Like Saturday Night Live, terrestrial radio and Joe Paterno, The Simpsons has been around so long that the snarks, cynics and lazy intellectuals presume that it was better in the good old days.
I’d argue that it might be less consistent and that some plots, particularly anything involving a Homer-Marge rift, get tired. But at its best, it’s still very good.
Counting backwards from this season, here are a few latter-day Simpsons to treasure:
Treehouse of Horror XVII – Far better than I expected from the reviews, though I agreed the war commentary at the end was heavy-handed.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore – An amusing culture clash with Homer and Mr. Burns in India, and Richard Dean Anderson does a nice job skewering his MacGyver persona. Also fun to see Homer at the center of an Apocalypse Now scenario.
Homer Simpson, This is Your Wife – Ricky Gervais wrote and performed, twisting his Office character into a participant on Wife Swap.
Marge’s Son Poisoning – Marge realizes she doesn’t want Bart to grow up a mama’s boy, and Homer explores professional arm wrestling under Moe’s management.
The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star – Bart goes to Catholic school … and converts. The Lovejoy-Flanders axis is aghast. Strong guest performance from Liam Neeson.
The Heartbroke Kid – New school vending machines turn Bart fat, prompting a gut-busting and sidewalk-busting retake of the opening credits and one of Albert Brooks’ classic guest bits.
Goo Goo Gai Pan – Selma goes to China to adopt, but the star is Homer, who makes dragons cry, performs as a Chinese acrobat and poses as a golden Buddha struggling to maintain his look of serenity.
Homer and Ned’s Hail Mary Pass – In case you wondered where T.O. got his most recent celebration.
Simple Simpson – Pie Man!
Catch ‘Em If You Can – Homer and Marge try to outrun and outwit Bart and Lisa, all on the Flanders’ credit cards.
Margical History Tour – Their three-parters generally have at least one very good part, and this has one of their best — Homer as Henry VIII. So I’m a British history geek. Got a problem with that?
The three before that were also good, but I’m being told to sign off.
So if you’ve been snarking on The Simpsons, shut your yap.