The Good: Moments of nostalgic humor, Commentaries are good for one spin, Bonus features
The Bad: Animation is generally poor, Show focuses on Bart, Most viewed episodes, thus unsurprising and unfunny
The Basics: With three discs capturing the first thirteen episodes of the iconic animated sitcom, The Simpsons on DVD reveals how weak the origins of the show were.
Fans of The Simpsons were ecstatic when The Simpsons - The Complete First Season was released on DVD and as a fan of the show, I was downright surprised by how quickly the die hards made this boxed set (and the ones that followed it) some of the best selling and fastest-selling TV DVD Boxed sets of all time. The reason I say that is that when this set was released on DVD in 2001, the episodes contained on these three discs had been rerunning on television almost constantly for almost twelve years. These thirteen episodes were heavily rerun in early 1990 when they first aired and, by the nature of syndication, are the most replayed episodes in syndication. And while it's fun to see how the whole series began, there is little here to enchant the diehard fan of The Simpsons.
In the first season of the iconic animated series, the world of Springfield, USA is established with the Simpson family embodying the dysfunctional family in the early 1990s. As the family struggles to maintain itself, they undergo several adventures, which include Bart leading his peers in a street war against the bullies, worming his way into a school for gifted children and stealing the beloved town's statue's head. Homer, for his part, gets fired from his job, becomes a santa for money, is mistaken for bigfoot and puts his family into therapy.
This is a reasonable start to the series and it establishes the characters and the world well while raising the level of satire on television with its pokes at pop culture and the role of things like "get over it" psychology on a family legitimately struggling to hold itself together. The Simpsons is episodic comedy, so for the most part events in one episode do not impact one another. As a result, the characters seldom learn and almost never grow. There are almost no ramifications or consequences in episodes that follow for events in these episodes.
What The Simpsons does well is it creates a cast of eccentric and instantly recognizable characters in the American psyche. The reason The Simpsons was instantly so distinctive was that it had characters unlike any other show on television. The first season focused almost exclusively on the Simpson family, with a heavy emphasis on Bart Simpson. Here is who the essential characters were in the first season:
Bart Simpson - The underachieving, troublemaking fourth grader who is not ambitious or terribly smart. Bart spends the first season being bullied, pulling stupid pranks - like switching I.Q. tests with the much smarter Martin Prince -, getting a tattoo, and getting deported to France for being a troublemaker,
Lisa Simpson - Bart's sister, she provides wise counsel to the disturbed boy when she is not busy fighting with him. In this season there is only one episode devoted primarily to Lisa and that is one where she meets a cool jazz musician named Bleedin' Gums Murphy,
Maggie - Bart and Lisa's baby sister who does not speak and spends the first season toddling around with almost nothing to do. The highlight of this season for her is meeting bears in the camping adventure "Call of the Simpsons,"
Marge Simpson - The matriarch of the family and wife of Homer, Marge serves as a rational (if submissive) foil for Homer and a disciplinarian for the children. Marge's place in the first season is defined almost exclusively in her role as mother and wife with little to characterize her as an individual. She spends the first season learning to bowl to spite Homer and calling in to a radio psychologist to talk about her marital problems,
and Homer Simpson - Playing second fiddle in the first season to Bart, Homer is the idiot father of Maggie, Bart and Lisa. He works at the nuclear power plant - soon as a safety inspector, becomes a mall santa, gets the family into family therapy, dances with a stripper and tries to patch things up with Marge in the first season.
While this set might be great for those who did not see how the series began (possibly because they were not alive, did not have a television or had steady employment that kept them from seeing any of these episodes any of the 100 times they were rotated through the television stations in syndication) it has little to offer the diehard fans. The animation is terrible and we've seen these episodes so many times that they are unsurprising and the jokes aren't funny anymore. In fact, seeing them now, it's somewhat amazing The Simpsons survived that first season. They are not as edgy as they were made out to be and the situations they go through in the first season are some of the most canned and typical in sitcoms as to make them almost unwatchable.
The only real value of The Simpsons - The Complete First Season on DVD is that each episode has commentary with Matt Groening (the series creator). But even that, once you've heard it once, there's nothing special to go back for. It's a better use of your time and money to get these discs via something like Netflix or your local library to listen to the commentaries and save your money for one of the later seasons when the show hits its stride.
Otherwise, this set is only worth getting for those people who are getting into The Simpsons from the beginning and who need the logical - though not necessarily the best - place to start their collection.
For other animated television series’, check out my reviews of:
Family Guy - Season 1
Clerks: The Animated Series
Check out other television reviews of mine by visiting my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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