I’m not sure if there is anything, and I mean anything, better than the Simpsons Seasons 3-6. The only things that might give competition are Season 4 of The Wire and Bacon.
Given the extreme difficulty of churning out a quality television product throughout a season, it’s really an extraordinary accomplishment. I love all the seasons for different reasons. Just recently I’ve gone back and watched Season 3 which I consider the height of the show in it’s orignal form. Great storytelling, sharp lines, and an emotional core. My girlfriend, who hadn’t seen any of the episodes from this season, cried at the end of every single one. Repeat, every single episode. That’s the sign of sweet and touching series right there. Season 4 is often considered the greatest season and I’m not so sure. It’s certainly the funniest. Jaw-droppingly funny in every style of humor imaginable. But it was definitely when the show took off in a new direction. The references became more obscure and random, the grounding reality of the series was lost a bit, and the emotional core gave way to more humor. You can credit the new writers like Conan O’Brien with that turn. After that, David Mirkin came in to be the show runner for seasons 5 and 6 and kept the quality strong, blending the relative effectiveness of the seasons before.
Seasons 7-10 were still good. Quite good in fact. “Still the best show on Television” good. But, there was a noticable drop in quality. Homer was too willing to be a jerk. Narratives were pretty much done away with. When it was good, it was at marx brothers level, but when it wasn’t perfect it just seemed disjointed.
I’m also not going to jump on the bandwagon and say The Simpsons sucks now. Far from it. It’s still a very, very good television show (especially since Al Jean and Mike Reiss came back to run it). It’s just that most people’s sense of humor has evolved with time. It’s inevitable really. The geniuses of yesteryear become tired in comparison to the “new”. Look at all the people claiming that Family Guy is better than The Simpsons. That’s ridiculous, because it just seems more fresh. Family Guy had one good season and a few decent jokes, but you can barely consider it a show. It’s just a bunch of random animation centered around tangents. The Simpsons did cutaway jokes more effectively over a decade ago then got tired of them. Meanwhile Family Guy keeps trotting them out. It’s never even come close to the quality of the “golden age” of The Simpsons.
Then again, what is?