Lifetime of Simpsons

Those Were the Days: Flashback and Flashforward Episodes Ranked



Hey, hey everybody! Welcome back to another installment of my wrap-up of the Lifetime of Simpsons! We’re still in my week of rankings, and we have a very special topic to discuss today. Time Travel episodes! I find it fascinating that the Simpsons has had such a love for episodes that take place either in the past or the future of the show, and they’re often some of my favorite episodes. Well, the flashback episodes are. The flash-forward episodes are often far more of a mixed bag. But we’ll get to that. For a show that specifically stays in one time period, never really progressing, it’s great to see what happened in the past, and what will happen in the future for these characters, even if that ends up having to change as the show goes on. I’m sure they had no idea when starting this show that it would be going for damn-near 30 seasons, which would then necessitate a lot of timeline fudging. I mean, originally we got to see Homer and Marge’s courthship in the 1970’s, because that made sense for when the show began. But by 2018 that no longer works, and we’ve had to change quite a bit. It’s a really weird aspect to the show, and something that continues to fascinate me. But, enough preamble, let’s get on with the episodes!




19. “Fland Canyon”



It’s been weird going from the exuberance of the opening paragraphs of these articles to the worst entries in the theme, and I feel like today is probably the most extreme example of this. Because this episode is rough, y’all. “Fland Canyon” is a flashback episode, and one that actually does follow the traditional formula of those episodes. We have a frame-story in the present, Homer telling Maggie a story to get her to sleep, and we fill in a time-period we’ve never seen before. The problem is that that time-period is a year ago, before Maggie was born. It’s the story of the Simpsons and the Flanders having to go on a trip to the Grand Canyon together, against both of their wills, and then just kind of meander around. It really has nothing to do with the past, or a lack of Maggie, and I have legitimately no idea why it had to take place in the past. Which is why I put it at last place. Because it’s a flashback episode that in no way needs to be a flashback. They don’t even take advantage of having an alive Maude Flanders! It’s just so incredibly weird.


“Fland Canyon” was written by J Stewart Burns and directed by Michael Polcino, 2016.




18. “Days of Future Future”



Hey guys, you wanna talk about something really depressing? Modern flash-forward episodes! For some reason in the last decade or so the show decided to pop out several flash-forward episodes, and keep them all more or less i continuity with each other. And I hate it! Because it’s all just such a bummer. Bart’s a divorced dead-beat dad, Lisa is trapped in a loveless marriage with Milhouse, and Homer and Marge are always on the verge of divorce. It’s a terrible future, and this episode the roughest example of this. This is the episode where Homer loses Marge’s love because he keeps letting himself die and be reborn in clones for the hell of it, Bart tries to erase his memory in order to forget how depressed he is, and Lisa allows Milhouse to become a zombie because she can’t stand talking to him anymore. It’s just a smorgasbord of bummers, and I really can’t stand it.


“Days of Future Future” was written by J Stewart Burns and directed by Bob Anderson, 2014.




17. “The Kids Are All Fight”



So, when I first talked about “the Kids Are All Fight,” I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It’s a flashback episode, and one that does have a frame-story and everything, this time with the family looking at some photos from their past that were never developed. But it’s an episode that doesn’t really do anything with the flashback, and instead chooses to revel in previous, far better flashback episodes. The plot just revolves around Bart and Lisa fighting all the time, until they find themselves lost in the city alone and have to work together to get themselves to safety. That’s a fine plot I guess, but it doesn’t really get any room to breathe, because it’s just so full of references to other flash backs, primarily “Lisa’s First Word.” And those references don’t add anything. It’s just a boring flashback episode, which is one of the worst things a flashback episode can be.


“The Kids Are All Fight” was written by Rob LaZebnik and directed by Bob Anderson, 2015.




16. “Holidays of Future Passed”



“Days of Future Future” wasn’t the first time that we jumped into that episodes incredibly bleak world. We’ve actually peaked into it several times, and one of them was this episode, a tale of what these future-Simpsons were doing at Christmas. When I first watched the episode, I thought it was pretty fun. It did some new and weird things in the future, and there were some gags. But, even then I was a little put off by all the depression in this episode. It’s still set in this future where every member of the Simpsons is living their worst life, but this episode literally had Bart and Lisa sitting in the treehouse and drunken complaining that their lives have become trainwrecks. And the more this episode has sat with me the more that whole thing just bums me the hell out.


“Holidays of Future Passed” was written by J Stewart Burns and directed by Rob Oliver, 2011.



15. “Dangerous Curves”



Hey everyone, this time we get not one, but two simultaneous flashbacks! And it’s so complicated. This is an episode where we see Homer and Marge having a squabble that spans decades. We get to peak in on them when they were a young couple having an awkward vacation with the recently married Flanders’, we see them when Bart and Lisa were younger and Maggie wasn’t born yet, and we see them at modern day. And it’s just full of them bickering and questioning how their relationship makes sense, and if it’s even sustainable. Which is typically a story that I’ve grown incredibly sick of. And this one doesn’t really break that mold. But, it’s structure is at least weird enough that I find myself enjoying it. It’s an episode where they’re trying something new, and I appreciate that, even if it’s just a series of bummers.


“Dangerous Curves” was written by Ian Maxtone-Graham and Billy Kimball and directed by Matthew Faughnan, 2008.




14. “Future Drama”



Hey everyone, it’s the 350th episode! And it’s also the beginning of the dark timeline that all flash-forward episodes after it will unfortunately be visiting. “Future Drama” takes us to the end of Bart and Lisa’s high-school journeys, specifically focusing on their senior prom. And things aren’t great! We get to see Bart and his girlfriend Jenda, who in further episodes will become his ex-wife and bitter mother to his children, we see Lisa sadly dating Milhouse, and we see Homer and Marge’s relationship on the rocks. Yikes. This episode isn’t particularly funny, and it has a whole lot of depressing subject matter in it, but since it’s the beginning of the dark slide into misery for all of these characters, it kind of edges out its other siblings, since things aren’t completely depressing yet.


“Future-Drama” was written by Matt Selman and directed by Mike B Anderson, 2005.




13. “Bart to the Future”



This may be a weird opinion, but I’m not crazy about “Bart to the Future.” I’m sure it has its fans, but it’s one of those episode that just bums me out. We get a fun frame story, Bart getting a glimpse of his future from a mysterious casino-owning American Indian man, and then we jump straight into a version of the future that’s at least happier than the previously mentioned flash-forward episodes. Lisa’s the President! That’s awesome. And she’s there to fix the country after President Trump destroyed it. That’s frighting!  And Bart? Bart’s a weird bum who lives with Ralph and covers Jimmy Buffet songs in a shitty bar owned by Nelson. And it’s just sad. There’s so great gags in this episode, but overall it just makes me sad that we yet again get the impression that Bart is in for a truly terrible life. Lisa makes it out pretty great though, which I appreciate.


“Bart to the Future” was written by Dan Greaney and directed by Michael Marcantel, 2000.




12. “The Way We Weren’t”



You know something that irrationally drives me crazy? When the Simpsons mess with the canon. It’s an absolutely ridiculous thing to complain about, since this is just a weird animated sitcom that plays fast and loose with continuity, and has even had an entire episode based around the idea that you shouldn’t be too precious about canon, because it can all be shook up randomly. And yet, it bothers me when the show suddenly will decide to change something that had been established. Case in point, “The Way We Weren’t.” This is an episode that takes us back in time to when Homer and Marge were children, and first met. Although neither of them really remember it right. It turns out that unbeknownst to either of them they met at a camp when they were children, and had their first kiss with each other. In the grand scheme of things, that isn’t really something that should bug me, but it kind of does. The episode is fine though. Just an irrational nerd complaint.


“The Way We Weren’t” was written by J Stewart Burns and directed by Mike B Anderson, 2004.




11. “That 90’s Show”



Hey, speaking of futzing with the canon, how about we talk about the biggest change to anon the show has ever had? “That 90’s Show!” This is an episode that realized that the classic story of how Homer and Marge met no longer matched up with the proper time-frame for Bart and Lisa’s age, so they shifted things from the 70’s to the 90’s. Which of course means that now we get to stuff a whole bunch of 90’s gags like Homer playing in a grunge band and Marge wearing a “Rachel.” The story revolves around Marge attempting to go to college before she and Homer had Bart, and her leaving Homer for a dashing professor, leading him to find the emotional turmoil necessary to get a successful grunge band off the ground. I don’t like that the episode messed with the canon, and kind of shifted things away from episodes like “The Way We Was,” but if I can get past all of that this is a pretty solid episode.


“That ’90s Show” was written by Matt Selman and directed by Mark Kirkland, 2008.




10. “Barthood”



The last couple of seasons have given us something interesting in regards to these time-travel episodes. We’ve gotten some episodes that have a combination of flash-back and flash-forward elements. This episode focuses on Bart, and gives us a couple scenes that take place before he was ten, and after he was ten. And it’s a lot of fun. We get to see little Bart trying to figure out his place in the family and then slowly grow up, continuing to struggle. He fosters a far stronger relationship with Grandpa than we normally see, which I absolutely love, and really struggles to have the same sort of relationship with Homer. Which is kind of sad. We also see Bart have troubles with Lisa, which kind of makes things a little rough. I don’t like to see the idea of Bart and Lisa not being close when they get older, since I imagine when they would get older and find themselves they’d end up being pretty friendly with each other. It has some elements that I’m not crazy about, and some that I actually really love, and shakes out to be a pretty solid episode.


“Barthood” was written by Dan Greaney and directed by Rob Oliver, 2015.



9. “Springfield Up”



Things are now taking a serious uptick in quality, because we’ve reached the point of the list where we’re going to exclusively be talking about episodes that I like quite a bit. And it all starts here with “Springfield Up.” Now, I’ve actually already talked about this episode in my “Favorite Episodes” lists last week, so I feel like if I spend too much time talking about this episode here I’ll be beating a dead horse. Just watch this episode, it’s a solid one, and I love seeing them give us a fun flashback episode that’s structured like a documentary.


“Springfield Up” was written by Matt Warburton and directed by Chuck Sheetz, 2007.




8. “Lisa’s Wedding”


Hey, look! It’s the granddaddy of all flash-forward episodes! Before Season Six we really had only journeyed back in time, seeing stories about the Simpsons from before the time period we normally see them in. But this episode ventured into the unknown world of the future, showing us when Lisa attempted to get married to a stuffy British man named Hugh. Things don’t work out for Lisa, but we do get some seriously terrific emotional work from it when she proclaims that no matter what happens to her she’s going to love her family, and always be there for them. But, the episode is also stuffed to the gills with goofy visions of the future, showing us how various characters are going to age, and how to far-flung future of 2010 would be.


“Lisa’s Wedding” was written by Greg Daniels and directed by Jim Reardon, 1995.




7. “Mr. Lisa’s Opus”



Oh looks, another episode that I’ve talked about a whole bunch lately! “Mr. Lisa’s Opus” is the newest episode on this list, and I even listed it as my favorite episode of Season 29, at least so far. It’s basically the same sort of episode as “Barthood,” but one that focuses on Lisa this time. We see some moments from her early life all the way to her first day of college, and it’s all just really great. We get to see Lisa struggle to find herself, while constantly having her family supporting her, all with the knowledge that she’ll be a success some day. I’ve talked about this episode enough by now I think, it’s just a really solid story.


“Mr. Lisa’s Opus” was written by Al Jean and directed by Steven Dean Moore, 2017.




6. “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet”



So, this episode totally counts as a flashback episode, it’s just kind of strange. We still have a wrap-around story, this time with Bart and Lisa finding proof that Homer used to be in a popular band, leading Homer to tell them the whole story. Usually these flashback episodes focus in on the family members, and tells a story about their relationships. This episode goes in a different direction, and instead lets us have a ridiculous little story where Homer becomes a famous musician, all while parodying the entire career of the Beatles. It’s just a fantastic episode. It doesn’t really get into anything too emotional, showing us the deep bonds of family, and instead delivers one of the show’s funniest episodes. I just love this episode, and now you probably have “Baby On Board” stuck in your head, so, you’re welcome.


“Homer’s Barbershop Quartet” was written by Jeff Martin and directed by Mark Kirkland, 1993.




5. “Lisa’s Sax”



You know what type of episode really gets to me easily? Stories about Homer and Lisa, especially ones that revolve around Homer being a complete softy and realizing that he’d do anything in the world for this little girl. And this episode may be the best example of that the show has ever done. It all begins when Lisa’s saxophone is destroyed, and she realizes that she’s had it so long she doesn’t even remember when she got it. Homer then regales her in a great story where Homer realizes that while he doesn’t have the financial capabilities to foster Lisa’s gifted intelligence in all the ways that he should, he can at least give her something to help. Homer gives up some chance of personal pleasure in order to give Lisa a meaningful gift that will change her life. And he doesn’t even really hesitate. Twice! Because that’s the kind of person Homer is. He often seems very selfish, but he’ll always do whatever he can to help his kids. Especially Lisa.


“Lisa’s Sax” was written by Al Jean and directed by Dominic Polcino, 1997.




4. “I Married Marge”




I feel like if there’s any flashback episode that I tend to forget, it’s probably “I Married Marge.” And that’s a shame, because this really is a hell of an episode. It tells the story of Homer and Marge’s proposal and the birth of Bart. Which, are inextricably linked, since the only reason they got married was because of Bart. We get to see a bit of Homer and Marge’s courtship, until everything changes and they find themselves put in a position where they’re going to get married. Which is when we get to the crux of the episode, where Homer becomes terrified that he’s not going to be able to be a successful husband or father. Homer’s convinced that he’s a screw-up, and will never be able to be the person that Marge and his child-to-be needs. But, in the end, Marge shows him that he’s wrong. That he makes her happy, and that’s one of the most important parts of any relationship. They agree to make it work, no matter what, through thick or thin, and it remains one of the most emotionally satisfying endings to any flashback episode, and a guaranteed story to choke me up.


“I Married Marge” was written by Jeff Martin and directed by Jeffrey Lynch, 1991.




3. “The Way We Was”




Hey, speaking of Marge and Homer’s relationship, let’s see its beginnings! This is our first flashback episode of the series, and it began things at a serious high-point. Things begin with the family sadly finding that their television has broken, requiring them to find something to entertain themselves with. So, Homer and Marge begin regaling them in the story of how they met and fell in love. And, it’s pretty solid. Homer and Marge met in high school after both ending up in a study hall, and Homer instantly fell in love with Marge. We then see some trials and tribulations, some fights, and finally some redemption, leading the two to finally come together. There’s some aspects of the story that kind of make me feel weird, like Homer just following Marge until she falls in love with him, but by and large this remains a very affecting story that can always delight me.


“The Way We Was” was written by Al Jean, Mike Reiss, and Sam Simon and directed by David Silverman.



2. “Lisa’s First Word”




All right folks, get ready to buckle up and get the tissues out, because these last two episodes are guaranteed tear-jerkers. And they’re both about the birth of the daughters in the Simpson’s family. And the story of Lisa’s birth, and how it affected Bart is an episode that’s guaranteed to get me misty. Hell, I listed it as my favorite episode of Season 4 on last week’s lists. Because this episode is amazing. It all begins with the family attempting to convince Maggie to say her first word, which sprawls into an epic tale of Lisa’s first words. It’s primarily an episode that focuses on Bart and how he struggles with a new addition to the family and his perceived lack of attention comes as a result. Bart’s convinced that Lisa will be a constant source of difficulty in his life, someone who will just take all of the joy out of his life. But, in one of the most heart-warming endings of any Simpsons episode, we see Bart completely change his mind with the knowledge that Lisa doesn’t have to be an obstacle in his life. Her first word is his name, and he realizes that she can be his best friend, and the person closest to him. It’s a fantastic episode, and one that still gets me every time.


“Lisa’s First Word” was written by Jeff Martin and directed by Mark Kirkland, 1992




1. “And Maggie Makes Three”




And here we go, the final and in my opinion best episode featuring flashbacks and flashforwards. And, to close things out, we’re going to talk about the events surrounding Maggie’s birth. With Bart we mainly focused on Homer and Marge’ marriage, and the fear Homer went through at the prospect of being a husband and father. With Lisa we focused on Bart, and how he managed to deal with a sibling. But, for Maggie we got back to Homer, and see what happens to him when he realizes that his life is going to change yet again. The episode is primarily based around Homer in the time right before Maggie was born, with him finally hitting his stride. He’s found a way to have a dream job, he’s balanced his life with Marge, Lisa, and Bart, and everything seems to be going perfect. But then Maggie shows up and throws everything out of whack. Homer reacts to this news petulantly at first, only thinking of himself. But, when he sees Maggie for the first time he stops caring about all of that. He realizes that he can’t be selfish, because he loves her more than he can put into words, and needs to do whatever is necessary to make her and the rest of the family happy. It’s a fantastic episode, and shows off the selflessness of being in a family, and it’s my absolute favorite flashback episode of all time.


“And Maggie Makes Three” was written by Jennifer Crittenden and directed by Swinton O. Scott III, 1995.




So there we go, all of the time travel episodes! They’re so fun. Even the ones that don’t work are still a little fun, since they show us things that we normally never would see. The way that the Simpsons is structured makes it so we only see the people of Springfield in one specific context, and very little ever changes about them. So, getting to see what happened in their past, or what could happen in their futures, is a lot of fun. Yeah, sometimes it doesn’t work out, and sometimes that show posits futures or pasts that become really depressing and seem to betray the characters it’s discussing, but it’s still something new and different. You don’t see stories like this in just any show, and I love the fact that the Simpsons was never afraid of hopping around in time. Plus, it’s a format that’s almost guaranteed to give us some of the most satisfying emotional episodes, which I’m always in favor of.


















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