‘Simpsons’ Crossover Episodes, Ranked from Worse to Worser
Parodies and spoofs are well-trodden territories for the residents of Springfield, often providing some of the show’s most enduring jokes. Crossovers, however, are a rarity.
There are some episodes that feature borderline crossovers. For example, Harry Morgan played Bill Gannon from the 1960s Dragnet series in Season Seven’s “Mother Simpson” (Simpsons regular Harry Shearer played his partner Joe Friday in place of the deceased Jack Webb). But the show Dragnet itself is hardly referenced, and the characters’ appearance is more in-line with parody. The same goes for the Sesame Street characters in Season 11’s “Missionary: Impossible.”
All of which is to say, for our purposes today, crossovers will be recognized as actual characters from other shows played by the same actor or actors appearing on The Simpsons.
Preface: The Cameo Crossovers
Sometimes The Simpsons will crossover with another show by way of a one-off joke, mainly via the “couch gag,” the first being with The Flintstones in Season Four’s “Kamp Krusty.”
A fun bit, but only notable in that it was the first crossover. The next one-off wasn’t until Season Nine’s “Bart Star,” when Bart’s pee-wee football team crushes the Arlen, Texas football team, cutting to Hank Hill from Mike Judge’s King of the Hill complaining to his family that “we drove 3,000 miles for this?”
It was fantastic and unexpected, especially since King of the Hill had only premiered earlier that year. In a USA Today interview, Simpsons showrunner Mike Scully remarked that the characters only had brief cameos “because I don’t want Mike Judge to think I’m exploiting him.”
In the shocking couch gag for Season 26’s “Mathlete’s Feat,” Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty crashes into the Simpson family, killing them. The segment, written by Rick and Morty co-creators Dan Harmon and alleged awful man Justin Roiland, serves more as a Rick and Morty short than a Simpsons clip, especially since each show’s humor is so drastically different. Regardless, this one is my favorite of all the cameo crossovers.
Jumping back to the FOX animated well, there have been a couple of Bob’s Burgers cameo gags in recent years. The first is a great couch gag in Season 30’s “My Way or the Highway to Heaven,” where Homer is hit by Marge’s car (as usual) but breaks through the garage wall and into Bob’s Burgers’ opening credits. Homer panics while the Belcher family provides commentary. Linda Belcher then made a cute cameo crossover appearance in last year’s “Treehouse of Horror XXXIII,” while (a non-speaking) Homer and Bob both showed up in the recent Family Guy episode “Adoptation” in a self-deprecating type scene that Family Guy fans are familiar with.
Which is where we’ll hop off the couch (gags) and into the Springfield Gorge of full-fledged crossovers, from worse to worser...
The X-Files Crossover
Being a cartoon, The Simpsons mainly crosses over with other animated things, so when it manages to crossover with a live-action series — and a serious science-fiction series, no less — and knocks it out of the park, it’s truly a feat of comedic entertainment. Season Eight’s “The Springfield Files” plot is mysterious enough to serve as a realistic case for The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully while still providing consistent laughs, respecting the source material and lampooning some of its more ridiculous dramatic tendencies. (The X-Files creator Chris Carter considered it an “honor” to be satirized by the show.) It’s packed with great classic gags, perhaps my favorite being Moe’s whale-smuggling operation.
The Critic Crossover
For unaware squares, The Critic was a critically-acclaimed but short-lived ABC series created by former Simpsons writers/showrunners Al Jean and Mike Reiss. Season Six’s “A Star Is Burns” was pitched by the producer of both shows, James L. Brooks, who wanted a crossover to help launch The Critic on FOX.
Simpsons creator Matt Groening, however, didn’t like the idea of “his” show being used to help spring a show that was already canceled by another network and had his name removed from the credits. Although there are some self-referential jabs since this was the first full-fledged Simpsons crossover, the show is anything but a poorly made commercial for The Critic. The episode still holds up for those fans who’ve never watched the other series, with moments spawning a plethora of internet memes like “I was saying ‘Boo-urns,’” Man Getting Hit By Football and “That’s the joke,” to name a few. If all we had to sacrifice was an episode without Groening’s name in the credits, it was totally worth it.
The Family Guy Crossover
Season 13’s “The Simpsons Guy” is technically not an episode of The Simpsons, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it here. If there’s one thing Family Guy does well (for the most part), it’s crossover episodes. (The Star Wars “Blue Harvest” episode is a work of art.) This crossover is one that fans (I’m guessing?) had been demanding for years, or at least thought, “It’d be cool for them to do, but if not, whatever.” Regardless, Family Guy did it, and it’s mostly great.
Almost the entire cast participated, except Harry Shearer, who was “unavailable.” (When asked his opinion, he bluntly stated, “Matter and anti-matter.”). Referencing several past Simpsons episodes, it clearly comes from a place of love, doing its best to please fans of both series. It’s definitely still a Family Guy episode, so you get a questionable car wash scene you’d never see on The Simpsons. At this point, both shows were admittedly past their prime, so it could’ve been better, but at least we got it.
The Futurama Crossover
This Season 26 crossover felt inevitable since both iconic shows were created by Groening. Unfortunately, despite the excitement of seeing these characters interact, as with “The Simpsons Guy,” the episode doesn’t accomplish much in terms of storytelling, primarily relying on crossover gags to get through 23 minutes. Although it boldly takes The Simpsons where they’ve (mostly) never gone before, the episode seems tame for the Futurama characters. Another one for the “well, at least it happened” file.
The Lego Crossover
Admittedly, Season 25’s “Brick Like Me” crosses over with a brand rather than another series, but it’s too unique to disregard. It was definitely a highlight of the more recent seasons (by that, I mean within the last 20 years), with its timing being either fortunate or unfortunate, depending on your point-of-view. The Lego Movie had just dropped earlier the same year, so the show was riding the wave of its popularity, except the episode ended up doing some similar gags that the movie had already hit. That said, it was still worthwhile for giving us a view of Springfield we’ve likely imagined but never saw.
The Star Wars Crossover
What makes this Disney+ short less fun is knowing it was at least partially “ordered” by Disney to crossover their purchased Star Wars and Simpsons “brands” for Star Wars Day. And so, the short is a bit uninspired, at least story-wise, with the plot just being Maggie and her arch-enemy Baby Gerald playing “Star Wars” for a few minutes.
The MCU Crossover
Another Disney+ short crossing over with other Disney properties. Although there’s a lot more going on in this one, it comes off as pedestrian, combining a lot of references to Marvel jokes (mainly just the Loki series) with The Simpsons and then ending. Its most noteworthy thing is that it’s one of the rare occasions of Tom Hiddleston not being able to make something work by sheer force of charm and charisma.