Saturday, January 26, 2013

Easing Out Of Perfection: The Extraordinary Eighth Season Of The Simpsons On DVD

The Good: Mostly funny episodes that hold up over many viewings, Great DVD extras
The Bad: One real dud episode, a few weaker episodes that don't hold up
The Basics: Not as solid as the previous three seasons, the DVD extras save The Simpsons - The Complete Eighth Season from a much more drastic fall from grace.

I think what surprised me most when watching The Simpsons - The Complete Seventh Season (reviewed here!) and then going right into The Simpsons - The Complete Eighth Season was the contrast, how fast The Simpsons fell out of their notch as a perfect comedy. "The Complete Eighth Season" marks a segment of the series where the average fan of The Simpsons is not likely to have seen the episodes much more than five times (between first run and syndication) before picking up the DVD set. That ought to give it an inherent advantage as that giant strike against the first few seasons is not a factor here. Alas, it is not. This season has some of the weaker episodes of the series up until this point and following on the heels of such an amazing previous season, it's a shock when they are put side to side.

With twenty-five episodes on four discs, The Simpsons - The Complete Eighth Season is by no means a complete fall from grace. Memorable episodes in this season include "The Springfield Files" (a parody crossover with The X-Files), "You Only Move Twice" (where Homer goes to work for a mock-Bond Supervillain named Scorpio), "Brother From Another Series" (the annual Sideshow Bob episode, this time featuring his brother Cecil), and "Homer Vs. the Eighteenth Amendment" (wherein Homer becomes the Beer Baron). As well, this season has one of the best episodes of the series with "Homer's Enemy" (the Frank Grimes episode).

The problem is, this episode also has some genuine duds. "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase" is quite possibly one of the worst episodes of the series and a terrible attempt to satirize the phenomenon of the series. Marge's turn as the "listen lady" is an episode that seems like a desperate attempt to figure out what to do with Marge whenever I watch it and "My Sister, My Sitter" where Lisa becomes Bart's babysitter is lame for a show this far along in its development.

So, to address the bottomline for a moment right out, the episodes in this season vary dramatically even episode to episode and what throws this boxed set into the upper average range, is the bonus features. First, there is a unique illustrated commentary track on four episodes that is clever and funny (and insightful!). There are deleted scenes and additional deleted scenes accessible as easter eggs on six episodes and it's wonderful to see some of the cut footage from the better episodes. As well, there's a very cool special on the house that was built as a model of the Simpson's house in Vegas and that's cool to see (I had heard about it years ago, but seeing it on the bonus features is pretty wild). Were it not for these extensive bonus features, this would have been rated a bit lower.

That said, outside the bonus features, what does one get in this set? Like the prior seasons, this boxed set is comprised of 25 episodic episodes, so consequences of actions in one episode do not carry over into future episodes. The only substantial exception to that is in "A Millhouse Divided," wherein Millhouse's parents split up. They remain split up following this episode (with hilarious consequences).

As a result, these episodes are not so much about character growth and change as they are about the plots, what happens to the characters. This season is the most intensely focused on Homer Simpson, with eleven a-plots being devoted to him and three b-plots that are heavily focused on him. Surprisingly, Bart falls behind Lisa for the next most episodes with only three a-plots and three b-plots, while Lisa has four solid episodes where she is the focus and a strong supporting plot in one. Marge - after a bit of a drought - takes three episodes solidly as her own. As well, peripheral characters like Mr. Burns and Principal Skinner and Mrs. Krabappel rise to such a position that there are episodes that are arguably theirs (one or two for Burns, one for the couple).

Most of the focus is still on the Simpson family and here is how the eighth season portrays them on DVD:

Homer Simpson - Has a busy time this season as he takes up such employment as: technician in Scorpio's nuclear power plant, a boxer, kidnaper (of Mr. Burns's illegitimate adult son), voice-over actor (for "The Itchy and Scratchy Show"), boozemaker, and the attempted model employee at the nuclear power plant. As well, he goes on a vision quest, annoys Flanders, discovers his homophobia, and finds that the Japanese have a soap product with a fish that resembles him. He also teams up with Mr. Burns on a staff retreat and makes a deal with Fat Tony to help Marge's new business,

Marge Simpson - Becomes a pretzel-maker and the church's "listen lady" (when Reverend Lovejoy stops caring about listening to his parishioners). She takes a break when stress encourages the family to get a nanny and she worries about Homer when he gets into a boxing match with Dreaderick Tatum,

Maggie Simpson - Completely wallpaper this season, save in resolving the gang warfare at the climax of "The Twisted World of Marge Simpson,"

Lisa Simpson - Discovers her allergies when the family moves, develops a crush on school bully Nelson Muntz and becomes Springfield's best babysitter. She helps Mr. Burns regain his empire when he loses everything and ultimately joins a military school to prove she is as good as the boys,

and Bart Simpson - Attends the same military school as punishment for his many misdeeds. As well, he gets a credit card and buys an impressive new dog, stumbles upon Skinner and Krabappel as they begin a relationship, fights Lisa when she takes responsibility for him and combats Sideshow Bob and his brother when they both come to Springfield. He also hangs out with the gay owner of an antique toy shop, hangs out with Homer as they search for extraterrestrials, supports Millhouse when his parents split up and goes to work at the local bordello as punishment for vandalizing it.

In all, there is a lot to find funny in this season and it is likely to be enjoyed by fans of The Simpsons as well as by those who are unfamiliar with the series (who ARE you people?!). Because of the episodic nature of the series, there's little danger anyone interested in the series would have a problem getting this season as a gift; they certainly would not be missing anything that would make it impossible to get right into it.

For other seasons of The Simpsons, please check out my reviews of:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5
Season 6


For other film and television reviews, please visit my Index Page on the subject for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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