Fire up your DVR, and be prepared to make some tough choices: the FXX Network begins its Simpsons marathon tomorrow at 11 a.m. EDT, to mark the fact that the show will now be broadcast regularly on the channel after years of syndication on local broadcast TV stations (where it will continue to be shown as well).
Soon to enter its 26th season of production, The Simpsons is obviously one of the most successful TV series of all time, earning loyal viewership over the years through its combination of wild humor and occasional heartfelt moments, plus characters and places audiences felt comfortable visiting with each week. Critics fell in and out of love with the show over the years, frequently complaining that any particular season is not as good as the first four or so, which may be true but not ultimately much of a complaint: not many TV series have ever been as good as those first years of The Simpsons.
Most critics and suchlike knowitalls cite Season 4 as the best, so casual viewers may wish to concentrate their DVR settings on that period, which airs Friday afternoon through Saturday morning, but there are gems scattered throughout the show’s history. My favorites include the Stonecutters episode (“Homer the Great,” season 6, episode 12, airing Saturday at 7 p.m. EDT), the Beatles parody Bee Sharps episode (“Homer’s Barbershop Quartet, season 5, episode 1, airing Saturday at 2:30 a.m.), which was followed by another favorite, “Cape Feare” (season 5, ep 2), in which Sideshow Bob makes multiple attempts to kill Bart Simpson.
Also high on my list is “Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in ‘The Curse of the Flying Hellfish'” (season 7, ep 2, Sunday at 12:30 p.m. EDT) in which Bart and grandfather Abe Simpson engage in a bizarre, event-filled adventure in search of valuable paintings secreted away during World War II and left to the surviving member of a tontine scheme, of which Abe and Mr. Burns are the last living members. Another highlight is “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious” (season 8, ep 13, Sunday, 8:30 p.m. EDT), in which the family hires a nanny in a parody of Disney’s smarmy Mary Poppins movie. And of course another great Simpsons parody is “A Streetcar Named Marge” (season 4, ep 2, Friday at 4 p.m.), in which Marge and Ed Flanders star in a musical version of Tennessee Williams’s emotionally overwrought but widely admired play (and movie adaptation) A Streetcar Named Desire.
Most of the Halloween “Treehouse of Horror” episodes are also quite good, as longtime viewers of the show will know. The marathon is an excellent opportunity for audiences to catch up with the show, especially episodes one may have missed during some of the more recent seasons, which have not been widely praised by critics but still have many enjoyable moments. The Simpsons can be faulted for having a stuck to a formula, but it’s a formula that worked to create popular entertainment that regularly had serious thought behind it. That’s an achievement worth celebrating.