ON THE FOX LOT IN LOS ANGELES yesterday, the brilliant folks behind “The Simpsons” gathered to celebrate the show’s 500th episode this Sunday in a style befitting its characters. There was enthusiasm. There was ceremony. And there, naturally, was a glut of donuts.
“A bust of Homer was unveiled,” “Simpsons” writer Tom Gammill tells Comic Riffs, “and there were free donuts for everyone! Plus, Matt Groening signed 300 special anniversary cels and presented them to the staff.”
Groening, who created “The Simpsons” a quarter-century ago, told the gathered talent: “See everyone in 25 years to celebrate our 1,000th episode.”
For now, it’s time to celebrate the landmark show’s creative achievements along its way to becoming the longest-running sitcom on American TV. This week alone, Groening got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the animated show has drawn media attention for its voice-actor “get” for this Sunday: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
To mark the occasion, Comic Riffs asked Gammill — whoe resume also includes “Seinfeld” and his comic strip “The Doozies.” — to share his Top 5 favorite moments from the show. And we asked “Simpsons” expert Andrew Farago, curator at the esteemed Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, to share his Top-15 favorite episodes from the program’s rich history.
Here are their picks:
TOM GAMMILL’s FIVE FAVORITE “CARTOONIST” MOMENTS:
1. Bart visits the offices of MAD Magazine, meets Alfred E. Neuman (“The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson”).
2. “Watchmen” creator Alan Moore sings the theme to “Little Lulu” (“Husbands and Knives”).
3. “Maus” creator Art Spiegelman, wearing a “Maus” mask, punches Comic Book Guy in the face (“Husbands and Knives”).
4. “The Far Side” creator Gary Larson comes out of retirement to be the in-house cartoonist at a nuclear power plant — and draws Homer his own “Far Side” cartoon (“Once Upon a Time in Springfield”).
5. “The Gammills” show up at a picnic hosted by Mr. Burns (“Dancin’ Homer”).
[THE SIMPSONS: D’oh! 7 Good Reasons Why You Should (Still) be Watching]
ANDREW FARAGO’s TOP-15 EPISODES:
Has it been 500 episodes already? I still remember watching the Tracey Ullman show every week, hoping for another Simpsons short, and the excitement leading up to the series premiere, speculating about the identity of Mr. Burns’s would-be assassin, and thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of cartoons” when the 200th episode aired toward the end of my senior year of college. Rather than list my 500 favorite things about the Simpsons, I’ll stick to my favorite episodes.
1. “Lisa’s Substitute,” written by Jon Vitti, directed by Rich Moore. (Season 2, episode 19). “The Simpsons” hasn’t only endured because of its humor, it’s endured because of its heart. Just about everyone can relate to Lisa’s struggle to fit in at school and with her family.
2. “Homer at the Bat,” written by John Swartzwelder, directed by Jim Reardon (Season 3, episode 13). This episode aired during the peak of my baseball card-collecting days, and it’s a great snapshot of the Major Leagues during the early 1990s, as well as baseball in general. I’ve still got the Terry Cashman song that plays over the end credits memorized.
3. “Krusty Gets Kancelled,” written by John Swartzwelder, directed by David Silverman (Season 4, episode 19). Lots of great moments in this episode, and one of many key moments when the world got a sense of just how big “The Simpsons” was becoming. They’d been name-checked by President Bush (more on him later), we’d seen nationwide t-shirt controversies, and this single episode featured guest voices from Johnny Carson, Bette Midler, Elizabeth Taylor, Hugh Hefner, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Luke Perry and the ever-popular Barry White.
4. “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet,” written by Jeff Martin, directed by Mark Kirkland (Season 5, episode 1). Not the first flashback episode, but easily my favorite. “Baby on Board” easily makes my top five favorite fictional hit songs from a fictional barbershop-quartet list.
5. “Cape Feare,” written by Jon Vitti, directed by Rich Moore (Season 5, episode 2). The show was firing on all cylinders from the fourth through seventh seasons. I could pick any 10 episodes from this era and make a case for their inclusion on a top-10 list. Kelsey Grammer’s Sideshow Bob is at his most sinister and his most ridiculous in this episode.
[HOMER QUOTES: The 20 Best Things He Ever Said]
6. “Homer Goes to College,” written by Conan O’Brien, directed by Jim Reardon (Season 5, episode 3). The first long conversation I had with my soon-to-be best friend in college was a point-by-point discussion of this episode. Every great comedy writer loves “Animal House” and the works of John Landis, and this is one of many great episodes from the Conan O’Brien era of the show.
7. “Radioactive Man,” written by John Swartzwelder, directed by Susie Dietter (Season 7, episode 2). “Up and at them!” kills me every time.
8. “Bart Sells His Soul,” written by Greg Daniels, directed by Wesley Archer (Season 7, episode 4). Here’s another episode that’s equal parts humor and heart. The writers did an amazing job getting into the head of a typical 10-year-old boy with an atypical problem.
9. “Two Bad Neighbors,” written by Ken Keeler, directed by Wesley Archer (Season 7, episode 13). Homer Simpson declares all-out war on George H.W. Bush. This one probably wrote itself.
10. “Homer the Smithers,” written by John Swartzwelder, directed by Steve Moore (Season 7, episode 17). I can’t think of an episode pairing Homer and Mr. Burns that I didn’t like, and this one’s at the top of my list. We’d gotten a sense of just how difficult Waylon Smithers’s job was in earlier episodes, but this one really drives home just how irreplaceable he really is.
[IS THE DOPE CATHOLIC? The Vatican blesses Homer]
11. “You Only Move Twice,” written by John Swartzwelder, directed by Mike B. Anderson (Season 8, episode 2). Albert Brooks as a supervillain right out of a James Bond movie. This is why I’ve always been suspicious of startup companies.
12. “Burns, Baby Burns,” written by Ian Maxtone-Graham, directed by Jim Reardon (Season 8, episode 4). This and “Homer Goes to College” are on my list of all-time favorite 1980s teen comedies that weren’t films, weren’t made in the 1980s, or weren’t about teenagers.
13. “Homer’s Enemy,” written by John Swartzwelder, directed by Jim Reardon (Season 8, episode 23). This is my “desert isle” Simpsons episode. The entire series felt like it was leading up to this one, and the most prolific “Simpsons” writer — Swartzwelder — knocks it out of the park. Frank Grimes, we hardly knew ye.
That’s thirteen episodes, isn’t it? Just to round things out, I’ll mention:
14. “Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington,” written by John Swartzwelder, directed by Lance Kramer (Season 14, episode 14). And:
15. “The Bart of War,” written by Marck Wilmore, directed by Michael Polcino (Season 14, episode 21) — since I got to watch some of the writers and producers record DVD commentary for those episodes.