Monday, April 02, 2012

Ranking The Simpsons seasons

++Addition++Steve expounds and adds a nice visual.


Those who've read this blog for awhile are probably aware of my affinity for The Simpsons. Like so many other fans of the show, I stopped making much of an effort to catch episodes from later seasons in the series. Well into the 2000s with family or friends who wanted to take one in, it would almost invariably be from the early- or mid-nineties, when the show was more a comedy on the follies of contemporary middle class suburbanites and less one offering political and cultural commentary on current events with silly single scene antics.

When I talk to other votaries about the series, sentiments approximating my own seem to be the rule, but The Simpsons is in its 23rd season now and continues to maintain impressive ratings, so there are plenty of people who find it worthwhile. I stopped watching TV when I graduated from a high school a decade ago (I don't even own one!), but if I still did, I'd probably be viewing new episodes each week with lower expectations than I had in the past.

The number of total viewers aside, I'm comfortable asserting that the show's golden age stretched from the early nineties into the latter part of that decade. Going through the tedious process of recording IMDB user ratings (the largest sample size I could find) for all 503 episodes up to Them, Robot (which is pretty entertaining, especially for those interested in speculations about the future of artificial intelligence and how humans will interact with it) and using these to compile full season averages on a 10 point scale, the following table ranks them from best to worst. The impetus for doing as much was my brother's opinion that seasons 3-9 were when the show was at its best, with the qualifier that nine is when the descent is first detectable and that he could refine that to seasons 3-8. He's a perspicacious kid:


My personal favorites are Lisa the Vegetarian ("You don't win friends with salad, you don't win friends with salad!"), They Saved Lisa's Brain ("Inspired by the most logical race in the galaxy, the Vulcans, breeding will be permitted once every seven years. For many of you this will mean much less breeding. For me, much much more."), and The Springfield Files ("Who thought a whale could be so heavy?") from seasons 7, 10, and 8, respectively. Who cares, though, about that? The show's top eight, with the season in parentheses (there's a six-way tie for the ninth spot):

1. Who Shot Mr. Burns?, Part 1 (6) and You Only Move Twice (8)
3. Homer's Enemy (8)


Steve Sailer said...

So the first 10 seasons show a constant improvement to a peak in year 6, then a constant fall-off.

That's pretty much what you see for a typical baseball player's career, too.

Jokah Macpherson said...

That is a lot of work just to prove your brother right. Before reading the full post I guessed that "Who Shot Mr. Burns" was probably the show's peak of cultural penetration so I guess that was correct as well. It looks like there's been a sudden resurgence; what happened with season 23?

chucho said...

3 was good, 4 & 5 are cream of the crop, 6 is very good with a couple of duds, and 7 is where the quality starts to really drop hard. I stopped watching after 8 or 9.

Curiously, right when the Simpsons became unbearable is when South Park started to get good. And it's been a generally uphill climb for that show.

Audacious Epigone said...


Homer, the Cal Ripken of sitcoms?


It's a poll of one, and this one only watched one episode, but Them, Robot (which you can watch at the link for free via Hulu) is entertaining and enjoyable.


I'd do something similar for South Park, but I'm just not familiar enough with it. I've only seen episodes people have recommended to me.

Anonymous said...

The biggest surprise for me was that season 6 took the top spot. It contains one of only four clip shows in the first 10 seasons, so that certainly hurts its average score (clip shows suck, but at least the season 7 one contained a funny, self-aware chalkboard gag: "I will only do this once a year").

Also, as a side-note, the writers of the show hated doing clip shows and fought against them. Fox actually wanted them to do several per season, so at least they were able to avoid that.

The only real disagreement I have with this list is that season 8 should be at least in the top 3. Great job on this; it's the most objective way I can think of for ranking them, so I can't really argue with the results, despite my quibbles.

Anonymous said...

"Brother From The Same Planet" - Best. Ep. Evar.

19 ... hit me ...

20 ... hit me ...

21 ... hit me ...

22 ... D'OH!

Audacious Epigone said...


The clip show episode ratings are in the toilet, garnering worse scores than any other episodes do.

Thanks again for the inspiration.

Anonymous said...

I've carried out your study too and also found that season 6 averaged out the best, again to a slight surprise, since 4 and 5 are usually raved as being the best (which I've never understood). My favourites are 6,7 and 8, mainly because they're the ones my British 8-10 year old self grew up exposed to (thanks to the BBC repeating them in an endless loop). Either way, you can't go wrong with seasons 2 or 3 to 8 or 9 - that's where classic Simpsons spans. (Although I'm tempted to include seasons 1 and 10 for that sense of completion, as 11 and onward are Simpsons seasons in name only.)

Fan base discussions usually focus on the show's sharp drop in quality after season 10, but nobody seems to pinpoint when the show actually did become really bad. I'd say season 15 was the last not-totally-shit season. In fact, I think it's on a par with season 10.

In retrospect, season 16 wasn't that bad either, though it was a letdown after the not-bad-ness of season 15, and probably the worst season to its date, season 1 notwithstanding. Even so, season 16 has its moments that make it a worthwhile explore.

Season 17 had one episode which I genuinely thought was excellent (The Seemingly Never-Ending Story), by new-episode standards anyway. But I have no memory of the rest of the season, other than it was hopeless. In my eyes, it marks the point where the show became not only tedious, but unwatchable.

Today, The Simpsons is so bad that seasons 12 and 13 now look good.

shevy said...

I largely agree with it. IMDB ratings tend to be very biased though so I actually think the real fans vote MUCH more severe, that is the later seasons won't reach 7.

I guess the first ten seasons are all ok, then the quality sunk immensely.

It also is not just the changed content, which also got worse, but also the different production quality. Call me oldschool but I think the old way to draw the simpsons was MUCH better than the later way to produce them. You can see this ... compare seasons 1 to 5 to 10 to 15 to 20 to 25 and you notice that the character images changed immensely - to the worse.

Then the current politics, it is not funny, it is just awful how politics are these days. It was bad int he 1990s but nowadays it is trollolololol to the utmax. Who the hell gives a damn about Trump or Clinton? The show lost the whole focus. I have no idea what happened to the writers, were they exchanged, replaced or just got dumber?

It would be interesting to see WHY the quality declined so much.

Unknown said...

As a foreigner - russian - I can mention the fact that decline of the series coincided with change in dubbing actors cast in my country. The golden era cast was great and it was presented by two men and a woman. Meanwhile there were only two actors for the job as decline has started and the cast just sucked.
Moreover. Tellingly the new cast hasn't appeared at once. It was in charge for a few episodes in season 7. Then a dozen of episodes in season 8. And got fulltime since season 9.