Plenty of attention has been given to establishing the finest episodes of The Simpsons over the years. However, while it’s widely accepted that the show’s heyday spans from season 4 through to season 10, surprisingly little attention has been paid to figuring out the greatest overall season. This is of course not a question one should take too lightly. Between seasons 4 through to 10, The Simpsons was on an unprecedented streak of producing consistently hilarious episodes. Each season contains plenty of pure comedy gold, so narrowing down choices and ranking one against the others is no easy feat. However after crunching the numbers and triple checking the data, my findings suggest as follows:
5/ Season 7
Season 7 arguably marked the point where the show’s episodes began to become more concept-driven rather than character based. While in later seasons this would understandably become cause for complaint, at this stage it was still being utilised to good effect. Radioactive Man gave Rainier Wolfcastle and Milhouse time to shine; meanwhile King-Size Homer, Homerpalooza and Homer the Smithers all saw Homer at his irresponsible best. There are also two of the finest Lisa episodes in Lisa the Vegetarian and Summer of 4 ft 2, plus Abe Simpson’s finest hour in Raging Abe Simpsons and His Grumbling Grandson in ‘The Curse of the Flying Hellfish’. There’s also an unforgettable outing for Troy McClure as A Fish Called Selma that sees him recapturing his glory days after he begins courting Marge’s sister. It’s a strong season with very few misses, though the likes of Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming, Bart Sells His Soul and Bart on the Road are all solid but not up there with the show’s best.
4/ Season 8
A quick glance down Season 8’s list of episodes and it’s clear we are dealing with a seriously strong contender. My all-time favourite You Only Move Twice is in there, as are the likes of Bart After Dark where Bart takes up an after school job at La Maison Derriere and The Mysterious Voyage of Homer complete with Johnny Cash’s Space Coyote cameo. Homer has some stand out episodes including Homer’s Phobia and Homer’s Enemy, plus his battle with the Eighteenth Amendment which see him become the legendary Beer Baron. There are a lot of neat concept episodes in season 8 and it’s noticeably a season where the showrunners took a few risks. Homer’s Enemy basically has Homer being a bit of a dick and issues of homophobia, female empowerment, sexual morality and divorce are all tackled. It’s a near perfect season that’s only missing out on top placing by a whisker owing to a few average episodes such as Lisa’s Date With Density, the Spin-Off showcase and Grade School Confidential.
3/ Season 4
After its formative first three seasons, this was the season where the show came into its own. Homer the Heretic and Mr Plow have Homer at his very best, while the events of Homer’s Triple Bypass deliver some wonderfully heartfelt moments. Stand-out episodes from the fourth season include Marge Vs the Monorail, Duffless, Itchy and Scratchy the Movie and Last Exit to Springfield. These are bona fide classics that remain fan favourites to this day. Last Exit especially is the show perfecting its own art form, an incredible blend of character driven comedy and madcap animation. We also get to spend time with Springfield’s other residents including Ralph Wiggum in I Love Lisa, Selma in Selma’s Choice and Krusty in the inimitable Krusty Gets Cancelled. The latter of these proves an especially triumphant close to the season, with the Krusty Comeback Special a landmark Simpsons moment.
2/ Season 6
Arguably the last season where character consistency and development took centre stage, season 6 is The Simpsons at its peak. Bart of Darkness, Lisa’s Rival, Homer Badman, Homer The Great, Lisa On Ice. The various Simpsons family members each get time to shine throughout and it is truly a joy to behold. The family vacation to Itchy and Scratchy Land and their enforced trip to Australia are especially well crafted travel episodes and there are also prime examples of the sort of zanier concept episodes that would eventually become the norm with the film festival madness of A Star is Burns and the Who Shot Mr Burns? cliffhanger. What stands out in this season is that as well as containing various hilarious episodes, there are also some landmark poignant scenes, from Ned wistfully singing Que Sera Sera as the end of the world is nigh in Bart’s Comet, to the ending of And Maggie Makes Three, where Homer’s “Do It For Her” plaque is perhaps the show’s most heartfelt and touching moment of all time.
1/ Season 5
It’s a close run thing between all these seasons as to which is the greatest of all time, however for me the accolade has to just about go to the fifth season owing primarily to its sheer unbelievable consistency. Across its entire 22 episode run, it’s hard to see a single one that isn’t solid gold. This was the season with: Homer Goes to College, Rosebud, Cape Feare, Deep Space Homer, Boy-Soutz ‘n the Hood, Homer’s Barbershop Quartet and Homer Loves Flanders. This is the season where the show found the sweet spot between heartfelt character moments and creating new and exciting stories. This is a season before gimmicks became key and after their characters were settling in and finding their voices. Not only do the family themselves shine, but the extended universe excels, with Mr Burns really getting time to shine in Rosebud, $pringfield and Burns’ Heir, Skinner likewise in Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadassss Song and Apu in Homer and Apu. There’s high quality in every episode and a never ending stream of quotable lines.
(Main Photo Credit: IGN)
(All other Photo Credit: Simpsons Wiki)