Top Five: How 'Bout Those Rainbow Suspenders?

As I've mentioned, I can't work up a lot of interest in seeing The Simpsons Movie. Yeah, I'm one of those snarky internet people who do nothing but bitch about how much "The Simpsons" has gone downhill over the last several years. To quote the Kids in the Hall's 30 Helens, "Things were better before." The movie doesn't look like it's going to reverse this trend, sadly. But why remain mired in the gloom of the present when you can reminisce about the glory days, back when "The Simpsons" handily earned its title as the Funniest TV Show Ever? Sounds like another opportunity for a Great Big Nerd Top Five! Here, in my humble opinion, are the Top Five Simpsons Episodes.

Composing a list like this is difficult and fairly arbitrary - seasons 3 through 8 are an embarrassment of riches, nearly every episode absolutely top-notch. Seasons 9 and 10 are uneven but decent, and the hit-to-miss ratio just keeps dropping from there.

Honorable mentions - "Bart the Daredevil", from Season 2, is an early indicator of how good things would be; the disastrous consequences of Capt. Lance Murdock's attempt to jump a tank filled with sharks, piranhas, electric eels and "the king of beasts, one ferocious lion!" never fail to crack me up. ""In Marge We Trust" is worthy of inclusion if nothing else for the Mr. Sparkle B-plot. "Treehouse of Horror VI"," from the 7th season, is the best of the Halloween specials, thanks largely to the presence of the great "Homer³."

5. "Homerpalooza" (7th Season): Celebrity guest appearances on "The Simpsons" were once funny. Celebrities would appear as characters who worked within the context of a normal plot. One of the hallmarks of the Decline has been celebrities "appearing" as themselves and the lazy writing that goes with it. "Hey, look everybody, it's [insert name of celebrity guest who happens to fit in with this week's set of loosely-connected gags]!" Though "Homerpalooza" might be considered a starting point of that disheartening trend, it works even so. Like many a great "Simpsons" episode, this one is actually about something real and meaningful - the harsh realities of aging and no longer being "with it." The spot-on parody of disaffected youth culture is great - "Oh, it's the cannonball guy. He's cool." "Dude, are you being sarcastic?" "I don't even know anymore." The celebrity cameos are actually funny, too: Sonic Youth rummaging through Peter Frampton's cooler, Cypress Hill holding a rushed, whispered conversation about whether they had "ordered" the London Symphony Orchestra while high, Peter Frampton shopping at Pink Floyd's garage sale. There are great throw-away lines referring to some of the show's running gags, like Homer's unerringly awful taste in music ("Jefferson Airplane gave way to Jefferson Starship. The stage was now set for the Electric Light Orchestra!") and what a miserable place Springfield is ("We've got a little rule back home: if it's brown, drink it down. If it's black, send it back."). And remember, for totally rockin' class rings, it's Jostens!

Best Line: The one that gave this post its title, Homer's impossibly lame conversation starter as he drives the carpool: " 'bout those rainbow suspenders? Pretty cool way to keep your pants up!"

4. "Lisa's Rival" (6th Season): A brilliant examination of Lisa's over-achieving ways. "The Simpsons" got a lot of attention when they used Poe's "The Raven" in their first Halloween special. But here they use Poe to even better effect - Allison's "Telltale Heart" entry in the school diorama contest is a nice allusion underlining Lisa's increasingly crazy obsession with besting her rival. Lisa's trip to Allison's house is a classic moment ("Hmm...I have a ball here. Perhaps you'd like to bounce it."), as it the resolution of the diorama contest ("Star Wars action figures! In their original packaging!"). Again, this episode works largely because it plays on fears and insecurities that are easy to identify with. Lisa's character as the resident know-it-all has been well established, and the results when she meets her mirror image are highly entertaining. The B-plot, Homer's attempt to go into business selling "Farmer Homer's Sweet Sweet Sugar" is hilarious as well.

Best Line: This is also one of the classic Ralph Wiggum episodes, and his response when Lisa and Allison invite him to play anagrams with them is great: "My cat's breath smells like cat food."

3. "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show" (8th Season): This episode parodies a trait of long-running series to which "The Simpsons" itself has fallen victim, in its own way, in recent years. No, they haven't added a Rockin' Dog to their cast, nor has Roy come back to live with the Simpsons again. But in their desperation as they've completely run out of material, the writers have started focusing more and more on the odd fringe characters - the ones who are and ought to be nothing more than catch-phrases and throw-away gags. They've done entire episodes centering around Comic Book Guy, for fuck's sake. Not exactly a new character added to improve slumping ratings, but still...On the other hand, I don't want to come off like the people who are the other side of this episode's coin, the (speaking of Comic Book Guy) "Worst. Episode. Ever." types.

And this is far from the worst, of course - it's just kind of sadly prophetic. One of the things that's great about it is that it manages to skewer both sides equally - the interfering executives and lazy creators get both barrels, but so do the obsessive fans. Flanders telling Homer, "I can honestly say that's the best Impy and Chimpy episode I've ever seen" cracks me up, and is close to being the episode's best line, save for...

Best Line:
...the runner of the focus group trying to clarify just what it is he's learned: "So, you want a realistic, down-to-earth show...that's totally off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots?"

2. "Homer at the Bat" (3rd Season): Another of the rare instances of celebrities-playing-themselves that works. The story of Homer's home-made bat sets things up nicely, and the classic trope of the hero saving the big game is hilariously subverted twice. First, when a Roger Clemens fastball torches Homer's "Wonder Bat," and then at the episode's end when Homer is plunked by a pitch, accidentally driving in the winning run. Top-to-bottom it's a great parody of the conventions of sports movies - it wasn't the first time "The Simpsons" have done it (that would be "Dancin' Homer" from season 2), nor would it be the last (e.g. "Lisa on Ice," "Bart Star"), but it's almost certainly the best of the bunch. The comical fates of Mr. Burns's ringers are terrific, not to mention the fact that Burns originally wants to bring in Honus Wagner and Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown to play on the team. Early on, the umpire goes over the rules of softball with Homer and Chief Wiggum. It's funny enough that every rule involves the consumption of beer, but the capper is Wiggum's response: "Hey, we know how to play softball!"

Best Line: When the always over-eager Springfield police pull over second baseman Steve Sax (who was then playing for the Yankees) and begin harassing him about a non-descript unsolved murder in New York City, Sax replies that there are probably hundreds of unsolved murders in New York. After a beat, in perfect cop-show style, Eddie responds: "You just don't know when to quit, do you, Saxie?"

1. "You Only Move Twice" (8th Season): Homer goes to work for a James Bond villain. The James Bond villain (Hank Scorpio) is friendly and easygoing and offers his employees great benefits and insists that they call him Hank. Homer confesses his lifelong dream (one of many) to own the Dallas Cowboys. In an effort to motivate the people working under him, Homer discusses with Scorpio the best place to acquire "business hammocks" ("In fact, they're all in the same complex, down on 3rd." "Oh, the hammock district."). Homer gets a bonus when he tackles James Bond after he's escaped from Scorpio's death-trap. Bart gets put into a remedial class at his new school, along with a boy who explains that "I moved here from Canada, and they think I'm slow, eh?" A bored Marge begins drinking a half-glass of fortified wine every afternoon, accompanied by melodramatic music. The family convinces Homer to quit his job. As he leaves, Scorpio says, "If you could kill someone on the way out, it would really help me a lot." As the credits roll after the single funniest closing of a "Simpsons" episode ever (see below), we get a Shirley Bassey-style theme song, proclaiming that Scorpio's "twisted twin obsessions are his plot to rule the world and his employees' health." There's not much in the way of depth or significance here, but it's just wall-to-wall laughs. Brilliant.

Best Line: Best Dialogue, actually...After returning to Springfield, Homer gets a telegram from Scorpio and a thank-you gift for helping out with Project Arcturus - "it may get you a little closer to that dream of yours." Homer looks up from the telegram and...

Homer: Aw, the Denver Broncos!
Marge: I think owning the Denver Broncos is pretty good.
Homer: Yeah, yeah.
Marge: Well explain to me why it isn't!
Homer: You just don't understand football, Marge...

I know, I know...some of the episodes I've included suck, right? And I'm totally blind, as I skipped right over what is clearly the best episode ever, right? So what's your favorite?