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For diehard Simpsons fans, the next 12 days are going to be some of the best that time on Earth has to offer, as FXX begins its massive marathon, during which every episode of the classic series will air. No one is stopping you from watching everything from end to end, but we wouldn’t advise it, as things might start to get pretty off the wall by Day 3 and you start eating dry coffee on toast.
To help you figure out the best times of the day to escape your own city and head to Springfield – or at least when to set your DVRs – we’re picking five can’t-miss episodes from each day of the marathon. Why only five, you ask? Because I’m liable to put all 550 episodes on this list otherwise, thus drawing endless waves of ridicule and ire for still getting value out of episodes like “Wedding for Disaster” and “The Principal and the Pauper.” (Call me Armin Tamzarian.)
Thankfully, The Simpsons’ early days were absolutely stuffed with amazing episodes, thus making this a list of diamonds in the slightly less perfect diamonds. Later seasons are far less carat-filled, but we’ll cross that haggard bridge when we come to it. Kick your feet back, grab your favorite beer with Duff scrawled on it in black marker, and enjoy.
Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire – 10:00 a.m. ETThere’s no better way to first experience TV’s longest-lasting family than with their very first full-length episode. (I guess nobody at FXX wanted to pony up that Tracey Ullman Show money.) Season 1 is quite unlike any Simpsons season to follow, telling fewer jokes and landing bigger emotional punches, but you get it all and more in their network debut. Not only is it a Christmas episode that works all year round, but the family is shown doing things that they would still be doing today. Homer screws up and backends his way into family appreciation, Bart disobeys common sense in an effort to make someone like him, and Marge gets just mad enough for it to count before allowing everyone back into her good graces. I guess Lisa is the least developed at this point, but she matures the fastest of anyone in the years to come.
Highlight: Santa’s Little Helper joins the family!
Treehouse of Horror I – 5: 30 p.m. ETIt’s a shame to skip the rest of Season 1 to get here, but when “here” is a Treehouse of Horror episode, it’s all worth it. This inaugural Halloween special not only began one of the most enjoyable trends in all of TV, but it still stands tall among the rest of its kind. After a quick warning from Marge – because The Simpsons was still quite controversial at this time – the episode jumps into an Amityville-style segment that sees everyone in the family besides Marge actively trying to murder one another. (And the house has the worst fate of all, go figure.) Then we get a classic Twilight Zone parody, with the first appearances from the big-headed aliens Kang and Kodos, plus Serak the Preparer. And with stark, shadowy animation, “The Raven” might still be one of the most lush sequences The Simpsons has ever put out there, eschewing jokes for atmospheric disquiet and James Earl Jones’ narration. There is nothing about this episode that isn’t wonderful.
Highlight: How to Cook for Forty Humans, because the more punchlines the better.
Bart the Daredevil – 7:00 p.m. ETIf you want another good emotional story that showed off some Simpson sibling rivalry, check the episode before this one, Bart vs. Thanksgiving. But if you want a laugh bonanza that starts to tease the quick-witted utopia of this series' golden age, you can’t go wrong with “Bart the Daredevil.” It’s probably best known for introducing Homer’s lengthy gorge pratfall into television’s visual lexicon, but it was also a sly response to parents and media who like to think children will do every stupid thing they see on TV. In showcasing the idiocy of Bart amateurishly mimicking the daredevilry of his idol Lance Murdock, the writers proved that sometimes things are best left to the professionals, no matter how much you want to impress someone. Especially when the professionals themselves have broken every bone in their bodies several times over.
Highlight: Lance Murdock’s speech and subsequent fall into the pool.
The Way We Was – 9:00 p.m. ETThroughout the many years that The Simpsons has been on the air, some of the more effective story arcs have been those where Homer and Marge are at odds with one another. (In as realistic a way as possible, preferably.) This episode sees the loving couple sharing the story of how they met with Bart, Lisa and Maggie. It was the first time audiences were taken back into Homer and Marge’s past, and what a treat it was, especially in hearing Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner skew their voices younger. Though Homer’s oafish and dishonest ways almost lost him the future love of his life, it all came down to the busy hands of Artie Ziff, an appalling dweeb voiced with smarmy perfection by Jon Lovitz, who would reprise the character in later episodes. Homer and Marge’s relationship problems here are nowhere near as convoluted as they get in future seasons, and it’s nice to just relive the good old days of prom dancing.
Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? – 10:30 p.m. ETHomer’s family has a lot of skeletons in the closet, and one of the most handsome ones is Homer’s half-brother Herb Powell (Danny DeVito), revealed by a fatalistic Grampa. Herb is everything that Homer wishes he could be: successful, employed by a good company, and non-bald. As the family takes a trip to Detroit to see what the good life is like, Homer attempts to assert himself in the car designing world while Herb assimilates himself into the Simpsons family. As you can imagine, Homer screws everything up by creating the dumbest and least sensible vehicle imaginable, and Herb cuts off all ties (until a future episode). I always enjoy when the Simpsons head into unfamiliar territories, and it was nice to see the kids all actually content with life for a change. Leave it to Marge to figure out that money doesn't equal happiness.
Highlight: The Homer, which was actually turned into a real car last summer.