Fox // 1993 // 484 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // February 23rd, 2005
Homer: I am so smart! I am so smart! I am so smart! S-M-R-T!
I can summarize the genius of The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season with two words: The Rakes.
All 22 episodes of Season Five are here, presented in their entirety for the first time since their original broadcasts over ten years ago. The shows that make up this set are some of the finest the series ever produced. They are as follows:
* "Homer's Barbershop Quartet"
Season Five begins with the tale of the time that Homer, Apu, Moe, and Principal Skinner formed the country's most successful barbershop quartet, The Be Sharps. George Harrison makes a cameo, meaning that Beatles references abound.
* "Cape Feare"
Sideshow Bob (voiced by Kelsey Grammer, Frasier) is released from prison and resumes terrorizing Bart, sending the Simpsons into the witness relocation program in this classic send-up of Cape Fear (both the original and the remake). This is the episode with The Rakes, and for that reason alone it deserves the highest grade.
* "Homer Goes to College"
The last episode to be written by future late-night guru Conan O'Brien finds Homer returning to college after failing a competency test at the nuclear power plant; to his surprise, college life isn't quite like Animal House painted it to be.
The title alone should tell you that this take-off of Citizen Kane finds Montgomery Burns pining for a childhood toy, now in the possession of baby Maggie. The Ramones appear as themselves.
* "Tree House of Horror IV"
One of the very best of the annual Halloween specials, "Tree House" IV features "The Devil and Homer Simpson" (Homer sells his soul to the Devil -- not surprisingly appearing as Ned Flanders -- for a doughnut); "Terror at 5½ Feet" (a parody of a classic Twilight Zone, in which Bart spots a gremlin lurking outside the window of his school bus); and "Bart Simpson's Dracula" (Monty Burns is the king of the bloodsuckers in this skewering of Francis Ford Coppola's overblown epic). Not quite as good as the "Treehouse" found in the following season (Homer using the toaster to travel through time might just be my favorite ten minutes of The Simpsons ever), but damn close.
* "Marge on the Lam"
Keeping up the steady tradition of movie lifts in Season Five, this episode cribs from Thelma and Louise as Marge hits the road with a rebellious new friend. Some classic bits -- including Homer's vision of the ballet and Chief Wiggum pursuing a "ghost car" -- but not one of the best of the season.
* "Bart's Inner Child"
Self-help takes a beating as Marge and Homer sign up for a seminar (run by frequent guest star Albert Brooks, Broadcast News), only to have the entire town of Springfield worship at the altar of Bart. The opening sequence, in which Homer acquires a free trampoline, is the episode's brightest spot.
* "Boy Scoutz N' the Hood"
Following a Squishy-induced bender ("Only syrup!"), Bart unknowingly joins the Junior Campers. When the time comes for the father-son outing, Homer and Bart find themselves stranded on a raft with both the Flanderses and Ernest Borgnine (Marty). Typically inspired.
* "The Last Temptation of Homer"
Michelle Pfeiffer (Batman Returns) guest stars as a new employee at the power plant, a kind of female version of Homer who catches his eye and tests the strength of his marriage to Marge. Werner Klemperer reprises his old Hogan's Heroes role as Col. Klink, who appears as Homer's guardian angel.
* "$pringfield (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized
To counter the rising unemployment rate in Springfield, the town elects to build a casino funded by Mr. Burns; Homer gets a job as a dealer, Marge develops a gambling problem, and Bart starts his own casino in the treehouse (featuring an appearance by Robert Goulet, doing a rousing rendition of "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells"). Lots of Howard Hughes jokes years before The Aviator made them hip.
* "Homer the Vigilante"
Springfield experiences one of its many descents into mob mentality when a cat burglar (voiced by Sam Neill of Dead Calm) steals the town's most beloved possessions, including Lisa's saxophone and the World's Largest Cubic Zirconia.
* "Bart Gets Famous"
After Bart gets a job as Krusty the Klown's assistant, he becomes a media sensation when an on-air mishap leads him to coin a new catchphrase, "I didn't do it!" At least it's catchier than the follow-up, "Woozle Wuzzle." Ah, the fleeting nature of fame.
* "Homer and Apu"
Greatness. Homer participates in a sting operation to bring down Apu and the Kwik-E-Mart for selling rancid meat; when Apu really does get fired, he moves in with the Simpson family. Taking over Apu's post at the Kwik-E-Mart? James Woods (Videodrome). Features one of the best musical numbers in the show's history of great musical numbers.
* "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy"
When Lisa realizes that her favorite doll, Malibu Stacy, might not be the best role model for young women (with programmed phrases like "I wish they taught shopping in school!" and "Don't ask me -- I'm just a girl!"), she takes up the cause of creating her own inspirational doll, Lisa Lionheart. Kathleen Turner (Romancing the Stone) lends her borderline-masculine vocal talents as Malibu Stacy's creator.
* "Deep Space Homer"
One of my single favorite episodes of the show's 16-season run. Homer, angry at the nuclear power plant after being passed over for Employee of the Month in favor of an inanimate carbon rod, signs himself up for NASA's new program to send an ordinary citizen into space. Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon ("Second comes right after first!"), appears as himself.
* "Homer Loves Flanders"
After Ned Flanders takes Homer to the Springfield-Shelbyville football game, Homer decides the two ought to be best friends and fully inserts himself into Ned's family, much to the chagrin of all of the Flanderses. A rather large dose of sentimentality and fewer moments of absurdity give this episode the feeling that it belongs in one of the series' earlier seasons.
* "Bart Gets an Elephant"
Bart wins a radio call-in contest and is given a choice of prizes: $10,000 or a full-grown African elephant. This being The Simpsons, Bart doesn't hesitate before choosing the elephant, creating a host of new logistical and financial problems for the family. The episode is notable in that it marks the first-ever appearance of Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel.
* "Burns's Heir"
Following a near-death experience, Mr. Burns holds auditions for someone to inherit his fortune. When Bart is chosen as the new heir, he's torn between his love for his family and his love for Burns's money.
* "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song"
The two best things about this episode -- the series' landmark 100th -- are its title and a brief riff on Alien 3 (of all the Alien movies, that's the one they spoof). Principal Skinner is fired following an incident with Bart and his dog; Flanders is brought in to replace him as principal.
* "The Boy Who Knew Too Much"
Bart skips school and winds up witnessing a skirmish between Mayor Quimby's son and a French waiter ("Chow-der! Say it!"). The episode doesn't totally gel as a whole, but there are enough excellent bits thrown together to make this one, joke for joke, one of the season's funniest.
* "Lady Bouvier's Lover"
This is just personal bias, but I'm never terribly interested in episodes that revolve around Abe Simpson (he's great as a background character, but less so when he takes center stage), and I'm especially uninterested in episodes revolving around Marge's mother. Having said that, this episode, in which Abe and Mr. Burns compete for the affections of Mrs. Bouvier, does have a number of inspired moments -- notably the subplot involving Bart's pursuit of an Itchy & Scratchy cel, as well as one of the series' many homages to The Graduate.
* "Secrets of a Successful Marriage"
The fifth season comes to a close on a decent note, as Homer begins teaching a class on marriage that consists of little more than his dishing gossip on his personal life. Shows focusing on the relationship between Homer and Marge can never fail, and there are numerous opportunities for some classic Homer-isms.
It happens about halfway through "Cape Feare," the second episode of The Simpsons: The Complete First Season: Sideshow Bob has tracked the Simpsons all the way to their new witness relocation destination by clinging to the underside of their car (à la Robert De Niro in Scorsese's Cape Fear). He waits until the coast is clear, then crawls out, stands up, and takes a step -- right onto a rake, sending the handle flying toward him and smacking him dead in the face. He shudders, half injured, half annoyed. It's a fairly lame gag but basely amusing, lifted straight out of a Wile E. Coyote or Tom and Jerry cartoon. But then he takes another step, stepping on another rake with the exact same results: Step, Smack, Shudder. Then another. And another -- until it's happened a total of eight times -- and something magical happens: It becomes the funniest thing you've ever seen. It's my favorite rule of comedy -- something's kind of funny, then repeated until it's not funny anymore, and then repeated even more until it's funny again -- and "Cape Feare" might provide the best example of that I've seen. It's also a shining example not only of the lengths the show will go to for a laugh, but also of how just one gag can work on so many levels: What is on the surface the lowest of lowbrow gags (guy gets hit in the face over and over) actually becomes a self-reflexive comment on the joke itself. Such is the endless sophistication of the show's humor.
Unlike, say, Seth McFarlane's occasionally funny cult favorite, Family Guy, The Simpsons has a heart and a soul; as one-dimensional as these two-dimensional characters may seem, they're surprisingly three-dimensional. They have moved beyond being just the Types they were in earlier seasons, and can finally live and breathe; the humor of the show comes just as much out of the characters' personalities and behavior as it does out of whacked-out sight gags and pop-culture references. Speaking of references, The Simpsons remains the king. Once again, unlike Family Guy (not to pick on that show, but the comparison holds), the references incorporated into The Simpsons are always given a context -- they're more than references for their own sake. They also demand a level of intelligence and awareness -- not just of pop culture, but of history, politics, and religion -- on the part of the viewer. Every book you read, every movie you see, every obscure piece of history or trivia you learn means another joke you're likely to get. The Simpsons rewards you for being smart.
The Golden Age of The Simpsons began with Season Four and lasted through the next two seasons (if you think about it, nearly every great episode the series had to offer appeared somewhere in the span of those three seasons), meaning that The Complete Fifth Season finds the show at its peak. Having finally found its true voice -- the mixture of the sublime and the absurd that would endear the show so strongly to its diehard fans -- in the previous season, Season Five really lets it rip. This is the season where Homer totally ceases to act in any way that even remotely resembles anything human; where his humor extends beyond the occasional choking of Bart and into the finest non sequiturs ever to make their way onto a network series. This is the season that opens up the scope of storylines to Springfield's supporting and peripheral characters. This is the season that (for the most part) eschews sentimentality in favor of fearlessness and the best satire on television. This is The Simpsons at its very best.
Credit the new direction the show takes in Season Five to a changeover in staff; the first two episodes of the season, "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" and "Cape Feare" (both actually holdovers from Season Four), mark the final outings for the series' original group of writers. It's fitting that these two episodes showcase that staff at the top of their game, and, as such, also allow for an almost seamless transition into the newer stuff -- the writing is of such a high quality all around that, except for a push toward a new kind of humor, one hardly notices a difference. From episode three onward, the new class applies the groundwork laid by their predecessors and builds off of it, while at the same time twisting and bending and reshaping its legacy -- the voice that the series finds in Season Five is the one that is influencing it even still, eleven years later.
Fox has always paid special attention to their Simpsons season-length sets, and their efforts on The Complete Fifth Season are the finest yet. All 22 episodes are presented in their original full-frame aspect ratio and look extremely bright and vibrant; despite the occasional source issue (blurring or color timing issues are visible but rare), these transfers are a significant improvement over their broadcast counterparts. Every episode also boasts a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which, while not exactly breaking new ground, is surprisingly effective in delivering the show's dialogue and music (that great, great music) clearly and directly.
Even the extras included on the Season Five set are both more plentiful and more rewarding than on past sets (all of which were excellent in their own right). There are 22 commentary tracks -- that's one for each show -- recorded by a complete cross-sampling of the creative forces behind the series: We get writers, directors, animators, producers, actors, creator Matt Groening, and even Jon Lovitz (Trapped in Paradise) for good measure. This time around, many of the talks focus less on what went into writing or animating the shows (which many of the commentaries in previous sets tended to focus on -- especially the animation) and are more historical, anecdotal, and contextual in nature. Plus, with input from a wider variety of cast and crew, one gets a better idea of how the shows come together and who makes what contributions (not to mention that it makes a room full of funny people even funnier).
In addition to the excellent and endlessly entertaining commentary tracks, Fox has included a boatload of supplemental material that delves even further into the actual makings of the show -- the logistics and technical aspects -- and yet has found a way to present the information in way that's not at all dry. There are some original sketches included, allowing one to see just how far the animation has come (and after seeing those clips from The Tracy Ullman Show, we know it's a long way), as well as some animatics and illustrated commentaries (the animators draw on the screen as they talk -- picture John Madden's trademark football squiggling-during-the-replay) that create a comprehensive look at how the drawings are brought to life; for as occasionally crude and simplistic as much of it seems, it's pretty sophisticated stuff.
Also included in the set are about twenty minutes' worth of deleted scenes, many of them just as funny as what was left in but cut out for pacing purposes; a commercial gallery; a "special language" feature that allows the viewer to watch the show in a number of Eastern European languages (only available on one episode); an introduction by Matt Groening that helps to set up the changes made to the show in Season Five; and a "Look Back" segment, narrated by producer James L. Brooks and designed to reflect on the series as a whole, but which really just talks about when the show originally exploded into the public consciousness.
I'm the first to admit that The Simpsons, now in its 16th season, has lost some of the inspiration and demented spark that it once had -- it plays more like it's been written by folks who watched the show in its heyday and are trying to recapture or imitate that rather than letting it evolve or push it in new directions. It's no longer the funniest show on television -- that honor now belongs to the show that follows it Sunday nights on Fox, Arrested Development -- but with a decade and a half of brilliance behind it, it remains the Funniest Show of All Time.
Not everyone will champion Season Five over The Simpsons's other outings -- there are those that might prefer the simplicity of Season One or the warmth of Season Two -- but there's no denying its incredible quality or its significance in the maturation of the series. It's like my friend Doug -- an even bigger fan than me -- used to say: "Every Beatles album is good. Some you just like better than other ones." I guess that would make The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season the Sgt. Pepper of the series -- a comparison that's okay by me.
I rest my case. Oh, wait -- I thought that was just a figure of speech.
Review content copyright © 2005 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 484 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Introduction by Creator Matt Groening
* Audio Commentary on All 22 Episodes
* Deleted Scenes
* Special Language Feature
* Illustrated Commentaries
* Audio Outtake
* Original Sketches
* "A Look Back" with Producer James L. Brooks
* Official Site
* DVD Verdict Review, Season One
* DVD Verdict Review, Season Three
* DVD Verdict Review, Season Four