Combustible Celluloid

The Simpsons: TV Series (1989-present)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Their Generation

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy The Simpsons: Season One on DVD.

The greatest TV show of all time, "The Simpsons: The Complete First Season" (1989-90, Fox Home Video, $39.98) captures the utter brilliance and absolute fearlessness of this outstanding animated show. The three-disc box set contains all thirteen episodes from season one, starting with the Christmas special "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire," and including at least four I had never seen (or at least couldn't remember). It includes one of my all time faves, "Life on the Fast Lane," in which Marge takes bowling lessons from a French smoothie named Jacques (voiced by Albert Brooks), and one of my favorite "Simpsons" lines of dialogue, a prayer spoken by Homer: "Dear God, bless this microwave bounty..."

Each episode comes with a commentary track, spoken by the likes of creator Matt Groening, producer James L. Brooks, director Brad Bird and many others. Unfortunately, there's no way to tell who's who from their voices alone, and the soundtracks from the episodes play too loud underneath. Otherwise, the tracks are very funny and informative, if not altogether factual (the creators of two different episodes both lay claim to the debut of Kwik-E-Mart proprietor Apu Nahasapeemapetilon). The bonus disc includes outtakes, a documentary, a great short from the "Tracey Ullman Show," artwork, foreign language clips, and more.

Like Citizen Kane before it, "The Simpsons" has not been properly appreciated in its own time. Now that Citizen Kane has been duly honored, someone should try and get "The Simpsons" nominated for a Pulitzer or a Nobel Prize or something. It's worth it. Meanwhile, a paltry $39.98 is nothing to pay for at least seven hours of sheer genius.

Buy The Simpsons: Season Two on DVD.

This groundbreaking television series not only stole animation and gave it back to grown-ups, but it made people re-think the possibilities of television. The 22 episodes in the four-disc "The Simpsons: The Complete Second Season" (1990-91, CBS/Fox, $49.98) aired during the show's peak popularity -- remember all those T-shirts and stuffed Bart Simpson dolls everywhere? But the show never sold out.

Highlights include: "Bart Gets an F," in which Bart prays for a miracle to help him pass history; "Bart's Dog Gets an F," with its odd rhythms and dog's point of view shots; "Simpson and Delilah," in which Homer bilks his company insurance fund for a miracle hair restorer. That last contains some of my all-time favorite lines, like "Dear God -- give a bald guy a break" and "Let the fools have their tartar sauce!" Guest appearances include Dustin Hoffman and Danny DeVito.

The box also contains the great Thanksgiving episode and the very first Halloween episode, "Treehouse of Horror," which continues annually to this day. An interesting artifact is packaged at the end, the "Do the Bartman" video, as well as "Deep Deep Trouble," (the former penned by Michael Jackson, the latter by DJ Jazzy Jeff). Each episode comes with an audio commentary, and the sound quality of this seems to have improved from the Season One box.

"The Simpsons" box is reason enough to buy a DVD player.

Buy The Simpsons: Season Three on DVD.

What more can one say about the greatest show in the history of television, except that "The Simpsons: The Complete Third Season" (1991-92, Fox, $49.98) may well be funnier and better than either Seasons One or Two.

"Stark Raving Dad" is one of the show's most memorable episodes, with an uncredited Michael Jackson as its co-star singing a sweet, lovely birthday song to Lisa.

But this set also contains the second "Treehouse of Horror" Halloween special, the flashback episode "I Married Marge," the very funny "Homer Defined," in which Homer saves the nuclear power plant by accident, and "Like Father Like Clown," the episode in which Krusty reveals his Jewish heritage. And that's only the first two discs.

We also have the "Ace in the Hole" tribute "Radio Bart," "Brother Can You Spare Two Dimes?" with Danny DeVito returning as Homer's long-lost brother, plus one of the funniest episodes of all time, "Homer Alone," in which Marge goes to a retreat, leaving Bart and Lisa in the care of Patty and Selma and Maggie in the care of Homer.

Each episode comes with an optional commentary track, and the four-disc set comes with lots of other extras, including pop-up trivia, sketches and a "jukebox" of every song performed in Season Three.

Buy The Simpsons: The Complete Fourth Season on DVD.

The greatest show of all time continues with one of my all-time favorite episodes, "A Streetcar Named Marge," in which Marge and Ned Flanders join the cast of a community theater production of a musical version of Tennessee Williams' play. Meanwhile, Maggie, stuck in day care, initiates an Great Escape style plan to get back her pacifier. This season has some of the best "Simpsons" music, such as "Mr. Plow" and "Marge vs. the Monorail." It also comes with the third "Treehouse of Horror" episode, "Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie" with its weird futuristic ending, and, of course, "So It's Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show." Twenty-two episodes on four discs, this set boasts such consistently high quality over such a long running time that it should cost $400. Guest voices include Bob Hope, Sara Gilbert, Linda Ronstadt, Adam West, Elizabeth Taylor, Leonard Nimoy, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Brooke Shields, Barry White, David Crosby, plus "Krusty Gets Kancelled" with Johnny Carson, Hugh Hefner, Bette Midler, Luke Perry and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The "Simpsons" creators provide commentary tracks on most episodes, and other extras include commercials, deteled scenes, animatics, and more.

Buy The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season on DVD.

More greatness from the show's peak years. Season Five has a special place in my heart because of the "Rosebud" episode. It aired on my birthday in 1993 and featured not only copious references to Citizen Kane, but also one of my very favorite bands, the Ramones, performing "Happy Birthday." Given, they sing the song to Montgomery Burns, but at one point Joey Ramone gestures directly at the TV screen and into the audience, so I felt like it was a little gift for me. What more can I say?

Starring: (Voices) Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria, Pamela Hayden, Tress MacNeille, Marcia Wallace, Maggie Roswell, Karl Wiedergott, Russi Taylor, Phil Hartman, Doris Grau, Joe Mantegna, Frank Welker, Jo Ann Harris, Jon Lovitz, Kelsey Grammer
Written by: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon, etc.
Directed by: Mark Kirkland, Brad Bird, etc.
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 1000+ minutes
Date: September 27, 2001

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