The Simpsons vacation episodes, ranked

Screenshot: The Simpsons, “Bart Vs. Australia”, The Simpsons, “Mr. Lisa Goes To Washington”

As it’s done with every other cornerstone of family sitcoms, The Simpsons has taken the vacation episode to new heights (and lows). In its 29 seasons—and counting—the animated series has journeyed to France, Australia, China, Iceland, and the town of Bronson, where even the children are stone-cold badasses. Over time, though, these travelogues expanded past the occasional family adventure to include business trips, diplomatic missions, ill-advised romantic gestures, and helping some secondary character find themselves.

The standard for these travel episodes was set all the way back in season six, and ever since then, The Simpsons has only occasionally recreated that balance of cartoon shenanigans and regional humor. Now as summer looms, The A.V. Club is ranking these episodes of a vacational nature, counting down from the Worst. Detours. Ever. to the best trips. (The only rule is that their destination has to be a real place, i.e. no Itchy & Scratchy Land, no Little Pwagmattasquarmsettport, and Hollywood only barely counts.)

29. “Lisa Gets The Blues” (season 29, episode 17): New Orleans

You’d think that an episode about Lisa’s crisis of musical faith being cured by a family trip to New Orleans and an inspirational appearance of the jazzman nephew of Lisa’s late mentor Bleeding Gums Murphy would carry some emotional weight. But while this season-29 episode’s truly impressive visual depiction of the streets of the Big Easy goes a long way toward erasing any lingering resentment over Oh, Streetcar!’s musical slanders, “Lisa Gets The Blues” largely neglects everything else in favor of a long, long montage of Homer the food monster chomping his way through literally every signature dish in town. To be fair, the animators’ rendering of a dozen or so varieties of po’ boy are pretty satisfying, as far as empty comedy calories go. [Dennis Perkins]

28. “To Courier With Love” (season 27, episode 20): France

The Simpsons has been to France a few times now, from Bart’s legendary misadventures in the exchange student program to that time when Carl wound up having sex with French first lady Carla Bruni. But in this season-27 episode, writer Bill Odenkirk strikes an admirable balance between the expected “rude French” and “ugly Americans” stereotypes and unassumingly sweet character comedy. Homer smuggles a snake into Paris (because he’s Homer), leading to the return of Bart’s French nemeses Cesar and Ugolin, whose criminal schemes and Simpson-pursuing skills remain wanting. (“It’s not that hard,” muses one, guiltily, after Homer gives them the slip.) As ever in a travelogue episode, the family tours the local hot spots, although there’s a delicately clever care taken in the animation and jokes here that bumps the episode up a notch, as when Homer, attempting to make things up to the affectingly neglected Marge, takes her on a silly, speckled tour of Paris’ “pointillism district.” [Dennis Perkins]

27. “You Don’t Have To Live Like A Referee” (season 25, episode 16): Brazil

The show’s second trip to Brazil is a twofer on top of a twofer: It’s a “Homer gets a new job” episode as well as a “The Simpsons are going to…,” and the running-of-the-bulls setup in the couch gag means twice the international travel. It’s almost too economical, not only reusing its South American setting and the show’s Xuxa stand-in, Xoxchitla, but pinning Homer’s stint as a World Cup official to the prior soccer-themed installment “Marge Gamer.” Lisa’s improvised speech about Homer’s unsung heroism keeps him unflappable in the face of gamblers attempting to fix the tournament, but despite that emotional through-line, the episode is mostly memorable for presaging a real-world FIFA corruption scandal. Homer refuses a variety of illegal payments in an interchangeable picture-postcard locations, but one Simpson winds up enriched by the experience: Marge really gets to put her Portuguese lessons to work. [Erik Adams]

26. “The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed” (season 21, episode 16): Israel

Another Homer and Ned on-the-road episode sees Flanders shamed into bringing the Simpsons along to the Holy Land as a test of his Christian forbearance. To be fair, Job never had to live next to Homer, as Ned is confronted with the spectacle of Homer doing nude Slip ’N Slide runs during Bible study. The mismatched pilgrims in this season-21 entry tour the requisite Jerusalem sights, rendered throughout with a beige sameness that doesn’t do the Jerusalem tourist board any favors. (Neither does guest Sacha Baron Cohen, humorously rambling as the world’s rudest tour guide.) Homer is Homer, decked out in all-USA jerkass-wear and brandishing his Carolina Panthers credit card while ordering cold cuts on his falafel and napping in Jesus’ preferred spot in the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre, while the episode takes a few solid jabs at Israel. (“Your American tax dollars at work,” reads a sign at the airport.) But the inevitable Homer-Ned rapprochement comes whooshing past like the sandstorm that traps Homer in the desert, leaving him with a sun-baked case of Jerusalem syndrome, his messianic fervor at least uniting Jerusalem’s three major religions in the universal love of delicious, delicious chicken. Mmmm, chicken. [Dennis Perkins]

25. “The Town” (season 28, episode three): Boston

Calling on a writers’ room infamously stuffed with Harvard nerds, the Simpsons’ season-28 trip to Boston scores a lot of comic points for how lived-in and specific the Beantown-bashing is. Of course, since much of the plot sees Homer dragging the family on a “hate-cation” after the suspiciously Patriots-esque Boston football team cheats its way to a win over the hapless Springfield Atoms, there’s plenty of ammunition for the episode’s running attacks on that franchise’s, let’s call it “moral relativism” when it comes to winning. (“You gotta cover the mascot. That’s a no-brainer,” brays one Boston football barfly, voiced by Boston-based Bill Burr, one of many Massachusetts celebrities on hand for local color.) But what really makes this particular Simpsons destination episode work so well is its lovely metaphor of “the third ball,” calling as it does on the uniquely New England sport of candlepin bowling. Homer, overcoming his prejudices alongside everyone but Bart, briefly sees the possibilities of a Boston do-over, his measly two bowling balls supplemented by a forgiving, region-specific third. [Dennis Perkins]

24. “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bangalore” (season 17, episode 17): India

What is it with foreign travel that makes Homer imagine himself as a god? Here, unwisely selected by Mister Burns to head up the nuclear plant’s new, union-free digs in India, Homer loses himself, Apocalypse Now style, once the Indian employees flock to his book-purloined management style. (Apparently outsourced workers really like coffee breaks and doughnuts, too.) Considering the current controversy surrounding The Simpsons’ depiction of Apu, this scattered season-17 trip to India at least brings in an actual native speaker, Indian journalist Meher Tatna, to voice “various Indian women,” according to IMDB. (Hank Azaria does pop up briefly as Apu’s identical-sounding cousin Kavi.) And, like the show’s wobbly characterization of Apu, the episode alternates between pointing and laughing at those wacky Indian ways (Homer offends a literal sacred cow and dresses like Temple Of Doom’s Mola Ram in god mode), and making everyone in the country a whole lot smarter than the visiting Springfielders. [Dennis Perkins]

23. “Fland Canyon” (season 27, episode 19): The Grand Canyon

This extended flashback episode, about a predictably disastrous Grand Canyon trip taken by the combined Simpson and Flanders clans, gets lost more in cruel, cheap gags and some misguided characterizations than do Homer and Ned once their donkey-riding guide plummets to his death. (And is never mentioned again.) The definition of a tossed-off outing (both the episode and the trip), “Fland Canyon” also short-changes its national-treasure setting with some indifferent animation and design (how hard is it to draw a scorpion fight, really?), and a surprisingly snippy Flanders family, considering that the story happens minus two entire years of bad neighborino behavior. And, once Ned and Homer find themselves on a leaky raft full of life-saving junk food, all it recalls is the simple comic poetry of Ned’s long ago “Godspeed, little doodle.” [Dennis Perkins]

22. “Havana Wild Weekend” (season 28, episode seven)/“Throw Grampa From The Dane” (season 29, episode 20) (tie): Cuba/Denmark

Traveling to countries with universal healthcare in two separate episodes in consecutive seasons is as much a reflection of the dismal state of U.S. healthcare as it is the tapped creative well in The Simpsons’ writers’ room. But in seasons 28 and 29, respectively, Homer takes Grampa to Cuba and Denmark for medical treatment. Naturally, the rest of the Simpsons tag along so they, too, can marvel at the classic American cars that fill the streets of Havana, as well as hyper-efficient Danish design. Socialism gets a bit of a drubbing in both cases (“In Denmark, we have socialized tattooing. And with that, we are out of money.”), as does the Simpsons’ country of origin (“Foreigners are no longer welcome”). The Cuba outing actually stays the course, and resolves Grampa’s health issues, which stemmed from his loss of productivity. But after making the necessary Hamlet reference, “Throw Grampa From The Dane” wanders into the all-too-familiar territory of Marge and Homer’s ever-tenuous marriage, as she briefly chooses to remain in Copenhagen. When Westworld’s Sidse Babett Knudsen shows up as one of the many beautiful characters who unaccountably fall for Homer, it’s really time to pack it in. [Danette Chavez]

21. “In The Name Of The Grandfather” (season 20, episode 14): Ireland

The episode that executive producer Al Jean referred to as an ode to Ireland, “In The Name Of The Grandfather” rides the line between send-up and loving homage better than most of the show’s global jaunts. Writer Matt Marshall envisions Ireland (a.k.a. “East Boston” and “Freckle Bog”) as both the “land of poetry and the land of bad poetry,” where U2 moves your belongings in mysterious ways and there’s boiled cabbage on tap. Even if you haven’t enjoyed multiple pints of Guinness (which is apparently just “bog water and chocolate syrup”), you’ll promptly forget what brings the Simpsons to Dublin in the first place. But once there, The Simpsons explores the modernization of the Irish capital—whose smoking ban inspired the episode—with some help from Colm Meaney and Glen Hansard. This “affectionate love letter to Ireland” became a part of the show’s 20th-anniversary celebrations, and managed not to rub any of the Emerald Isle’s inhabitants the wrong way. [Danette Chavez]

20. “The Regina Monologues” (season 15, episode four): England

The last Simpsons episode bearing a writing credit for the great John Swartzwelder, “The Regina Monologues” unsurprisingly captures some of the magic of the show’s heyday. Loaded with gags and quotable dialogue—“I’m acting the way America acts best: unilaterally!”—the episode also boasts an impressive array of guests, including Ian McKellen, J.K. Rowling, and Tony Blair, the first (and only) sitting head of state to appear on the show. The Simpsons has a long history of satirizing the British, but “The Regina Monologues” unsurprisingly turns Homer into the ugly American—“We’re big-shot tourists from everyone’s favorite country, the USA. We saved your ass in Vietnam and shared our prostitutes with Hugh Grant!”—who causes an international incident. [Kyle Ryan]

19. “Goo Goo Gai Pan” (season 16, episode 12): China

More so than her MacGyver fandom, Selma Bouvier’s loneliness was her defining characteristic, used to justify wedding after wedding after wedding. Her desire for a child was introduced in “Selma’s Choice,” but the writers hit snooze on Selma’s biological clock until season 16. Even then, it’s just an excuse to get the Simpsons to China, where Homer poses as a renowned acrobat and Selma’s husband so she can adopt a baby. Lucy Liu guest stars as a Chinese bureaucrat who finds common ground with Selma, who also works for a “cruel and faceless empire: the DMV.” But first, they take in the sights, including the Great Wall Of China and Mao Zedong’s tomb, where Homer comments on the chairman’s “angelic” face and genocidal tendencies. There are some solid digs at oppressive regimes, including a plaque in Tiananmen Square that claims “nothing happened” there in 1989. By the time the episode aired in 2005, The Simpsons had been on many other (and funnier) trips, but “Goo Goo Gai Pan” did carry on the tradition of being banned in the country that served as its setting. [Danette Chavez]

18. “The Bart Wants What It Wants” (season 13, episode 11): Canada

Canada hosts the Simpsons late in this season-13 episode, when Bart convinces the family to take him to Toronto for a last-ditch effort to reunite with ex-girlfriend Greta Wolfcastle (Reese Witherspoon), daughter of McBain himself, who’s in Canada for a movie. This being the show’s first trip up north, it had 11 seasons’ worth of jokes about what Homer calls “America Junior” to unload: Rush song in soundtrack, check. Jokes about curling, check. Comically exaggerated Canadian accents, check. Jokes about universal healthcare, check. Random takedown of Canadians’ inferior basketball skills, check. “It’s so clean and bland,” Marge says as the family arrives in Toronto. “I’m home!” Elsewhere, on the set for a film called Canadian Graffiti, a teen spray-paints “OBEY THE RULES” on a building. If Canada took it hard, it only had to wait until season 14, when the entire show stopped to sincerely praise—and sing—the country’s national anthem, “O Canada.” [Kyle Ryan]

17. “The Saga Of Carl” (season 24, episode 21): Iceland

Does Carl, of Lenny and Carl fame, need an origin story? Not necessarily, but there’s only so much unchartered territory left to a show in its 24th season, as The Simpsons was when “The Saga Of Carl” debuted. That means Carl’s past, his friendship with the guys down at Moe’s, and his heretofore unknown ancestral homeland, Iceland. The trip is a silly justification of his throwaway joke of a surname—the Nordic patronym Carlson—but the way the show transports itself to Iceland is anything but half-assed. Sigur Rós came aboard to give an otherworldly sound to their “craphole island that looks like the moon and smells like rotten eggs” (Homer’s words), and while the country came in for a ribbing thanks to its taste for fermented shark, “The Saga Of Carl” revels in all its natural (black sand beaches, geothermal phenomena) and supernatural (trolls, fairies) splendor. Aurora borealis? At this time of year, in this part of the world, localized entirely outside of Homer, Moe, and Lenny’s rental car? Can you see it? Yes, but Moe’s too distracted to notice. [Erik Adams]

16. “The Italian Bob” (season 17, episode eight): Italy

This season-17 episode hits a trifecta of moth-eaten Simpsons premises: Not only does Homer fall ass-backwards into a trip abroad (to Italy) and a new-ish job (driver/courier for Mr. Burns), but Sideshow Bob returns (along with Kelsey Grammer, who voices the character). Although Yeardley Smith does admirable work in calling out the names of cheeses, Bob is actually in the driver’s seat throughout. The Europhile takes to life in the Italian countryside like a gondolier’s oar to water, going so far as to chastise the native speakers for “getting lazy on the second vowel” of their “buongiorno”s. “The Italian Job” is ultimately as light on humor as it is Mafia references, but one thing writer John Frink and director Mark Kirkland get right is the pairing of character and place. Sideshow Bob and Tuscany are a natural fit, even if Krusty and Pagliacci are not. [Danette Chavez]

15. “Blame It On Lisa” (season 13, episode 15): Brazil

The rare “The Simpsons are going to…” episode that ends with “get us sued,” season-13 episode “Blame It On Lisa” upset its host country of Brazil so much that executive producer James L. Brooks actually had to make a halfhearted apology to the city of Rio de Janeiro, lest its tourist board sue Fox for defamation. Hey, the episode wasn’t that bad: Sure, it portrayed all Brazilians as mustache-sporting, conga-dancing mishmashes of Latin American stereotypes, living in a dangerous, third-world slum crawling with rats and anacondas—but its Xuxa parody was pretty funny. The Simpsons’ creative team was publicly taken aback by Rio’s response to its homage to the “lovely city and people of Rio de Janeiro,” which revolves around the kidnapping of a poverty-stricken orphan, and it offered amends not only by suggesting the president of Brazil come fight Homer on Celebrity Boxing, but also calling Brazil “the most disgusting place we’ve ever gone” in a later episode. Still, perhaps their greatest insult was boldly returning to Brazil some 12 seasons later for the tepid “You Don’t Have To Live Like A Referee,” an episode not even worth a minor international incident. [Sean O’Neal]

14. “Moe’N’a Lisa” (season 18, episode six): Vermont

Lisa and Moe, writing poetry together? Iiiiit happened. Typical of a year that also found Lisa paired off with Fat Tony and Cletus’ respective kids, season 18’s “Moe’N’a Lisa” still offers some bright spots amid its rather algorithmic premise—all of them located in Vermont. When Lisa discovers the surly bartender’s beautifully wounded soul and helps him channel it into a literary sensation, Moe and the family head to the Wordloaf conference in rustic New England, home of hayrides, duckpin bowling, and maple-syrup jokes. There’s not much barb to the regional humor (“Did you know that candles are made by losers?” is as pointed as it gets), but at least “Moe’N’a Lisa” abounds with classy literati guest voices, including Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal, and a petty grudge match between Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen that’s worth the trip alone. [Sean O’Neal]

13. “Beyond Blunderdome” (season 11, episode one): Hollywood

It would be 11 seasons before The Simpsons lampooned its own home turf, a company town with so little interest in its own history that Mel Gibson has been entrusted with a remake of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, and a tour-bus guide gets Marge worked up about the Brown Derby restaurant—then points out a vacant lot. The bulk of “Beyond Blunderdome” is about Hollywood as an idea, a dream factory where the Lethal Weapon star whisks the Simpsons away by private jet after Homer is the only member of a test-screening audience to speak his mind about Mr. Smith. Gibson himself is more vacated eyesore than “Hot Star Maps” attraction these days, but his action-movie résumé made him an ideal entry point for Homer’s conception of Tinseltown, a place where he and Mad Max can stick a shootout at the end of a Frank Capra classic, then hijack the Road Warrior car to lead a high-speed chase past such Hollywood Boulevard landmarks like Mann’s Chinese Theater and its lesser-known neighbor, the Chinese Man’s Theater. Bit of a shaggy Simpsons episode, but it’s probably a movie Homer would fill out a positive comment card for. [Erik Adams]

12. “Kill The Alligator And Run” (season 11, episode 19): Florida

In the DVD commentary for The Simpsons’ 11th season, showrunner Mike Scully acknowledges that “Kill The Alligator And Run” is a frequent pick for Worst. Episode. Ever. among Simpsons fans, who deride it for its sloppy, frenetic storytelling and totally illogical premise. Of course, that was 18 years and plenty of new contenders ago, and while the Simpsons’ Florida adventure hasn’t become any more linear—it stumbles drunkenly from Homer seeking a cure for insomnia-fueled insanity, to his becoming the “King Of Spring Break,” to the whole family living as fugitive hillbillies after accidentally murdering the state’s reptile mascot—there’s at least some classic John Swartzwelder absurdism buried beneath the gimmicky Kid Rock cameos. (See: the Logan’s Run lifeclock on an MTV VJ; Homer hallucinating Charlie Rose and Robert Evans threatening to kill him.) If nothing else, this is also the episode that gave birth to that oft-quoted, rarely cited epithet for Florida: “America’s Wang.” [Sean O’Neal]

11. “Simpson Safari” (season 12, episode 17): Tanzania

The best gags come long before The Simpsons embarks on this “Safari”: the flimsy but vocal justifications for purchasing cupcakes and wine in bulk, the artist’s conception of an African safari on the box of animal crackers (did you ever see a happier pair of zebras in a convertible?). But the shudder that runs through a Tanzanian tribesman when Homer exclaims that “the Simpsons are going to Africa” portends a whole slew of jokes ranging from nonsensical (“hippos don’t come from eggs”) to uncomfortable (cracks about frequent regime changes and “bloodless coups”). Starting with a bag-boy strike and ending with a possible war criminal working as a flight attendant, this wandering storyline just leads to uninspired country. [Danette Chavez]

10. “Viva Ned Flanders” (season 10, episode 10): Las Vegas

Although its plot hangs on the flimsiest of premises—Flanders is 60 years old, apparently, and regretful of his hyper-cautious life—“Viva Ned Flanders” gets a lot of mileage from Flanders seeking Homer’s help to live in “the Impulse Zone.” Homer takes him to Vegas for a lost weekend, which naturally segues to the duo drunkenly marrying a pair of waitresses. Vegas’ naked hedonism and superficiality prove low-hanging fruit for The Simpsons’ satire, and the jokes come quickly. One minute-long stretch when the duo arrives in Vegas lands some funny sight gags (the sign for the Cirque Du Buffet at the Golddiggers Casino promises “Loosest craps in town!”), a random shot at Melissa Rivers, and some amusing Flanders overstimulation. Although the episode has a bounty of Vegas zingers—“Someone dishonoring their marriage vows? Not in Las Vegas!” and “Las Vegas doesn’t care for out-of-towners”—the most inspired bit pays homage to Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Homer and Flanders pass a pair of Ralph Steadman-esque figures on the highway. “That sure was a fun trip to Las Vegas,” says one. “Eh, too many kids,” says the other. [Kyle Ryan]

9. “Any Given Sundance” (season 19, episode 18): Park City

Sometimes, a destination imprints itself on the characters of The Simpsons, rather than the other way around. It only takes a few days in the home of the Sundance Film Festival (“Where Parker Posey meets parka-ed posers”) for Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers to go from swag-grubbing novice producers to jaded industry types stonewalling Park City darling John C. Reilly. It’s tough to riff on a location whose most famous renowned denizens zoom in and out of town every January, so “Any Given Sundance” makes the mountain retreat a physical stand-in for the independent film culture that had sold the last scraps of its soul by 2008, just as Lisa nearly does when she turns her family’s most humiliating and intimate moments into the documentary Capturing The Simpsons. The Simpsons could never make it in a place like Park City: partially because they’re quickly detested, then forgotten, by the festival crowd, but also because Marge can’t stop stumbling into provocative movies with ironic titles. “Oh! Candyland! A great family game is now a great family movie,” she exclaims before walking in on a scene of two people shooting up. [Erik Adams]

8. “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” (season 10, episode 23): Japan

Multiple faraway locales are featured in “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo,” including the Chuck Garabedian Mega-Savings Seminar those fat cats in Washington don’t want you to hear about. But the real destination is Japan—specifically, Tokyo—and all its advanced technology and mockery of American mediocrity. The episode never aired in Japan, thanks in part to the scene in which Homer throws the emperor, Akihito, into a pile of unwashed sumo thongs. There are several other questionable choices, including the episode’s title, which refers to a World War II-era movie about American air strikes on Japan. But Donick Cary and Dan Greaney’s script inadvertently yields solid commentary on the culture clash, presenting the Simpson family as a mix of “ugly Americans” and well-meaning but condescending tourists. And, Godzilla-related turbulence jokes aside, the episode strives for some authenticity with George Takei voicing a sardonic but composed game-show host. But the most inspired bit is a seemingly throwaway conversation on the plane: “You liked Rashomon.” “That’s not how I remember it.” [Danette Chavez]

7. “Homer And Apu” (season five, episode 13): India

Like “The Crepes Of Wrath,” “Homer And Apu” doesn’t send the entire Simpsons clan to India, just Homer and Apu—and even then just for one scene. Having gotten Apu fired via ludicrous TV-news undercover sting, Homer travels with Apu to India to visit Kwik-E-Mart’s corporate headquarters to help get his friend’s job back. Given the current debate around Apu, it’s a little cringe-inducing that the company’s president appears to be a Hindu pandit sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop. (In season four’s “Marge In Chains,” Apu notes that Kwik-E-Mart’s parent company is the very American-sounding Nordyne Defense Dynamics, but The Simpsons only sporadically cares about continuity.) Naturally, Homer blows it, and neither he nor the viewers see anything else of India besides that scene. He’d get his fill of the country in season 17. [Kyle Ryan]

6. “Missionary Impossible” (season 11, episode 15): Micronesia

Ultimately, season 11’s “Missionary Impossible” cares less about the culture of Micronesia than it does the distinguished television of Great Britain (“If they’re not having a go with a bird, they’re having a row with a wanker!”), and the plotline of Homer fleeing to the Pacific Islands to escape a horde of pissed-off PBS celebrities counts as one of the show’s flimsiest travel premises. But the episode distinguishes itself thanks to some well-timed gags about toad-licking and Jebus-worshiping, plus its nicely developed subplot about Bart taking over as “the man of the house,” and there’s something admirably, knowingly lazy (as opposed to the indifferent laziness of later years) about just letting the episode fall apart as spectacularly as the natives’ Homer-ravaged civilization. [Sean O’Neal]

5. “The Crepes Of Wrath” (season one, episode 11): France

The entire Simpsons family doesn’t visit France in this season-one episode—just Bart, sent on an exchange program as punishment for a cherry-bomb-in-the-toilet prank that ran afoul of Agnes Skinner (making her first appearance). The whole family would see the sights in France in later seasons, but in this episode—credited to the Murderers’ Row of George Meyer, Sam Simon, John Swartzwelder, and Jon Vitti—traps Bart in slave-like conditions at a shady winery run by a couple of small-time crooks. The only scenery he enjoys is a quick montage of famous paintings by French artists on his way to the vineyard that would soon become his prison. [Kyle Ryan]

4. “Mr. Lisa Goes To Washington” (season three, episode two): Washington, D.C.

This classic season-three episode—one of the first to take the Simpsons out of Springfield—finds the family visiting the nation’s capital after Lisa ascends to the finals of a patriotic-essay contest. As in Frank Capra’s classic Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Lisa’s idealism is quickly crushed when she witnesses a congressman discussing bribes with a timber lobbyist at the fictitious Winifred Beecher Howe Memorial (“I will iron your sheets when you iron out the inequities in your labor laws”). Disillusioned, she pens a savagely cynical new essay, “Cesspool On The Potomac,” which fails to win the contest but quickly spreads through D.C. and costs the dirty congressman his job. Taken at face value, the idealistic denouement feels out of place on The Simpsons, but considering legendary writer George Meyer penned the episode, it’s undoubtedly sarcastic. (Since when did the show ever have something nice to say about George H.W. Bush?) But the D.C. setting affords a lot of good bits while the family goes sightseeing, like Thomas Jefferson getting defensive with Lisa at his memorial. [Kyle Ryan]

3. “The City Of New York Vs. Homer Simpson” (season nine, episode one): New York City

Unfortunately blemished by some now-uncomfortable World Trade Center gags, season-nine opener “The City Of New York Vs. Homer Simpson” has since seen time somewhat heal those wounds (and return it to syndication), allowing it to stand as the show’s trash-strewn valentine to Manhattan. Though he didn’t helm the episode, director David Silverman took hundreds of photos of the city so that animators could create a detailed replica, giving a touch of gritty, urban realism to a story about Homer and the family tracking down their car after a disgruntled Barney leaves it parked illegally between the Twin Towers. While everyone else enjoys a perfect day in New York—seeing Little Italy and Chinatown, taking in a Broadway musical, riding in a carriage through Central Park, visiting the offices of Mad Magazine—it’s Homer’s frustrating dealings with cops and khlav-kalash vendors and his desperate need to pee that really captures the soul of the city. [Sean O’Neal]

2. “Bart On The Road” (season seven, episode 20): Knoxville/Branson

As filled with endlessly quotable lines as Knoxville’s Sunsphere is with 16,000 boxes of unsold wigs, the season-seven classic “Bart On The Road” takes a freewheeling journey into the heart of America to see all the wonders and spring break-squandering disappointments it contains. Bart’s road trip—facilitated by a fake driver’s license, bullish soy futures, and an airtight “grammar rodeo” alibi—takes him, Milhouse, Nelson, and Martin through the “vast cornfields of Canada” to the remnants of the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee with a brief stopover in Branson, Missouri to catch the great Andy Williams (and finally, a detour into Hong Kong). Chances are if you’ve thought about those cities/crooners in the past 22 years, it’s been through the filter of this episode. [Sean O’Neal]

1. “Bart Vs. Australia” (season six, episode 16): Australia

“That’s not a knife,” “Bart Vs. Australia” says to every other Simpsons journey beyond the Springfield city limits. “This is a knife,” it finishes, now brandishing a spoon. The show had played these globetrotting games of knifey-spoony before, and it would play them again and again and again, but never with the lunatic zeal of “Bart Vs. Australia,” an episode that permanently warped a generation’s perception of the Coriolis effect and the titular island nation/continent. The episode’s tabloid inspiration will fade from memory, but the show will continue to chase the high of a $900 collect call, chaswassers, and “Mr. Simpson, shush: Disparaging the boot is a bootable offense!” In failing to restore U.S.-Australian relations (to the chagrin of a slimy diplomat played by Phil Hartman), “Bart Vs. Australia” tweaked “ugly American” conventions and permanently established the show’s foreign policy. As those fields of bullfrogs attest, once The Simpsons visits your country, things will never be the same. [Erik Adams]