Following 2014’s wildly successful marathon, FXX is repeating the feat this Thanksgiving, airing all 600 episodes over the course of 13 days.
If you didn’t value your sanity or hygiene, you might try to watch the whole thing. Lots of diehard fans, however, will tell you that nothing past the eighth or ninth season is worth your attention. Falling as I do between these radical approaches, I’ve sifted out gems from every era of the show, a handful of which may even prove unfamiliar to lifelong Springfieldianites. Nevertheless, I can assure you that each and every one is a well-crafted (and perfectly cromulent) work of art.
Season 1, Episode 9: “Life on the Fast Lane”
The fragilities of Marge and Homer’s marriage—as well as their touching reconciliations—form a cornerstone of the series. Why not start with Marge’s seduction by a French bowling instructor?
Season 2, Episode 4: “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”
The Simpsons wasted no time slashing into politics and corporate greed: Blinky, the mutant three-eyed fish of this episode, became an enduring image of environmental negligence.
Season 3, Episode 10: “Flaming Moe’s”
Homer’s favorite tavern is an essential ingredient in his blue-collar life. What happens when his bartender betrays him, transforming his divey sanctuary into a hip nightclub in the process?
Season 4, Episode 9: “Mr. Plow”
“Marge vs. the Monorail” and “Last Exit to Springfield” are typically cited as artistic high points here, but you can’t go wrong with the earliest of Homer’s get-rich-quick schemes—which actually works, albeit too briefly.
Season 5, Episode 10: “$pringfield (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)”
Although the Simpson family is the core of what makes The Simpsons great, Springfield itself is perhaps the real star. Especially when sweeping decisions are made in riotous town meetings.
Season 6, Episode 2: “Lisa’s Rival”
A riveting exploration of the line between friendship and jealousy, framed by crumbling Springfield Elementary, but also an unbeatable B-plot: Homer hoarding a giant pile of sugar.
Season 7, Episode 16: “Lisa the Iconoclast”
More Lisa? You bet. As the moral compass of the ensemble, there’s no one better to carry this story about the ways in which history can be whitewashed, refracted, exaggerated, or obscured.
Season 8, Episode 2: “You Only Move Twice”
Quite possibly the most outrageous conceptual piece on offer: Homer lands the job of his dreams but fails to realize he’s working for a supervillain out to conquer the East Coast.
Season 9, Episode 5: “The Cartridge Family”
Season 10, Episode 10: “Viva Ned Flanders”
The Homer-Flanders relationship is among the show’s most fertile; the pair is in top form here as Homer tries to jump-start his churchy neighbor’s sense of fun with a disastrous Vegas trip.
Season 11, Episode 2: “Brother’s Little Helper”
After a decade entertaining us with his misbehavior, Bart is finally diagnosed with an attention-deficit disorder. His new medication, though, has some unpleasant side effects.
Season 12, Episode 6: “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes”
An ideal takedown of gossip-blog culture, with a magnificently weird third-act homage to The Prisoner: Homer makes up fake news to get pageviews and accidentally reports a dark truth.
Season 13, Episode 16: “Weekend At Burnsie’s”
The capsule description of “Homer on medicinal marijuana” is probably enough to sell this one, yet I’d feel remiss in failing to mention that it opens with him befriending a murder of crows.
Season 14, Episode 17: “Three Gays of the Condo”
Having conquered his homophobia six seasons prior, another near-divorce sees Homer quite comfortable rooming with two new gay friends, one voiced by the peerless Scott Thompson.
Season 15, Episode 21: “Bart-Mangled Banner”
Arguably the finest episode to come out of the Bush-Cheney years, this outing sees the entire Simpsons clan indefinitely detained over misunderstandings that brand them as anti-American.
Season 16, Episode 6: “Midnight Rx”
When Mr. Burns cancels his employees’ prescription drug plan, Grandpa Simpson becomes the point man for a daring cross-border operation: smuggling cheap pills in from Canada.
Season 17, Episode 17: “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bangalore”
Another riff on globalization: Mr. Burns hopes to inflate profits by outsourcing nuclear plant jobs to India. Meanwhile, Patty and Selma kidnap their idol, MacGyver’s Richard Dean Anderson.
Season 18, Episode 6: “Moe’N’a Lisa”
Moe and Lisa make unlikely partners in poetry, yet the prestige and pretensions of the publishing world (yes, Tom Wolfe and Jonathan Franzen make appearances) threaten to tear them apart.
Season 19, Episode 13: “The Debarted”
In as lovely a send-up of Scorsese as you could hope for, Principal Skinner has a plan for dismantling Bart’s schoolyard crime ring from the inside—with an undercover transfer student.
Season 20, Episode 21: “Coming to Homerica”
The Simpsons has touched on the immigration issue more than once, and it’s always a treat. Here, Springfield initially welcomes transplants from nearby Ogdenville, then turns xenophobic.
Season 21, Episode 20: “To Surveil with Love”
In this Orwellian entry, Springfield follows London’s lead on pervasive CCTV. Things get even better when Bart realizes the Simpsons’ backyard is the camera network’s lone blind spot.
Season 22, Episode 19: “The Real Housewives of Fat Tony”
Reality shows, principally Jersey Shore, may seem like low-hanging fruit, but Joe Mantegna-voiced mobster Fat Tony is an invaluable and often surprising recurrent character.
Season 23, Episode 6: “The Book Job”
2014 has been a great year for arguing about the role and relative value of YA literature, which makes this heist episode about ghostwriters and franchise entertainment required viewing.
Season 24, Episode 4: “Gone Abie Gone”
As the The Simpsons progressed, continuity was tweaked and the past rewritten, though rarely as well as in this mystery about Grandpa’s life (and marriage) as a hep cat in the 1960s jazz scene.
Season 25, Episode 9: “Steal This Episode”
With a script so bracing that even long-lost fans were impressed, this misadventure has Homer running afoul of the FBI when he starts screening illegally downloaded films for his friends.
Season 26, Episode 15: “The Princess Guide”
In a season with high-wire gimmicks that range from the decent (a Futurama crossover) to the cringeworthy (an entire plot centered on aliens Kang and Kodos, more typically used as throwaway jokes), it’s nice to fall back on a consistently great character like Moe as he takes on the unlikely task of showing a visiting African princess around Springfield.
Season 27, Episode 4: “Halloween of Horror”
It was amazing to see The Simpsons, whose anthology “Treehouse of Horror” stories are always a goofy delight, change gears and tackle Lisa’s fears in a funny, grounded way that dispenses with cheap cutaways and builds genuine scares from a home invasion. Homer’s fragile relationship with his daughter has always been a highlight of the show, and here you can see just why.
So there you have it—an essential episode for each season The Simpsons has been on the air. We’re still waiting on the full schedule for the new marathon, though like much of the television it’s successfully lampooned over the years, the show is best enjoyed when drifting in and out of a couch nap and nursing a cheap domestic beer. It’s the Homerican way!
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.