3:30 am Friday, Aug. 22
Season 3, Episode 1: "Stark Raving Dad"
After years of being criticized as a poster child for a decaying America, Bart tugs heartstrings when he teams up with "Michael Jackson"—a fat, white mental patient voiced by MJ (though credited to "John Jay Smith") whom Homer befriends while institutionalized for wearing a pink shirt—and writes a heartwarming birthday song. The original broadcast was followed by the debut of Jackson's "Black or White" video, including that weird epilogue where he trashes a car and turns into a black panther. Nobody's heart was warmed.
4 am Friday, Aug. 22
Season 3, Episode 2: "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington"
This episode is worth celebrating if only because it set off a flurry of fist-waving from Oregon's timber industry for depicting a lobbyist bribing a congressman to log Springfield National Forest (real
headline from October 1991: "Loggers Get Bad Vibes From Lisa"). In response, Portland's favorite son and
creator Matt Groening basically told them to, in the words of one Lisa Simpson, shove it. But it's also just a funny romp through Bush Senior-era D.C., including a cameo by a bathing Barbara Bush.
9 pm Friday, Aug. 22
Season 4, Episode 12: "Marge vs. the Monorail"
An undisputed classic for a variety of reasons—the musical number, the self-deprecating Leonard Nimoy cameo, "I call the big one Bitey"—it gets retroactively funnier if you imagine rail-based transportation huckster Lyle Lanley as a young Charlie Hales.
10:30 pm Friday, Aug. 22
Season 4, Episode 15: "I Love Lisa"
A minor recurring character up to this point, Ralph Wiggum broke out as a major supporting character in this Valentine's Day episode and very quickly won viewers' hearts—if not Lisa's. Poor Ralph went on to become little more than a one-note punch line after this, but his heart-wrenching performance as George Washington in Springfield Elementary's Presidents Day show earned him a genuine moment in the spotlight. Aww, Ralphie, we'd still choo-choo-choose you.
12:30 am Saturday, Aug. 23
Season 4, Episode 19: "The Front"
Grandpa Abe Simpson gets some much-needed depth after Bart and Lisa use his name on an Itchy & Scratchy script that subsequently receives an Emmy nomination, setting up a razor-sharp showbiz satire and establishing Abe's tendency to ramble. Also, Homer earns his GED and wears a plunger. Grandpa does the Iggy.
3 am Saturday, Aug. 23
Season 5, Episode 2: "Cape Feare"
The first of many "Sideshow Bob tries to kill Bart" episodes, and still the best. Has anyone made a three-hour YouTube loop of Bob stepping on rakes? We'd watch the whole damn thing.
4 pm Saturday, Aug. 23
Season 6, Episode 6: "Treehouse of Horror V"
Contains the greatest of all "Treehouse" parodies in "The Shinning" ("don't you mean The Shining?" "Shh! You want to get sued?!"), a running gag in which Groundskeeper Willie's attempts to play hero are thwarted by his propensity for getting axed to death, and a totally bizarre coda in which the family sings a song from A Chorus Line after falling victim to âthat fog that turns people inside out.â
1:30 am Sunday, Aug. 24
Season 6, Episode 25: "Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part One)"
The actual resolution in "Part Two" was a bit underwhelming, but guessing whodunit in this homage to "Who shot J.R.?" dominated the summer of 1995 for every kid too young to fully understand the O.J. Simpson trial—never mind that we were also too young to understand all the references to Twin Peaks and Basic Instinct.
4 am Sunday, Aug. 24
Season 7, Episode 5: "Lisa the Vegetarian"
Some criticize this episode for being "preachy," but it overflows with great individual scenes, none better than the Troy McClure-hosted Meat Council propaganda video. Between the depiction of a food chain where sharks eat gorillas and McClure's grave warning that "if a cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about," it might be the funniest isolated segment in the show's history. Also, if you play the end credits backward, you can hear Paul McCartney read a recipe for "a really rippin' lentil soup."
5 am Sunday, Aug. 24
Season 7, Episode 7: "King-Size Homer"
In this age of austerity and Extreme Weight Loss, it's hard to imagine a popular prime-time sitcom making light of both the abuse of disability benefits and morbid obesity without the media working itself into a moralizing clickbait frenzy. But these were different times. Times when fat-guy hats, dialing wands and washing yourself with a rag on a stick were just funny, not signs of a national health crisis.
5:30 am Sunday, Aug. 24
Season 7, Episode 8: "Mother Simpson"
Not the funniest episode, but one of the most poignant. Homer learns his mother, thought to have died when he was a kid, is still alive, living on the lam as a political dissident. Just as their reunion brings him to terms with his upbringing, she's forced to vanish again. Try not to get misty after she drives away, leaving Homer gazing wistfully at the stars as the credits roll.
11 am Sunday, Aug. 24
Season 7, Episode 19: "A Fish Called Selma"
Six words and an em-dash: Planet of the Apes—The Musical. Or, as it's officially titled, Stop the Planet of the Apes: I Want to Get Off! The most Phil Hartman-filled episode, the plot features Troy McClure attempting to revive his acting career via a sham marriage to Marge's sister Selma, but this one enters the pantheon the moment an ape starts break dancing to the funky keyboards of "Dr. Zaius."
1:30 pm Sunday, Aug. 24
Season 7, Episode 24: "Homerpalooza"
The Simpsons' overreliance on guest stars and pop-culture references has grown tiresome over the years, but this episode—in which Homer becomes a freak act at a Lollapalooza-style music festival and featuring cameos by the Smashing Pumpkins, Cypress Hill, Sonic Youth and Peter Frampton—does it right. It nails both the mid-'90s indie-rock scene ("hey, Hullabalooza isn't about freaks—it's about music, and advertising, and youth-oriented product positioning") and that moment you first realize you have no idea what the kids are actually listening to these days.
2 pm Sunday, Aug. 24
Season 7, Episode 25: "Summer of 4 Ft. 2"
Homer is the best Simpsons character, but Lisa is the most complex. For that reason, episodes centered on her tend to have greater emotional depth, and this one, in which she battles her own identity while on a beach vacation, is one of the deepest. And besides, Homer is sometimes even better when he's on the periphery. His taunting of Milhouse during a game of Mystery Date—"stand up for yourself, Poindexter!"—is about the funniest bit in this episode.
3 pm Sunday, Aug. 24
Season 8, Episode 2: "You Only Move Twice"
Surreal in a way the show never quite achieved again, the family moves out of Springfield and onto the edges of a James Bond (excuse me, Bont) spoof. Homer takes a job with the shady Globex Corporation, unwittingly assisting in the creation of a doomsday device. Strangely, though, the notion of Homer facilitating world destruction never really factors into the plot. The tone is just friggin' odd throughout, but Albert Brooks is tremendous as Hank Scorpio, a boss thrice as evil as Mr. Burns yet a thousand times more likeable.
6 pm Sunday, Aug. 24
Season 8, Episode 8: "Hurricane Neddy"
A run of terrible luck brings the ever-chipper Ned Flanders to the breaking point, and we finally learn his backstory: The out-of-control son of self-professed "freaky beatniks," he was taught to repress all negativity by being spanked for eight months straight by doctors. Unlike many other Flanders-centric episodes, this one is genuinely all about Ned (this won't happen again until Season 11, Episode 14, when Maude dies, and that one suck-diddly-ucked). His finest moment in the spotlight comes when he finally snaps, unleashing years of pent-up rage in a glorious tirade of snark at the citizens of Springfield. Aw, hell-diddly-ding-dong-crap!
9 pm Sunday, Aug. 24
Season 8, Episode 14: "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show"
The show addresses critics who say it has run its course with a riotous showbiz sendup in which Krusty, in a mad ratings grab, casts Homer as the voice of Poochie, Itchy and Scratchy's hip, skateboard-riding, Oakleys-wearing, slang-spouting sidekick. The fallout is toxic enough to spawn a three-eyed fish.
4 am Tuesday, Aug. 26
Season 11, Episode 3: "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner"
Homer gets a gig as a food critic at the Springfield Shopper after wandering off during a newsroom tour and stealing a cake (the same way Willamette Week does its hiring). He subsequently goes mad with power (again, the parallels are uncanny), handing out cruel reviews to every eatery in town (the Sea Captain's restaurant the Frying Dutchman gets "Thar, She Blows"). It's a fun skewering of food snobbery and criticism, but mostly we just like seeing journalists on TV.
2:30 pm Tuesday, Aug. 26
Season 12, Episode 2: "A Tale of Two Springfields"
Taking direct aim at the crisis that ensued when Portlanders were faced with the new 971 area code, this episode shows how Springfield also loses control when a new area code is added. Naturally, a wall goes up, dividing the town between the 636s and the 939s, which results in the loneliest performance the Who ever played.
8 am Wednesday, Aug. 27
Season 13, Episode 16: "Weekend at Burnsie's"
The episode would be great if it only revolved around Homer getting his eyes pecked out by crows, then becoming addicted to medical marijuana and kicking it with Otto ("they call 'em, fingers, but I never see 'em fing"). That it ends with Homer and Smithers making a marionette out of a supposedly dead Mr. Burns makes it a surreal classic.
7 pm Monday, Sept. 1
Season 25, Episode 13: "The Man Who Grew Too Much"
Like much of Season 25, the episode itself is pretty forgettable: another Sideshow Bob plot that makes you long for "Cape Feare." But it ends with the final appearance of Edna Krabappel, voiced by Marcia Wallace, who died last year. In the clip, Flanders (who you probably forgot married Bart's teacher) tangos passionately with his love, only to awaken on his recliner, staring longingly at photos of both his lost wives. "Sure do miss that laugh," he sighs, only to be greeted by a guffawing Nelson, who somberly follows with "I'll miss her too." We all will.
SEE IT: The Simpsons marathon airs on FXX starting at 10 am Thursday, Aug. 21.