Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Simpsons Breaking Into Stride With Season Three!

The Good: Consistently funny, well-written, Clever, Episodes hold up better over many viewings
The Bad: Slightly weaker bonus features, One or two lame episodes
The Basics: With subtle and clever humor, The Simpsons - The Complete Third Season becomes the best season to date and puts the series on the direction it has since remained.

The Simpsons, suffered on television some its first few seasons because the show maintained a focus on Bart Simpson and tried to emphasize him as the central character of the show. On DVD, the viewer finds that problem as bad - in some ways worse because of how Homer has come to dominate the show - and in reviewing the earlier seasons, the weakness of the show in combination with the fact that any truly diligent fan has seen the episodes ad nauseam in syndication made season one impossible to recommend and season two difficult to recommend. With The Simpsons - The Complete Third Season on DVD, the show's focus wisely shifts from Bart to Homer and the true Simpsonphile finds something that withstands the 10+ viewings one might have had of each episode going into this set.

It is the third season where Springfield begins to be fleshed out quite a bit more with the supplemental characters taking on greater roles. This is the season where Homer meets "Michael Jackson," Lisa wins a patriotic essay contest, Bart becomes a mobster, and Marge goes on a vacation away from the family. This has the second "Treehouse of Horror" episode and again uses a number of celebrities to voice guest characters. Season three, quite nicely, has a "Play All" feature, though other bonus features seem less substantial than in the prior two sets (there are 5 Butterfinger commercials, trivia, parade clips and easter eggs, but the net entertainment value of them seems lower than the commentary tracks in the first two seasons).

This season of The Simpsons found the writers making more political and religious commentary than in prior seasons and this is when the show translated from something of an adult animated series to a full-fledged satire that utilized its animated presentation to present messages that could otherwise not be easily put on television. So, episodes like "Bart The Murderer" where Bart becomes a mobster would be much more difficult to pull off in a live action series and some of the commentary on the government's silent complacency of the mob would have been far more difficult to dismiss (by those who are so inclined) could they not just shrug and say "It's just a cartoon." This is the season where Lisa's faith in government is shaken when she sees her Representative taking a bribe, Krusty is revealed to be Jewish, Homer's work at the Kwik-E-Mart raised the ire of Indian groups, the Germans buy the Springfield nuclear plant (there are messages there!), Bart exploits the public when he "falls down a well," and Santa's Little Helper is conditioned to be a killer by Mr. Burns.

Quite wisely, The Simpsons begins to shift from Bart to Homer due to the practicalities of the commentary the show begins to take on. It's hard to keep a show believable with an active protagonist who is supposed to be in school most days. So, despite his idiocy, Homer gets the lion's share of episodes this season (9 out of 24 episodes have a strong Homer a-plot, while Homer picks up the b-plot in an additional 5), while Bart is cut down to seven a-plots and three b-plots. Lisa gets three good episodes and Marge is more prominently featured, though none of the episodes focus solely on her or Maggie this season. Guest characters like Sideshow Bob and Herb Powell return and Flanders and Otto (of all characters) get their own episodes.

Because the characters in The Simpsons are what truly makes the show work - because it is episodic, not serialized, the characters are truly the only constant episode to episode - who they are in the third season it what the show becomes about. In this season, the primary characters are:

Homer Simpson - He is committed to an asylum where he meets a man who may or may not be Michael Jackson, works to make Flanders's new business venture fail, saves the nuclear power plant and becomes Lisa's hero, works at the Kwik-E-Mart to pay for Lisa's pet, attempts to bond with Bart over a soapbox derby race, and inadvertently makes Moe rich by creating an alcoholic beverage that makes Moe huge. As well, this season finds him worrying about his job when Burns sells the plant, betting with Lisa on football, taking care of Maggie, becoming an amateur baseball player for the company team, a record producer for a country music star, and trying desperately to reconcile with his estranged half-brother,

Marge Simpson - Goes a little crazy from stress and recounts how she and Homer met. Otherwise, her role this season is mostly supportive, guiding the kids and Homer and cleaning up after them,

Maggie Simpson - Still does not say anything, though the final episode of the season gives her a chance to express herself,

Lisa Simpson - Becomes more politically active by writing a patriotic essay, exposing a corrupt politician, and tries to bond with Homer when she experiences hero worship for him and when they begin betting on football games. As well, her scholarly pursuits make her learn a lot about Judaism to try to reconcile Krusty with his rabbi father, she learns to ride a pony, and becomes a problem child when a test indicates she's most suited to being a homemaker,

and Bart Simpson - Loses Milhouse to a girl, takes in Otto, thwarts Sideshow Bob, and becomes (at different points) a police officer and a mobster. As well, Bart creates an imaginary boyfriend for his teacher, exploits the town when he falls down the town well, becomes a soapbox derby racing champion and gives Lisa her best birthday present ever.

What separates this season from the prior ones is that the adventures "The Simpson" family goes on tend to be more separate and interacting with the world as opposed to insular and family-oriented. So, unlike the first season, there are no big family trips or family therapy sessions. Unlike the second season, the show does not take on the issue of television violence by addressing it in a special episode where the characters talk about t.v. violence, but rather through episodes where characters enact violence (or other socially relevant things) and there are consequences for the actions.

This is an overall more solid season of The Simpsons - only "Homer Defined" and "Dog of Death" stand out as inherently weak episodes - though like the prior two seasons, some of the episodes (like "Radio Bart") were heavily rerun in first run and second run syndication making them very much old news. This season seems to rely less on guest vocal talents to sell the episodes and more to utilize the talent behind those voices. Guest actors in this season include the return of Danny DeVito as Herb Powell, Michael Jackson, Neil Patrick Harris, Magic Johnson, Jackie Mason, Catherine O'Hara, Aerosmith, Sting, and a whole bevy of baseball players.

For those buying The Simpsons DVD sets, this is the first set I would enthusiastically recommend for the die-hard fans as the episodes themselves are stronger, despite how most die-hards will have seen even these too many times to count.

For other animated works, check out my reviews of:
Invader Zim
Family Guy Presents Partial Terms Of Endearment
Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Volume 1


For other film and television reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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