Ten Times The Simpsons Jumped
The Shark

From the appearance of Armin Tamzarian to last week's Ke$ha montage.
By James Greene, Jr. 

Most television shows are only on air long enough to experience one tragic shark jump into stupidity, blandness, contradiction, or self-parody. Double-decade survivors like The Simpsons, however, have all the more time to betray the principles on which they were built. America's favorite yellow family started slipping sometime after season six (or seven, or ten, or four, depending on whom you're talking to), but they've always managed enough good episodes to keep us from giving up on the show entirely. Unfortunately, that means we still feel bruised every time the show's writers forget Homer and the gang's core values. Here are the ten worst examples.

1. "To Surveil With Love"

Last week's episode, "To Surveil With Love," eschewed the famed Simpsons intro sequence for a musical number in which characters inexplicably lip-synched to the vapid Ke$ha party anthem "Tik Tok." The clip began with Lisa Simpson happily playing along, which seemed odd given her aversion to all things trashy. The "Tik Tok" bit seemed to exist only so it could become an Internet talking point the next morning. To add insult to injury, the characters' clunky mimicking barely matched the song (and let's face it, Ke$ha is barely singing). 

2. "Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass"

One of the better Simpsons running gags was their refusal to brand the obese pile of bitterness known as Comic Book Guy with a Judeo-Christian name. (The character was based on a real-life roommate of voice actor Hank Azaria, who went only by "F.") "Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass," which aired in 2005, jabbed a nail into that comedy tire by giving CBG the unremarkable moniker of Jeff Albertson. Jeff Albertson? That's far from the hilarious names this show has given us in the past (i.e. Max Power, Rembrandt Q. Einstein, Leslie Hapablap). Worst. Reveal. Ever. 

3. "Gump Roast"

You'd think by 2002 The Simpsons would've generated enough cash for FOX that they were no longer beholden to archaic penny-saving concepts like the clip show. You'd think that, but you'd be dead wrong! 2002's "Gump Roast" became the fifth clip show in Simpsons history, beginning with a decade-late Forrest Gump parody that segued into an unexplained roast of Homer. The "We Didn't Start The Fire" parody at the end of "Gump Roast" elicited a few giggles, but the apology preceding the credits was just enough of a "fuck you" to get the blood moving. Why bother airing an episode if you have to smack a mea culpa on the end?

4. "All About Lisa"

Krusty the Clown needed a new assistant in this 2008 entry, and Lisa Simpson got the job. The tables turned soon after Lisa was hired, though, when our most forward-thinking Simpson accidentally usurped her grease-painted employer's fame. Sound familiar? Perhaps you've seen the identical (but much funnier) 1994 episode "Bart Gets Famous," wherein Lisa's older brother rockets from lowly clown lackey to flavor-of-the-month TV star. It's inevitable any program will revisit plot lines twenty years in, but a complete rip of a classic outing is pretty rank.

5. "The Principal and the Pauper"

This is a moment many fans cite as the earliest and most egregious shark jump in Simpsons history. 1997's "The Principal and the Pauper" informed us that the Principal Skinner we had come to know and love was an imposter. He was, in fact, one Armin Tamzarian, a reformed James Dean-type who'd served with the real Skinner in Vietnam. The real Skinner went missing in combat and was presumed dead; Tamzarian returned to Springfield and assumed his friend's identity. That plan worked great until Real Skinner turned up alive and crashed Springfield Elementary. Okay, um, so how did Seymour's mom not realize this person wasn't her son again? The voice of Principal Skinner, Harry Shearer, hated the Tamzarian story line, which, with its nonsensical meta-comedy, seemed to betray the reality of the show itself. Shearer claims the writers refuse to discuss the episode to this day.

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Commentarium (68 Comments)

May 07 10 - 9:18am
oh noes

The Kesha thing was incredibly stupid. I rolled my eyes so much I nearly lost a contact. A lot of the other ones listed I thought were funny, but that 90's Show, I agree, was idiotic.

May 07 10 - 9:19am

Man, talk about a petty list of complaints. First, the Ke$ha opening was charming. No, she can't sing and yes it's a vapid song, but I liked the notion of Springfield getting into it. Second, Jeff Anderton is a pretty good name for Comic Book Guy. Hang out in enough comic cons and you hear names like that. Third, clip shows happen. Deal. Forth, the Simpsons have been around forever and loop back on themselves constantly. Cherry picking this one episode over a dozen others is kinda bizarre. Fifth....okay, that was a bad episode and a dumb idea. If you ever want a laugh, listen to the DVD commentary where the writer gets all petty and pissy about the reaction. Otherwise, sorry, but you get a Worst Fluff Piece EVER.

May 07 10 - 9:38am

That Kesha thing was terrible. But the Simpsons is shark proof for me.

May 07 10 - 9:44am

I don't watch the Simpsons, but I found this fairly entertaining.

May 07 10 - 10:09am

I love the Simpsons and agree with 100% of these entries (and would add some)...BUT "The Principal and the Pauper" is highly controversial. While many think the episode is tragically terrible, and the first time the Simpsons showed such weakness, others defend the episode (including those who wrote it) as a successful avant garde experiment, in the same vein as the previous season's very successful "Homer's Enemy."

The irony, as these defenders see it, is that the episode is a satire of the fact that TV shows will go to ridiculous lengths to make sure nothing ever changes because they believe that viewers are resistant to something different. And yet, the major complaint about this episode is that it is a major divergence from the average Simpsons episode.

I tend to see it as a good-intentioned, but flawed experiment that was unlucky enough to come right as the Simpsons was losing the magic it had had in seasons 4-8.

Sep 26 11 - 4:06pm

The problem is that the shows tend to, more or less, hang together. This is a case of douche Ex Machina.... because some idiot write r things, "wouldn't it be cool if..." but violates the whole logic of the characters. Skinner is seen as uptight, uncool, patriotic, etc., but not as a sneak or a crook. He has redeeming characteristics which let the audience feel for and with him, such as when he deals with his Mom, or battles with Bart. That whole episode was not transgressive or avante garde... it was stupid.

May 07 10 - 10:48am

I think what bugs me about the Kesha thing is that she seems to be just another flash-in-the-pan, half-hit wonder — the whole thing reeks of trying to pander to a younger demographic - "see, we're hip here at the Simpsons..."

May 07 10 - 12:49pm

When you consider that each episode takes at least six months to get from concept to air, it is amazing that they manage to poke fun at any pop phenomenon while it is still relevant.

May 07 10 - 2:08pm

How can the "Principal and the Pauper" be on this list? "Mad Men" has built four seasons around this exact same plot line.

Jun 18 12 - 2:38am

[Mad Men spoilers follow] Because Mad Men didn't have the glaring plot holes the Simpsons had at developing that. In Mad Men the dude who's identity he takes gets blown to smithereens, so he's allowed to erase his own existence convincingly(barely a body left for identification) and assume the life of this new person. As this new person he doesn't encounter almost anyone the person knows, the way Skinner encounters and lives with the dude's mother, and when he does meet someone connected to the person's identity she empathizes with his situation.

Mad Men took the concept and framed an entire show around it, tons of good writing involved. The Simpsons pulled this out their butts because...why not.

May 07 10 - 4:33pm

Tsk, tsk Nerve. I'll refrain from pretending to be Comic Book Guy, but this list was just lame. Curse of the Friday? Couldn't come up with anything else. Can we say that this blogger jumped the shark with this?

May 07 10 - 5:24pm
Lord Zodd

At least the Simpsons writers had the tact to apologize for their duds. Did you guys publish this drivel to make Brian Fairbanks' crap look good by comparison?

May 07 10 - 6:12pm

@ Lord Zodd - Zing!

May 07 10 - 8:11pm

I would say that The Simpsons jumps the shark whenever it can. Two particular episodes that come to mind are when Homer becomes the head of trash collection and the WHOLE TOWN has to move over a few miles. Of course they parody the commercial of the Indian crying about littering, at the end, but it wasn't even funny.
The other episode is when they get a horse for the second time and it was beyond ridiculous with the horse knowing becoming a character of its own. I'm surprised that it didn't start talking.

Sep 13 12 - 10:31pm

"Trash of the Titans" won an Emmy for outstanding animated programming. Your second example is better. I would say the simpsons jumped the shark when they killed off Fat Tony in a recent episode.

May 07 10 - 8:27pm

The Principal and the Pauper contains one of Harry Shearer's greatest lines as Skinner/Tanzarian, and therefore will always kick ass: "Up yours, children!"

May 07 10 - 8:46pm

actually the simpsons went downhill after phil hartman was murdered. everyone knows that. the show evolved several times before that tragic event. if you hark on about the simpsons being better before that then you're clearly a closet case who can't accept change. i haven't seen an episode after season 12 and nor will i ever

Sep 26 11 - 12:54am

whatever point you are trying to make here, why don't you organize your thoughts and then try again. It makes no sense at all.

Nov 30 11 - 12:10am
so what

To be honest, I also think they lost an irreplaceable when Hartman died.......all you needed was a Troy McClure or Lionel Hutz appearance to lift an episode

May 07 10 - 11:27pm

"Jumping the shark" usually refers to a stunt a show pulls off to keep from dying. Jumping the shark only highlights the fact that people have quit watching the show, which then dies. The Simpsons are now in what, season 21? Whatever.

And to Ben: moving the whole town 10 miles down the road is classic Simpsons. No consequences from anything that ever happens last into next week. I busted a gut over the Indian scene; I could watch that a thousand times. Also featured in that episode: The Garbage Man Can.

Jul 07 11 - 10:17am

It is not classic Simpsons, but in fact the opposite- this kind of plot device onle became common "The Principal and the Pauper," which was in many ways the first time it was used...

May 08 10 - 12:12am

The Kei$ha opening was terrible, but the Orwellian commentary in the rest of the episode was right on the money. It's too premature to say they've jumped the shark, seeing as how the latest episode was far from their worst.

May 08 10 - 1:29am

How can you judge a show if you've never seen it? Granted, it started going downhill in season 12, but there are some great episodes in 13 and beyond—including "Strummer." Yes, the Joe Strummer thing makes no sense, but it's still an incredibly funny episode, as is "That 90's Show." "Margarine" is as funny a parody song as they've ever written.

May 08 10 - 1:47am
@@marty and @ben

My thoughts exactly. Thanks for saving me the trouble. Strummer Vacation and That 90's Show do NOT belong on this list.

For ben: the Homer-Becomes-Sanitation-Chief episode will always be awesome to me, because Homer sneaks backstage at a U2 concert with two words: "Potato man."

May 08 10 - 2:09am
sameguy as 1:47am

To the author, Mr. Greene: while i'm still here, i wanted to say that "That 90's Show" explains the NEED for a retcon by pointing out the discrepancies in the ages of the parents and children. "The Way We Was," isn't the be-all and end-all of the Simpson-Bouvier courtship.

Furthermore, there's no B-plot in "That 90's Show," unless you count the intercuts between the present and the flashback -- but these also remind ppl of the retcon's purpose b/c they show the children with their more elderly parents. The strength of the A-plot is an indication of a good episode. (e.g., "Dental plan," "Lisa needs braces.") And the parody songs are great.

May 08 10 - 10:52am

This piece makes me want to start watching The Simpsons again. If these are the best complaints the author can muster, the show must still be pretty good.

May 08 10 - 6:14pm

It's sad that so many commenters seem still to love the Simpsons.

Most of this list was painful for me to read, being a hardcore memorizer of Silver and Gold Age episodes. Fortunately for my sanity, I quit watching the show at least 8 years ago: a lot of these are new to me.

May 09 10 - 10:16am

<< (Homer is upset that the Rock n' Roll Fantasy Camp is over)
Mick Jagger: It's okay, Homer. It's only Rock n' Roll camp.
Homer: But I like it. >>

One of the best episodes ever. No shark-jumping here.!

May 09 10 - 10:52pm

Quoting Random: "The Kei$ha opening was terrible, but the Orwellian commentary in the rest of the episode was right on the money." I agree. The intro was a mess. But the fact that the episode itself was discussed on Alex Jones' infowars.com radio show tells me that it must be hitting home.

May 10 10 - 10:00am

Can we just start randomly quoting The Simpsons—but only quotes from post-season 10, just to piss people off?

Homer: Marge, you're right. We do have to have a party.
Marge: Party!? No parties!
Homer: What about par-tay?
Marge: No part-tays, no shindigs, no keggers, no hootenannies, no mixers, no raves, no box socials.
Homer: Damn! And I looked so good on that bike!

May 10 10 - 5:02pm
Jeff Condit

to the guy who hasn't watched the show in 8 years, they got better, much better. I thought the Simpsons were done about that same time and 3 or 4 years ago they had a rebirth.

May 11 10 - 6:12pm

I’m surprised the Behind the Music season finale from 2000 wasn’t on the list. That’s when I began losing interest in the show.

May 14 10 - 11:20am

People who's sole purpose in life seems to be letting everyone else know that they stopped watching the Simpsons because it jumped the shark X number of years ago (no, X+Y!) have to be just about one of the most pathetic forms of life on the 'net.

May 15 10 - 5:26am

I haven't watched The Simpsons in many years, but that synopsis for "The Principal and the Pauper" sounds like a riff on the famous case of Martin Guerre, a documented true story from 16th century France, dramatized in "Le Retour de Martin Guerre" ("The Return of Martin Guerre.").

May 16 10 - 7:49pm

What do you think?

May 16 10 - 7:51pm

i totaly agree! right along with the super cool peeps who remember the good ole days when snl was HIGHlarious. ok we get it, snl ain't that funny anymore and you're much too cool to watch it. do we really need to be reminded of your coolness every time someone so much as mentions snl? probably not.

May 18 10 - 9:37am

People who's sole purpose in life seems to be letting everyone else know that they stopped watching the Simpsons because it jumped the shark X number of years ago (no, X+Y!) have to be just about one of the most pathetic forms of life on the 'net.

May 19 10 - 12:37am

The second I saw the headline, I immediately thought of the "Co-Dependant's Day" episode. The Homer I grew up with would never frame his own wife for a DUI. I'm not one to bring morality into the arena of television characters, animated at that, but that was just plain wrong and completely out of character. And for the record, I think the Armin Tanzarian episode is a classic. The "Strummer Vacation" episode has its moments too.

May 20 10 - 2:15pm

For me, the all time Simpsons low was the one in which Homer becomes Burns' "prank monkey" and ends up being repeatedly anally raped by a panda bear (including the line about being covered in Panda love), with the truly ugly moment when HOmer in a panda suit tries to crawl away and is dragged back by the panda, cutting to Moe saying "You ain't going nowhere, sweetheart."

May 27 10 - 7:28pm

As someone who grew up watching the Simpsons constantly, I have to say that IMO it has jumped the shark - long ago. It used to be by far my favorite show but the new episodes just don't compare. The only reason it's still on TV now is because of ratings, not quality.

There hasn't really been a single "jump the shark" moment, but more of a steady decline in quality. However, if I had to choose, the Kesha thing would be the jump the shark moment. It really made me cringe. What were they thinking?!?

Jul 27 10 - 4:06am

I will agree with what most of you are saying. In my opinion the principal and the pauper was definitely when the show jumped the shark. I remember where I was sitting 10 years ago with one of my best friends. We loved the shit out of that show. This was certainly the first episode that kinda stunk. Which was odd because the last 5 years were nothing but solid gold.

There may have been a missed joke or a part that dragged in the previous seasons, but never an entire episode. And the writers used to have you suspend your disbelief so they could tell a funny story and have a good moral lesson at the end. What was the moral lesson of this episode. Once they stopped being sentimental, i stopped caring. I wonder about the kids that just turned teen years right now if they think all of us adults are stupid to be so mystified and entranced by this show. Regardless, for about 5 to 6 years it was by far the funniest thing on television. It certainly paved the way for Family Guy and South Park. Also, I wonder how much of an effect that the rise of the internet had on the show?

Aug 20 10 - 5:39pm
That Guy

Did anyone ever stop to think that "The Prinicpal and the Pauper" might just be a parody of shows jumping the shark? Just sayin'...

Sep 26 11 - 12:59am

How meta! How post modern! How much better everything they did when they weren't meta and post-modern was!

Oct 10 11 - 11:18pm
Carl B. Crown

Seriously, he may be right indeed. Line "I further decree that everything will be just like it was before all this happened! And no one will ever mention it again... under penalty of torture" is clearly an admission that all it's actually a mockery.

Jan 16 11 - 5:11am

Yep, Marty hit the nail square on the head, After Phil Hartman died, so did the show. Troy Mclure and Lionel Hutz made that show golden. Stopped watching after about season 10 or 12, it was like watching a train wreck that just doesn't want to admit defeat.

Mar 26 11 - 12:50pm

Ostrich eyes are bigger than their brains.

May 08 11 - 8:02pm
Cbris Miller

So are Simpsons'.

Apr 27 11 - 5:36am

I've seen the "Principal and the pauper" but I don't think the show's quality really went downfall from there, in my opinion it's the "Maximum Homerdrive" (Season 10 Epsiode 17) where the series begins to downfall. The episodes make no sesnse anymore. You know the show is dead every time Homer tries to choke Bart.

May 08 11 - 8:02pm
Cbris Miller

The Simpsons has always been a celebrity-whore, bending over backwards to kiss the butts of anyone famous. So when there's a "special guest voice" then you can bet that it'll be a shark-jumping moment-- or at least more mediocre than usual, because even if it's not a butt-kiss then it'll be phoned in.

Sep 26 11 - 1:02am

And the celebrities are usually not voice actors, so they just suck at delivering their lines when any kind of appropriate tone of voice. I remember though, that the Simpsons lost me in late 1997 with that Skinner episode. Until today, I had no idea people hated it as much as I did. After the one where Homer climbed the Murderhorn, I turned the Simpsons off forever. I was 16... Still just a boy, really...

May 23 11 - 11:00am

Big fan of the show. Also agree that these moments and a few others were simply AWFUL.
HOWEVER, think of what you are criticizing. It's not fine art....it's TELEVISON. Who really cares?!?!?!?

Sep 26 11 - 1:04am

Yes. Who cares about anything? Who cares about this website? It should be closed down because it's talking about TELEVISION and who wants to talk about television anyway??? We have bigger things to worry about like NATIONAL DEBT! Who cares???

Jun 24 11 - 5:40pm

This is right on the money.
On the subject of the "24" and "The Critic", Matt Groening claimed to be so outraged by the Critic episode that he refused to put his name on the credits. Where was his outrage about the 24 episode?
One of the problems with the Simpsons now is that Matt Groening is not funny at all. He got lucky and had funny people around him for 10 years or so at the beginning.

Sep 26 11 - 4:12pm

I dunno about that. I thought Groening's comics were pretty good.

Aug 26 11 - 12:37am
Carl B. Crown

They satirized about jumping the shark itself in "Gump Roast": among the weird anticipations for the future shows in the ending sequence there is Homer jumping a shark with water skis, and that's in my opinion is great classic simpsonic humour. While the rest of the episode is weak indeed, the song and that single photogram redeem it to my eyes.

Oct 11 11 - 9:43am

I don't get this?

Oct 21 11 - 12:32am

Good list for a simple reason, anything after the millennium is crap. You can put anyone from that time on and it will stink. The show already had problems by season 7 or 8, but virtually all made are bad now. They are way too pc and have stupid guests on now.

Nov 01 11 - 6:06pm

"Principal and the Pauper" its a parody of an old (real) French story (and movie) called "the Return of Martin Guerre." In the real story, even Martin's Guerre wife was happy with the impostor, as her real husband was impotent.

Nov 21 11 - 4:08pm

I would support your candidacy (certainly over Shurtleff), your collective qualifications sound great! But I will be making my interest in the position know tomorrow., Clear Skin Max Discount, :[[[,

Nov 30 11 - 12:13am
so what

The show is not funny anymore, it's not touching anymore. All the writers can do is repeat themselves ad naseum......
My main problem with The Simpsons now is that the creators have abandoned the roots of these characters, which lies in working class humor. How is it funny when Marge suddenly is able to open a 'Curves' knockoff? How are they constantly able to take trips around the world every flipping season? They're constantly proving poor Grimey right........

Jan 09 12 - 2:16pm

I actually liked the Ke$ha parody, and it was nice to see an out of the ordinary couch gag every now and then. But, That '90s Show and the 24 parody were two of the most boring episodes that I've ever seen.

Jan 17 12 - 11:14pm

problem to me is simple; Simpsons are not funny anymore. No evolution of characters, inverosimil situations, come one! even halloween specials are terrible boring, x-mas spedial are worst every year. What they really need is a new change, if they want to survive in this competitive world of animation, maybe Lisa and Bart in high school (21 years in second and third grade is enough). And i agree with many here: season 1 to 10 are the best, 10 to 15 not bad, 15 to now are horrible

Feb 04 12 - 5:46pm

personally, although latin american fans will agree with me, simpsons stopped being funny from season 16, with the voice cast replacement and all of that. What they need to do now is to try to go back to the catchphrases, we were invaded with them on seasons 1-12

Feb 07 12 - 11:10pm
Archer Park of Hill

I haven't seen the 90s episode, but from reading about Bart saying "I don't even remember the 90s" ........ that is just betrayal to everything he defined back then.

That Kesha thing however, that was the final straw for me. I no longer wish to watch any Simpsons from then on. I'm finished.

Feb 24 12 - 4:18pm

Jumping the shark means the COOLEST episode, not the worst. Remember: jumping the shark was the HIGH POINT of Happy Days. Not the worst.

Way to destroy the metaphor.

May 01 12 - 6:32pm

Its really sad to see how crap the Simpsons is now. My son and me were huge fans years ago, now we don't even watch it.

Jun 12 12 - 12:02pm

So, I'm a huge Simpsons fan. From its days on Tracey Ullman, watching it without my parents knowing as an innocent 8-year-old. I agree that a lot of these are crappy moments but The Principal and the Pauper was clearly the beginning of the end. All of Season 9 has its issues, though. Bad episodes from that season:

All Singing, All Dancing (Not funny, bad voices, hearkens back to the crappy Simpsons CDs)
Last Temptation of Krust (the start of the celebrity flood; I remember this well at the time as out of place for the Simpsons with the Canyonero plot falling flat)
Trash of the Titans ("magical" scene transformations, singing montages, nonsensical plot, more celebrities)

After Season 9, the ratio of good to bad episodes shrunk annually. This list has a lot of bad moments. The Kesha opening was bad but it wasn't surprising - All About Lisa literally remade a plot to a T! The 90s retcon was lame and intended to target the ostensibly different (younger) audience. Lisa sings in at least 1 episode a season it seems now (Yeardley Smith must love singing and she has a b-ru-tal voice).

I get where the 90s retcon was "needed" but the recent episode (The Color Yellow) where Lisa sees that all of the Simpson women turn out poorly is in direct opposition to the Lisa the Simpson episode, where the Simpson women all turn out great. That was just sloppy and indicative of the times.

The Simpsons time was Season 3-8. It is what it is.

Aug 13 12 - 10:27am

Great opinions here. I think Simpsons started to decline in season 9. Then we had a period when the show was less clever but still enjoyable, until the episode 300 came and It was evident they had gone too far. do you remember? that stupid plot of bart emancipating and meeting Blink 182 and Tony Hawk.