Airdate Feb. 18, 1993
For years, we chuckled at Homer's sloppy, overheated love for beer. But all that hilarious brain-cell killing was never really addressed...until this episode, in which Homer -- riding high on a Duff brewery tour buzz -- gets busted for DWI and reluctantly heeds Marge's request to quit drinking for a month. Not only does ''Duffless'' tweak an unrelenting alcohol culture (a billboard flips between ''Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk'' and ''It's Always Time for Duff''), it deftly depicts poignant, if grudging, emotional growth for Homer: After bemoaning his newfound sobriety at a baseball stadium (''I never realized how boring this game is''), he forgoes a reward beer to bike into the sunset with Marge.
12. I LOVE LISA (pictured)
Airdate Feb. 11, 1993
Lisa gives sad little Ralph Wiggum a Valentine's Day pity card, featuring a smiling train and a special greeting. ''You Choo-Choo-Choose Me?'' marvels a desperately happy Ralph. Anyone who's suffered an unrequited crush will find this 30 minutes wonderfully squirmy. Lisa ignores Homer's advice for warding off Wiggum (''Six simple words: I'm not gay, but I'll learn'') and ends up dumping him live on Krusty's 29th Anniversary Show (''You can actually pinpoint the second when his heart rips in half,'' enthuses Bart, watching in slo-mo). But ''I Love Lisa'' ultimately reveals ''The Simpsons''' unexpected sweet side, as when Ralph cheerfully reads a make-up card from a repentant Lisa: '''Let's Bee Friends.' It says 'bee' and has a picture of a bee on it!''
13. THE CITY OF NEW YORK VS. HOMER SIMPSON
Airdate Sept. 21, 1997
The show dares ask the question ''Why did I drink all that crab juice?'' A bingeing Barney ditches Homer's car in the Big Apple, prompting a family trip to retrieve it. Change-of-venue episodes are typically uninspired, but this ''City'' is frantically busy -- skewering foreign-food vendors (five words: Khlau Kalash on a Stick), crazy subway dudes, and gawking tourists. A Broadway parody about the Betty Ford clinic called ''Kickin' It'' is uncomfortably catchy; even bits about the Twin Towers are so clever, you'll smile instead of wincing. Plus, Marge offers an admonition for anti-Gothamites: ''Of course you'll have a bad impression of New York if you only focus on the pimps and the C.H.U.D.'s.'' Put that on a T-shirt, and we've got something.
14. TWENTY-TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT SPRINGFIELD
Airdate April 14, 1996
Working with animation grants ''The Simpsons''' writers the liberty to do things that live-action shows' staffs can only dream of. They can create a supporting cast that's several dozen characters deep and produce episodes that rely on elaborate concepts rather than on straightforward plots. ''Twenty-two...'' plays to these strengths. Taking its title (if nothing else) from the movie ''Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould,'' the outing is a Whitman's Sampler of Springfieldians, giving such fan favorites as Snake, Chief Wiggum, and Dr. Nick Riviera their brief moments at center stage. (It even finds time to supply the hillbilly Cletus with a toe-tapping theme song.) If that's not enough, it wedges in a priceless ''Pulp Fiction'' parody, replete with a nuanced discussion of the difference between Krusty Burger and McDonald's. Let's see ''Yes, Dear'' try that.
15. HOMER AT THE BAT
Airdate Feb. 20, 1992
When Mr. Burns recruits nine all-star major-leaguers for his company softball team, what ensues is less an indictment of America's pastime than a loopy celebration of the sport's long-lost innocence, a paean to pro sluggers as both heroes (Jose Canseco misses the big game because he's rushing into a burning house to rescue a baby -- and a cat, and a player piano...) and softies (Darryl Strawberry sheds a tear at Bart and Lisa's bleacher heckling). It was also early proof that ''The Simpsons'' could juggle a squad of guest stars without giving the family short shrift: Who drives in the winning run when a ball bounces off his head? Homer, of course.