Lifetime of Simpsons

The Third Would Have Worked Better as a Halloween Story: The Triptych Episodes Ranked



So, yesterday things got a little frustrating, taking a genre of Simpsons episode that I don’t particularly like and ranking them. But, it was kind of hard not to do it. Travel episodes are something that come up so frequently on the Simpsons that if I was ranking things it would be insane not to include them, even if they’re generally not my favorite episode. I bring this all up because today we have another thing that largely falls into this category. Because today we’re going to be talking about what I like to call the Triptych Episodes! I also see them called Trilogy Episodes, which is certainly less pretentious, but whatever. After the continued success of the Treehouse of Horror episodes the creators of the show clearly decided that that formula could be used to tell other types of stories, also out of canon. Just fun little vignettes that are light on continuity and compact episodes. And, some of them are really fun. Others are very strange and lazy. Unless I’m missing something incredibly obvious there’s been ten of these episodes so far, which is the perfect number to rank. So, let’s do this thing.



10. “Simpsons Christmas Stories”


Christmas is a topic that holds a lot of weight on the Simpsons. The entire series began with a Christmas special, and just about every season they take a stab at some sort of yule-tide story. So, it’s a shame that I’m going to be talking about what it probably the worst Christmas episode of the whole bunch. Because this episode is rough! It’s an episode that tells three distinct stories, but it doesn’t follow the usual triptych formula. We don’t have a frame story, and we don’t even get title-cards for each segment. Instead we just keep sliding into different tales, at random, with no guidance. And the three stories are really weak. We have the Simpsons recreating the birth of Christ, a weird story where Grandpa and Mr. Burns dance with Santa Claus on a desert island, and a very dull segment where various townsfolk just dance around singing parodies of the Nutcracker Suite. None of them are particularly funny, none of them have any of the emotion that the Christmas episodes usually have, and it’s just kind of a mess. Hell, it introduces the idea of a sibling for Abe that is then never mentioned again, and completely ignores the “Hellfish” episode’s ideas of what Abe did in World War II. This episode is just the real bottom of the barrel, folks. But, we only have up to go.


“Simpsons Christmas Stories” was written by Don Payne and directed by Steven Dean Moore, 2005.




9. “The Wettest Stories Ever Told”



Man, poor Season 17. For whatever reason they decided to do two different triptych episodes, and they’re both the worst episodes of that type. But, this one if at least a little bit better than “Simpson Christmas Stories.” The segments in this episode really aren’t anything special. They have some decent gags and they at least have some of the hallmarks of a real triptych episode. We have the family, stuck waiting for dinner at the Frying Dutchman, telling each other stories. I think the real problem with this episode is that they picked such a weird theme to go with. It’s all about boats! And that’s about it. We have the Simpsons on the Mayflower, Bart and the Elementary School boys recreating the Mutiny on the Bounty, and basically just a straight-forward parody of the Poseidon Adventure. It’s just a weak theme. Every other one of these episodes has a pretty tight theme, and they usually have fun premises. But an episode just telling random stories about boats? Feels kind of half-assed. It’s better than the Nutcracker though.


“The Wettest Stories Ever Told” was written by Jeff Westbrook and directed by Mike B Anderson, 2006.




8. “Four Great Women and a Manicure” 



I think that the strongest thing that this episode has going for it is the premise. The segments themselves are fine, the fact that they cram a fourth story into the episode kind of makes everything a little too cramped and quick, but overall they’re pretty decent. But, where the episode really grows on me is the idea that it’s an episode where Marge and Lisa are spending the day together getting mani-pedi’s while telling stories of amazing women throughout history. We get to see Selma as Queen Elizabeth I, Lisa as Snow White, Marge as Lady MacBeth, and Maggie as an Ayn Rand protagonist, and it’s all just kind of fine. There’s nothing great about the episode, but there’s also nothing terrible about it. It’s just a completely mediocre and average triptych episode, which is at least better than actively bad. So here it goes!


“Four Great Women and a Manicure” was written by Valentina Garza and directed by Raymond S Persi, 2009.




7. “Revenge is a Dish Best Served Tree Times”



Oh, look. The episode that inspired the title of this article. This episode is still from the period of these triptych episodes where their themes are a little too broad, leading to three stories that are completely different from each other. But, this one isn’t that bad. It’s all built around the idea that revenge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the stories are being told to Homer in the attempt to calm him down after becoming infuriated with the Rich Texan. We get to see a rushed adaptation of the Count of Monte Cristo, a dreadful story about Milhouse attacking his bullies, and a really fun Batman parody with Bart. This is an episode where only one of the segments was really great, but it’s nice to see at least one of them being successful.


“Revenge is a Dish Best Served Three Times” was written by Joel H Cohen and directed by Michael Polcino, 2007.



6. “Margical History Tour”



Okay, we’ve now reached a point on this list where there’s a massive leap in quality. These last six episodes are actually all pretty fun. I don’t know what happened after Season 15, and why the triptych episodes became something to fear, not look forward to, but there we are. This episode is all based around historical figures as Marge tries to desperately remember facts about them so that Bart, Lisa, and Milhouse can complete some assignments. And they’re all pretty fun. We get to see Homer as a glutenous and philandering Henry the VIII, Lisa as an irritated Sacajawea who has to deal with Lenny and Carl as Louis and Clark, and a truncated adaptation of Amadeaus with Bart as Mozart and Lisa as Salieri. All of the stories work, and we get to see Marge holding court and telling us stories about history with a legitimate wrap-around segment. This is an episode that reminds us what these episodes could do, and it’s the point in this list where things start turning for the positive.


“Margical History Tour” was written by Brian Kelley and directed by Mike B Anderson, 2004.




5. “Simpson Bible Stories”



This is an episode that I think ranked so high primarily based on nostalgia. “Simpson Bible Stories” used to play constantly in syndication when I was still watching the show every weekday evening. Because, really, it’s an episode that isn’t really great, but that I’m still fond of. It’s all based around the various members of the Simpsons falling asleep during a particularly brutal Easter church service and dreaming about the Bible. I don’t exactly keep it secret, but I’m not a huge fan of organized religion, and the Bible in particular, so it’s not surprising that an entire episode that revels in Biblical lore has a weird effect on me, but it has some good gags. We see Homer and Marge as Adam and Eve, Milhouse and Lisa leading an Exodus from Egypt, Homer briefly as King Solomon, and Bart as a cocky King David. There’s some solid gags and classic moments, I just can’t deny that it’s this high on the list primarily because of nostalgia.


“Simpsons Bible Stories” was written by Tim Long, Larry Doyle, and Matt Selman, and was directed by Nancy Kruse, 1999.




4. “Love, Springfield Style”



I remember being stunned when I first watched this episode during the project. By Season 19 it was clear that these triptych episodes had become far removed from the quality of the earlier seasons, and I started the episode with some reservations. But, against all logic, this episode is a lot of fun. It’s all based on love stories that are told by the members of the family as they’re trapped on a tunnel of love, forced to entertain themselves. And the stories are all really crazy. There’s a great Bonnie and Clyde parody with Marge and Homer, a really fun Lady and the Tramp parody also with Marge and Homer, and a batshit crazy parody of Sid and Nancy with Nelson and Lisa. I love that they chose just to do movie parodies on this episode, and they’re all really weird and funny. It’s just a solid episode that shows how great triptych episodes could be.


“Love, Springfield Style” was written by Don Payne and directed by Raymond S Persi, 2008.




3. “Tales From the Public Domain”


Public Domain


These triptych episodes can often be a crap-shoot, tossing out three stories that may be tenuously related to each other and of rather dubious quality. But, sometimes you luck out and get some really fun stories with a solid concept. “Tales From the Public Domain” is exactly what it sounds like, three stories that are so engrained in society that no one owns them. So they’re up for grabs! We get to see Homer as Odysseus, Lisa as Joan of Arc, and Bart as Hamelt. And it’s all pretty solid. The Lisa story is probably the weakest of the bunch, but the Odyssey and Hamlet stories more than make up for it. The wrap-around is pretty simple, just Homer sitting around reading stories to the kids, but it all works really well. It’s just a very efficient triptych episode.


“Tales from the Public Domain” was written by  Andrew Kreisberg, Josh Lieb and Matt Warburton and directed by Mike B Anderson, 2002.




2. “Simpson Tall Tales”


Tall Tales.png


Aw, yeah. Now we’re talking. “Simpson Tall Tales” is a hell of an episode, and one that I love quite a bit. In fact, I had assumed it was going to be at the top of my list, until I realized that I had a dark horse candidate that I hadn’t thought about until making this list. But, there’s no denying that “Simpson Tall Tales” is a whole lot of fun. It has an incredibly solid wrap-around plot, with the family hitching a ride in the back of a train and getting regaled by a friendly hobo. We’re then treated to two classic Americana tales, and a Mark Twain novel. We get to see Homer as Paul Bunyan, Lisa as “Connie” Appleseed, and Bart and Nelson as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. All of the segments are a lot of fun, they take full advantage of the weird world of American folk tales, and it’s just a great episode. This episode shows what the triptychs are capable of if they’re firing on all cylinders, and it’s still the episode that I’ll think about if I’m think of triptychs. However, there was another episode that I’d never even considered to be in this category, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn’t keep it from the top spot.


“Simpson Tall Tales” was written by John Frink, Don Payne, and Bob Bendetson & Matt Selman, and was directed by Bob Anderson, 2001.




1. “Simpsons Spin-off Showcase”




I don’t know why I’d never considered this episode in the same genre as the rest of these triptych episodes before, but once I started thinking about it I couldn’t deny that it absolutely fits. We have three vignettes, all revolving around a central theme, being told to us by a frame-story. It has all the tenants, there’s just something about it that makes it feel different than the rest of these episodes. And, it may be the fact that this episode is just so goddamn good it’s just elevated above the other episodes. “Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase” is exactly what it sounds like, an episode with three different potential spin-offs of the Simpsons, as pitched to us by Troy McClure. We get to see Chief Wiggum and Principal Skinner as private-eyes in New Orleans, Moe and Grandpa in a wacky sitcom, and the entire Simpsons family (sans Lisa) in a tacky variety show. And it all works perfectly. This episode is hilarious, using the three vignettes to expertly skewer how weird the entire concept of spin-offs generally are. I’ve talked about this before during the project, but there had been a rumor for years that Fox wanted to spin-off a show called Springfield that would have just been about the various townsfolk. And I would have loved that, especially if it decided to do something similar to this episode, becomes a general parody of television culture and trends. But, that obviously never happened, and we just have episodes like this to show us what might have been.


“The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase” was written by  David S. Cohen, Dan Greaney, Steve Tompkins and Ken Keeler and directed by Neil Affleck, 1997.


There you have it! The ten triptych episodes ranked. And, I’ll be honest, I’m pleasantly surprised with how positive I got to stay during this ranking. I feel like the fact that the most recent batch of triptych episodes (aside from “Love, Springfield Style) are so bad colored my opinions of the entire genre. I’d forgotten that they really had the potentials to be fun episodes, taking the wonderful formula of the Treehouse of Horror episodes and using them to tell different sorts of stories than could normally be told on the show. Some are far more successful than others, but I do have to appreciate the show’s continued insistence to try these episodes, to use the formula to tell us something new.






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