For 25 seasons, The Simpsons have been a staple not just of American television, but on TVs across the world. The show gained much of its longevity by the strength of its earlier seasons, however many now claim that the show has since degraded. Personally I find this to be true, as the show has shifted from focusing on character-based wit to a heavy focus on pop culture references.
On a blog I host elsewhere, I watched and reviewed every episode from the first 24 seasons in just over a full year and then the same for the 25th season as it aired, giving each episode a score based on loosely-defined criteria. Recently, I've compared the scores for every episode with the writers of those episodes, and figured out which writers whose episodes I've been fond of, or disapproved.
For reference, many early "anthology" episodes, such as the Treehouse of Horrors, had different writers for each of the three segments, so those writers are credited for writing a third of an episode and their score for those episodes is accounted for appropriately. To be eligible, a writer or writer duo must have written at least 5 full episodes. With that, here are my top three Simpsons writers.
Top Three Simpsons Writers
|Writer||First Sn||Last Sn||# of Eps||Avg Score|
5 (+1 Anth)
Bill Oakley/Josh Weinstein
11 (+1 Anth)
As much as I like Keeler as a writer - only Conan O'Brien had a higher episode average for me but only wrote three episodes - a couple of Keeler's episodes have been controversial. The most notable of which was Season 9's The Principal and the Pauper - the episode where Principal Skinner was confirmed to be a fraud named Armin Tamzarian when the real Seymour Skinner returns to Springfield - was absolutely hated by fans and critics alike by basically destroying Skinner's character and canon. Even if you try to ignore that epsiode's supposed canon (and its kinda silly to try to give a 25-season show with nobody aging canon), Skinner's demeanor in later episodes changed from him being a somewhat square war vet to a complete pushover of a man and this episode helped spark that change.
Regardless, I still liked a lot of the jokes and humor the episode provided, and if you went into the episode just looking for some laughs, the episode is more than capable of doing so.
Another episode Keeler wrote, A Star is Burns, was also controversial for basically being a crossover episode with the short-lived The Critic. However, and I might be a bit forgiving because I am a big fan of The Critic, but despite that A Star is Burns is one of the best episodes of the show regardless, brimming with jokes and a somewhat touching reflection of the character Barney Gumble.
If nothing else, Keeler did an excellent job of taking absurb plots or scenarios and making the most out of them, such as Two Bad Neighbors, the episode where George H.W. Burns becomes Homer's neighbor, another top-notch episode.
Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein
The duo were the showrunners for The Simpsons for most of Seasons 7 and 8, not writing any of the episodes in that span, but for several seasons before that point Oakley and Weinstein were top notch.
My favorite episode from the duo - and this is a bit surprising - is Lady Bouvier's Lover, an episode focused on one of my favorite characters in Grampa who shines brightly in this episode, and the use of Mr. Burns near the episode's end was, well, excellent too.
The most famous episodes the two wrote were perhaps the most famous episodes of the whole show: the two-parter Who Shot Mr. Burns?, the Season 6 finale and Season 7 premiere which tasked viewers of figuring out who shot Burns in Part 1, only to find out Maggie accidentally did it in Part 2. Part 2 is among the best episodes in the series and was the final episode written by the duo before they became showrunners.
Collier only wrote five episodes for the show between Seasons 6 and 8, but all of them were pretty good. The best episode he wrote was The Springfield Connection, the episode where Marge joins the police force, mostly because of the excellent use of multiple characters including the corrupt Chief Wiggum, Moe and his carhole and the bribe-insistent Apu.
You may wonder how high up the legendary John Swartzwelder ranked. With the five-episode minimum in place, Swartzwelder ranked 9th, with his 53 episodes and two anthology bits averaging a score of 8.5. If you include only his works from Seasons 3-9, he would've been ranked as highly as Keeler, but many of his episodes from Season 11 onwards were not too great overall, which may indicate the problem wasn't with him.
Season 13 was the first season to have Al Jean as the showrunner, a position he's held ever since. With the show nowhere near as good during this time frame, its easy to pin blame on Jean for the show's current decline. However, writers still have to write up jokes, so these three writers - who each have written at least five full episodes - are among the worst the show has seen.
Bottom Three Simpsons Writers
|Writer||First Sn||Last Sn||# of Eps||Avg Score|
22 (+1 Anth)
John Frink (solo)
It doesn't seem like Chun writes for the show anymore which is a bit of a shame because the last episode he wrote - Season 21's Treehouse of Horror XX - was actually pretty good. Although, had he not of written that, his average score would've been worse than Tim Long's.
The other five episodes written by Chun were all boring, dull affairs. The worst of which was Season 18's Jazzy and the Pussycats, an episode where Bart learns the drums so well he joins a jazz group before Lisa is able to. It featured a White Stripes cameo that was so bad its worth turning off the TV at that point (poor celebrity cameos have varied in recent years, there's no real trend when it comes to them being good or bad).
Frink's score reflects only episodes written by him alone. He earlier wrote multiple episodes alongside the late Don Payne which were much better than his solo work which would say something about Frink if Payne's solo work were any good itself.
Frink has written 14 episodes across the last 11 seasons, none of them I consider to be great. The best of them is Season 21's The Bob Next Door, where Sideshow Bob literally swaps faces with another inmate that was about to be released so he could try to kill Bart again, had some good moments and your typically superb Kelsey Grammar voicework but still wasn't all that great overall.
Frink's worst episode was the first episode he wrote solo, the Season 15 abomination Bart-Mangled Banner. In this episode, Bart unwittingly moons the American flag, leaving everyone in Springfield to consider the Simpsons un-American. The episode basically spent the entire time mocking the "American or bust" frenzy of the time the episode came out while also throwing out your typical "the government is still awful" comedy as well. None of it works at all, and what's left is an awful episode that is not funny at all.
Tim Long has been an awful writer for over half the show's existence. Worse yet, he's been able to write 22 episodes plus an anthology bit - only Swartzwelder has written more at this point. Of those, only the anthology bit Desperately Xeeking Xena and the Season 12 episode Skinner's Sense of Snow - Long's second written episode - were great. Here, now, are a list of awful episodes written by Tim Long.
- Saddlesore Galactica: in this episode, horse jockeys are secretly elves who make a living off of horse racing.
- New Kids on the Blecch: Bart, Milhouse, Nelson and Ralph become a boy band that's secretly a military ploy to subliminally get kids to join the navy. Featuring way too much N'Sync.
- Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass: Homer starts a new career helping athletes showboat, and Ned wants to make violent bible movies. Somehow, the two team up to do a Super Bowl halftime show. Its as awful as it sounds.
- You Kent Always Say What You Want: Kent Brockman gets fired for yelling an expletive, then joins Lisa in a crusage against conservative media until conservative media rehires Kent to shut him up. As an side, politically-heavy episodes are almost always awful and agenda-ridden but maybe its just because I'm politically lethargic.
- Moe Goes from Rags to Riches: During Moe's latest bout with depression, his rag begin to discuss its history and origins for some weird, probably pointless reason.
- Lisa Goes Gaga: Lady Gaga voices herself in this episode where she tries to help fix Lisa's self esteem! Yay?
- Love is a Many-Splintered Thing: Bart is desperate to be with a girlfriend right now and eventually meets back up with the girl he already established a relationship with just eleven episodes prior in another episode ALSO written by Tim Long (Moonshine River) only to act stupid enough for her to break up with him. Quality continuity control, Tim!
- Married to the Blob: the Comic Book Guy befriends and eventually marries a Japanese girl looking to free herself from her stuck-up father. Do you like references to things without any effort to produce comedy? This episode still isn't for you! Its literally my least favorite episode of the entire series.
Thanks to my research, I can go into Season 26 knowing which episodes will be awful by looking to see who wrote it.
Scores and information for episodes acquired via my side project, Yellow Jay Sherman.