As we pass the 20th anniversary of the episode which fans claim sparked The Simpsons’ decline (yes, we’re looking at you, Armin Tamzarian), we’ve been given a new insight into the show’s fall from grace.
We all know the ‘golden era’ ended some time during seasons nine and ten, depending on your personal preference, as star voice actor Phil Hartman passed away and early-season mainstays Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley stepped away from the show.
We’ve always been able to feel the show getting worse, but sometimes it has been hard to quantify just when the once-great sitcom descended into mediocrity.
Thankfully, redditor OrangeDit has done the legwork for us, compiling a breakdown of IMDb ratings for every single episode of the show’s first 25 seasons.
You can see the graph below, but for extra detail, we’ve picked out some of the stand-out episodes – good and bad – which you’re probably wondering about.
The first ‘great’ episode: ‘Simpson and Delilah’ (S02E02)
The Simpsons got very good very quickly. While there is plenty of nostalgia for the first season, the praise for its sophomore offering points to a show that was already becoming well-rounded at an early stage.
‘Simpson and Delilah’ is the second episode of the second season, and the first to achieve an IMDb rating above 8.5. It sees a newly-coiffured Homer – with the aid of hair-restoring chemical Dimoxinil – rise through the ranks at the power plant, and features a star turn from Harvey Fierstein as his secretary, Karl.
The first 9/10 episode: ‘Homer the Heretic’ (S04E03)
A regular feature in most fans’ top-10 lists, ‘Homer the Heretic’ is among the episodes used as evidence that Season 4 is the strongest in the show’s history.
Following Homer as he skips church on a bitterly cold winter morning, it features countless memorable moments and shows just why people loved The Simpsons so much during its heyday.
The first ‘average’ episode: ‘Another Simpsons Clip Show’ (S06E03)
A running theme across the first few seasons was the poor reception given to clip shows – this may well be because each one was a missed opportunity for pure Simpsons gold. This show picked up a 6.1, while Season 9 clip show ‘All Singing, All Dancing’ and season 13’s ‘Gump Roast’ went even lower with a 5.3 and 5.5 respectively.
This episode followed ‘Lisa’s Rival’, one of the more quotable episodes of Season 6, so we had great original content denied us just as it was getting good. We were at least afforded a Moe Szyslak answering the phone compilation, though.
The ‘best’ episode: ‘Homer the Smithers’ (S07E17)
This wouldn’t be most people’s pick for the greatest episode ever, but it did arrive when the show was at the peak of its powers, and has a 9.2 rating on IMDb.
The episodes which came soon after – including ‘A Fish Called Selma’ and ‘22 Short Films About Springfield’ – might be better remembered. However, this, in which Homer takes over from Mr Burns’ assistant and shows a lot about Burns and Smithers’ relationship, has undeniable quality.
The first non-clip-show slip-up: ‘Sunday, Cruddy Sunday’ (S10E12)
By the midpoint of Season 10, more than 200 consecutive episodes of The Simpsons – ignoring clip shows – had attained ratings above 7.0. For other shows, such a score would still be respectable, but for The Simpsons to dip that low suggested something was wrong.
The episode sees Homer meet travel agent Wally Kogen and embark on a mission to get to the Super Bowl. Featuring cameos from Rupert Murdoch, Dolly Parton and Bono, among others, there’s a sense that ‘Sunday, Cruddy Sunday’ had just too much going on.
The first sub-7/10 ‘regular’ episode: ‘Faith Off’ (S11E11)
If Season 10 was the start of the decline, things began tailing off very quickly during the following season. Three episodes dipped below 7/10 and only one (Maude Flanders’ death in ‘Alone Again, Natura-Diddly’) scored higher than 7.5.
‘Faith Off’ has its high points, including the pure slapstick of Homer getting a bucket stuck on his head and the storyline around American Football player Anton Lubchenko, but it’s not one for the ages.
The last hurrah: ‘Moe Baby Blues’ (S14E22)
Make no bones about it, by Season 14 The Simpsons was already becoming a shell of its former self. 10 of the 22 episodes in the season scored lower than 7/10, while most of the others only just crept above that mark.
‘Moe Baby Blues’, however stands out with a huge 8.7/10, and is widely regarded as one of the better episodes in the show’s double-figure seasons. It sees Moe save Maggie’s life, and features some genuine emotional depth.
The final nail in the coffin: ‘Lisa Goes Gaga’ (S23E22)
Over the years, The Simpsons has moved away from focusing on the family-led storylines which worked so well in the golden era and given more time to celebrities. Some cameos have worked well – Leonard Nimoy in ‘Marge vs The Monorail’, for example – but others have been far less popular.
One review of ‘Lisa Goes Gaga’, which stars Lady Gaga and has an IMDb average of 4.9, says it “isn’t a complete waste of time”. If that’s the nicest thing as you can say about an episode, that probably tells its own story.
If you were wondering whether the show has picked up since Season 25 (we’re not sure why anyone would expect that), the ratings for more recent episodes seem to offer conclusive proof that this is not the case.
At the time of writing, both of the episodes from Season 29 have scored below 7/10.