The Simpsons' 12 Most Controversial Episodes

The Simpsons is an animated sitcom that revolves around a dysfunctional, middle class family, The Simpsons. The father of the family is Homer; he is loud, obnoxious and inconsiderate but is a lovable and caring father/husband. Homer’s wife, Marge, is an overbearing mother who tries too hard and loves her family despite their faults. Bart is the eldest child; he is mischievous, a troublemaker, a prankster and all around bad boy. Lisa, the second child, is the brain of the family and a Buddhist. Maggie, the youngest, never speaks but despite this, is shown to be loving, brave and fearless. They live in the Town Of Springfield.

Matt Groening created The Simpsons and it airs on the Fox Network. The main voice cast includes, Dan Castellantea, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Julie Kavner, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer. The series is critically acclaimed and has won several Emmy Awards. The series is one of the most iconic and influential shows of all time. The First episode of the series, “The Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”, premiered on December 11, 1989. The series has been praised for its writing, voice actors, intelligence and animation. The series has dealt with issues such as, family life, education, politics, religion and love. The series started its 26th season in September 2014 and the 27th season is currently in production. It’s the longest running animated program, the longest running American sitcom and the longest running scripted primetime show. The show has also caused a great amount of controversy and has dealt with many taboo subjects. Here is a look at 12 of The Simpsons most controversial moments.

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12 “Homer’s Phobia” February 16, 1997


“Homer’s Phobia” revolved around Homer distancing himself from a new friend John, voiced by John Waters, after Homer finds out he’s gay. Homer is also worried about John’s influence on Bart, so Homer takes Bart hunting to ensure his masculinity. The episode is highly praised and considered one of the show's best episodes. It won the Emmy for Outstanding Animated program and GLAAD awarded the show Outstanding TV for an individual episode. It’s praised for dealing with misconceptions of homosexuality and still maintaining the series sense of humor. It was the first time the series dealt with these themes. Initially, the censors deemed the episode unsuitable to air. They gave the writers two pages of notes and each line of the script had been crossed out, luckily not too long after a new president was appointed at Fox, as well as new censors. The new censors approved the episode as acceptable, with no major changes.

11 “The Simpsons Guy” September 28, 2014


“The Simpsons Guy” is actually an episode of the animated sitcom, Family Guy, created by Seth Macfarlane. It’s a crossover episode that features the Griffin Family: Peter, Lois, Meg, Chris, Brian and Stewie, all visiting the town of Springfield. The controversy and criticism is aimed more at Family Guy, who wrote the episode, although the Simpsons writers approved the episode. Family Guy is known for its dark, twisted and sometimes, mean spirited sense of humor. Bart prank calls Moe’s tavern looking for a man, named Keybum, first name Lee…Leaky Bum. Stewie calls Moe's and says, “Your sister is being r**ed”. The joke showed the differences in the sense of humor of the two series; one show goes for the pun, while the other goes to the extreme. The Parent Television Council felt the joke was inappropriate and it was wrong to include The Simpsons.

10 “That 90’s Show” January 27, 2008


"That 90’s Show” revolved around the retelling of how Homer and Marge first got together. Marge attended University and Homer was a part of a 90’s grunge band, Sadgasm. It was a huge change in the continuity of the show. Originally, Homer and Marge met in high school in the late 70’s. In the early 80’s, Homer got Marge pregnant and neither attended college or University. Most fans and critics reacted negatively to the episode. Long time fans did not like the change in the show's history. It was done in order to update the show because of its long time on the air. However, fans would have preferred for the episode to take place in the 80’s. Many fans did enjoy the references to the 90’s. Since then, the series has returned to the original love story of Homer and Marge.

9 The Simpsons VS The Bushes


In the early years of the series, The Simpsons had a real life feud with The Bush Family. The controversy started on January 27, 1992, when then President George H.W Bush said, “…we need to make our families more like the Waltons and less like The Simpsons.” The Waltons was a series from the 70’s that revolved around a wholesome, loving family, living and struggling during the Great Depression. The writers would respond the following week to George Sr,’s comments, when Bart says, “Hey, we’re like the Waltons. We’re praying for an end to the depression, too.” Years later, the feud was the inspiration for the episode, “Two Bad Neighbours”. Former President George Sr. and Barbra Bush move in across the street from The Simpsons. Homer and Bart start a vicious prank war with George Sr., after he spanks Bart. Eventually, Homer and George get into a fistfight, which leads to the Bushes leaving. It’s considered one of the series' best episodes.

8 “A Star Is Burns” March 5, 1995


“A Star Is Burns” revolved around the town of Springfield holding a film festival and famous film critic, Jay Sherman, serves as one of the judges. This was a crossover episode with the show, The Critic. Former Simpsons writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss created The Critic, and it starred Jon Lovitz as Jay Sherman. The executive producer was James L Brooks, who was also a producer on The Simpsons. Brooks wanted to do a crossover episode with The Simpsons to help The Critic. Many critics did not like the episode and felt it was out of place. Matt Groening was extremely critical of the crossover episode. He tried to get the episode pulled and when that didn't work, he had his name removed from the credits. He also went public with his feelings, calling the episode, “a 30-minute advertisement for The Critic”.

7 “A Street Car Named Marge” October 1, 1992


“A Street Car Named Marge” revolved around Marge being cast as Blanche DuBois, in the Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar named Desire. The episode caused controversy because of an original song written about New Orleans. In the song, New Orleans is described as “a home of pirates, drunks and wh**es”. The people of New Orleans were greatly offended and the local Fox affiliate received a hundred complaints. The writer, Jeff Martin, had written the song as a parody of a song from Sweeney Toad. The following week, the writers apologized in the chalkboard gag when Bart writes, “I will not defame New Orleans.”

6 “MoneyBart” October 10, 2010


“MoneyBart” revolved around Lisa becoming the coach of Bart’s Little League Baseball team and she applies her smarts to help the team win. The episode gained widespread media attention for its controversial coach gag. The opening sequence and couch gag was written by political activist and graffiti artist, Banskey. When The Simpsons all gather on the couch, the camera zooms out and shows a picture of the family on the wall of an animation and merchandise sweatshop in South Korea. The scene is dark, depressing and bleak. It depicts a large group of animators working in poor conditions. They are shown to be frail, weak and unhealthy. The scene was inspired by the fact that the show is animated in South Korea. The founder of the animation company AKOM, Nelson Shin, felt the episode was “excessive and offending”. He was able to get some of the darker and sadder jokes cut.

5 “Bart VS Australia” February 19, 1995


"Bart VS Australia” revolved around The Simpsons travelling to Australia. Bart is indicted for fraud in Australia and the family goes there, so that he can apologize. The Australian government wants to give him an additional punishment, which is a kick to the butt with a giant boot. He refuses and ends up mooning everyone. It was the first time the family traveled to another country. Fans in Australia were not happy about their portrayal and felt insulted. The staff claims that they received over 100 letters of complaints. Many Australians pointed out that the Australian accents sounded more like a South African accent. Many felt that the episode was mocking, embarrassing and degrading their country. Some also felt it was inaccurate and mean spirited. Although, the writers noted that they purposely were trying to be inaccurate.

4 “Something About Marrying” February 20, 2005


“Something About Marrying” revolved around Springfield legalizing same sex marriages in an attempt to increase tourism. Marge’s sister, Patty, comes out as a lesbian, which Marge does not initially support. Homer becomes a minster and begins conducing same-sex weddings. The episode was written at a time when same sex marriage was a hot topic. The episode was inspired by the San Francisco same sex marriages in 2004. The episode was highly praised for its writing, sense of humor and dealing with such a debated topic. Some conservative groups were heavily critical of the episode, with many of them feeling it was promoting same-sex marriages. The writers have defended themselves, noting that the episode actually covers both sides of the argument. In fact, the writers explore the many different opinions on the issue through all of the characters. Some are for it, some are against it and some just want to make money. GLAAD and other gay rights groups loved the episode with many of them pointing out that both sides were represented in the episode.

3 “Blame It On Lisa” March 31, 2002


“Blame It On Lisa” followed the family as they visit Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Lisa goes in search of a missing orphan she had been sponsoring, and Homer gets kidnapped. The episode caused a massive amount of controversy in Brazil. Many felt the episode relied heavily on stereotypes, clichés and inaccuracies. For example, the series depicts the dances, the conga and Macarena, as being popular in Brazil. However, neither dance originated in Brazil and neither is frequently performed. Riotur, the tourist board of Brazil, was planning on suing FOX for damaging the image of the city. They felt the city was portrayed as being rat infested, with rampant crime, slums and kidnappings. They had the support of the Brazilian government, however, because of the first amendment in the United States, it would have been difficult to sue them. The series issued an apology and there was no lawsuit. The Simpsons returned to Brazil with the episode, “You Don’t Have to Live Like A Referee”.

2 Under Achiever and Proud Of It


When The Simpsons first debuted, the series caused an enormous amount of controversy. It’s an animated sitcom geared towards adults that would deal with mature themes. However, many young children are fans of the show. The majority of the controversy was based on the behavior of a mischievous, 10 year old boy named, Bart Simpson. Early on, Bart was the breakout star of the series. He was everywhere: on t-shirts, singing songs and dancing the Bartman. Due to his popularity, early episodes focused on Bart. Some critics and parents felt that Bart was a poor role model for children. Bart was rebellious, didn’t care about school and talked back to authority figures. Several critics and parents did not like the fact that Bart was rarely punished for misbehaving or for his poor attitude. Schools felt he was a threat to learning because of his negative attitude concerning education. At one point, some schools even banned some of his t-shirts. The controversy surrounding Bart faded away as the series progressed.

1 “The Principal and The Pauper” September 28, 1997


“The Principal and The Pauper” revolved around the revelation that Principal Seymour Skinner was actually an impostor and fraud named, Armin Tamzarian. Armin assumed the identity of the real Seymour, who he thought died during the Vietnam War. In the end, Armin resumes the identity of Skinner, the real Seymour is forced out of town and everyone pretends nothing ever happened. It’s considered one of the most controversial episodes in the history of the series. It contradicted Skinner's already established back-story. Skinner had been a recurring character since the first season. This episode greatly changed the character and continuity of the show. Long time fans were outraged over this change and it’s been heavily criticized. Some critics felt that the episode marked the end of the series' “Golden Age”. Harry Shearer, the voice of Principal Skinner, said that it was “disrespectful to the audience.” Matt Groening called this episode a “mistake” and his “least favorite episode”.  However, the writer Ken Keeler, defends the episode and calls it his best work.

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