The SmarK DVD Rant for The Simpsons – Season 6

The SmarK DVD Rant for The Simpsons – Season Six

OK, let’s get this out of the way right now — I hate the Homer Head packaging. Hate it hate it hate it. Luckily there’s a coupon inside the DVD set that allows you to send away for the anal retentive nerd alternative packaging, at www.simpsonsbox.com, so huzzah.

With that out of the way, I gotta say that it’s great to finally have what may be my favorite season of Simpsons goodness on DVD. At the rate they’re going we’ll never catch up before they invent the next replacement for DVD, but good on them for trying. And hey, they’re taking so long because the guys are recording commentaries for every single episode, something you can’t say about most of the rush-job TV-on-DVD sets these days, so if quality releases mean waiting a little longer, so be it.

So anyway, the sixth season was truly the peak of Simpsons hysteria, as it moved from the Thursday slot (where it had begun doing the unthinkable and beating Cosby on a regular basis) to the Sunday slot we know and love and have seen it in for 10 years plus now. With six seasons out, it truly boggles my mind how MANY episodes of this show there are — in fact, there’s stuff on this set that I’ve barely ever seen in syndication, as most of the stuff in recent years has concentrated on the very early years or the very late years. But this, this is the good stuff, man.

Disc One

– Bart of Darkness. It’s HOT in Springfield, and a visit from the Pool-Mobile prompts Our Favorite Family to buy a pool. With preemptive nagging from Bart and Lisa, of course. Bart, however, gets distracted by his exposed epidermis and breaks his leg, robbing him of the summertime fun and popularity that Lisa now gets to enjoy. This gives us the first great Nelson line of the year, “I SAID ‘Ha-ha!'” Bart goes progressively more stir-crazy indoors (“Viceroy Fizzlebutton…”), as the show turns into a parody of Rear Window via a telescope given to him by Lisa. He sees Flanders killing his wife (apparently), but of course there’s a wacky explanation for everything. Homer’s attraction to Maude is brushed on for the first time here, but otherwise it’s a rare Bart & Lisa episode, before the show turns permanently into The Adventures of Captain Wacky.

– Lisa’s Rival. You never see this one in syndication anymore. Very subtle and hilarious gag to start as Marge fantasizes about being in a trashy novel (“Does that earring mean you’re a pirate?” “Uh…kinda”), while Lisa meets a new friend (Alison, played by Winona Ryder in her pre-klepto days), who is JUST a bit smarter and more brilliant than Lisa. Of course, after years of searching for a soulmate, Lisa is immediately threatened by someone who is a perfect friend for her. And how CAN you anagram “Jeremy Irons” into a description of him? But the REAL comic brilliance comes from Homer here, in the most bizarrely random B-story ever, as he finds 500 pounds of sugar on the road and starts basing his life around it. Homer’s Scarface babbling and insane rant steal the show away from the stunt casting. Although Bart’s diversion comes close (“And he’s doing stuff!”). Of course, because it’s the Simpsons and the writers love to screw around with the fans, both Lisa and Alison lose the big Diorama-Rama to Ralph, who then gets one of the all-time classic Ralphisms with “My cat’s breath smells like cat food.” Good stuff, indeed.

– Another Simpsons Clip Show. Marge is worried about losing romance in their lives, so we get a bunch of LONG clips of previous shows. The commentary even ignores the horrible show and talks about putting a typical episode together.

– Itchy & Scratchy Land. The Simpsons plan a vacation to the “most violentest place on earth,” and the jokes nearly write themselves. For instance, I use “Now remember, we’re in the ITCHY lot” as a sure-fire way to annoy my wife whenever we park. Sure, she hates it, but it never gets old for ME, and isn’t that what’s important? The target of parody here is of course Disneyland, with a smidge of Jurassic Park thrown in. The gag with the log ride is awesome, and the 70s bar in grownup town was SCREAMING for a cameo by Disco Stu, who sadly doesn’t come along for a while yet. The running gag of Bart’s abuse of the poor giant characters is a great one, paid off by Homer’s “I’m a political prisoner” speech at the end. There’s also a plot besides them terrorizing minimum wage employees, not that it needs one, as the robots are going crazy and rising up against their masters. Frink forgot to carry the one, you see. Really, killer robot gags are the domain of Futurama, but the episode is still a home run with a few bases to spare.

– Sideshow Bob Roberts. And the hits just keep on coming, as it’s Republican bashing time. Sideshow Bob is freed from prison by the revolving door of the Democrats, but not before the all-time greatest Bob line ever: “Really now, they don’t give out Nobel Prizes for ATTEMPTED chemistry!” He goes after Mayor Quimby’s job, winning by virtue of being the only one to actually want the job, and that gives us both a JFK and a Citizen Kane parody in the same SCENE. Lisa investigates, however, giving us “The dead have risen and they’re voting Republican!” as the runner-up line in this one. Close, but I have to go with the chemistry one. But if Bob had a 100% majority already, what difference does it make if he rigged some of the votes? Anyway, another classic episode, and you too will be deriding Bart’s truth-handling abilities.

– Treehouse of Horror V. Three BRILLIANT spoofs here, as this may be the best Halloween ep of the lot. No beer and no TV make Homer something something in “The Shinning,” which is NOT based on any other movie or Stephen King novel, nope. Homer then experiences the perils of sitting on a fish in the prehistoric era and traveling in time via a toaster, as he forgets the advice that his father gave him on his wedding day. A Flanders fascist utopia is the result, truly the worst case scenario for everyone. Sight gags line this one wall-to-wall. Finally, “Nightmare Cafeteria” explores the writers’ version of “A Modest Proposal,” using overcrowded classrooms as the reasoning for cannibalism instead of world poverty. Could this be the best one ever? Discuss amongst yourselves.

– Bart’s Girlfriend. Bart has better luck here than his last go at romance, as he meets Jessica Lovejoy, who turns out to be more evil than him. No real slam-bang lines here, but a solid story. And that’s that.

Disc Two

– Lisa On Ice. It’s the hockey episode. Another great Ralph line kicks us off: “Me fail English? That’s unpossible!” Anyway, Lisa is failing gym, so she tries out for a series of teams before accidentally discovering a freakish talent for goaltending. This of course gives us PRIME Homer material, as he begins playing the kids against each other while Lisa gets progressively more bloodthirsty in her quest to win Homer’s approval. And it’s inevitable that the big game will come down to Bart v. Lisa. Lisa screaming “HACK THE BONE!” is worth the price of admission here. The showdown sets up a very true-to-life encounter between Bart and Lisa at home, where he just happens to be swinging his arms like this, and if she walks into them, it’s her own fault. Of course, despite the vicious crowds and terrible parenting of Homer, sibling love prevails over sibling rivalry. Brilliance abounds here.

– Homer Badman. Oh my, this may be one of the best Simpsons episodes of all-time, never mind the season. Homer has tickets to the candy fair, so they leave the kids with a feminist grad student babysitter who can control Bart via videogames. Homer is like a kid in some sort of store, but sees his life’s dream in the form of the Gummi Venus DeMilo. However, when it gets stuck to the babysitter’s butt, life gets very bad for him. The media roasts him for sexual harassment, giving us primo parody of sleazy “news” shows. Homer’s plan to live “Under The Sea” is a highlight of course, as is the Gentle Ben talk show, as this one just doesn’t let up. It continues to build with Fox’s Movie of the Week: “Homer S.: Portrait of an Ass-Grabber,” starring Dennis Franz. And since it’s a portrait, it HAS to be classy, right? The infrared camera puts it over the top for good (“He’s literally stewing in his own juices!”) Homer’s depression at TV betraying him is a great character moment, as is Lisa and Bart hugging the TV in response. Luckily, Scottish perversion saves the day, although no one really learns anything. The miracle of DVD freeze-frame technology also lays the list of “corrections” on Rock Bottom bare, and it’s worth pausing and going frame-by-frame to read them all. One of the greatest EVER.

– Grampa v. Sexual Inadequacy. Homer & Marge are having snuggling problems, so Homer is forced to ask Grampa for help, because Paul Harvey can’t help him. The result is a homemade Viagra tonic that has the men on the road as hucksters and the kids of the town wondering where all the adults have gone. Then the episode really goes off the tracks as Homer & Grampa get into a fight and search for the root of their dysfunction. Three good ideas all jumbled into one mess here. In fact, they took two of the ideas (Homer and Marge spice up their love life, and Homer explores his roots) and made two much better episodes out of them later.

– Fear of Flying. Homer gets kicked out of Moe’s for the old sugar-me-do, so he ends up a pilot’s bar. And if you’re at a pilot’s bar, you MUST be a pilot, right? Thus, after a plane crash, the family ends up with free tickets to anywhere they want. However, it turns out that Marge is afraid of flying. So she sees a psychiatrist and Homer of course has a running gag where he’s worried about being blamed. However, it’s really father issues bothering Marge. Meh.

– Homer the Great. STONECUTTERS! Really, what more do you need to know here? Homer has the worst day ever, while everyone else gets the breaks, and it turns out that there’s a secret society running the town. No, not the Republicans, the Stonecutters. Homer is initiated, after Lenny & Carl fail to keep it secret, via the Paddling of the Swollen Ass With Paddles. However, after a legendary song break (“We do, we do!”) we discover that Homer is actually the Chosen One foretold by the sacred parchment of the Stonecutters. Which Homer previously had used as a napkin and handkerchief. Thus we learn of the REAL number to call in emergencies, and you know that I’m not gonna use 911 like some common sucker anymore. Patrick Stewart is course genius as the ultra-serious Number One. Life at the top proves tough for Homer, even with keggers every night and monkeys reenacting the Civil War for his amusement. A true Swartzwelder classic, and one that makes most people’s top ten episodes list.

– And Maggie Makes Three. Homer tells the story of why there’s no pictures of Maggie. Homer finally gets out of debt and quits his job, and everything was so perfect that only Marge getting knocked up again could ruin it. In fact, we learn just how Homer lost his hair over the years. And in his darkest hour, he crawls back to the power plant (through the “Supplicants” door, of course) with a demotivational plaque to greet him. Luckily, he has baby pictures to remotivate himself, and the result is a truly sweet episode.

– Bart’s Comet. As punishment for defacing a weather balloon, Bart is forced to HELP science, his mortal enemy. He has to write down numbers for Skinner’s astronomy hobby, thus giving him everything a boy needs — paying attention, keeping quiet, and sitting still. Bart accidentally discovers a comet (and gets inducted into the Super Friends as a result) but his enthusiasm and fame are tempered by the comet being on a direct course for the town. Certain death for all is assured once they accidentally blow up the only bridge out of town while trying to shoot down the missile, so they all squeeze into Flanders’ bomb shelter and play barnyard guessing games to pass the time. However, one person needs to go, and since the only thing that the world of the future WON’T need is left-handed stores, that makes Ned the logical choice. However, the comet burns up in the atmosphere, giving us a true vision of terror as the ending: Homer was RIGHT about something. I know, I’m scared too.

Disc Three

– Homie The Clown. Another gem that’s rarely in syndication these days. Krusty is in trouble with the mob and spends too much money (ie, lighting cigars with Action Comics #1) so he licenses his image to a clown college. And Homer, compelled by the force of advertising, signs up. Soon he’s making appearances at birthday parties and beating up helpless dwarves. However, in true Homer fashion he begins abusing his measly bit of celebrity, while Krusty loses even more money to the mob by betting FOR the Washington Generals in a game against the Globetrotters. That’s one of the funniest gags of the season. Of course, the mob mistakes Homer for Krusty, giving us the mistaken identity gags which only Homer can screw up. In the end, great joy is brought to an old Italian stereotype, and that’s the real lesson to be learned. Great stuff.

– Bart v. Australia. Man, has it been 10 years since this one already? Obsessed with discovering the secret of how water flows in the toilet, Bart calls Australia, collect. For six hours. Thus, a simple prank call escalates into an international incident, and the Simpsons are going down under! A funny thing pointed out on the commentary is that references like “Yahoo Serious Festival,” which in 1995 were clever and obscure for those who remembered the fads of the 80s, have since become just plain obscure instead of clever for those in 2005 who would have no point of reference as to what the joke is supposed to be. But anyways, it’s open season on Australia as the writers poke fun at every stereotype they can cram into 20 minutes, from “knifey-spooney” to the REALLY big beer to “chazwazzers.” The Australians just want a little revenge via a booting (again, a reference to the Singapore caning incident that has since lost all connection to this show) and soon there’s Road Warrior extras chasing them down the streets. And really, could there be any ending besides Bart writing “Don’t Tread On Me” on his own butt?

– Homer v. Patty & Selma. Homer invests in pumpkin futures, because for some reason they always go up in October. However, the market does not peak in January as he thought, and he’s broke. Again. Even threats of changing the numbers on his house and the neighbor’s house can’t stop the unshakable logic of the bank officer (“We’d just look for the house beside the house with no numbers.”) and foreclosure is near. So he hits rock bottom and borrows from the Gruesome Twosome. Meanwhile, Bart gets stuck with ballet as a gym elective, and discovers his hidden love of dancing. And Tab. Homer’s ultimate sarcastic line “And then I will hug and kiss some poisonous snakes!” is pretty much the highlight of a good, but forgettable episode.

– A Star is Burns. At the time an infamous episode because of the crass commercial nature of writing “The Critic” into the show, so much so that Matt Groening had his name taken off the opening credits. However, time and perspective have instead turned it into one of the highlights of the season, because it’s friggin’ brilliant. Once again Springfield is in a funk, so Marge devises a film festival, and it just happens that Jay Sherman is one of the judges. The introduction to Jay features a McBain gag so dead-on perfect that Schwarzenegger should have sued on the spot. Both “Let’s Get Silly” and the untied loafers (featuring an improvised punchline, according to the commentary) would have made it a contender, but truly the scene with Burns planning his movie puts it out of the proverbial ballpark like Canseco on the REALLY good steroids. Just count the great quotable lines: “You forgot pleasant!” “Get me his nonunion Mexican equivalent.” “We both made artillery shells for the Nazis, but mine WORKED!” Others also include “I’ll grind their bones”, but I have to draw the line at three classic lines per scene, sorry. This all leads to the film festival, with “Football to the Groin”, which works on so many levels, as an early contender for Homer’s vote. But it turns into a heated battle between Barney’s starkly lit art film and Burns’ over-the-top hilarious biopic “A Burns For All Seasons”, which is possibly one of the funniest movie parodies ever written on this show. It also leads to the eternal question: Were they booing, or going “Boo-urns?” Despite some well-placed bribes on the judging panel (“It moved me…TO A BIGGER HOUSE. I think I said the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet.”) it all comes down to Homer’s vote and whether he can see past the comedic brilliance of “Football to the Groin” and vote for Barney instead. Luckily for Burns, there’s always the Oscars. Still incredibly funny today, and Jon Lovitz on the commentary track busting on Al Jean and the absent Mike Reiss for the whole thing is almost as funny, as he gets every cheap shot humanly possible at them and has the room in stitches just doing off-the-cuff comedy. Another best ever contender.

– Lisa’s Wedding. Oh, man, another favorite of mine. This one was submitted for an Emmy and won a bunch of awards, too, I believe. The first and best of the “Future Simpsons” episodes, which has yet to be touched. Lisa meets a fortune teller at a renaissance fair, and learns about what life in college (in the distant year 2010) will be like. She meets Hugh, a cultured British student who is obviously supposed to remind us of someone, and he instantly annoys her until they fall in love, thus confusing the robots. This sets up lots of future jokes, British jokes, and future British jokes. Lisa & Hugh and Hugh decide to get married, leaving Lisa worried that Homer will wreck the wedding, but luckily a court order is ready to go. Great stuff with Smithers needing to find the cure for 17 stab wounds before he and Burns can attend. It’s classic “Meet the Parents” humor as Hugh gets beaten up and injured at the Simpsons house, despite their good intentions. Marge’s line “Fox turned into a hardcore sex channel so gradually, I didn’t even notice” isn’t quite as true today, but still hilarious. Sadly, Hugh’s refusal to wear pig cufflinks sends the whole thing spiraling into a bad conclusion for Lisa, who discovers back in the present that the fortune teller only specializes in the relationships where you get jerked around.

– Two Dozen and One Greyhounds. This one is more notable for the one song than the plot. Santa’s Little Helper is even more destructive than usual, and it turns out to be a case of him needing some puppy love, wink wink nudge nudge. So soon the house is overrun with 25 puppies, and only one person has a heart big enough to care for all those dogs…Mr. Burns. His evil scheme to steal them is less than inspired, and even Smithers has to point it out. He seems to be nice them, but the truth is revealed in musical number form, and I DARE you to listen to “See My Vest” and not hum it for two days afterward. But on top of that, the hilarious “Rory Calhoun” running gag, which gets beaten into the ground specifically to annoy Matt Groening, according to the commentary. This one’s just here for the song.

– The PTA Disbands! Money is tight at Springfield Elementary, and the teachers are ready to STRIKE. So of course Bart is ready to fan that fire, purple monkey dishwater. And without educational stimulation, Bart and Lisa go crazy in their own unique ways. Lisa building a perpetual motion machine to express her educational needs is truly inspired comedy, as is Homer’s punchline (“In this house, we OBEY the laws of thermodynamics!”), as is Bart flying a kite for no reason that can be any good. Act 3 sees the neighborhood taking over for the teachers, and you just know that’s a paddlin’. The gags from Bart’s boobytrap to Kierney’s jig to Homer v. Vassar are just non-stop, and the solution is typically Simpsons.

Disc Four

– ‘Round Springfield. Oh my, I do hate this one. As a part of the deal that brought Al & Mike back for the Critic episode, they also got to produce an entire episode using the Critic production team, and this was it. And it sucks. Bart accidentally swallows a jagged metal Krusty-O, and while in the hospital visiting him, Lisa finds Bleeding Gums Murphy there. A rather lame musical number follows as we learn the backstory of the jazz man. And the next day, he’s dead. Oh well. However, it sets up one of my favorite Bart lines ever: “No one ever suspects the butterfly!” Truly an evil read by Nancy Cartwright. The rest is unspeakably lame and maudlin, and this one is generally considered one of the worst of the season.

– The Springfield Connection. After a run-in with a crooked three-card monte scam, Marge tires of the inept police force and decides to try out herself. Marge the cop is pretty damn hot. Oh c’mon, I’m not the only one who thinks so. Of course, this leads to the inevitable Cops parody with Skinner and his mother. Homer, as usual, abuses his newfound power, playing pranks on Ned with the police tape and organizing gambling nights with illegal Cuban cigars. But when he crosses the thin blue line and discovers Herman selling bootleg jeans out of his “car hole”, things get bad. I often recite “These are the people who saw an already overcrowded marketplace and said ‘Me too!'” in a variety of real life situations, because it’s TRUE.

– Lemon of Troy. This is one I hated on first viewing, but have grown to love. Marge is again worried about people losing pride in the town, but a challenge from the cousin-loving Shelbyville punks galvanizes the kids against them. And when the beloved lemon tree of Springfield is stolen, well you know only a guerrilla squad of commandos can solve things. Homer’s “Tute on, son, tute on!” is a great act break line. The adults soon follow the kids into the rival city, while Nelson struggles with the pain of having Martin Prince as a partner, and Bart penetrates the Shelbyville gang with a cunning disguise. More great lines from Homer follow: “Stupider like a fox!” And then his evil Shelbyville twin gets into the act, with “There’s a doin’s a transpirin'” and “Shake harder, boy!” An awesome comment on the bizarre small-town rivalries that the whole Springfield/Shelbyville thing is based on.

– Who Shot Mr. Burns? You may have heard of this one before. Of course, we close the set with the quintessential cliffhanger. The hysteria over this one is hard to describe unless you were around in 95. Willie strikes oil under the school, making it rich and full of rubber stamps. Of course, Mr. Burns wants the oil, and when his clever disguise as a young student fails, he resorts to slant drilling instead. Things go downhill for the town, as Burns costs Bart his dog, Moe his tavern, and the school all their money. And then for an encore he builds a giant sun-blocking device to rob them of the sun, too. Homer meanwhile goes progressively crazier as Burns can’t remember his name. And everyone is armed and dangerous. Finally things boil over as Burns is just the meanest bastard ever and an awesome villain, but no one has the guts to stop him. No one…but one person, who shoots him off-screen at this most evil moment, as we discover that several suspects are missing, and internet geeks go nuts trying to figure out whodunnit. I’m sure you already know by now, but I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen the conclusion from the seventh season yet.

The Video

Hey, it looks good for a cartoon from 1995, that’s for sure. The yellows are bright yellow and there’s only a few problems with general muck on the prints, but this was before the show went digital anyway, so suffice it to say it looks 500 times better than the washed-out colors you’re getting in syndication and leave it at that.

The Audio

Season three was the first one to feature the shows in Dolby Surround, but it’s still basically a glorified stereo mix, even in 5.1 as it is here. It’s a friggin’ sitcom, you don’t need the surrounds anyway. The musical numbers sound really nice, though.

The Extras

Tons of stuff, as usual.

– Commentaries on EVERY SINGLE EPISODE. God bless them. And there’s tons of people on each one, too, ranging from Matt Groening to the directors to the voice actors to the writers.

– “Springfield’s Most Wanted”. This is a 30-minute spoof piece from 1995, produced by Fox to hype the season premiere, and features John Walsh introducing a series of clips from the first six seasons. Still pretty funny.

– “The Simpsons Plane”. A weird two-minute publicity reel, with commentary by Matt and friends, about a plane painted like the Simpsons characters.

– Commercials for Church’s Chicken and 1800Collect with Homer.

– Deleted scenes, 30 minutes of them.

– “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” in four languages.

– The animatic for that episode, with or without illustrated commentary.

– A series of original sketches for that episode.

– Suspect profiles in text form for all the major contenders, and these are really funny stuff, with bizarre conspiracy theories everywhere.

The Ratings:

The Film: *****
The Video: ***
The Audio: ****
The Extras: ****