When a show like The Simpsons has been on air for as long as it has, you can expect your fair share of "special" episodes. But just how many are there? Probably more than you think.
Firstly, there's the annual Treehouse of Horror episodes. But there are also several clip shows, and more recently, new three part episodes, transplanting Simpsons characters into different situations. I've listed them all below with my comments.
There are now 13 of these episodes, and most have been great. They are a chance for the writers to use the characters in different ways, and do things that would be considered unrealistic in normal episodes.
My favorite so far is 1F04 Treehouse of Horror IV, where Homer sells his soul for a donut, Bart tackles a gremlin on the school bus, and Mr. Burns is a vampire.
My least favorite has to be the latest one, DABF19 Treehouse of Horror XIII. The first segment is great, one of the best ever. However, the other two segments fall flat. In fact the middle one is the worst ever.
The very first Simpsons episode, billed as a Christmas special. It was a great introduction to the Simpson family, as well as many other characters. In essence, it is a regular episode, just revolving around Christmas.
I haven't included the other Christmas specials on this list, just because they're not that special, but if you're wondering, they are: 3F07 Marge Be Not Proud, 5F07 Miracle on Evergreen Terrace, BABF07 Grift of the Magi, and DABF02 She of Little Faith.
The very first, and definitely the best, clip show. The reason this is so popular is because it's almost not a clip show - it's a regular Simpsons episode, with clips from older episodes. I guess that makes it a clip show, but it's different.
The episode starts out on April Fools Day, and Bart is trying to get Homer back for the prank he played. In fact, nearly half the episode is gone by the time we see any clips. The clips are so well chosen and fit into the episode perfectly. It has not been matched since.
The title sums it up perfectly: another clip show. This isn't bad, but there are very few funny moments, outside of the clips. It's good to see the montage of Mmm's and prank calls to Moe's, but when you've seen it once, you've seen it a million times.
The third clip show. Now this one works, mainly because the clips are shown in a different way. Troy McClure hosts a show looking back at the Simpsons' history, from the shorts to recent episodes. Another thing which makes this episode great is the outtakes from previous episodes, and the alternate ending to "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" All in all, a great episode.
One of my favorite episodes. This is a chance to see a wide range of characters in their own mini-episodes. Basically just a chance for everyone to shine. There's just so much going on in this episode, it's hilarious all the way through. I especially like the Pulp Fiction parody.
Ugh. Absolutely the worst special ever made! Normally, moving characters to different situations, as happens is most specials, is a recipe for hilarity, but in this case, it fell flat. The first segment, Chief Wiggum, P.I., was pretty good, but the other two just destroy an otherwise decent episode.
The last segment was particularly lame. It wasn't even so lame it was funny, it was way past that. The only thing that made me laugh was Hans Moleman's poem.
Apparently, this is the fifth clip show so far. But I count it as the fourth, unless they count The Simpsons Spin-off Showcase. This episode is a difficult one to review. The only thing which saves it from being really bad is the music. I love the music on The Simpsons, and so for me, this episode was a perfect chance to relive musical highlights.
Some people hate this episode, though. And I can see why... it's just another clip show. But the difference between this and Another Simpsons Clip Show is that it is not clip-after-clip, it starts with a real storyline, and the clips are interlinked with the great "singing family" parts, which for me makes this episode watchable.
The first of the new three segment specials, this doesn't disappoint. Again, it's a way to transplant Simpsons characters into new and exciting situations, and it works. I think the fact that most of the family dislike church makes the bible stories even funnier. All three segments are great, but my favorite is Milhouse as Moses.
The best Simpsons special ever! This episode portrays The Simpsons as a live action show, which just opens the door for a realm of possibilities, most of which are fulfilled.
Interviews with the cast, the story of how fame tore the family apart, and their eventual reunion, just make this episode stand way above the rest. I loved things such as Homer getting addicted to painkillers, and other smaller details. I can't say anything else except: fantastic!
Another completely unique special. A parody of Run, Lola Run, this episode doesn't disappoint. Involving the whole family in three different, but interlocking, stories works so well. The attention to detail in this episode is great as well - like Bart's bedside clock and other jokes not directly related to the storyline.
This is a variation on Simpsons Bible Stories, and doesn't disappoint. The Simpsons meet a hobo on a train who tells them three stories or early American lore. Again, this is pretty original, and has many funny moments. The only bit I don't like is the sponge-bathing bits.
This wasn't a bad episode, but after Simpsons Bible Stories and Simpsons Tall Tales it's kinda lost the originality. Although the premise is different - this one is three stories from a children's book - it's basically the same kind of thing.
The funniest moment in this episode is when Hans Moleman appears as God in the Joan of Arc story. And the family dancing to the Ghostbusters theme at the end, although pretty random, had me in stitches.
Yet another clip show. This one is better than Another Simpsons Clip Show, but it's by no means the best clip show. The setting - the Friars Club roasting Homer - isn't too bad, but the Forrest Gump parody at beginning of this episode was the highlight. I also didn't like Kang and Kudos appearing, because they should only appear in the Treehouse of Horror episodes. Overall, a reasonable episode.
Not technically a special, but it is the supposed to be the 300th episode (though it's not actually). It's a decent episode, but there are several things which demean this episode, such as crappy guest stars appearing. There wasn't really any need for them, a better storyline could have been made without them.
But the main takeaway from this episode is that this extraordinary series about a dysfunctional family of five yellow-skinned characters can still be so good after 300 episodes... a feat no other television show has ever managed.