most cutting and yet nuanced depictions of labor/management strife ever chronicled, as we see Homer's rise to labor kingpin and his struggles to do right and avoid corruption through a properly Homer-esque prism. The negotiation in which Homer thinks Mr. Burns is hitting on him is superb. But then let's look at the true heart of the episode, which is the Homer/Lisa relationship, which was never more touchingly showcased. So you have a sterling plot, a well-maintained core and then you have some of the finest and most eclectic pop culture references the show has ever done, including Lisa's "Yellow Submarine"-style hallucination, the "Batman"-esque hideous dental surgery and Homer's "Godfather II"-esque ascension to mob boss. It's really a pretty perfect episode.
Favorite Lines: "Dental Plan" "Lisa needs braces!" Mr. Burns explores his 1000 monkeys with 1000 typewriters and declares, "It was the best of times, it was the BLURST of times? You stupid monkey." We get an early reference to Mr. Burns' unique ability to forget Homer as he thinks he's new only to have Mr. Smithers remind him, "He thwarted your campaign for governor, you ran over his son, he saved the plant from meltdown, his wife painted you in the nude..." Oh and apropos of nearly nothing, this episode also features Grandpa's legendary, "The important thing was that I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time" story. Oh and [Doorbell] "Who is it?" "Goons." "Who?" "Hired goons."
Dave Lewis Also Recommends:
"Mr. Plow" (7:30 p.m.)
Why it's a classic: A late night car accident forces Homer to buy a snowplow to make some money on the side, resulting in a rivalry with the Plow King (Barney), a pitch perfect spoof of Calvin Klein ads, a new Linda Ronstadt song, and TV's "Batman," Adam West, as himself -- years before "Family Guy" ran the gag into the ground. Even God himself shows up.
Homer (when asked by an insurance investigator if Moe's is a bar): "It's a pornography store! I was buying pornography!"
Homer's Brain: "Heh heh. I would have never thought of that."
Drew McWeeny Also Recommends:
"Lisa's Substitute" (1:30 AM)
Why it's a classic: For every student who has ever excelled in school, there are moments they remember, and teachers who made major impacts in their lives. Lisa breaks my heart because of how alone she feels in her family, and I think she's one of the best-written versions of a gifted student I've ever seen on TV. When Miss Hoover ends up sidelined by Lyme Disease, Lisa ends up meeting the single best teacher of her young life, and Dustin Hoffman's performance as Mr. Bergstrom is an all-timer, setting a fairly high bar for guest stars for the still-young series.
Bart showing his videotaped project "How Kittens Are Born: The Ugly Truth" is pretty much funny wall-to-wall, but it's his aside at the end that always kills me. "Oh, look, this is really cool! When I hit reverse, I can make them go back in!"
And for sheer heart-shattering impact, there's Lisa's line when Miss Hoover complains that Mr. Bergstrom didn't use her lesson plan at all, asking in exasperation what he taught Lisa. "That life is worth living."
Josh Lasser Also Recommends:
“Lisa the Greek” (10 a.m.)
Why it’s a Classic: It won Yeardley Smith an Emmy. It correctly predicted the Washington Redskins winning the Super Bowl. It is brilliantly funny too. The story here revolves around Homer and Lisa trying to bond and Homer realizing that his daughter is brilliant at picking the winner of football games. That then becomes the sole reason that he wants to spend time with her and so, when it comes down to the Super Bowl and she offers him her choice, she says that her subconscious may be sabotaging her and that if she still truly loves her father, it will be Washington who wins, if she doesn’t, it will be Buffalo. The episode is full of hysterical moments while managing to remain relatively serious.
Favorite Lines: The episode is packed with great lines, but here are just a couple.
Marge calls out Homer for using his daughter to gamble and he explains, "Marge, she never loses. Aren't parents supposed to encourage their kids whenever they show talent?"
Lisa asks Bart for the score of the Super Bowl, and he responds, “You Hate Dad is up by a touchdown."
Of course, if you happen to need a bathroom break or a nap or a brief window communicating with the outside world...
Daniel Fienberg Recommends Skipping:
"Old Money" (12:30 a.m.)
Why It's a Dud: I hate to say this, but given enough days, I could probably tell you to use nearly every Grandpa Simpson episode as a bathroom break. I know some people love ol' Abe, but my own instinct would be to treat him like the Simpsons treat him, push him off to the side and only welcome him in as an occasional guest. Look, the "Onion on my belt" monologue is a highlight of this day, so it's not that I hate EVERYTHING related to Abe, but I can just pass on various permutations of "Abe isn't too old for love, but complications ensue because we can't actually have Abe be secure and loved for too long or else the character loses his identity." And with early "Simpsons" episodes, if the A story wasn't working for you, there's no respite. And this story is way maudlin and it's particularly maudlin about a character -- Good Ol' Bea -- who we never came close to caring about.
Redeeming Lines: Put it all on 41. (To Homer) I've got a feeling about that number." "The wheel only goes to 36, sir."
What are your picks for the second day of the FXX Every Simpsons Ever Marathon?