Adam Finley: The 14 most touching Simpsons episodes
Adam's was the first by-line I ever looked at on TV Squad. There's so much content produced out there it's tough to find a voice that's distinctive, but every time you read one of Adam's posts, you knew it was his. Adam stood out and he will be sorely missed.
Adam was our resident cartoon expert. He loved the Simpsons and wrote wonderfully about them. This post stands out to me as one of Adam's best.
Originally published May 17th, 2007.
Welcome to TV Squad Lists, a feature where each blogger has a chance to list his or her own rundown of things in television that stand out from the rest, both good and bad.
Here's my list of what I believe are the top 14 Simpsons episodes in regards to heartstring tuggery. Share your own in the comments and tell me why mine are wrong.
Let's get to it:
I'm listing these episodes in no particular order, but this one gets the top spot solely for the final shot of Homer sitting on his car after helping his vigilante mother (voiced by Glen Close) escape, and remaining there even after the sun has gone down and the stars have come out. The Simpsons is praised, and rightfully so, for being a funny show, but it could also stir up some truly emotional moments that could rival many of its live-action contemporaries.
My Mother The Carjacker
Homer's mother returned several seasons later for this episode, and while it didn't quite pack the emotional wallop of her first appearance, it's still quite moving to see how much Homer loves his mother, and how her absence played a part in how utterly screwed up he is. The scene where his mother is in the back of a police car and the cops keep stopping and speeding up just to tease him is funny, sad and infuriating all at the same time.
Bart Vs. Thanksgiving
The first of many "Bart and Lisa" episodes on this list. Despite the sibling rivalry and animosity that exist between the two, Bart and Lisa always come through for one another in the end. When Bart destroys Lisa's Thanksgiving centerpiece and is accused of ruining Thanksgiving, he decides to run away. The episode isn't about Bart being a jerk, it's about the denial we all feel when we know we've done something wrong and aren't quite ready to admit it.
Lisa on Ice
I don't think there's another episode where Homer is a bigger jerk than he is in this one. This episode manages to point out everything wrong with youth sports. Well, actually it's just one thing: the parents. When Bart and Lisa end up on opposing hockey teams, Homer encourages both of them to stop acting like brother and sister and instead play to win, damn it. In the end, they decide they'd rather be brother and sister, which, of course, results in a riot.
Bart Sells his Soul
I'm not a religious person, but I was still moved by this episode where Bart sells his "soul" to Milhouse. The episode is written in such a way that you could see it as either a) Bart losing his spiritual essence, or b) Bart denying the part of himself that makes him unique. There's something intangible about each of us that makes us special, and this episode demonstrates that wonderfully without being preachy.
Alone Again, Natura-Diddily
What could make Ned Flanders turn away from God? How about the death of his wife, Maude? Of course, he only turns his back on the Lord for about .5 seconds, but still, that's a lot for someone as pious as Ned. His declaration in the final scene where he tells Kovenant singer Rachel Jordan that he's always at church, "rain or shine" is a nice summation of how a person can maintain their faith in God even in the darkest of times.
Lisa's First Word
One of many things that James L. Brooks brought to The Simpsons was an uncanny ability to condense a cluster of emotions into a single perfect moment. This episode focuses mostly on the arrival of Lisa and Bart's jealousy toward his new sister, but the best moment comes at the end when Maggie utters her first word, "daddy," just as Homer walks out of her room, and out of ear shot. It was just one word, but it expressed Maggie's feeling perfectly. I don't know it Brooks was responsible for that moment, but it felt Brooksian.
Even thought the actor who plays Lisa's substitute, Mr. Bergstrom in this episode is credited as "Sam Etic," it is in fact actor Dustin Hoffman. That's obvious from the voice, and from the Graduate references.
Lisa is often misunderstood by grown ups, but in Mr. Bergstrom she finds someone who both challenges her and has faith in her. As she becomes more and more drawn to Mr. Bergstrom, she also begins to lose respect for her father. In the end, however, Mr. Bergstrom leaves town and Homer wins his daughter back.
The Last Temptation of Homer
Part of being in a monogamous relationship is avoiding temptation, but what happens when someone comes into your life who's not only gorgeous, but also seems to have more in common with you than your own wife? That's the dilemma Homer faces when Mindy, a new co-worker begins work at the nuclear plant. Homer does all he can not to give in to temptation, but can't shake the feeling that fate is conspiring against him. In the end, his love for Marge triumphs, but the episode shows how maintaining a marriage is not always easy.
Life on the Fast Lane
Of course, long before Homer and Mindy there was Marge and Jacques. Feeling neglected and unappreciated by Homer, Marge ends up spending time with another man who is clearly a "playa" but who also fills an emotional need for Marge. She too comes close to having an affair, but again, love conquers all, and the episode ends with an uplifting parody of the final scene from An Officer and a Gentleman.
In this episode, Lisa tries to express her feelings of sadness through her music, but her band director won't have it. When she meets Bleeding Gums Murphy, he shows Lisa how to channel all of her sadness and frustration through her saxophone. Like most first season episodes, this episode is pretty straightforward, and its message is clear: it's okay to be sad sometimes.
I Love Lisa
There are plenty of Simpsons episodes about unrequited love, but this one is my favorite. Ralph Wiggum falls for Lisa after Lisa gives him a Valentine's Day card out of pity. He falls in love with her, but eventually she has to tell him (loudly, and on live television) that she doesn't like him. We rarely see Ralph as anything more than a kind of human non sequitur, but this episode exposes a few other sides of his personality.
Summer of 4 Ft. 2
In this episode, Lisa tries to change her nerdy ways by taking on a whole new personality when her family goes on summer vacation. She befriends a group of cool kids, but Bart, driven by jealousy, tries to sabotage it all by showing them Lisa's geeky accomplishments at Springfield Elementary. Despite learning about the "real" Lisa, her friends still think she's cool, and Lisa learns it's okay to be yourself.
Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in "The Curse of the Flying Hellfish"
This episode is more "crazy action flick" than emotional, but I list it here because it shows Grandpa Simpson as someone other than a crazy old coot. It's easy for a youngster like Bart not to realize that his grandpa was once a strapping young war hero, but by the end of their adventure, Bart has a new love and respect for the old man.
Comments are turned off for this post. Please visit the original announcement for comments.