LEGO, 3D and The X Files: The 5 most groundbreaking Simpsons episodes

How Homer and co keep on breaking the mould as they approach 30.

The Simpsons Lego episode Brick Like Me
Brick Like Me The Simpsons got a LEGO makeover in 2014. Image Picture 20th Century Fox

It seems you can teach an old dog new tricks.

The Simpsons is set to make history again when it airs a 3-minuted live segment this May.

And Homer Simpson – brought to life by Dan Castellaneta’s voice and motion-capture – will be answering reader’s questions at the close of the episode.

“As far as I know, this is the first time it’s been done by any animated show,” said producer Al Jean. Castellaneta will have to be on his toes as his in-character responses will need to be completely improvised.

Even though The Simpsons is now a seasoned TV staple, it’s still managing to innovate and break new ground. Here are five more examples of The Simpsons as trailblazers.


1

The LEGO episode

Season 25’s episode Brick Like Me did exactly what it said on the tin and was an entire Simpsons story told entirely through LEGO. Hitting right at the height of LEGO Movie mania, this also happened to be a rare Simpsons episode, one after the year 2000 that wasn’t terrible. Homer’s bond with Lisa took centre stage, and it all got a bit emotional.

2

The 3D episode

Before Pixar cemented itself as the King of 3D animation, The Simpsons got in there first with their 1995 Treehouse Of Horror episode. The segment entitled Homer Cubed spoofed the Twilight Zone as it propelled the charactger into a third dimension. After fracturing space-time, Homer eventually tumbles down a black hole and emerges in ‘reality’.

3

The X-Files episode

Network Fox gave its rookie show The X-Files a boost by sending agents Mulder and Scully into Springfield to investigate an alien sighting. The Springfield Files made great use of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson’s gift for comedy, and marked the first time a popular TV show had crossed into animation. It also boasted a shot dubbed ‘the most illegal in TV history’, an FBI line-up featuring Alf, Marvin the Martian and Chewbacca. Copyrights laws be damned.

4

The Family Guy crossover

Peter Griffin has often been accused of being an unsubtle Homer Simpson clone, but he’s more an affectionate homage than anything else. Fox, home to both The Simpsons and Family Guy, brought their flagship animated shows together for a 45-minute crossover special at one point. This was far from being a classic episode, but it did ruffle feathers by giving the show close-to-the-bone Seth MacFarlane gags on nudity and ultra-violence.

5

The cliffhanger episode

Who Shot Mr Burns?, the biggest TV cliffhanger since, well, Who Shot JR, this two-parter played out across the end of season six and beginning of season seven. At this point, The Simpsons was at the height of its powers. In the summer of 1995, while the show was on a break, Fox launched Springfield.com, a website asking fans to correctly guess Burns’s attacker in return for being animated into the show. Even in the nascent days of the web, the site still managed to wrack up an impressive 500,000 views. This was the first time TV and the internet had ever interacted – now it’s common place.

Bonus: The live-action intro

So this isn’t strictly The Simpsons, as it was produced by Sky One as a trailer for the series. However, producers of the show loved it so much they ended up adopting it for the US premiere of Ricky Gervais’ episode This Is Your Wife.

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Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn

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