I realize how cliche it is to call a list of the worst Simpsons episodes ever "Worst Episodes Ever," but I can't think of a more fitting title.
The Simpsons has gotten bad in the last half-decade. REALLY bad. Nigh unwatchable. I gave it an honest, real shot long after it took its mighty leap over the shark, and for awhile, it was still great, but just worse. But The Simpsons is known for the time/space vortex it's eternally trapped in. It has the most famous reset button that doesn't belong to South Park, and so Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie are all trapped in their ages, and unable to grow or change or learn. Small changes have been made - Lisa's vegetarianism, Apu's marriage - but lessons learned in one episode will exist outside the show's main canon afterward for all eternity. Unlike Matt Groening's true masterpiece, Futurama, the writers don't have anyplace to send the family either, and so they're trapped in Springfield week in and week out with a cast as unchanging as the way humans draw breath.
At its current rate, The Simpsons is going to end its run with a ratings crash instead of a proper finale, having aired more bad episodes than good ones. Here are the worst episodes The Simpsons ever offered:
Bad episodes of The Simpsons have been unfunny, disconnected, pointless, and what-the-hell-was-that weird. The Great Money Caper was all of them. Credit where it's due, the sturgeon falling from Mir was one of the funniest gags The Simpsons has ever given us, and there are some good lines ("You'll work this off in the acid mines!"). But this episode feels like it was scrabbled together from scraps of paper drawn from a hat. Nothing about it feels natural or fluid, Edward Norton's guest appearance was clearly forced in, and the random ending is just infuriating. ("Surf's up!")
And by the way, my father owns The Sting Part II on video.
The infamous panda rape. Enough said.
Usually the wrath gets placed on later seasons, and so what we frequently forget is that season one, while showing occasional promise, sucked. It was frequently falling back on moral trappings and heartwarming endings. Even by those standards, however, Moaning Lisa was terrible. An eight-year-old suddenly develops an existential depression which keeps her from doing anything. The newly introduced character, Bleeding Gums Murphy, was never especially good, and the end scene where Lisa up and decides she's happy again provides the screenwriters with an easy out.
On the upside, the subplot with Homer and Bart playing the boxing game was a hoot!
Another first-season outing desperate for a conflict, Homer's Night Out finds Homer at a bachelor party dancing with a stripper named Princess Kashmir. Bart photographs the scene on a spy camera, and somehow the image reaches citywide acclaim as well as Marge's hands. Now, I don't understand the mindset of women, but I'm not seeing why Homer dancing with Kashmir - nothing more - warranted being kicked out of the house. This action does nothing but reinforce the notion that Marge has always been extremely sheltered and unable to bear the idea that this perfect little world she dreamed up for herself might not be the one that exists outside her doors. We love it when Homer screws up, but in this case he did nothing wrong.
This eleventh season abomination repeats an old plot in which the Simpson family got a horse and learned the financial strain of keeping it. Lisa's Pony isn't an episode I would put on my immediate must-have list of classic Simpsons episodes, but it was as strong as any episode from the show's golden age. Saddlesore Galactica, on the other hand, feels more like an episode of "Insult Your Primary Audience." The episode's writers admit they hate it themselves, but it feels like it was aimed at an audience which was becoming increasingly critical about the show's quality, which at Saddlesore's time was spiraling downward.
The insults come through the bloated vessel of geek culture nut Comic Book Guy, who is there making meta references to how bad it is. But even removing him, this episode goes off in a number of dopey directions, like turning Duncan into the Dennis Rodman of race horses and, in perhaps the most desperate trip the show has even taken, introduces the idea of jockeys being weird elves from an underground world.
Clip shows are always inexcusable. They have the odor of surrender wafting over them, as if the writers decided they were finally sucked dry after too much time. That Gump Roast was the show's fifth clip show was bad enough, but the first four were at least framed within acceptable storylines. This fifth clip show is placed within the context of a nonsensical Comedy Central Roast of Homer which is really out of left field, even by Simpsons standards. And the Forrest Gump references aren't fantastic either.
The apology which came before the end credits comes off as a flipped bird, but the show redeems itself somewhat with a clever parody of Billy Joel's popular song "We Didn't Start the Fire." Then again, think of its lyrics, that song comes off as a hindsight thumbed nose because it makes the promise of "stories for years." In all fairness, the show really did prove to have stories for years. They just weren't good ones.
If anyone had any doubts that Hollywood folk weren't truly famous until they had been through Springfield, this episode destroyed them. Homer goes to rock camp to try to recapture his youth, where he is placed under the teachings of six rock stars, all playing themselves, not all of whom had anything to do. This whole spectacle felt like a blatant ratings gimmick. The rock stars weren't funny, and they served mainly to exemplify the trend of unnecessary cameos.
This was appalling overkill by a show whose golden seasons featured none other than Michael Jackson - under a goddamn pseudonym! - playing a large white guy who THOUGHT he was Michael Jackson! The Simpsons hasn't always tried to coast on large numbers of celebrity appearances. In the 200th episode, Steve Martin played an actual character while U2 - probably the biggest rock band the world has seen since The Beatles - accepted a brief but amusing and important backup role. One of the show's greatest episodes, Homer at the Bat, featured very popular baseball stars in abundance which the story couldn't exist without. But, again, they all had real roles.
The only noteworthy element of this episode is that Teller, the silent half of the comedy-magical-libertarian-atheist duo Penn and Teller, has significant dialogue in a cameo which isn't really essential, but is also far from gratuitous and quite funny. (Penn: "I'll kill you!" Teller: "He'll do it! He's crazy! I'm not the first Teller!") But the episode first asks us to believe a 300 game of bowling is worthy of overnight celebrity, even in a small humdrum 'burb like Springfield. (Kent Brockman even lampshades that.) Growing up in Buffalo, a city rich in bowling alleys, I understand that 300 games are difficult feats. But they're not exactly perfect games in baseball, either. They're more like shutouts in hockey; difficult and requiring great skill, but common enough so that fans don't blink when they happen. Then shades of the old episode Homer's Odyssey appear when Homer's 15 minutes time out and he tries to kill himself. He then finds redemption through Maggie. I've complained above about episodes trying to create conflict where there isn't any. This one doesn't even try to justify it.
Co-Dependent's Day wasn't looking like a great episode in the first place, but it did have one of the best sub-plots of post-shark jump Simpsons episodes: Lisa and Bart tracking down a George Lucas-like character and confronting him about how bad his long-awaited prequel for his popular series, Cosmic Wars, was. It was very close to saving the episode, actually.
If only the last act had been different. The plot revolves around Marge beginning to drink with Homer. One night driving home, Homer flips the car and, not wanting to be arrested yet again, sets up an even more drunken Marge to take the fall. Homer may have a dumb, temperamental, oafish exterior, but beneath it he always shows a deep love for his family and great selflessness in caring for them. That makes his actions in the climax here all the more confusing and unforgivable. Framing Marge was out of character, not to mention an awful action with which we could never look at Homer the same way again.
Half of this episode works well. The family is arrested in a Monopoly-instigated fight and taken to jail, and are taught to overcome their problems and differences as a family. The whole setup is some of the most inspired writing I've seen on post-shark jump The Simpsons.
What's painful is that the writers, for some reason, decided against fleshing out this concept, which was clearly ripe for fleshing out. Instead, they resolved the whole plot halfway through the episode and then cobbled together a second half which reunited Homer and Ned Flanders with the hookers they previously married in Las Vegas.
What did you think of this list?