TIME podcasts

Everything We Know as Serial’s Season One Ends

Sarah Koenig
Sarah Koenig, host and executive producer of Serial Meredith Heuer

A roundup of the evidence as the wildly successful podcast comes to a close

As the 12th installment of Serial downloads on countless phones Thursday morning, a common question will reverberate through curious minds: Did he do it? Did Adnan Syed kill Hae Min Lee on that January day back in 1999?

Of course, for steadfast listeners of Sarah Koenig’s immensely popular This American Life spinoff, the more relevant question is whether Koenig herself will tell us whether she thinks he did it. In the moments before this final revelation — or, as the case may be, lack thereof — here are the most important clues from the first 11 episodes:

Adnan’s defense attorney may have botched the case. Koenig raises some serious questions about the competence of Adnan’s attorney, Cristina Gutierrez. It’s not clear why she never reached out to Asia McClain, whose memory of speaking to Syed at the library on the afternoon of Hae’s disappearance could have offered a crucial alibi. It’s not clear where the $10,000 she requested from Adnan’s family went, although we do know that the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland paid out more than $200,000 to other clients who claimed she had misused their money. In an interview with TIME, Koenig asserted that what Gutierrez offered Adnan was certainly “flawed counsel,” but she’s not convinced that the lawyer intentionally threw the case.

Those who knew Adnan offer mixed accounts of his character. By many accounts, Adnan was a kind and conscientious teenager respected by peers and within his Muslim community. The impression that Adnan didn’t have it in him to commit a murder is what led family friend Rabia Chaudry to approach Koenig in the first place. Though it appears he put on one face for his strict, religious parents and another for his teenaged friends, there’s nothing inherently sinister in that attempt to navigate two different worlds. Some sources, however, dispute this characterization and point to darker clues. In the most recent episode, Koenig reveals that Adnan used to steal money from his mosque, although he maintains that it was a regrettable mistake unrelated to his capacity to commit a heinous crime. A teacher said Adnan’s poetry showed a “dark side,” but it’s not clear whether the darkness she interpreted reflects typical teenage brooding or something deeper.

Adnan’s conviction is based almost entirely on the testimony of a former friend named Jay. Koenig spends much time dissecting Jay’s testimony and his trustworthiness as a witness. Jay claims to have helped Adnan bury Hae’s body. His cooperation with detectives is directly linked to his guilty plea to accessory to murder, in exchange for which he served no jail time. His story changes several times, and three hours of his interview with the police were not recorded. Perhaps most damning, Koenig finds that the prosecuting attorney recommended an attorney to represent him pro bono — a major conflict of interest that might have made Jay feel additional pressure to appease the prosecution. To some of the jurors Koenig interviewed, Jay was streetwise and credible. To many of his former classmates, he was an enigma, difficult to pin down and even harder to read.

The cell phone records the prosecution used leave much to be desired. The prosecution used cell phone records from the day of Hae’s disappearance to try to corroborate Jay’s story. But out of 14 pings to different cell towers, the prosecution only cited four, because those were the only four that matched Jay’s account. The pings that conflicted with his account were swept aside. When Koenig and another reporter attempted to retrace Adnan and Jay’s steps according to the cell tower timeline, they found the timing possible, but dubious. To add to the phone-related mystery: a classmate of Adnan’s named Laura, who used to shoplift from the Best Buy from which Adnan allegedly called Jay after killing Hae, said that Adnan couldn’t have called Jay from the Best Buy payphone because it didn’t actually have a payphone.

We have yet to hear a probable alternative to who else might have committed the murder. In an earlier episode, Koenig explores the story of Mr. S., a school maintenance worker who discovered Hae’s body in Leakin Park. Though Mr. S. had a record of streaking, and his having randomly stumbled upon Hae’s body is difficult to believe given how well hidden it was, Koenig ultimately dismisses the likelihood that he had anything to do with the murder. Koenig raises the possibility that Jay or Hae’s new boyfriend Don might have played a greater role, but nothing seems to warrant a deeper investigation. Exonerating Adnan, of course, does not require identifying a more plausible killer. But it would certainly help his case.

Koenig’s investigation has been so thorough that Adnan’s brother Yusuf believes “she’s doing a better job investigating than the police did.” Despite the troves of evidence she’s pored over, the experts she’s consulted and even the Innocence Project she enlisted to review the case, it remains unclear whether it’s enough to sway Koenig — and her listeners — to a definitive stance on the whodunit. As she told TIME in October, “I am hopeful that I will figure it out one way or the other … I may have to give that up along the way, but today, I’m hopeful.” In the meantime, Adnan eagerly awaits an end to the rehashing the podcast has foisted upon him, and fans await details on season two.

TIME movies

Hollywood Stars Support The Interview

Actors James Franco (L) and Seth Rogen at the premiere of the film "The Interview" in Los Angeles, Ca. on Dec. 11, 2014.
Actors James Franco (L) and Seth Rogen at the premiere of the film "The Interview" in Los Angeles, Ca. on Dec. 11, 2014. AFP/Getty Images

Stars urge fans on Twitter to go see the film despite hacking threats

If you don’t see The Interview, do the terrorists win?

In the wake of Tuesday’s unprecedented hacker threat pledging 9/11-style attacks on theaters screening Sony’s The Interview, a few Hollywood luminaries are encouraging fans to buy a ticket to the film as an act of defiance. Actor-producer Adam McKay, writer-producer Judd Apatow, and writer-actress Mindy Kaling are among those urging their Twitter followers to support the imperiled Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy about an assassination attempt on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Currently, the film is scheduled to open nationwide on Christmas.

McKay tweeted:

Apatow weighed in:

Kaling:

And her co-star Ike Barinholtz:

On Wednesday’s episode of ABC’s The View, the co-hosts disagreed on whether to see the film, which is currently averaging only a 46-percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Nicolle Wallace said, “We have a good history of not being bullied by thugs,” to which Rosie O’Donnell replied, “I just feel like it’s not worth it to me to see a movie that’s supposedly not all that funny. … It’s not like this is some Spielberg epic.” Wallace shot back: “I just think the point is if you want to see it don’t let some goon in North Korea change your plans.” (North Korea has denied being behind the hacker attacks but called the film “an act of war” last June.)

Geraldo Rivera likewise urged caution:

At this point, perhaps the bigger question is whether viewers will even have an option to see the film at all. Landmark Theaters has canceled the film’s New York premiere, and stars Rogen and Franco have canceled their promotional appearances. Sony told theater owners they may back out of their agreements to screen the film, and at least a couple of chains have taken the studio up on that offer.

This article originally appeared on EW.com

TIME movies

Review: Did Anyone Have a Good Time Making Night at the Museum 3?

Nothing comes to life in this rote, trite finale to the kid-friendly fantasy franchise

M.C. Escher’s “Relativity,” the 1953 lithograph that plays with gravity and perspective, receives a delightful tweak in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. Larry the night watchman (Ben Stiller) and his antique colleagues Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) tumble into and scramble through the sideways stairways of Escher’s surreal courtyard. The scene is a compact epiphany of physical, borderline-metaphysical comedy — nearly as funny and impressive as Andrew Lipson and Daniel Shiu’s LEGO version of “Relativity.” Pushing the trope further, the producers commissioned a clever elaboration that’s used as a poster for the movie. Congratulations to all involved!

Sorry, but this concludes any warm comments about the third episode in the Night at the Museum series, a kid-aimed fantasy franchise that imagines the stuffed or wax figures at New York’s American Museum of Natural History coming to life and cavorting each night. Director Shawn Levy extended the 2006 original with a 2009 sequel set in Washington’s Smithsonian Institution. Because the two films earned almost $1 billion at the global box office, simple corporate math demanded a third installment, this time with a trip to the British Museum. The world tour might have extend to the Louvre or the Hermitage in future sequels, but apparently this is it.

A good thing too, since Secret of the Tomb gives every evidence of franchise exhaustion. In the screenplay by David Guion and Michael Handelman, Larry and the gang travel to London to find out why the ancient Egyptian tablet that is the source of the museum figures’ revived lives has gone on the fritz. At the British Museum they encounter Lancelot, who has hard time adjusting to the 21st century and comes close to bolloxing Larry’s mission to save his old, old friends. The movie is content to reprise bits from the first two entries, and the few innovations — such as giving Larry a caveman double (also played by Stiller) — are rote, trite and feeble.

Did anyone have a good time making this movie? The actors seem to be reading their lines at gunpoint, in an enterprise whose mood is less summer camp than internment camp. Such exemplary comic spirits as Ricky Gervais (the AMNH’s director), Steve Coogan (the Roman soldier Octavius) and Owen Wilson (the antique cowboy Jedediah) have the look of abandonment, as if hoping that some prompter from the sides will whisper a line more deliverable than what the script has told them to say. “Get me a rewrite!” say these faces, frozen in a rictus of embarrassment.

Mickey Rooney, who died in April at 93, makes a brief appearance here in a wheelchair. Williams, in the last on-screen role he completed before his death this Aug., seems unusually muted, but he simply could have been interpreting the character as written. (The movie is dedicated to these two comedy immortals.) The only performers who suggest they’re enjoying themselves are Dick Van Dyke, in a spry cameo as a Natural History night watchman emeritus, and Crystal the Monkey, a scene-swiping Capuchin whose capers include peeing on the tiny figures of Octavius and Jedediah, during a Pompeii lava scene, and planting big smooches on every human in sight.

I could go on, but making jokes about failed movies is not my favorite part of this job. Besides, you already get the idea. Some day soon, the “Relativity” scene will be on YouTube. See that part of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and skip the rest.

TIME Television

Watch the Trailer for the Final Season of Parks and Rec, Set in the Future

Jerry's new name is Terry, for instance

Parks and Recreation‘s final season (sad face) will air on Jan. 13 and will take place in 2017. (You know, since at the end of the previous season they jumped ahead three years. Continuity.) Now, thanks to this new, science fiction-tinged trailer, we get a glimpse into what life is like the near future. (Spoiler: there will be drones.)

All your favorite Pawneeans are back, but they’ve definitely changed. Andy, for example, now has his own TV show. Jerry now goes by Terry (against his will, obviously). Tom’s now a mogul (or so he claims).

Otherwise, we’re all just going to have to tune in on Jan. 13 to figure out what else is going on. Our only major hope is that there’s a Li’l Sebastian statue somewhere by 2017.

TIME Television

The 25 Best Simpsons Episodes Ever

The Simpsons family in "White Christmas Blues" episode on Dec. 15, 2013.
The Simpsons family in "White Christmas Blues" episode on Dec. 15, 2013. FOX—2014 FOX

Happy 25th birthday to the Simpsons!

In honor of the show’s 25th anniversary, a revised and updated version of our 2003 Springfield Hall of Fame. Woohoo!

25. “The Regina Monologues”
Airdate: Nov. 23, 2003
Episodes of The Simpsons that qualify as all-time classics are rare in the new millennium, but ”The Regina Monologues” has a connection to the show’s golden age: writer John Swartzwelder, the man behind a slew of classic episodes (including five others on this list). His final writing credit, ”Monologues,” takes the family to England in a joke-dense episode filled with allusions to Trainspotting, My Fair Lady, and James Bond, and features a cameo by a sitting head of state (Tony Blair), as well as big-name Brits Ian McKellen and J.K. Rowling. ”The Simpsons are going to ________!” has become a trope on the show, but seldom has it worked so well.

24. “You Only Move Twice'”
Airdate: Nov. 3, 1996
One of the Golden Age’s wackiest episodes also happens to be one of its funniest. In this season 8 standout, the Simpson clan leaves Springfield behind when Homer gets a new job at the Globex Corporation — a mysterious mega-company run by friendly-seeming ginger Hank Scorpio (Albert Brooks, giving his best Simpsons guest performance). Gradually, it becomes clear (to everyone but Homer) that Scorpio’s actually a ruthless supervillain hell-bent on defeating secret agent James Bont. It’s an absurd setup bolstered by one of the show’s best laughs-per-minute ratios. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have to take a trip to Hammocks-R-Us; it’s in the Hammock District.

23. “Lisa’s First Word”
Airdate: Dec. 3, 1992
The best Simpsons episodes aren’t only hilarious—they’re also poignant, showcasing the big, beating heart beneath the series’ occasionally caustic satire. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the show’s early flashback episodes, including ”The Way We Was,” ”I Married Marge,” and ”And Maggie Makes Three”—the latter of which ends with what may be the most heartwarming image ever seen on TV. Of that stellar quartet, though, ”Lisa” reigns supreme, thanks both to its emotional high points (the titular event, which shines a spotlight on Lisa and Bart’s relationship; its closing moment, in which Maggie (played by guest star Elizabeth Taylor, of all people) says her own first word, ”Daddy”) and its barrage of ace jokes (Bart’s ”spout medley,” ”It’s not easy to juggle a pregnant wife and a troubled child, but somehow I managed to fit in eight hours of TV a day,” ”can’t sleep, clown’ll eat me”).

22. “Hurricane Neddy”
Airdate: Dec. 19, 1996
Homer’s mild-mannered nemesis had a few spotlight episodes before this one—but none were as juicy as ”Hurricane Neddy,” which digs into just what makes Springfield’s model citizen tick. It all starts when Hurricane Barbara sweeps through town, sparing most residents—except the devout, endlessly generous Flanders clan, who lose everything they own. (Ned doesn’t have insurance because he considers it a form of gambling.) What follows is half an hour of darkly-tinted soul searching in which Ned questions his faith (”I’ve done everything the Bible says, even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff! I’ve even kept kosher, just to stay on the safe side”), finally gives the rest of Springfield a piece of his mind (Moe: ”Hey, I may be ugly and hate-filled, but I… um, what was the third thing you said?”), then checks himself into a mental hospital. One of the series’ darker installments, to be sure—but it’s also relentlessly hilarious and quotable (”I’m Dick Tracy! Take that, Pruneface! Now I’m Pruneface! Take that, Dick Tracy! Now I’m Prune Tracy!’ Take that, Dick…”).

21. “Who Shot Mr. Burns? Parts 1 and 2″
Airdate: May 21, 1995; Sept. 17, 1995
A two-part comedic homage to Dallas‘s ”Who shot J.R.?” stunt, ”WSMB?” is perhapsThe Simpsons‘s most grandiose pop moment ever. An atypical outing, too: Satiric potshots (O.J. Simpson, Madonna, and Twin Peaks) and gut-busting randomness (Moe’s marathon lie-detector session is a classic) are subordinate to a methodically plotted murder mystery that, alas, climaxes with a cop-out, albeit a deliberate one. (Maggie did the deed—accidentally, of course.) There’s no way it could have approached the ratings for the Dallas cliffhanger, but it’s still a pivotal marker in the show’s evolution. By deftly deploying The Simpsons‘s array of supporting characters (even Doctor Colossus!), this onetime anti-Cosby lightning rod demonstrated what a rich, self-sustaining universe it had become.

20. “Radio Bart”
Airdate: Jan. 9, 1992
Homer tries to top his past gifts to Bart (a shoe tree and shelf paper) with a Mr. Microphone-style radio. The boy immediately drops it down a well and begins broadcasting plaintive cries for help as Timmy O’Toole. A ridiculous media circus ensues: Hucksters sell authentic Timmy baby teeth, and guest voice Sting leads an overblown, ”We Are the World”-style ballad called ”We’re Sending Our Love Down the Well.” In the end, Timmy’s story is bumped off the front page by a squirrel who resembles Abraham Lincoln, and Sting’s ditty gets booted from No. 1 by Funky C Funky Do’s ”I Do Believe We’re Naked.” It’s a media parody so sharp, we’re still stinging a bit.

19. “Simpsons Spin-off Showcase”
Airdate: May 11, 1997
”Could The Simpsons ever maintain its popularity without Moe the bartender?” asks Troy McClure. ”Let’s hope so — because Moe is leaving to do his own sitcom.” This send-up of spin-offs has it all, from odd pairings (Grampa Simpson’s spirit inhabits a love-tester machine in Moe’s bar) to awkward cameos (says Lisa to Chief Wiggum, newly relocated to New Orleans: ”I can’t wait to hear about all the exciting, sexy adventures you’re sure to have against this colorful backdrop”). But ”The Simpson Family Smile-Time Variety Hour” is the strongest of the three spawn — a searing homage to one of the most dreadful spin-offs ever, The Brady Bunch Hour. The Waylon Smithers Dancers and Hee Haw interstitials are a hoot, but memo to Fox: Don’t be getting any ideas.

18. “Flaming Moe’s”
Airdate: Jan. 21, 1991
Moe laments his poor business: ”Increased job satisfaction and family togetherness are poison for a purveyor of mind-numbing intoxicants like myself.” Then Homer invents a new drink, for which Moe takes credit. The ”Flaming Moe” turns his bar into a raging success (a velvet-rope policy begins, Aerosmith perform ”Walk This Way,” and Moe hires a comely new bartender). ”Flaming Moe’s” is a crucial addition to The Simpsons‘s liquor canon, with a Cheers parody that includes a sobering theme song (”Liquor in a mug/Can warm you like a hug”). Extra attraction: Bart actually apologizes for making a prank call to Moe’s. Remorse and fiery mixed drinks—does it get much better?

17. “Itchy & Scratchy Land”
Airdate: Oct. 2, 1994
Based on those cartoonishly violent killer critters, Itchy & Scratchy Land is the theme-park realization of Bart’s most extreme daydreams — no wonder he and Lisa beg to go there for a family trip. What’s waiting for the Simpsons when they arrive—besides two gargantuan parking lots, of course—is actually a smart riff on the Disney empire: There are shots at Walt’s lame character spin-offs (Klu Klux Clam, anyone?), a dig at his speculated sordid past (Itchy & Scratchy’s creator turns out to be a Nazi sympathizer), and a nod to the park’s mollifying grown-up attractions (the booze-filled ”Parents’ Island”). When the animatronics attack, the showdown between man and machine—okay, Homer and a giant robot mouse—is an uproarious rebuttal to capitalism run amok.

16. “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.

15. “Twenty-Two Short Films About Springfield”
Airdate: April 14, 1996
Working with animation grants the writers of The Simpsons the liberty to do things that live-action shows 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 a Chuck Lorre joint try that.

14. “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson”
Airdate: Sept. 21, 1997
The show that 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.

13. “I Love Lisa”
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 these 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 show’s 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!”

12. “Duffless”
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.

11. “The Last Temptation of Homer”
Airdate: Dec. 9, 1993
When Mr. Burns is forced to hire a female employee at the plant, Homer is suddenly very attentive at work. There’s plenty Homer admires about Mindy Simmons (voiced to slinky perfection by Michelle Pfeiffer): gluttony, sloth, and, he suspects, outrage that ”’Ziggy”s gotten too preachy!” Of course, we know that Homer will stay faithful, his marriage having already survived Jacques the bowling instructor and a giant catfish named General Sherman. But it’s Homer’s anguished journey (”Oh no, I’m sweating like Roger Ebert!”)—and a memorable cameo by Colonel Klink of Hogan’s Heroes—that makes getting there so great. It’s no Scenes From a Marriage, but it’s a hell of a lot more amusing.

10. “Treehouse of Horror V”
Airdate: Oct. 30, 1994
Simpsons Truism No. 666: ”Treehouse” episodes are as inconsistent as Grampa’s bladder. Welcome to the exception. ”The Shinning” is a parody brimming with such detail, comic timing (”No TV and no beer make Homer…something something”), and Kubrick send-ups that it ranks with the greatest of pop-culture spoofs. ”Time and Punishment” features Homer’s time-traveling toaster and one of the most beautifully random moments in Simpsons history (Homer: ”Don’t panic. Remember the advice your father gave you on your wedding day.” Grampa in thought bubble: ”If you ever travel back in time, doooooonnnn’t step on anything…”). Maybe ”Nightmare Cafeteria” doesn’t shine as brilliantly, but we think it’s perfectly, well, ”cromulent.”

9. “Mr. Plow”
Airdate: Nov. 19, 1992
”Call Mr. Plow, that’s my name/That name again is Mr. Plow!” Those 12 words of insipid brilliance stand testament to one of the few times Homer has actually succeeded at something. As Springfield’s No. 1 snow mover, Homer—rather incredibly—earns some extra money, the gratitude of Mayor Quimby, and the amorous adoration of Marge (She: ”Would you mind…?” He: ”Cutting my nails? Brushing my teeth?”). But Homer finds competition—and even betrayal—from…Barney? A curiously dark episode (we learn that Homer is responsible for Barney’s alcoholism) in which escalating tensions come to a head on icy Widow’s Peak. Not exactly laugh-a-minute, but oh, that jingle…

8. “The Itchy & Scratchy and Poochie Show”
Airdate: Feb. 9, 1997
Hey, kids! Who likes scathing commentary on aging TV series? In this provocative, self-referential spectacle that polarized a nation (okay, some particularly rabid fans),Itchy & Scratchy‘s falling ratings prompt the network suits to introduce a painfully overhip canine. (”You’ve heard the expression, ‘Let’s get busy’? Well, this is a dog who gets biz-zay.”) The Homer-voiced Poochie provides perfect fodder for aggressive meta-lampoonery: As Lisa criticizes the desperate character-adding act, a hipster teen named Roy is seen inexplicably chillin’ with the Simpson clan. No cow is sacred here, not even The Simpsons‘s increasingly nitpicky fans, who are milked for laughs in the Comic Book Guy’s ”Worst Episode Ever” didacticism. Worst ever? Hardly.

7. “Homer’s Phobia”
Airdate: Feb. 16, 1997
The Simpsons gets away with more hot-button hotdoggery than any other show, and the most cunning example may be this flamboyant installment, in which the family befriends John (John Waters), the droll owner of a kitschy collectibles shop… until Homer finds out that he’s gay. For a man who once called a spoon ”the metal dealie…you use…to dig…food,” Homer attains a new level of keg-headedness in his foolish paranoia (”He didn’t give you gay, did he?”) and absurd anger toward John for not mincing around and declaring his orientation (”You know me, Marge—I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my homosexuals fa-laaaming!”). But the same-sex silliness never turns offensive, perhaps because of the sincere subtext: By worrying that John is going to convert Bart, Homer actually fears that he hasn’t been a good father—thus explaining the accidental visit to the gay steel mill. Hot (and funny) stuff, coming through!

6. “Lisa the Vegetarian”
Airdate: Oct. 15, 1995
In the early days, Bart and Homer were the Simpson family’s — and the show’s—undisputed breakout stars. Talk to Simpsons writers, though, and you’ll discover something interesting: A critical mass name Lisa—nerdy, earnest, principled, perpetually misunderstood Lisa—as their favorite Simpson of all. Which means this list needs a Lisa episode—and not a Lisa episode that’s really a Bart episode (”Lisa’s First Word”) or a Lisa episode that’s really a Ralph episode (”I Love Lisa”). (Don’t agree? Go back to Russia!) And which Lisa episode is better than ”Lisa the Vegetarian,” in which the smartest kid in Springfield first realizes the unsettling connection between the lamb she just met at a petting zoo and the chops Marge is serving that very night? But there’s more to this half-hour than Lisa’s awakening; her meat-eschewing highlights her relationship with Homer, one of the show’s most interesting dynamics, and also leads to a few of the series’ catchiest gags. Sing it with me now: You don’t win friends with sal-ad!

5. “A Fish Called Selma”
Airdate: March 24, 1996
You may remember Troy McClure from such TV shows as ”The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular,” but in his splashiest turn, the underemployed actor is plagued by a ”romantic abnormality.” ”Gay? I wish!” says the closeted fish fetishist, who becomes a family man by marrying Marge’s sister Selma (the one with a repetitive stress injury from scratching her butt). Hollywood lampoons are well-tread ground for the show, but this take on the scandal-contrition cycle, featuring the wonderful McClure vehicle Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!, is particularly smart. And Selma’s farewell to McClure is also a touching tribute to the man who supplied his voice, the late Phil Hartman: ”Goodbye, Troy. I’ll always remember you, but not from your films.”

4. “Rosebud”
Airdate: Oct. 21, 1993
It begins with Citizen Kane, ends somewhere near the ”Planet of the Apes,” and in between, manages to find time to include Hitler, the Ramones, and 64 slices of American cheese. But despite being one of The Simpsons‘s most spectacularly overstuffed episodes, ”Rosebud” has plenty of heart, though it is the Mephistophelian ticker belonging to Mr. Burns, who, on the eve of his birthday—somewhere north of 100—finds himself pining for Bobo, his long-lost teddy bear. Burns and Smithers’ efforts to retrieve the tattered toy from Maggie show why they’ll always be TV’s most functional dysfunctional couple: Smithers (who fantasizes about his boss jumping out of a birthday cake) isn’t happy unless his boss is happy—which happens only after an empathetic Maggie gives Bobo up. It’s a moment that proves even Springfield’s twisted billionaire can learn to love—though he conveniently forgets how a few seconds later.

3. “Last Exit to Springfield”
Airdate: March 11, 1993
This episode is virtually flawless, the product of a series at the height of its creative powers—when the satire was savage and relevant, when names like John Swartzwelder, George Meyer, and Conan O’Brien were relatively unknown, when Maude Flanders lived. So it is that we find America’s favorite family at Painless (formerly ”Painful”) Dentistry, because Lisa is in need of braces. Meanwhile, at the nuclear plant, Mr. Burns is trying to ax the union dental plan. The rest is the stuff of syndication legend: Burns facing down ”brilliant” labor kingpin Homer Simpson; Homer Simpson facing down his own brain (”Lisa needs braces/DENTAL PLAN!”); Grampa rattling on about wearing onions on his belt. ”Last Exit” is a glorious symphony of the high and the low, of satirical shots at unions and sweet ruminations on the humiliations of adolescence (as evidenced by Lisa, who copes with a medieval mouth contraption), and, of course, all those ”D’oh!”s. The things, in other words, that make us love The Simpsons in the first place.

2. “Cape Feare”
Airdate: Oct. 7, 1993
The Simpsons is, at its heart, one big parody, but even Homer Thompson could recognize ”Cape Feare” as the show’s most meticulous and manic pop-culture takeoff. Not only is it a pitch-perfect send-up of the Martin Scorsese remake (with Kelsey Grammer’s Sideshow Bob traveling to Terror Lake to hunt down and murder his pint-size nemesis, Bart), but it also features one of the most bizarre scenes in television history. We’re referring, of course, to the rakes. Think about it. How many other series would waste valuable prime-time real estate by showing a man whacking himself in the face with a garden rake not once, not twice, but NINE TIMES?!? If ever there was a gag genius in its repetitive stupidity (progressing from funny to not so funny to the funniest thing ever), this is it—merely the sharpest cut in an entire episode that just plain kills.

1. “Marge vs. the Monorail”
Airdate: Jan. 14, 1993
Fast-talking huckster Lyle Lanley (Phil Hartman, natch) sells the town a faulty monorail; only through Marge’s intervention is the town saved. That’s the plot of ”Marge vs. the Monorail,” but it’s not the point. The point is that the episode has arguably the highest throwaway-gag-per-minute ratio of any Simpsons, and all of them are laugh-out-loud funny. You want parodies? In its first five minutes, ”Monorail” skewers The Flintstones, Beverly Hills Cop, The Silence of the Lambs, andBatman. Celebrity cameos? Leonard Nimoy bores the town with tales from the Star Trek set. Simpsons in-jokes? Country star Lurleen Lumpkin, from ”Colonel Homer,” has a bit part. A musical number? The Music Man‘-inspired ”The Monorail Song” is, well, inspired. Elaborate visuals that were clearly devised by a roomful of overgrown boys? This episode features giant remote-controlled mechanical ants, a radioactive squirrel, an escalator to nowhere, and—in case we haven’t mentioned it already—Leonard Nimoy. Thus we proclaim: Best. Episode. Ever.

This article originally appeared on EW.com

TIME Music

Madonna on Leaked Demos of New Album: ‘This Is Artistic Rape’

Madonna
FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2012, file photo, Madonna performs at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Madonna, who was "inspired" during a recent visit to Detroit, is donating money toward the construction of a new youth boxing gym and buying iPods, iPads and other supplies for students at a charter school in her hometown, according to a news release issued by the music icon's publicist Monday, June 30, 2014. The statement said Madonna's donations to three Detroit organizations represent "the first phase of a long-term commitment to" the city. (Photo by Gary Malerba/Invision/AP, file) Gary Malerba—Gary Malerba/Invision/AP

The pop singer says the theft of her music is "terrorism"

After tracks purportedly from an unreleased thirteenth studio album leaked to the internet, Madonna took to Instagram to decry her treatment as “artistic rape.”

“These are early leaked demo’s half of which wont even make it on my album the other half have changed and evolved [sic]. This is a form of terrorism,” the “Like a Prayer” singer wrote in a caption on Instagram. (Update: On Wednesday afternoon, the singer deleted the post.) In another caption, Madonna wrote “Thank you for not listening! Thank you for your loyalty!”

Though the references to terrorism (at a time when the Sony hackers have explicitly threatened violent attacks on U.S. soil, no less) and rape are new for the pop star, who’s increasingly become the wrong kind of provocative, Madonna’s been critical of hackers before. When an unfinished version of the single eventually titled “Give Me All Your Luvin'” leaked months before its planned release, timed to her Super Bowl halftime performance in 2012, Madonna said, “My true fans wouldn’t do this.” And before the release of her album American Life in 2003, Madonna’s team planted a fake file on peer-to-peer sharing sites to thwart piracy; on the file, the pop singer cursed at listeners instead of serenading them.

Other stars have had success in appealing to their fans’ better natures in dealing with the inevitability of leaks. After as high-profile and guarded a release as Taylor Swift’s 1989 hit the web early (proving leaks can truly happen to anyone), Swift’s fans mocked those who listened early.

But that was a project that fans knew they’d be able to listen to soon enough. Little is known, still, about the hypothetical Madonna album, up to and including a release date. The artist’s last album, MDNA, came out in March 2012, a full four years after its predecessor, and was widely viewed as an artistic disappointment (though it led to an extremely lucrative tour). Madonna’s fan base is one of the pop world’s most vociferous — it’s unsurprising, though unfortunate, that they’d be as eager as they are to listen to new material after the singer’s recent fallow period.

TIME viral

Sarah Koenig Goes to Jail in This Funny or Die Parody of Serial

Serial
Serial

"What do you want, I do a podcast, it was supposed to be for four people!"

Serial has become so popular, there’s even a theory that its host and longtime This American Life producer Sarah Koenig is actually the guilty party behind the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee—that’s how good the case has been for her career.

But on the other end of the spectrum, many fans are worried that they won’t get answers in tomorrow’s final episode.

“Maybe we’ll never know who killed Hae Min Lee,” fictional Sarah Koenig says in this Funny or Die parody of the finale. “JK, JK, I know, I guess I know exactly who did it.”

[Funny or Die]

TIME movies

Here’s the Perfect Word to Describe Watching The Hobbit

The Hobbit
Mark Pokorny—Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

One word to describe it all, one word if you can find it

When The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is released on Wednesday, it will likely mark the end of Peter Jackson’s stint bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novels to the big screen. Fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have been able to enjoy the films for over a decade now, and so the release of this sixth installment is likely to bring with it mixed feelings: happiness, finality, nostalgia.

It will be a combination familiar to Tolkien’s long-time fans, who encountered the same feeling as he wrote the books over the course of decades.

Those fans may also be familiar with a word that Tolkien coined decades ago to describe the feeling of something ending the way it’s supposed to: Eucatastrophe. (That’s the positive prefix Eu, as in euphoria, plus catastrophe.) Here’s how TIME described it in Tolkien’s 1973 obituary:

But [Tolkien] did point out that literal-minded folk who object to fairy stories as escapist mistake the wartime escape of the deserter (bad) for the wartime escape of the prisoner (necessary and good). Fairy tales represent the latter, Tolkien continued, and correspond to the primordial human desire—in a world of poverty, injustice and death —for the “consolation of the happy ending.” Tolkien even coined a word—Eucatastrophe—for this happy quality.

Eucatastrophe gives the reader “a catch of breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, a piercing glimpse of joy and heart’s desire.”

For one thing, the moment in The Hobbit that Tolkien himself identified as the most “eucatastrophic” is included in the section of the book that’s the source for this movie. There’s also the external eucatastrophe: for those who love the movie, there’s the consolation Tolkien describes, the joy of a tale coming to an end — and for those who don’t like it, there’s the consolation of knowing it’s over.

Read TIME’s 1966 article about the fad for all things Tolkien, here in the TIME Vault: The Hobbit Habit

TIME TV

Mythbusters Will Take On The Simpsons

THE SIMPSONS: The Simpson Family.  THE SIMPSONS ™ and © 2013 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Fox

The bubble-bursting masters will test the assumptions of one of America’s most beloved cartoons

The good people at Mythbusters are turning their skeptical eye next toward a show about a little family from Springfield: the Simpsons.

For the hit Discovery Channel show’s 13th season premiere, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman will test assertions and assumptions in some classic moments from the show.

“We set out to test Bart throwing a cherry bomb into the toilet that makes all toilets in the school act like geysers,” Savage says.

They’ll also put to the test the time Homer put himself between a wrecking ball and his house in order to save the structure—with two real life houses to wreck—or not wreck, if somehow Homer’s feat actually works—plus a life-sized Homer replica.

Read more at Entertainment Weekly

TIME movies

See 11 of the Worst Dictators Portrayed in Movies

From Kim Jong-un to Sauron, see some of the worst dictators to appear on the big screen

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