The 18 Most Underrated Episodes Of The Simpsons

"The Simpsons" took over the world in 1989 and never looked back, with Matt Groening and company creating season after season of amazing television filled with unforgettable jokes, brilliant characters, and a non-stop bevy of fantastic guest stars. The show kept going, and going — and it's still going, with the 34th season set to premiere later this year.

With over 700 episodes, some say "The Simpsons" has more than overstayed its welcome. Naysayers are more than happy to point out that the show hasn't been good for decades. I think that claim is absolute rubbish. Although "The Simpsons" is no longer in its golden age and all the writers that made the show loved the world over have long since departed, there's still plenty to enjoy in more recent seasons.

With so many episodes, tons are bound to fly under the radar, so my mission is to take you on a journey through some of the most underrated episodes, ranging from early seasons to the most recent. So make your way down to Evergreen Terrace, take a seat on the couch, and let's dive into the 18 most underrated episodes of "The Simpsons."

Marge in Chains (S4, E21)

Marge Simpson is seriously overwhelmed. Taking care of one kid is no easy task, let alone three — four if you count her husband, Homer (and he often requires more attention than all three children combined). Throw in Grandpa Simpson, and things are at a fever pitch. Feeling stressed and underappreciated by her family, Marge accidentally shoplifts (the chants of "OJ, Morphine, Lobo" as Marge walks through the Kwik-E-Mart aisles are unforgettable). Before Marge is put behind bars, the episode delivers a fantastic showcase for unlucky lawyer Lionel Hutz who gives us the eternal quote "Well, replace the word 'kinda' with the word 'repeatedly' and the word 'dog' with 'son.'"

"Marge in Chains" is a wonderful episode because it showcases how essential Marge is to the fabric of the family. Marge sometimes gets a bad rap and is unfairly dismissed as "just a housewife," but her extraordinary heart and determination make her a great character and someone the entire Simpson family depends on. With Marge behind bars, they realize just how much they need her and more importantly, how much she deserves their love and respect.

Homer Badman (S6, E9)

I know what you're thinking. How on Earth is an episode from one of "The Simpsons" most beloved seasons possibly underrated? Well, let me answer that. There are so many terrific and well-loved episodes in Season 6, including "Itchy & Scratchy Land," "Homer the Great," and "Homie the Clown," that many of the episodes are bound to be left out of the conversation. Amazingly, one of those is "Homer Badman," which features some of the most socially incisive commentary the show has ever done.

The episode opens in delightfully absurd fashion with Homer and Marge heading to a candy show. It soon becomes a searing look at sexual harassment, as Homer is accused of assaulting the babysitter, even though he was just trying to get the all-import Gummy de Milo.

"Homer Badman" never trivializes sexual harassment. Instead, it's focused on how rumors can spread and quickly spiral out of control. Where the episode shines is in the treatment of Homer and particularly how the media sensationalizes and manipulates things. One of the funniest and most truthful scenes comes via a televised interview on "Rock Bottom" that's been edited to the extreme. It's ridiculous. The clock in the background bounces all over the place, and it's all patently absurd. Like many great episodes of "The Simpsons," it understands a deeply rooted problem in society while making you laugh til you cry.

Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield (S7, E14)

A broken television (courtesy of some chaos from Grandpa Simpson) leads to an incredible discovery: a beautiful Chanel suit at a discount store for a price so good, Marge simply can't resist ($90 marked down from $2800 is, after all, a steal). Even at the incredible discount, Marge still has to be convinced by Lisa, as she's so used to going without for the good of her family.

Little does Marge know, that the suit will change her life. She runs into an old friend from school, who invites her to visit the Springfield Country Club. It turns out that the club has something for everyone, but Marge feels overwhelmed because everyone there is a great deal wealthier than she is. It's one of the most astute looks at class "The Simpsons" has ever done, as the episode explores the lengths Marge will go to fit in.

This is my favorite "The Simpsons" episode of all time, and the one I most regularly revisit. For my money, Marge Simpson is one of the great characters, not just on "The Simpsons" but in any medium, and "Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield" is the best showcase of who she is. It lacks the barrage of jokes characteristic of many episodes in the same season, but it's got more than enough wit (the names of the country club ladies get me every time), acute observations, and brilliant character work that it more than makes up for it.

Trash of the Titans (S9, E22)

Homer has had many, many, many jobs over the course of one billion (a slight exaggeration) Simpson episodes, but one of the most surprising roles he's had is that of sanitation commissioner.

Watching Homer's opponent in the fight to become sanitation commissioner is as amusing as it is depressing because the episode speaks to how elections are more of a popularity contest than an effort to make things better. Homer's promises are grand and completely impossible to fulfill, but nobody seems to mind, and he becomes the sanitation commissioner with ease. Homer is rarely one to back down from an inane challenge, and the current commissioner tells him "nobody wants to hear the nonsensical ravings of a loudmouthed malcontent," which spurs his election campaign. The loudest mouth does indeed win, and the town quickly plunges into trash-filled chaos — but not before a wonderful creatively choreographed musical number titled "The Garbage Man Can."

A clever commentary on the unfairness of the political system and how easy it is to manipulate ideas and campaigns regardless of facts, the episode also boasts a wonderful cameo from U2 when Homer interrupts their concert for a speech about becoming sanitation commissioner — something all concertgoers would rather hear than the band. Hilarious, ridiculous, and riotous, "Trash of the Titans" has it all.

King of the Hill (S9, E23)

After an incident that occurs while playing with Bart and his friends, Homer decides to make a change in his life. Tired of being overweight, Homer decides to get himself fit and change his life for good. He begins to run, only to come across a building he's never seen before -— a gym. "A gym? What's a gym?" (pronounced "gime") is one of Homer's most delightfully funny quotes. However, it becomes the beginning of something better for him. His obsession with new applesauce power bars lead to a challenge he couldn't have foreseen: climbing the Murderhorn, Springfield's largest mountain.

I don't think any character has failed more consistently than Homer Simpson. Granted, he's the family patriarch and is more or less bound to be doing more than the rest of the family as the only income earner. Still, Homer has dropped the ball time and time again. "King of the Hill" finally sees Homer going for the gold and not giving up. Okay, Homer has succeeded before, but "King of the Hill" pushes Homer's commitment to the extreme, and watching him climb a mountain against all odds is extremely gratifying. The revelation that the protein bar Homer thinks is responsible for his physical abilities is nutritionally worthless is lovely, and knowing that Homer really did commit to something and scaled the Murderhorn is one of his finest achievements.

Mom and Pop Art (S10, E19)

After a terrific couch gag referencing "Dr. Strangelove," Homer tasks himself with assembling a new barbecue. His failure doesn't just lead to one of the best visual gags in the show's history (I say "Why doesn't mine look like that?" at every possible opportunity) it also inadvertently turns Homer into a highly-respected artist. He's discovered by Astrid (perfectly voiced by Isabella Rosselini), who says his mangled attempt at a barbecue grill is actually "outsider art."

"Mom and Pop Art" is a delightful send-up of the outrageous world of modern art and how fame warps people's perceptions. The dynamic of Marge's jealousy, who once dreamed of being an artist and studied art at every opportunity, is another fascinating element. The episode's debates over modern art and more specifically, what constitutes the very idea of art, are as hilarious as they are earnest. If there was ever an episode of "The Simpsons" that brought to life the adage "one man's trash, another man's treasure," it's the delightful "Mom and Pop Art."

Behind the Laughter (S11, E22)

A pitch-perfect parody of VH1's "Behind the Music," Season 11's finale, "Behind the Laughter," finds "The Simpsons" doing something completely different, turning the camera in on itself for a reflexive documentary-style episode. "Behind the Laughter" fully acknowledges the fact that "The Simpsons" is a television show, which makes for strange and extremely funny viewing. Fame has really gotten to the family, and it's threatened to tear them apart. Lisa even hosted the Oscars, which she had no business doing. Meryl Streep even spat at her!

This bold creative endeavor dares to ask the question "What if everything you saw on "The Simpsons" actually happened?" In an ingenious moment, the episode investigates Homer jumping the gorge from Season two's "Bart the Daredevil" and how that incident led to intense rehabilitation and subsequent addiction to painkillers, which is how he managed to continue doing so many outrageous physical stunts.

"Behind the Laughter" is a blast because it's a unique formative exercise that does something completely different — which is saying a lot considering how often the show plays with creative formats. It's silly and outrageous, but it's also full of heart.  "Behind the Laughter" is an excellent critique of fame.

HOMR (S12, E9)

Why is Homer Simpson so remarkably ... unintelligent? That's a question "Simpsons" fans have been asking for some time. We finally got the answer in Season 12's "HOMR." Homer was quite a bright young lad, but one day he decided to shove a bunch of crayons up his nose (kids do the darndest things) and one got permanently lodged in his brain. When an X-ray reveals Homer as a crayon stuck in his brain (Dr. Hibbert had always covered that spot with his finger, you see) he gets it removed, which rapidly changes his intellect.

Suddenly, Homer has the intelligence worthy of his role as a nuclear power plant safety inspector, but more importantly, his relationship with Lisa becomes stronger than ever. It's a treat to see them really get to know each other as they spend time at the library together and establish a deeper bond than ever before. The problem? Homer's remarkable new intelligence causes a great deal of anger among his friends.

"HOMR" is one of the most emotional and heartwarming episodes of "The Simpsons." I can't help but get emotional every time Lisa reads the letter from Homer at the end of the episode. To boot, it's also extremely funny. There are loads of terrific gags at the animation convention at the start of the episode, and having Homer see a rom-com at the cinema is hilarious.

Bye, Bye, Nerdie (S12, E16)

There's a new girl at school, and Lisa couldn't be more excited at the opportunity to make a new friend. It's not something she's been especially good at, but the arrival of Francine seems like a chance to finally get a bonafide best friend. Unfortunately for Lisa, Francine isn't interested in being her friend. She is interested in being her enemy, though! Francine is determined to make every nerdy kid's existence at Springfield Elementary a living hell.

This spurns Lisa to use her natural gifts to get to the bottom of Francine's obsession with bullying nerds. Sometimes it's sad watching Lisa and seeing all her remarkable genius go to waste at the expense of her family, but the hilariously titled "Bye, Bye, Nerdie" allows Lisa's brilliance to shine. Watching her experiment to get to the root of the issue is fantastic, and the payoff of her revealing everything is extremely satisfying. "Bye, Bye, Nerdie" truly keeps on giving.

24 Minutes (S18, E21)

"24 Minutes" opens with a voiceover that announces, "Previously on '24' ... I mean, 'The Simpsons,'"  launching a 22-minute joyride that's a very obvious yet effective parody of the Fox show "24." The line is voiced by "24" star Kiefer Sutherland, who reprises his role as Jack Bauer, and Mary Lynn Rajksub also appears as her character, Chloe, in a delightful cameo. Although the stakes aren't as high as trying to stop a major terrorist attack, "24 Minutes" is just as tense as "24" but with plenty of added laughs. In the episode, a bake sale is the center of major intrigue. Having forgotten about an impending bake sale, Marge is desperately trying to put a cake together in a matter of minutes. The real crux of the story lies in a potentially major stink bomb incident at Springfield Elementary, and the efforts of Bart Simpson and Principal Skinner's CTU (that's Counter Truancy Unit) to stop it before it's too late.

It's always a pleasure when "The Simpsons" commits to a bit, and that commitment is rarely more devoted than in "24 Minutes." It even goes so far as to mimic the credit sequence of "24," and the attention to detail is a big part of why the episode stands out. It makes a silly story about a stink bomb seem like a legitimately massive event. It's a fun, fresh episode that uses an existing property to tell a fun original story, which is as good as an homage gets.

Gone Maggie Gone (S20, E13)

Season 20 brought the show into widescreen high-definition, and episodes like "Gone Maggie Gone" take full advantage of the extra space. It's a beautiful episode with vibrant color and bold imagery reflective of the story's creative, adventurous mystery.

Marge looks directly at a solar eclipse, which leads to temporary blindness. Since Marge can't see, it forces the rest of the Simpson family to step up while she's unable to keep the house stable. Unsurprisingly, things get pretty chaotic, and Homer winds up inadvertently giving Maggie away to a convent of nuns (as you do). This leads Lisa to go undercover as a wannabe nun to get Maggie back. Her quest leads her to solve increasingly complex puzzles to uncover the mystery of a sacred jewel, which may just lead to Maggie. Original, visually sumptuous, and very funny, "Gone Maggie Gone" has everything a classic "Simpsons" episode needs.

Holidays of Future Passed (S23, E9)

Over hundreds of episodes, "The Simpsons" has established some pretty reliable recurring types of stories. Two of the most frequent are holiday episodes and looks a the Simpson family in the future. For my money, the finest of these themed episodes are "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" and "Lisa's Wedding," but "Holidays of Future Passed" is a worthy addition.

After a wonderful montage of 30 years of Christmas cards, we spend time with each of the three Simpson children. Bart is divorced and living alone at the Lofts at Springfield Elementary and struggles to raise his two sons, who would much rather be with their mom at Christmastime. Maggie is a world-famous singer galavanting around the world. Meanwhile, Lisa is successful but struggling with her relationship with her teenage daughter, who's fully in her rebellious phase.

There are plenty of great jokes. "I wish it was still legal to strangle your child," Lisa says. "Not since they passed Homer's law," Marge responds. Alongside plentiful gags and peeks into future life (judging by how prescient "The Simpsons" often is, pay close attention!) there's also the trademark heart that's made the show such an enduring staple. It also provides a sense of legitimate closure for every member of the Simpson house, and if the show did end in season 23, this would have been the perfect finale.

Brick Like Me (S25, E20)

For the 550th episode of "The Simpsons," the creative team tried something completely different: making an entire episode out of Lego. Well, not exactly, as some sequences are traditional hand-drawn animation. However, most of the episode sees the Simpsons and Springfield entirely rendered in Lego bricks. It could have easily come across as a shallow marketing exercise, which is an idea the episode pokes fun at. Instead, it's one of the best recent episodes of "The Simpsons," proving that there are still plenty of wonderful stories left in the tank. 

In "Brick Like Me," Homer starts to have hallucinations that he's not made of Lego, but may be animated. It all stems from picking up a toy set at the Android's Dungeon, which leads to flashbacks about Homer playing with Lisa. The episode is all about their relationship, and how Homer has crafted a fantasy world (made of Lego) so the two can play together forever. It's a bit saccharine and surprisingly touching like many classic episodes.

Halloween of Horror (S27, E4)

Of all the holidays, none are more synonymous with "The Simpsons" than Halloween. Since Season 2, the "Treehouse of Horror" has become an annual tradition, delighting viewers with three spooky, gory stories over 22 hilarious minutes. In Season 27, "The Simpsons" surprised many with "Halloween of Horror," which broke tradition with a full-length, single-story Halloween episode.

What's most striking about "Halloween of Horror" is that it's genuinely frightening. After going to a Halloween theme park, Lisa is horrified by all the strikingly realistic zombies. On Halloween night, she's still dealing with overwhelming fear, but things are about to get a whole lot worse. The day before, Homer accidentally gets some Halloween pop-up store workers fired, and they swear revenge on him by breaking into the Simpson house on Halloween night, with Homer and Lisa home alone.

The scenes with Homer and Lisa are some of the show's most tender, and the dynamics of their father-daughter relationship allow for some beautiful moments. "Halloween of Horror" finds them both in a rare situation. They're terrified, hiding in the attic and hoping they'll survive a nightmare turned reality. Watching them work together is beautiful, and it's refreshing to see Homer shine in an awful situation. It's balanced beautifully by the B-story of Bart and Marge trying to find a fun Halloween evening. Complete with a terrific musical number about adult Halloween, "Haloween of Horror" is a delightful holiday romp.

The Great Phatsby (S28, E12 and 13)

A remarkable thing about "The Simpsons" is its ability to consistently tell complete stories in 22-minutes. That wasn't a particularly big deal when the show premiered in 1989, but in the age of streaming, stories are getting longer and longer. The first time "The Simpsons" deviated from this was the legendary two-parter "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" which concluded Season 6, and part two opened the seventh season.

Over 20 years later, "The Simpsons" returned to the two-part format with "The Great Phatsby" in Season 28, an impressively ambitious story that crosses "The Great Gatsby" with "Empire." "The Great Phatsby" doesn't come close to the greatness of "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" but very few episodes do. Still, it's one of the most visually impressive episodes and evidence that "The Simpsons" can tackle ambitious stories.

The episode is loaded with guest appearances (a Simpson's specialty): Taraji P. Henson, Charles Barkley, Common, Keegan-Michael Key, RZA, and Snoop Dogg all appear. The plot follows Mr. Burns, who feeling fed up with his day-to-day life, uses some of his immense wealth to attempt to relive his glory days. When throwing an enormous and lavish party, Burns discovers a rival party nearby hosted by a wealthy hip-hop mogul. What follows is a clash between two titans, with plenty of underhanded business practices, visual splendor, and excellent music.

Barthood (S27, E9)

Sometimes, "The Simpsons" references are subtle (okay, subtlety isn't really their thing, but it happens). Then, there's "Barthood," an homage to Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" that even borrows some of the film's music. The episode traces Bart's life from ages 6 to 18. This is no measly parody, however, as "Barthood" is a touching tribute to the troubled young menace. It's a powerful story of Bart discovering who he is and what he's capable of, and it's particularly focused on his feelings of inadequacy that stem from Lisa's intelligence and drive. "The Simpsons" has had quite a few episodes in which they look into the future, often with jarringly different results each time. Instead of jumping into the future, "Barthood" moves methodically through the years.

Watching every character grow up is thrilling, and there are plenty of characters to spot in the background in case you get bored with the plot, but considering how well-written it is, I doubt that'll happen. Most of the episodes that look to the future don't offer a whole lot of hope for Bart, but watching "Barthood" made me believe that there may just be a promising future ahead for the Bartman after all. As a lovely bonus, the credits feature a tender conversation between Homer and Bart.

Werking Mom (S30, E7)

The Season 30 episode "Werking Mom" is a testament to how far things have come for queer audiences. The Season 8 landmark episode "Homer's Phobia" is one of the show's very best, but who could imagine that years later, an entire episode would be devoted to the power of the art of drag?

The episode focuses on Marge, who has signed up as a Tubberware (no, not Tupperware) salesperson. She struggles to sell any product until she hosts a party comprised of gay men who mistake her for a fabulous drag queen. At first, Marge is offended at the suggestion, but it's not long before she uses makeup to her advantage, entering the world of drag to become the hottest Tubberware salesperson in all of Springfield.

The episode is filled with top-notch jokes, a great running gag about leftover lasagne, and epic one-liners like "If he was any more camp, he'd be a Coleman lantern." There's also a terrific "Amélie" inspired B-story in which Lisa is inspired by restoring some magic to the world and making strangers happy. However, the real joy here is Marge. Watching her become confident is exquisite, and seeing her embrace her femininity and everything that makes her special is phenomenal. There's even a great musical number, cameos from drag legends RuPaul and Raja, and Homer in drag! "Werking Mom" truly delivers.

Portrait of a Lackey on Fire (S33, E8)

Waylon Smithers has always been one of my favorite characters in "The Simpsons." The long-suffering lackey has rarely been able to leave the shadow of his boss, Mr. Burns, with whom he's been in love for eternity. That's always been a secret, of course, though those in the know have seen hundreds of hints about Smither's sexuality dropped over hundreds of episodes. Season 27 finally saw Smithers come out to Mr. Burns. It was a major moment for "The Simpsons," but it would take a few more seasons for Smithers to finally find love. In Season 33, the spectacularly titled "Portrait of a Lackey on Fire" finds Smithers finding a boyfriend — with Homer's help.

Smithers begins to date Michael de Graaf (guest voiced by Victor Garber), and their chemistry is instantly electric. For Smithers fans, seeing the character finally being loved, embraced, and celebrated is nothing short of magical. De Graaf, a hugely successful fashion designer, is completely smitten by Smithers. It's just such a warm, lovely hug of an episode that celebrates a long-suffering character, even if the love isn't meant to last. "The Simpsons" gets a lot of flack for not being a patch on its former self, but "Portrait of a Lackey on Fire" proves that the show about everyone's favorite yellow family has plenty more stories to tell.