When Fox announced that it would pay tribute to the late Marcia Wallace by re-airing one of her Simpsons character’s greatest episodes, there was only one logical choice: “Bart the Lover,” a gem from season 3 in which Bart plays a cruel prank on his teacher, Edna Krabappel, by answering her personal ad with a series of letters from a fake dreamboat named Woodrow. Like all the best episodes of The Simpsons, “Bart the Lover” is both hilarious and poignant. It also helped Wallace snag an Emmy in 1992. (She was nominated again in 1994 for a guest spot on Murphy Brown.)
But while “Bart the Lover” may be Mrs. Krabappel’s best showcase, it’s certainly not her only one. After all, Wallace voiced Edna in a staggering 178 episodes altogether, as of the new half-hour that will premiere Sunday. (The Simpsons plans to retire her character, though the show hasn’t yet explained how.)
So how can a Simpsons fan honor Springfield Elementary’s most bawdy, jaded, surprisingly sympathetic educator this weekend? First, get the name right; it’s kra-BA-ppel, not Crandall. Second, spend a few hours rewatching these five episodes, which represent the best of Edna. And sorry, “Nedna” fans, whoever you are; nothing about that random pairing makes the cut.
Honorable Mention: “Bart’s Friend Falls in Love” (season 3, episode 23)
Though it’s not a Krabappel-centric episode, it does feature one of her funniest moments. The scene: Edna’s fourth-grade students watch in horror as the main characters of Fluffy Bunny’s Guide to You-Know What give a real-time lesson in sex education. Edna, deadpanning from the back of the classroom, cigarette in hand: “She’s faking it.”
5. “Special Edna” (season 14, episode 7)
Finally, put-upon Edna gets a little recognition! At Lisa’s urging, Bart nominates Krabappel for a Teacher of the Year Award. Much to everyone’s surprise, she ends up being a contender – the nominating committee can’t believe anyone has managed to actually teach the notorious Bart Simpson. (One of the judges: “I thought he was an urban legend!”) And while Edna’s ultimately beaten by “an inner city math teacher who taught teenage gang members that differential equations are more powerful than bullets,” the episode does end on a happy note when Principal Skinner finally proposes. (Just pretend the chronicle of Edna’s love life ended there.)
4. “Bart Gets a ‘Z’ ” (season 21, episode 2)
Shades of “Bart the Lover”: Once again, the eldest Simpson child orchestrates a mean joke on Mrs. Krabappel, then guiltily tries to set things right. This time, it goes beyond false love letters – Bart and his pals spike their teacher’s coffee, leading her to make a drunken spectacle of herself…and eventually get fired. Though obviously the status quo is restored by the time the end credits roll, this episode gets extra points for delivering a Golden Age Simpsons-style gut punch: a distraught Edna dressing down Bart by saying, “No matter what you’ve done, I always thought there was a spark of decency in you, Bart Simpson. But I was wrong. I never thought I’d say this to a child, but you are bad on the inside.”
3. “The PTA Disbands!” (season 6, episode 21)
Spoiler alert: The PTA doesn’t actually disband. But Edna does lead a teachers’ strike, showing off her heretofore unseen leadership skills and going toe-to-toe with her eventual paramour Principal Skinner. As a result, we get plenty of excellent public school satire (Lunchlady Doris: “There’s very little meat in these gym mats”), plus another moment of triumph for Edna. Thankfully, turning the school into a school-slash-prison solves all of its budgetary problems. (Until the following week, when the prison of course totally disappears.) Oh, and lest I forget: Purple monkey dishwasher!
2. “Bart Gets an ‘F’ ” (season 2, episode 1)
This early episode – The Simpsons’ 14th ever – gave Edna her first real spotlight. After repeatedly failing a history test, Bart learns that he’ll have to repeat the fourth grade unless he can eke out a passing grade. In the end, he manages a score of 59 – failing by a single point. But when the teary kid reveals that he actually did study for the test (“Oh, now I know how George Washington felt when he surrendered Fort Necessity to the French in 1754!”), Mrs. K takes pity on him and changes the grade to a D-. That act of compassion proved that there was more to Edna than surly snark, opening up scads of story possibilities.
1. “Grade School Confidential” (season 8, episode 19)
“Grade School Confidential” isn’t just a great Edna episode – it’s a great episode in general, stuffed with endlessly quotable lines and a big, beating heart. Here begins the long, sordid saga of Edna and Skinner, a relationship born in Martin Prince’s pink playhouse and continued, among other places, in the Springfield Elementary janitor’s closet. (Ralph Wiggum, in one of his own finest moments: “Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and then the baby looked at me!”) Never again would Edna be as funny, heartbreaking, and exuberant as she is in “Grade School Confidential” – and no matter how the show ended up twisting her relationship with Skinner, its beginning is actually kind of beautiful. (Edna, in response to this show of sentimentality: “HA!”)