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8 Biggest Plot Twists In The Simpsons History

Oct 16, 2023Oct 16, 2023

While The Simpsons is not famous for its plot twists, the long-running animated comedy has been known to shock viewers with some major revelations.

While The Simpsons is hardly known for its shocking plot twists, the show has pulled off some surprising revelations over the years. The Simpsons has been on the air for over thirty-four years, and in that time, the show has gained a reputation as one of the most reliably fun sitcoms on television. The Simpsons is generally relatively family-friendly, eschewing the darker humor of its famous competitors, Family Guy and South Park. The show is also relatively warm in terms of tone, meaning The Simpsons is a classic comfort watch for many viewers of a certain vintage.

However, this reputation comes at a cost. The Simpsons isn’t known for shocking viewers, and often, the show’s darkest gags fall flat as a result. Generally, even when The Simpsons changes a character’s voice actor, the creators of the series will go out of their way to ensure that viewers don’t notice. This results in a cozy atmosphere, but it can also make The Simpsons feel a little predictable at times. Even if viewers can’t tell where a given story is going, they can rest easy knowing the show won’t take too many big story risks. However, the biggest plot twists in The Simpsons history prove this isn’t always true.

The reclusive comedy writer John Swartzwelder is famous among comedy aficionados thanks to his profile contributions to The Simpsons. The writer wrote fifty-nine episodes of the series, including classics like season 8, episode 2, “You Only Move Twice,” season 5, episode 20, “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” and season 8, episode 18, “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment.” However, Swartzwelder also penned the famously strange, uncomfortably dark season 13, episode 21, “The Frying Game.” One reason a live-action take on The Simpsons wouldn’t work is the show’s many moments of bizarrely dark slapstick, as epitomized in this outing.

“The Frying Game” begins with the Simpson family buying a Koi pond, only for a creepy endangered Screamapillar to take up residence in the water feature. When Homer accidentally hurts the Screamapillar, he is sentenced to community service, and soon, he and Marge are guilt-tripped into becoming servants for an elderly woman. When she dies mysteriously, they are the main suspects in her murder. However, just as Homer is about to receive death by the electric chair, “The Frying Game” reveals that the entire plot was all an elaborate hoax staged for a game show. It is a jarring twist that still feels strange to this day.

In his first few appearances on The Simpsons, Kelsey Grammer’s suave Sideshow Bob was a classic villain. First, he framed Krusty for robbery, then he attempted to kill Selma, and then he repeatedly targeted Bart in numerous escapades that saw him repeatedly almost kill the eponymous family’s eldest son. However, in The Simpsons season 8, episode 16, “Brother from Another Series,” Bob was actually revealed to be innocent. This time around, his brother Cecil was behind his most recent rash of crimes. Unlike The Simpsons’ Cape Fear parody, “Brother from Another Series” proved Bob could be a hero, only for him to end up imprisoned again regardless.

One episode of The Simpsons claimed that every male member of the extended Simpson family had the “Simpson Gene" and, as a result, was genetically predestined to be unintelligent. However, in a shocking twist, The Simpsons disproved its own theory when Homer had a crayon removed from his brain in season 12, episode 9, “HOMЯ.” In this episode's spin on Flowers for Algernon, Homer learns that he possesses above-average intelligence when a crayon that was lodged in his brain during early childhood is removed. This twist came as a shock, even though Homer famously explaining the difference between envy and jealousy had previously proved he had untapped depths.

In his debut outing (one of the most divisive Simpsons episodes ever), Frank Grimes was killed off by The Simpsons. A hard worker with no sense of humor and tragic background, Grimesy was a one-off character whom Homer accidentally tormented thanks to Homer's effortless success and limitless good fortune. Grimes gradually grew more unhinged and unhappy as season 8, episode 23, “Homer’s Enemy” continued. However, it wasn’t until the episode’s shockingly dark dénouement that viewers were hit with one of the show’s biggest shocks. Grimes accidentally electrocuted himself while imitating Homer, killing him instantly.

In season 4, episode 6, “Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie,” Homer repeatedly tried and failed to come up with a punishment that would improve Bart’s behavior. Eventually, he told Bart that he couldn't go to see Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie as a result of his actions. Shockingly, Homer stuck to his word, and Bart grew up to become Chief Justice of the U.S. as a result. The episode’s sweet ending saw Bart and Homer watch Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie decades later, but surprisingly, Homer never relented while the movie was in theaters, and Bart missed out on the experience.

One reason The Simpsons never had a spinoff was that the show relied far too much on its many supporting characters. This is a major factor in the series, rarely killing off even minor figures. However, The Simpsons bucked this trend in season 11, episode 14, “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily,” wherein Maude Flanders was abruptly killed off for good. This came about when negotiations with her voice actor, Maggie Roswell, fell through. Even though Roswell was soon rehired, Maude remained dead in an extremely rare major departure from form for the series.

Infamously, The Simpsons season 9, episode 2, “The Principal and the Pauper,” revealed that Seymour Skinner was an impostor. The real Seymour Skinner was played by Martin Sheen in an episode that revealed the school’s principal was secretly a reckless renegade named Armin Tanzanian. "The Principal and The Pauper" was such a hated Simpsons episode that the outing retconned its events in its own ending, but this was still a shocking twist from a show that wasn’t known for featuring big character reveals.

When The Simpsons season 6, episode 25, “Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part One,” asked viewers the titular question, everyone was stumped. The entire town of Springfield had a motive to shoot Burns, while each member of the Simpson family and his long-time assistant Smithers had particularly compelling reasons to off the show’s major villain. As such, it came as a genuine shock when the season 7 premiere revealed that it was really Maggie who shot him in a bizarre accident. While The Simpsons played this for laughs, it remains the biggest plot twist in the show’s long history.

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