The impact that The Simpsons has had on popular culture is unbelievable. It’s a brilliant, clever, affecting show that’s pretty much loved by everyone. Millions of viewers have been tuning in every week for three decades and watching and re-watching timeless episodes that never get old, because they see the world around them reflected in Springfield.
The world of The Simpsons is our real world — it’s our society, our politics, our misery depicted in a hilarious way — the only difference is that it’s animated and the people have yellow skin. With Fox’s recent renewal of the show through season 30, The Simpsons is set to become the longest running primetime American television series in history, beating Gunsmoke.
And why has it lasted so long? Why have audiences continued to watch a marriage go on and off the rocks, a kid pull the same pranks, and a girl fight for a liberal social cause over and over again for more than 600 episodes? It’s because of the characters. They’re all lovable and endearing and relatable people who can pop up in an episode for five seconds with just one line and it’ll be enough to put a smile on your face. Everyone has their own favorite Simpsons character — these are the 15 greatest!
15. Lenny Leonard
Yeah, Lenny’s full name is Lenny Leonard. Actually, his full name would be Leonard Leonard. It’s weird. And Carl’s name is Carl Carlson. Anyway, Lenny is one of the most quietly hilarious characters on The Simpsons. He’s like a more subtle, softly spoken Homer.
Whereas Homer’s brash, loudmouthed and acts like a jerk sometimes, Lenny is just as much of a stupid, lazy alcoholic, but he’s a way nicer guy. He spent his lottery winnings on a soiree for his friends. He’s a goofball, but he’s lovable guy who you just want to hug, even when he spends his Wall Street money on ridiculous plastic surgery.
He also seems to see his eye doctor an awful lot. There’s a running gag about him getting poked in the eye with a spring, and yelping, “my eye! I’m not supposed to get springs in it!” It’s the kind of thing that makes you fall in love with a recurring secondary character.
14. Apu Nahasapeemapetilon
That’s his last name. Go ahead and try to pronounce it. Good luck. Apu is absolutely one of the best Simpsons characters. Yes, Apu is based on a racial stereotype that convenience store clerks are Indian immigrants. But he’s also a testament to the value of immigrants.
For those Springfielders who bother to listen, like Lisa, there’s a lot he can tell them about his culture, and it brings them closer together. Immigration is not a bad thing — it brings new friends into your life from all over the world. Apu, like many immigrants, came to America for better opportunities and a better quality of life.
He was willing to work for it, and he owns his own business, the Kwik-E-Mart, that benefits everyone in town. He’s also the epitome of the wornout, stressed, overworked father. He has eight babies to take care of and he pretty much stands behind the counter at the Kwik-E-Mart 24/7. That’s so tragically identifiable with so many people in the world and it makes it better when The Simpsons gives us the ability to laugh at it.
13. Mayor Quimby
When Matt Groening was putting together his fictional town of Springfield — his microcosm of the America and its culture, society, and politics — and creating its residents, it was an inspired decision to make the town’s mayor a carbon copy of former US President John F. Kennedy. Well, a composite of various Kennedys, really, particularly Ted Kennedy.
But it was JFK who inspired Mayor “Diamond Joe” Quimby’s iconic Boston accent, his ridiculous number of extramarital affairs, and his liberal politics. This is all funny and works well for political satire — especially when he takes bribes from Fat Tony and gives kickbacks to Chief Wiggum to become the most corrupt mayor in fiction, even more corrupt than the guy in The Wire.
Yet, there’s nothing funnier about Mayor Quimby than his delightful pronunciation of the word “chow-dah!”
12. Comic Book Guy
Comic Book Guy may seem like kind of a jerk, and that’s because he is, but he’s the good kind. He’s a satirical jerk. He’s very rarely shown his sensitive side, but we don’t need to see it. We just need his ruthless sarcastic comments and the fact that he can be easily taken down by anyone he tries to insult based on his morbidly obese figure and his pathetic social life.
Whether he’s crushing someone with an insult or being crushed by someone else’s insult, it’s always a delight to watch. He also works great when the writers want to get meta and beat their internet trolls to the punch. The internet is teeming with trolls writing negative things about the show on their message boards. Well, those people are in the show.
11. Ralph Wiggum
Homer is very, very dumb — from walking into a cactus to forgetting long-time friend Carl’s name — but surprisingly, he’s not the dumbest character on The Simpsons.
That title goes to Lisa’s classmate Ralph Wiggum — the kid who stuck an ice cream cone to his forehead and thought he was a unicorn, superglued the side of his head to his shoulder, and bent his Wookiee.
Series creator Matt Groening himself cites Ralph as his favorite character, as do many fans who adore his unusual behaviour and lovable non-sequiturs. He calls Superintendent Chalmers “Super Nintendo Chalmers” and calls sweating from his armpits “wetting his arm pants.” Even his teacher told him she’s “tired of trying.”
There’s a strange kind of genius to his idiocy and it always makes him a wonder to watch.
10. Krusty the Clown
Krusty the Clown — full name: Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofsky — began life as a two-dimensional children’s entertainer with a crummy TV show. He was originally supposed to be Homer living a secret double life, but thankfully they gave him his own life and backstory.
His behind-the-scenes life epitomizes the struggles of both celebrities and artists. He’s miserable from being hounded by fans and dying on stage and losing his touch. He struggles in his relationships with his rabbi father, his illegitimate daughter, and his various love affairs.
Krusty gets into all kinds of hilarious antics — some make you envy him as they show off his absurd riches, and others make you glad you’re not him, like the time Lenny threw a urinal cake at his head. All in all, Krusty is a great Simpsons character.
9. Marge Simpson
Marge Simpson is the most typical mom, which is boring in real life and in most other sitcoms where the mom is the straight character with no jokes who just sits there with her laundry. But with Marge, it’s different. With Marge, it’s hilarious. She goes to Oktoberfest and laments the fact she got drunk and “couldn’t even celebrate the harvest.”
The things Marge gets excited about — an apron convention — and the way she panics over trivial things and the way she calls the kids “gang” are all so adorably funny. But what makes her a truly great character isn’t that she treats a bake sale like it’s Operation Geronimo — it’s that underneath it all she is a fiercely strong woman.
As a mother, she’ll do anything to keep her children safe, and still manages to love and trust Bart, her “special little guy,” despite all the bad that he does. Because she can see the good in his heart.
8. Moe Szyslak
On the surface, Moe would seem like a jerk, which is funny, but not necessarily likeable. On the surface, he’s just a bartender with a short temper who flies off the handle at the slightest thing.
But you have to dig a little deeper below the surface, because Moe is a tragic figure. He’s depressed and hates himself and frequently attempts suicide. Plus, his dire financial situation often gets him in trouble with the mafia (“They’re gonna take my thumbs!”), so you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy.
Under the gruff exterior is a loving, sweet, sensitive man. Remember the episode where he becomes best friends with Maggie? He was ready to kill himself but bonding with the baby, having someone there to make him feel less lonely gave him a reason to live. It was a side to Moe we’d never seen before, and a side I think we’re all glad we got a glimpse of.
7. Mr. Burns
C. Montgomery Burns is a horrible person. He has a million times more money than he knows what to do with, but he’ll die before he gives a penny of it away to even the neediest cause.
He’s also the archetypal conservative, holding regular meetings with fellow Republicans Rich Texan and Count Dracula. He supports all the wrong things, like the anti-Lisa. And he doesn’t care about anyone at all but himself.
But boy, is he funny. Whether he’s trying to fit in with commoners and observing how they live — like naming “collecting dog waste” as one of his hobbies when he sees someone using a pooper scooper — or he’s being told by a doctor that he has every disease known to medical science, Mr. Burns stands out as one of the funniest characters on The Simpsons.
6. Seymour Skinner
Principal Skinner is perhaps the most complex and layered character on The Simpsons. Most of his lines, stories, and best moments revolve around being the usual, crotchety, old elementary school principal, who obsesses over standardized test scores and offers free orange drink at PTA meetings.
However, as with all the best Simpsons characters, there’s a deeper, more tragic element to Skinner. He has PTSD from his service in Vietnam, he has a Norman Bates-like relationship with his mother, and until his ill-fated relationship with Edna Krabappel, he was a middle-aged virgin.
The sad nature of Skinner’s life is summed up in this quote: “I’m riding the bus today because Mother hid my car keys to punish me for talking to a woman on the phone. She was right to do it.” He’s always a joy to watch.
5. Milhouse Van Houten
Everything’s coming up Milhouse! Milhouse is adorable, from his huge glasses to his tiny eyes to his huge nose to his weirdly long shorts. And that’s just his appearance. Everything he says or does is hilarious. He got pursued by Tommy Lee Jones, a la The Fugitive, and jumped into a dam and broke his glasses.
There are some Milhouse moments that never fail to get a laugh, no matter how many times you see them — his video game avatar “Thrillhouse” (or rather, “Thrillho,” due to character number restrictions), he brought his own car seat to the Simpsons’ car, the time he told Mr. Burns, “But my mom says I’m cool.”
Milhouse is one of everyone’s favorite characters. If anyone said they disliked Milhouse Van Houten, it would likely be a shocking. He’s the Butters Stotch of The Simpsons — impossible to dislike.
4. Ned Flanders
There’s nothing bad to say about Ned Flanders. He’s the sweetest, kindest, most infectiously upbeat man in Springfield. Homer makes a good try at having bad things to say about his neighbor (“Stupid Flanders!” for example), but the rest of us can see what a genuinely wonderful man he is.
If you ignore his undying commitment to the shaky beliefs and ideologies of the Christian faith, then he’s just the nicest guy ever. Like doormat nice.
His next door neighbor borrows all of his things and never gives them back. Everybody in Springfield takes advantage of his goodness — like using him to get their parking validated without buying anything in his store.
Oh, and there’s the small matter of his wife dying. And yet, you’ll never catch Flanders complaining about anything. It’s his faith in God and his idea that everything happens for a reason that keeps his chin up and makes him a truly inspiring figure to watch.
3. Bart Simpson
Bart might be the most quoted character on the show. “Eat my shorts!” “Ay caramba!” “I didn’t do it.” The list of Bart’s timeless catchphrases is endless. His inspired crank calls to Moe’s Tavern never fail to raise a chuckle and his school yard pranks to get a rise out of Principal Skinner are always so inventive and devious they’re hysterical.
But there’s more to Bart than that. He has a huge heart. Sure, he might pick on Lisa, call her names, and get into fights with her, but deep down, Bart loves her more than anything and would do anything for her. Like sacrifice his own future to give her a brighter one or tell her she’s pretty when she needs to hear it the most. He really is a special little guy.
2. Lisa Simpson
It goes without saying that Lisa Simpson is an incredible person. Even though she’s only eight years old, Lisa understands the world and its politics, culture, and issues in a much more profound way than most adults.
She knows rock star Ted Nugent has extreme right wing views, that eating meat is immoral, that the core of Christianity is deeply flawed and that toy companies are sending the wrong messages and lessons to young girls. And not only that, she goes out of her way to fight it. She’s a prepubescent activist out there making a difference.
But the real accomplishment is being all of those things and also having some of the funniest lines in the show. When she was pretending to be a teenage hipster and practised in the mirror — “like, you know, whatever.” Or when she was mapping out her life in a romanticized Sylvia Plath-esque way and said, “I may or may not die young, I haven’t decided.”
Or when she spoke some of the truest words ever spoken: “Why is the world a cesspool of corruption?” There’s perhaps no greater role model for young girls — boys too — in pop culture than Lisa Simpson. She’s an inspiration to us all.
1. Homer Simpson
Who else? The show has some great characters, but none greater (or stupider) than Homer J. Simpson. He’s the original lovable oaf and all bow before him.
He’ll endure the most horrific pain, like getting his head caught in a drawbridge and then having it run over by various passing cars, and still live to see another day. He’ll read a Roald Dahl book, get confused and think it’s real, and then going searching for the chocolate factory.
Despite his sometimes absurd levels of stupidity, we can all relate to the frustrations of the blue collar worker and family man. Okay, we don’t all go to the crazy lengths that Homer Simpson does, but the fact we can see a small part of ourselves in him is why we let him get away with dumb, reckless behavior — and keep coming back for more.
Yet, the real redeeming feature of Homer’s character is his huge heart. No matter how much he screws up, he never stops trying. He can make a mistake that causes his kids or his wife to hate him, but he’ll never give up until they love him again. Deep down, he’s a good guy, a loveable husband and an awesome dad.