Our reviews of Christmas With The Simpsons (published October 30th, 2003), The Simpsons: The Complete First Season (published September 19th, 2001), The Simpsons: The Complete Fourth Season (published July 12th, 2004), The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season (published February 23rd, 2005), The Simpsons: The Complete Sixth Season (published August 29th, 2005), The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season (published January 16th, 2006), The Simpsons: The Complete Eighth Season (published August 21st, 2006), The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season (published January 22nd, 2007), The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season (published August 29th, 2007), The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season (Blu-Ray) (published September 6th, 2010), The Simpsons: The Complete Fourteenth Season (Blu-ray) (published December 19th, 2011), The Simpsons: The Complete Fifteenth Season (published December 24th, 2012), The Simpsons: The Complete Twentieth Season (Blu-Ray) (published January 21st, 2010), The Simpsons: Bart Wars (published June 30th, 2005), The Simpsons Christmas 2 (published December 24th, 2004), The Simpsons Gone Wild (published December 8th, 2004), The Simpsons: Kiss And Tell (published March 29th, 2006), The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season (published September 9th, 2009), The Simpsons: The Fourteenth Season (published December 22nd, 2011), The Simpsons: The Seventeenth Season (Blu-ray) (published December 29th, 2014), and The Simpsons' Treehouse Of Horror (published November 20th, 2003) are also available.
"P.S. I am gay."
Why is The Simpsons quite possibly the greatest show in the history of television? After all, it's animated, which in the past hasn't set a benchmark for TV classicism (the adventures of Fred and Barney aside). It's also so jam-packed with pop culture references and media lampoons that it runs the risk of insulting or isolating the very audience it is trying to entreat. Then there is the actual family dynamic present, with an oafish bum of a dad pawning off his parental duties on a dense, disconnected wife who lives for the household. Add three broad bratlings who use their own impulsive personalities to completely indulge their egotistical id (yes, even baby Maggie—go with me here), an angry old man left to rot in a nursing home, and a couple of callous sisters-in-law who smoke and stank of overdue skank, and the recipe is ripe for refutation, not joking. But something strange happens when all these elements converge in Matt Groening's view of the really nuclear family. The Simpsons blossoms, becoming omniscient, able to read into each and every viewer's psyche and tap the funny/familiar bones inside. It is one of the best written, best voice acted, and well conceived shows in the history of the medium and consistently passes the test of all great comedy: it's funny even after repeat viewings. Parent company 20th Century Fox is slowly unfurling this masterpiece onto DVD, and if you were never a fan before, it's time to belly up to the buffoonery and take a deep, cleansing breath of bemusement. The Simpsons is the funniest television show ever.
Facts of the Case
If you don't know them by now, you should. If for some reason, the enchanted pixie that cursed you in 1987 finally decided to let you regain human form and consciousness and you really have no earthly idea who the Simpsons are, then here is a brief character course. Homer Simpson is married to Marge. He works at the local nuclear power plant as a safety engineer while she stays at home and raises the kids. Bart is their eldest son and is a self-proclaimed underachiever (and damn proud of it), while middle daughter Lisa is a near genius with a very radicalized sense of purpose. Baby Maggie is merely a toddler, yet she always seems to express what the rest of the family is thinking. Homer's father, Abe, lives in an old folk's home, and Marge's sisters, Patty and Selma, are ugly single career gals living together. They all reside in Springfield, which is more or less a state of mind rather than an actual city in an actual recognizable locale. Or maybe it's Kentucky.
The episodes offered for Season Three are split up over four discs. The installments and a brief description and rating score for each are as follows:
"Stark Raving Dad": Thanks to a suspect pink shirt, Homer is tossed into a mental institution where he meets the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Only this version of the music superstar is a tall, obese white guy. Still, ever the vigilant parent, when he's declared sane Homer invites the celebrity to his house. Score: 93
"Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington": Thanks to Reading Digest magazine, Lisa enters and wins an oratorical essay contest and the family takes a free trip to Washington D.C. There, they learn the truth about corruption and the Capitol's shady backdoor dealings. Despondent, Lisa lashes out, and it costs her the competition. Score: 95
"When Flanders Failed": Neighbor Ned Flanders leaves his job in pharmaceutical sales to try his luck with an emporium for left-handed people. Homer wishes him failure and, within weeks, the store is going under. Thanks to a last minute case of guilt, Homer rallies Springfield around Flanders to help save the store. Score: 96
"Bart the Murderer": After having the worst day of his life, Bart accidentally falls under the auspices of the Springfield mafia and their leader, Fat Tony. Bart takes a job in their gentleman's club pouring drinks and cutting cigars. Soon, he is even fencing goods for the gang. But when Principal Skinner turns up missing, all eyes turn to Bart. Score: 94
"Homer Defined": When he accidentally saves the nuclear plant from a meltdown, Homer is declared a hero. But he chafes at the title, since he knows his bravery was just dumb luck. When another power plant invites him to speak, he is again caught up in a potentially dangerous scenario. This time, his idiot's fortune is exposed. Score: 94
"Like Father, Like Klown": Krusty the Klown finally visits Bart for dinner and breaks down in tears. Seems he is estranged from his rabbi father who did not want him to become an entertainer. With Bart and Lisa's help, Krusty reconnects with his dad and they both learn how hard life has been without the other. Score: 96
"Treehouse of Horror II": A Simpsons Halloween: Divided into three segments, we see what happens when the Simpsons wish on a cursed monkey's paw, when Bart is given omniscient powers, and Mr. Burns steals Homer's brain for a terrifying robotic transplant. Humorous horror hijinx ensue. Score: 90
"Lisa's Pony": Homer's ineptness means that Lisa is the laughing stock of the school talent show. In a desperate attempt to gain her forgiveness, he buys her the pony she's always wanted. But horse care comes with a hefty price tag and Homer has to take a night job at the Kwik-E-Mart to make ends meet. Score: 100
"Saturdays of Thunder": Homer fears he is a bad dad. When he learns that Bart is building a soapbox racer for the derby, he realizes just how negligent he's been. Homer offers to help, but Bart wants to do this one on his own. When a friend is injured and asks Bart to drive his high-tech vehicle, Homer senses he's losing his son forever. Score: 89
"Flaming Moe's": Thanks to a drink Homer invented, Moe's Tavern becomes a national hotspot. As the drinks flow and the money rolls in, Moe takes credit for the creation and cuts Homer out completely. After failing to find another bar to drink in, Homer's despair turns to rage and he seeks revenge. Score: 99
"Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk": When he is offered $100 million for the plant, Mr. Burns does the unthinkable and sells out to a German constituency. Though seemingly appreciative of all the workers, the new owners decide to make a sole lay-off: Homer Simpson, who must now find a way to support his family. Score: 95
"I Married Marge": When Marge thinks she's pregnant again, Homer regales the kids with the story of Bart's conception and birth. Since he was "an accident," Homer and Marge had to marry and he had to find a job fast. Despondent over his failure as a provider, he leaves Marge to prove he is a man. Score: 91
"Radio Bart": After a particularly lousy birthday, Bart uses his gifts to fool the town into thinking a child is trapped in a well. As a circus environment grows up around the incident, Bart believes he has pulled off the ultimate prank. But soon he finds himself in the same situation, and no one is laughing anymore. Score: 88
"Lisa the Greek": Trying to find a way of connecting with her father, Lisa joins him in the Sunday ritual of watching football. But when Homer discovers Lisa has a knack for picking the winners, his interest level skyrockets. Soon Lisa is convinced that all he wants her around for is gambling tips. Score: 94
"Homer Alone": Marge's mental unease has her seeking a vacation from the family. While she goes off to a local luxury spa, the kids are shipped off to sisters-in-law Patty and Selma. But not baby Maggie. Homer is left in charge of his infant daughter and things don't go quite as planned. Score: 92
"Bart the Lover": Feeling sad and lonely, Bart's teacher Mrs. Krabappel takes out a personal ad, which Bart immediately answers. Soon, Mrs. K is swooning over the imaginary beau Woodrow that Bart has created. When a dinner date to meet turns into a bad joke, Bart feels guilty and asks the family to help him sort the situation out. Score: 99
"Homer at the Bat": Homer is a member of the power plant softball team who, thanks to his "Wonder-bat," are headed for a championship. But Mr. Burns is concerned that his ordinary workers don't have what it takes. In order to win a bet with the rival nuclear facility, he hires several professional baseball players as ringers. Score: 96
"Separate Vocations": After taking a standardized test, Lisa is devastated and Bart is elated. He is destined to be a police officer and he loves the sense of power. She is labeled a homemaker and the non-specialized moniker is painful. Soon, Lisa is rebelling and Bart is flying straight and nothing is the same in Springfield. Score: 98
"Dog of Death": When the Simpsons pet, Santa's Little Helper, needs expensive surgery, the family makes untold financial sacrifices to save him. But soon they grow bitter for all the shortcuts they must endure and the dejected dog runs away from home. Bart is immediately on the case, looking for his beloved pup. Score: 95
"Colonel Homer": After an embarrassing incident at the movies, Homer finds himself in a redneck bar listening to a singing cocktail waitress, Lurlene Lumpkin. He is so smitten with her songs that he becomes her manager. But Lurlene has more than a career interest in Homer, something that makes Marge livid. Score: 96
"Black Widower": When Aunt Selma announces her impending nuptials, the entire family is aghast to learn it is ex-con Sideshow Bob that she plans to wed. But he seems above board and willing to make the aging matron happy. Only Bart knows that he has a far more murderous motive in mind. Score: 97
"The Otto Show" After a visit from Spinal Tap, Bart wants to learn the guitar. But soon he has other issues to worry about. Otto loses his job as school bus driver and Bart invites him to live with the Simpsons. Homer and Otto do not get along and soon Otto must find the will and the way to get his job back. Score: 93
"Bart's Friend Falls in Love": When Samantha Stanky, a new girl in school, falls for Milhouse, Bart's best friend is instantly smitten with Cupid's arrow. All the handholding and innocent kissing makes Bart barf, so he schemes to get Samantha in trouble with her strict police officer father, much to Milhouse's misery. Score: 92
"Brother Can You Spare Two Dimes?": When Homer wins $2000 from the nuclear plant (really a payoff for leaving him sterile), his homeless brother Herb decides to ask for a loan. The ex-businessman has a plan to get back on his feet. But Homer also has a plan. He wants to spend the money on a futuristic massage chair. Score: 99
Sometimes, it takes a show a couple of seasons to work, to iron out the kinks and start sailing smoothly. It can flounder in the beginning and then pick up speed, reaching a kind of Zen sameness throughout the course of its run. Other times, a series is brilliant from the get-go and then slowly stumbles into a formulaic flat line until 100 shows are reached and syndication calls. Most shows never try to reinvent themselves, or if they do attempt it, find ways to make matters worse (either via matrimony or childbirth). But the amazing thing about The Simpsons is that, 14 seasons later, the show is still growing, evolving, and reflecting the society that worships its yellow fleshed antics. This is not to say that Homer and the posse are as potent as they were ages ago. Indeed, familiarly breeds contempt and the Internet is filled to bursting with overanalyzed kvetching that seems to center more around the poster's ego and less about the actual quality of the show. Season 12 may not have been as laugh out loud, milk through the nostrils spewing hilarious as, say, Season Six, but those episodes are still hands down better than 99.999% of what passes for entertainment on the glass teat nowadays. In the long run, The Simpsons will prevail because there is a purpose to all this tinkering and toying. Matt Groening and the gang never want the players to become predictable. It has worked, since the reason why the show remains so admired and well-loved is that these animated drawings have taken on that proverbial life of their own. These characters are real now, and anything that makes them otherwise is fodder for blog spew.
Season Three is the beginning of the seminal salad days for The Simpsons. The original strict structure of keeping the show as based in reality as possible was loosening. Suddenly, the anarchic spirit of the Halloween episodes was creeping into the regular series. Outrageous notions like Bart on trial as a mafia don and Major League Baseball legends as ringers on a local softball league were mixed in with more mundane offerings like the perils of parenthood and on-the-job problems. It is as if the writers' minds were crammed with so many fantastical ideas that the standard animated sitcom style could no longer hold them. But unlike the Great Gazoo version of The Flintstones, The Simpsons found a way to incorporate the outlandish and the surreal well within their show setting. So when Homer imagines a world of chocolate, or drifts off into a stylized dreamland while driving his car, it seems natural and necessary. Such portents of preposterousness to come meant that the old days of family morals and pragmatic lessons were about to shatter. It wouldn't be long before we would witness the wonder that is Duff Gardens, the insanity of Homer as an astronaut, and the unholy harmonies of the once-famous Springfield based barbershop quartet, the Be-Sharps. The Simpsons needed a breakout season to make all the future lunacy happen, and Season Three was it.
The first six episodes spread out over Disc One set the tone for Season Three right up front. Michael Jackson appears in "Stark Raving Dad" as the voice of an overweight white guy who swears he is the King of Pop. Jackson does a wonderful job keeping up with the Simpsons regulars, and it's one of the few times when a guest star is not just thrown in randomly to punch up a show. He's a real character here while simultaneously making fun of his celebrity self. [Editor's Note: He's also only one of two celebrities to go unbilled; Dustin Hoffman was the other.] The overall story, from Homer's supposed insanity to the wrap-up over Lisa's missed birthday, signifies that this season of the series will be all over the map, both emotionally and logically. This is further cemented in "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington," a biting political satire in the guise of a children's oratory contest. Everything, from the Reader's Digest rants to the formulaic speeches of the youths, has a resounding ring of truth. And once the story moves to Washington D.C, our nation's capital is in for a royal reaming as well. "When Flanders Failed" shows that even when The Simpsons is not dealing with big name celebrities or high profile places, they can still wring uproarious comedy out of their cast of regulars. Flanders is a special creation in the canon of humor, a regular guy who is funny because of how hyper-normal he is compared to his Neanderthal neighbors. The focus on people who are left-handed, and the whole idea of being a lefty, is an usual basis for a television show. But then again, nothing about The Simpsons is ever common.
"Bart the Murderer," our next episode on Disc One, introduces one of the great character "characters" the Simpsons writers ever created: the wobbly wise guy Fat Tony. This GoodFellas meets Godfather parody has it all, from Bart's "patron" sentiments to a pyramid of corruption chart with Bart as the head honcho. How a story that starts with Bart having the worst of all possible days can lead to his being tried for murder as the head of the local La Cosa Nostra is just one of the amazing monuments to this show's superiority. Homer steps up for center stage treatment in "Homer Defined," a chance for the creators to throw more comic bones in the undeniable funny fatso's direction. Accidentally saving the nuclear plant should be a big deal to our favorite father, but Homer has the feeling that his incompetence will be exposed. Combined with a classic Bart vs. his best friend subplot and a decent, if decidedly thrown in, appearance by Magic Johnson, this is an example of the show at its most sober and sensational. Again showing their devilish delight in human diversity, Krusty's Jewish heritage is explored in exceptional ways thanks to "Like Father, Like Klown." It ends Disc One with a wonderfully idiosyncratic bang as The Jazz Singer, the literary work of Sammy Davis Jr., and the Torah are combined to detail a riotous (and touching) reunion between Krusty and his rabbi father.
Disc Two begins with the second official "Treehouse of Horror," and it has some wonderfully wild moments. Especially good is the parody of The Twilight Zone's "It's a Good Life," with Bart in the place of Billy Mumy's omnipresent monster. Somehow capturing the original's menace while adding some sentiment of its own, this segment is the best of the three, with a brain/head transplant between Homer and Burns, and a monkey's paw riff entertaining but hardly in the same league. Thankfully, the Halloween show is followed by one of the best Simpsons episodes ever. Homer's disgrace in causing Lisa's humiliation is further intensified by having to work for Apu at the Kwik-E-Mart, all because he bought his daughter the beloved horse she's always clamoring for. This meshing of old storylines with new experiences, combined with some of the best jokes in the series, makes "Lisa's Pony" a priceless part of the series. Oddly, the least effective episode in the entire set is next up on the disc. "Saturdays of Thunder" has a premise—Bart builds a soapbox racer—that frankly has very limited modern day appeal. We can't really get into the whole Martin/Nelson/Bart race dynamic and today, soapbox derby has been technologized all out of proportion to the point where very few, if any, practice it. With such a narrow target, many of the jokes just don't work. Besides, Homer's battle with self-perceived deadbeat daddy skills is far funnier and should have been the installment's true plotline.
Another near-perfect episode graces the second half of this disc, a wonderful amalgamation of ancillary character, Homer, and guest star. "Flaming Moe's" plays perfectly since it manages to focus on Moe's problems, Homer's ingenuity, and Aerosmith's sonic boom to together create a well-crafted and clever parody of all those novelty drinks that bars develop to draw clientele. From the Cheers references to the Phantom of the Opera asides, this is a fantastic installment. The German jesting "Burns Verkaufen Der Kraftwerk" is just plain funny. Seeing Homer wander around his imaginary world of chocolate, or Lenny locked up in Mr. Burns' tomblike office, strikes all the proper chords of wackiness that The Simpsons is known for. It also has some sound things to say about money and power, and the manner in which Homer gets Burns re-interested in buying back the plant is just plain brilliant writing. Disc Three ends on a high note as we witness Homer and Marge, the early years. Bart's "unexpected" arrival means a quickie marriage and a dismal life lesson. We get a lot of backstory fill-in with this episode and the subtle, inside jokes (the name of the family planning pamphlet Marge is given—"So You've Decided to Destroy Your Life") help make the rather desperate times our favorite couple are in seem a little more humorous.
"Radio Bart," the first installment on Disc Three, is always considered a fan favorite, but there is a real dated feel to this entire child down the well narrative. Maybe it's the labeling gun gift Bart uses. Maybe it's the Chuck-e-Cheese style theme restaurant Bart has his birthday party in (Senior Beaverotti aside). Maybe it's the appearance of long since dried up Sting and the whole We Are the World idealism which is all but dead now (thankfully). Whatever it is, it robs this episode of a great deal of its initial impact, leaving us with a funny, but not fabulous, offering. "Lisa the Greek" is much better, a chance for Homer and Lisa to bond under less than ideal, but always amusing, circumstances. Oddly, for a show relying on actual events like the Super Bowl to guide its plotline, it doesn't have "Radio's" retread feeling. Neither does "Homer Alone," a real classic in The Simpsons' canon. Marge's mental breakdown means everything is left to Homer, and his attempts at parenting solo are the best things here. Rancho Relaxo, Marge's vacation destination, is never fully explored to its ultimate comic glory, but our blue haired housewife's order for "a sundae, some chocolate chip cheesecake…and a bottle of tequila" is every mom's emergency call in a single wounded wail.
The last three episodes on Disc Three, "Bart the Lover," "Homer at the Bat," and "Separate Vocations" represent The Simpsons at its apex as a well tuned talent machine grinding out the good stuff with surprising accuracy and skill. The whole made-up romance between Mrs. Krabappel and Woodrow works because it's so painfully true. The opening assembly featuring a performance by yo-yo experts will make many a middle-aged viewer wince with unexpected acknowledgement of many a day spent sitting "Indian-style" as various excuses for entertainment were tossed in front of them. How the kiss-off to Mrs. K is created and handled shows that The Simpsons has heart to add to its humor. Baseball players, on the other hand, have never been known for their ability to be funny, but with "Homer at the Bat," Mr. Burns' team of ringers all acquit themselves admirably. Especially good are Darryl Strawberry, who calls Mr. Burns "Skip" and plays the ultimate suck-up, and Jose Canseco, who trades on his lady killer façade to give heroic derring-do a try (funny how both of these guys are now certified jailbirds). Filled with dozens of glorious sight gags, this may be the first Simpsons that relies on a more visual sense of humor. The final installment, where Lisa and Bart trade personalities as the result of an aptitude test, shows that, even in territory they're not used to (Bart as a safety patrol, Lisa as a cursing class cut up), The Simpsons' kids are funny and inventive.
Santa's Little Helper becomes the center of a near dead dog dilemma entitled "Dog of Death" at the beginning of Disc Four. His twisted stomach means the family must budget themselves to pay for the surgery, and the results are some of the best lines in the history of the show. From "lousy chub night" to "mmmm, snouts," the hard knock life seems to enliven Homer into one sarcastic bastard. "Colonel Homer" is blessed with one of the best parodies the Simpsons writers ever conceived, the country funfest rip off of Hee-Haw called Yaa-Hoo. While one must give multiple kudos to Beverly D'Angelo for writing and performing her own witty hillbilly ditties, it's the faux forum for their showcase, a twisted cornpone place with such stars as Big Shirtless Ron and Cappy Mae, that really propels this installment into comic heaven. Homer's sheepish response to Lurlene's advances shows just what a decent, family loving man he is (even if he still has to confirm that she would "go all the way" with him). Sideshow Bob, fresh from jail and out for more criminal hijinx, is what makes "Black Widower" such a timeless treat. Kelsey Grammer may be Dr. Fraiser Crane to most, but bar none, the best characterization that he has ever created for the small screen comes in the form of a felonious kiddie show sidekick with hair like an electrified nightmare and feet the size of Montana. Whenever Bob makes an appearance, you know the show is going to be brilliant, and "Widower" is no exception. It is excellent from beginning to end.
As we round the bend to the final three episodes of the third series, the fourth disc, and the overall box, it's interesting to note that the focus falls to three outside characters within the show's social order, school bus driver Otto Mans ("The Otto Show"), Bart's friend Milhouse Van Houten ("Bart's Friend Falls in Love"), and Herb Powell, Homer's half-brother ("Brother Can You Spare Two Dimes?"). One of the most underappreciated parts of the Simpson clan, Herb's downfall and resurrection, thanks to this episode, always makes for fine funny viewing. In this case, Homer's $2000 windfall leads to a lot of jokes about what the money could be spent on (including one of the best bits ever in a Simpsons episode—Homer sitting on a high-tech vibrating chair) and a good impetus to reintroduce Herb. Danny Devito is perfect for the voice, being almost the antithesis of everything Dan Castellaneta does with Homer vocally, and the invention he creates in the episode, oddly enough, was really ahead of its time. Someone is currently selling some manner of interpreter (either for animals or babies) that sounds remarkably like what Herb thought up. Spinal Tap make a decent, if redundant, appearance in "The Otto Show" as the reason for Bart's newfound love of the guitar. Otto is good in small doses, but only after he's gotten the nerve to show up Homer and re-take his failed driving test does he work as an overall three-dimensional character. Milhouse's romance, while expertly observed, seems drawn out in the middle installment. Only Homer's eating disorder and subliminal tape attempts at weight loss have lasting appeal. Since the tape turns out to be a vocabulary builder, hearing Homer expound in flowery language is a real, rare treat.
A garden in bloom is always stronger, sweeter smelling, and more beautiful than a bouquet that has sat around for a while. This may explain people's massive appreciation of the early Simpsons episodes and why they dismiss their latter, equally important work. Season Three makes it very clear that a change was about to occur for the show. It foretold the possibilities of Homer's jerky tendencies, Lisa's strident opinionated ways, and Marge's doormat mentality. But Season Three also kissed the original vision of The Simpsons goodbye, playing within and without the rules and restrictions previously set forth to make room for all-out comic craziness, intense parody, pinpoint social satire, and pop culture über-references. The Simpsons as a social phenomenon started with Season Three, when it became clear that this cartoon was only going to get better, not fade into oblivion like so many previous animated entries. Season Three is when the show became imminently quotable ("Dear Baby. Welcome to Dumpsville. Population? You!"—"Darryl…Darryl"—"There was a little Spanish Flea…") and endearing. Thanks to the bravery of the executives at Fox, who didn't pull the plug when it started to show signs of strangeness, The Simpsons is now part of the exclusive entertainment lexicon, a pinnacle that no show will probably ever reach again. And thanks to DVD, we can revisit our favorite family whenever we want to.
The best thing about collecting The Simpsons on DVD is that you can avoid commercials from broadcast transmissions and you get to witness at least 50 minutes of missing, syndication sliced, extra episode footage. It is a truly eye-opening experience to watch the shows as they were originally aired and see just what is removed from installments of the show before they are rerun several times a day around the world. Occasionally, great jokes or awesome subplots are completely undermined by these trims, and for those who have only just recently stepped onto The Simpsons' bandwagon, this missing footage will be completely new. Aside from the commentaries, which we will discuss in a moment, the other bonus features are a mixed bag. Seeing Groening's storyboards for specific episodes are enlightening (especially since they are inundated with notes and corrections), and the scene specific sketches, accessible through an interactive pencil icon that appears throughout certain episodes, is also interesting, if a little sparse in its use. But unlike other box sets of the series, there is a dearth of social and new presentations about the show. All we get in addition to the massive cast and crew narratives are a few commercials, a jukebox feature that allows you to play most of the songs used in the shows this season, a pop-up version of "Colonel Homer," really cool animated screen menus, and a couple of groovy Easter eggs.
Image wise, The Simpsons has a decent, if sometimes overly hard transfer that results in minor red haloing and some color flaring. It is very rare when these specific defects occur, but they keep the show from being 100% reference quality. However, is the best The Simpsons have ever looked, and you can even see some telltale cel dirt and optical printer errors in the transfer. Sound wise, the box set is fine. The subtle use of stereo in the mix is good, and the musical cues are always bright and clear. As for the main bonus on this (and other) Simpsons season box sets, the commentary is a very strange experience. One has to remember that, for many on the show, this is quite the trip down memory lane. If someone placed a videotaped performance of yours from high school in front of you and 12 years later asked you to comment, you'd end up sounding a lot like Groening and the rest of the cast and crew assembled. They are spellbound by these older episodes, laughing along and being more captivated than critical or contextual. Occasionally, as with the stories of Michael Jackson's participation in "Stark Raving Dad" or their amazement at the versatility of Beverly D'Angelo, the alternative track comes alive with insightful details. But more times than not, the sound is quiet, as the creators of this treasured treat simply sit back and allow the magic of the show to affect them too. If you are looking for geek-specific explanations as to why certain things happen certain ways in The Simpsons, you better email the Comic Book Guy. This commentary track is more about reminiscing than research.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Under their current release schedule, fans of The Simpsons will be able to own the series on DVD outright around 2014. For some reason, Fox metes these babies out in a January-ed molasses manner, keeping the show's ever-growing legions in a state of suspended satisfaction. While it makes some sense considering the remastering that goes into getting these shows digitally spiffed and the desire for the creators to add commentaries to all episodes, it still seems there could be a faster way of getting these complete seasons sets out. The fear, of course, is that there will be another format just around the corner, a DVD replacement technology that will stop the cycle of release before the series is complete. A show as important to the history of television as The Simpsons should be handled in a far more expedient manner.
The history of Hollywood is rife with attempts to bring the family dynamic to television via animation. Wait 'til Your Father Gets Home, a 1972 offering starring Tom Bosley as a conservative father dealing with radical offspring, was a toned down toon All in the Family, without any of that sitcom's controversy or acting. Where's Huddles?, another Hanna-Barbera throwback to their previous Flintstones success, had a couple of professional football players as friends and neighbors. Yet it too could do nothing more than rip-off other, more successful shows. Later post-Simpsons sagas like Capital Critters, Dog City, and Family Dog strived for originality, but outrageousness was substituted for subtlety and many of these fiascos found their way into the annals of bad animation faster than the ink could dry. Only South Park has come close to recreating The Simpsons' sense of rebellion and disrespect, but they have chosen a potty mouthed (yet equally effective) way of expressing their views. As early as Season Two, The Simpsons were ready to teach the entire television community that an animated show could be funny, clever, timely, stupid, smart, political, religious, important, and insane. The Simpsons was, is, and continues to be the best TV show ever, and The Simpsons: The Complete Third Season is a must own box set.
There is no such thing as possibly finding The Simpsons guilty of anything other than being a monumental television achievement. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentaries with Cast and Crew on Each Episode
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