It’s like you hear FXX (FX but slightly sexier?) is airing The Simpsons in its entirety, all 25 seasons marathon-style, then life intervenes, and the next thing you know the day of the kickoff came and went and you kinda missed it.
Well, that day was yesterday. At 10 AM EST on Thursday the network aired season one, episode one, and the marathon rolls on as I type. If you also weren’t paying attention it’s too late to catch the first couple of seasons, but there are still ten more days of iconic episodes of the most popular cartoon to spin off from The Tracey Ullman Show. The A.V. Club published the entire schedule, which was nice, so some of our staffers went ahead and picked episodes you should definitely DVR. Or you could take a leave of absence from work and watch the whole thing until your eyes turn to dust. Either way.
“Homer the Heretic,” season four, episode three (airs Fri 8/22 at 3:30 PM CST): All great comedies can probe serious subjects with humor, and this classic episode proves few—if any—shows have done it better than The Simpsons; it’s affectionate and humanist, but also sharply satirical: Reverend Lovejoy’s dismissal of Hinduism as a “miscellaneous” religion is a cutting jab at Christian small mindedness. —Drew Hunt
“Marge vs. the Monorail,” season four, episode 12 (airs Fri 8/22 at 8 PM CST): Written by Conan O’Brien and widely considered a highlight of the series’s golden age, this episode maintains a merciless barrage of smart throwaway gags. In its first few minutes, it riffs on The Flintstones, Beverly Hills Cop, The Untouchables, Silence of the Lambs, and Batman—and that’s all before its extended parody of The Music Man (with Phil Hartman as the voice of Lyle Lanley, the Harold Hill figure) and an awkward, bizarre Leonard Nimoy cameo. An EPA agent, confronting Mr. Burns and Smithers in a park as they illegally dump toxic waste (“DO NOT EAT”), demonstrates just how much you can sneak past standards and practices by declaring, “Some Boy Scouts stumbled on your little game of Hide the Ooze.” And when Marge finds an opossum family in the monorail’s empty fire-extinguisher compartment, Homer replies with a line that I’ve found useful during many of my subsequent interactions with strange animals: “I call the big one ‘Bitey.'” —Philip Montoro
Yes, it’s the obvious choice; no, I don’t care. Conan O’Brien wrote this near-perfect episode (proving his talents had been squandered at SNL) that established the “Springfield in crisis” trope: the town is conned out of its multimillion-dollar windfall by the smooth-talking Lyle Lanley (the great Phil Hartman), who sells them a monorail they couldn’t possibly need. Featuring one of the most memorable songs in Simpsons history and Leonard Nimoy as himself, this may be the series’ (and marathon’s) highest note. —Danette Chavez
“Cape Feare,” season five, episode two (airs Sat 8/23 at 2 AM CST): Who doesn’t love a good parody episode? The Simpsons take on Cape Fear in this one, bringing back the maniacal Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer in his finest role ever) who tries to murder Bart, which starts one of my favorite running gags of the series. And if your entire day isn’t made by Sideshow Bob performing H.M.S. Pinafore in its entirety, then I don’t even know what to do with you. —Brianna Wellen
“Homer Goes to College,” season five, episode three (airs Sat 8/23 at 2:30 AM CST): This is my favorite of the episodes written by Conan O’Brien, unapologetic in its attempt to plunder the depths of Homer’s stupidity (“Curly, straight! Curly, straight!”) and blissfully self-aware in its deconstruction of college comedies like Animal House. —Drew Hunt
“Bart of Darkness,” season six, episode one (airs Sat 8/23 at 12:30 PM CST): Here’s a fine example of The Simpsons building an episode around an adult cultural homage without making the characters we know and love slaves to that premise (something that, along with gratuitous celebrity cameos, happens all too often in later seasons). The primary reference is Hitchcock’s Rear Window: With his broken leg in a cast, Bart entertains himself by peering through a telescope pointed out his bedroom window. As he watches Lisa and the neighbor kids having the summer of their lives in the Simpsons’ new pool, he hears a high-pitched scream, sees Ned burying something (Maude?) in his yard, and becomes convinced Flanders is a mur-diddly-urdler. The episode not only introduced the line “Your epidermis is showing!” (a childhood classic), it also sharply captures the peculiar frustration of having manic kid energy and a summer injury that temporarily takes you out of the world of play. I was ten when this episode first aired; two summers later I broke my arm while skateboarding and I remembered Bart’s pain. —Jake Malooley
“Itchy & Scratchy Land,” season six, episode four (airs Sat 8/23 at 2 PM CST): This episode contains my absolute favorite Simpsons scene of all time: Bart is unable to find a personalized plastic license plate in the gift shop, but, to his dismay, does find one with the name Bort on it, then realizes he’s surrounded by people named Bort. It’s so bizzare and amazing, kind of sums up The Simpsons‘ peak in a few seconds to me. I was so inspired by it that during my extremely short graffiti career, my tag was BORT. —Luca Cimarusti
“Treehouse of Horror V,” season six, episode five (airs Sat 8/23 at 3 PM CST): A trio of vignettes strong enough to sustain an entire episode, the stories featured here—”The Shinning,” “Time and Punishment,” and “Nightmare Cafeteria”—provide ideal case studies in three of the many things that made The Simpsons great: deconstructive parody, absurdist self-reference, and playful surrealism. —Drew Hunt
“Lemon of Troy,” season six, episode 24 (airs Sun 8/24 at 12 AM CST): This episode has everything—crosstown rivalries, local folklore, Homer acting out an updated version of a classic epic by Greek poet Homer, the line “Stupid like a fox!” It also makes a somewhat ordinary story of life in the American suburbs feel extraordinary, which is what the people behind The Simpsons managed to do well for years. —Leor Galil
“Lisa the Skeptic,” season nine, episode eight (airs Mon 8/25 at 5:30 AM CST): Probably the last truly great episode before the show took a nosedive at the turn of the century, this is a sort of companion piece to Homer the Heretic” in the way it explores faith, though it isn’t nearly as sardonic: Judge Snyder’s ruling that “Science should stay 500 yards from religion at all times” is a cheeky way of saying “live and let live.” —Drew Hunt
“Bart vs. Lisa vs. the Third Grade,” season 14, episode three (airs Wed 8/27 at 11:30 AM CST): The episode in which the buddy system fails. (Won’t someone please think of the children?) Bart bombs a standardized test and is held back a year in school; Lisa kills it and is moved up a year. But there’s some role reversal once they’re in the same classroom: Lisa fails a quiz and at becoming teacher’s pet. Meanwhile, Bart proves he did learn something, i.e. how to memorize answers. Also featuring hot stoves and homicidal robots (so like us). —Danette Chavez
“At Long Last Leave,” season 23, episode 14 (airs Sun 8/31 at 8:30 PM CST): This is the series’ 500th episode, which is pretty amazing, but it’s also real fun because every character in Springfield is present to vote the Simpsons out of the town by going through all the havoc they’ve caused (a la the Seinfeld finale). Even if you’re not much for the later episodes in the series (which I’m not), this is a good one to get nostalgic about everything we’ve been through with these silly yellow guys. —Brianna Wellen