The SmarK DVD Rant for The Simpsons – Season 10

Available at Amazon.com

This is kind of the tipping point for the show, where the episodes are funny but not quite to the classic levels of past seasons, but not yet to the sometimes unfunny levels that the show would get to once they completely ran out of ideas.

Some themes run through the season — Homer gets a wacky new job, Homer tries a new career path, Homer screws up his marriage again. There’s a minimal amount of time actually used to show Homer at work at the power plant, and in fact Mr. Burns is hardly even seen this season, aside from one episode entirely devoted to him. That’s kind of a hurtful omission, as Burns is a good chunk of the humor most of the time and there’s only so much you can do with Homer. That being said, most of these shows are from the period that doesn’t show up much in syndication, which usually favors very early shows or much later ones. And since most of them are pretty funny and I haven’t seem them 100 times like the ones usually playing, that means this is a pretty good DVD set.

The Show

Disc One

– “Lard of the Dance” First episode and Homer’s first get-rich-quick scheme of the year. This time it’s grease collection, while Lisa finds herself in competition with new student Alex, who is a kid with a cell phone back in the time when that was an unusual occurrence. Homer runs afoul of the grease mafia, but Bart talks him into one last crazy score instead of raising emus. The Lisa story is about growing up too fast and is pretty obvious about it. The two stories manage to intersect with Homer & Bart stealing grease from the school while Lisa organizes a school dance. Groundskeeper Willie bathing with Ajax & Brillo pads is great, the rest doesn’t really go anywhere.

– “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace” Homer is having a mid-life crisis and we get a glimpse of his funeral (at the Graveyard of the Future, with President Lenny presiding in typical John Swartzwelder craziness). So he gets fixated on Thomas Edison as only Homer can. “Do us a favor and invent yourself some underpants” wins line of the show here. Homer quits his job for the millionth time to become an inventor, amidst many crazy Swartzwelder moments (“Stupid father, too lazy to spank his own kids…”), which gives us the makeup gun (“Women will like what I tell them to like.”) and the toilet recliner. But when he actually invents something useful and then discovers that Edison did it first, he goes to break into the Edison Museum and smash it, using typical Homer Logic. The “dramatization” of Edison’s heirs bathing in money is great. Hilarious even after many viewings.

– “Bart The Mother” A trip to the family fun center puts a BB gun in the hands of Nelson & Bart. Which results in a dead bird at Bart’s hand. And when he studies up on tending to eggs, we get the final appearance of Troy McClure. The eggs turn out to be evil lizards, but luckily Marge can relate to raising a monster. Nothing terribly memorable here.

– “Treehouse of Horror IX” “Hell Toupee” sees the execution of Snake, which frees up his hair for Homer’s long-awaited transplant. Sadly, it’s haunted by the vengeful spirit of Snake, who wants to kill Bart. The hair’s dramatic death scene is worth the watch here. “Terror of Tiny Toon” sees Bart sticking plutonium in the remote control, which as everyone knows results in getting sucked into the TV. And haven’t we all been there? This makes for some great self-referential cartoon humor, like the (brief) return of Poochie. As they point out on the commentary, that one half-decent remote gag somehow got turned into an entire Adam Sandler movie. And finally, “Starship Poopers” features the shocking revelation that Maggie is actually the daughter of Kang (or Kodos, I can never remember) after a night of alien bliss with Marge. And of course they sue for custody and we end up on Jerry Springer, the only show that can settle something this silly. Homer answering the door and mistaking Kang & Kodos for Mormons wins joke of the show. Solid episode overall, although the Ken Starr joke at the end is practically growing mold now.

– “When You Dish Upon A Star” Homer’s Yogi Bear dream to start is classic. So the family goes to the beach and Homer uncovers a formerly undiscovered part of Springfield, where Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin have a hideaway. The joking marital problems they have here would seem a little less funny after the real divorce played out. Not much, but a little. Homer gets yet another job — celebrity assistant — but his days of fetching wheatgress & vodka (“I call it a Lawn Mower”) are short-lived. And so it’s another patented mood swing and he starts attacking celebrities instead. Great “Variety” joke as Homer threatens to “ankle” the family. That one gets funnier once you’ve read a few of their pretentious movie reviews. First appearance here of Ron Howard as himself. Homer’s movie about the killer driving instructor who travels back in time “for some reason” could probably get made today given the crap that’s getting the green light now. I mean, The Last Legion? Seriously?

– “D’Oh-In In The Wind” Homer dabbling in acting as part of a recruitment film for the power plant (he still has a job there?) leads to him needing his middle name for SAG membership. So in typical Simpsons fashion, this leads to the totally unrelated main plot, as Homer Jay Simpson takes up residence on a hippie commune with Seth & Munchie. Remember the days when you could guess the plot in the first minute of the show? Now when I’m flipping onto “old” shows from the 11th or 12th season in syndication, it generally takes me five minutes or so to realize that the crazy gym teacher somehow leads to the Pygmalion spoof with Willie. Anyway, a great Homer line results from his new hippie freedom: “C’mon, Maude, the human wang is a beautiful thing.” I quote that one constantly. An old-fashioned hippie freakout goes HORRIBLY wrong, ruining Homer Jay’s dreams of hippiedom (“Does this mean you’re going to start showering again?” “Perhaps. In time.”) Homer accidentally spiking the hippie juice plant with their “personal vegetables” gives us some great psychedelic gags around the city.

Disc Two

– “Lisa Gets An A” Homer buys a baby lobster from the supermarket on free sample day (“If it’s on a toothpick, it’s free!”), which he somehow sees profit in. Meanwhile, Lisa gets sick and fails to read “Wind In The Willows,” so needs to cheat to pass a test on it. Nelson’s office in the toilet is great stuff. Homer of course ends up bonding with Little Pinchy, until tragedy in the hot tub tears them apart. Well, mainly Pinchy. Homer’s delicious, butter-soaked grief is a great moment. Ralph gets his first classic line of the season with “Super Nintendo Chalmers” Frankly, I’m surprised that State Comptroller Atkins didn’t catch on as one of the endless running characters. Where I come from, Canada, we value courage! They don’t show this one in syndication much, which is a shame.

– “Homer Simpson In: Kidney Trouble” More Swartzwelder! A trip to the old west ghost town gives us about a million uses of the word “prostitute” and allows JS to work in all his old-timey American stuff that he loves. However, Grampa gets loaded up with sarsaparilla until his kidneys explode (“So you’re saying I DON’T need a new muffler?”) This leaves Homer in the position of reluctant kidney donor. VERY reluctant. It also sets up the all-time champion Homer line, the one that defines his character in one sentence: “This is everyone’s fault but mine.” Awesome. Homer escaping his operation by handcart is total Swartzwelder humor. Homer ends up on the Ship of Lost Souls (aka Honeybunch), but apparently running out on a kidney transplant is enough to disgust even a cynical Frenchman. Hilarious from start to finish.

– “Mayored To The Mob” Another fave of mine. Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con gives us tons of Star Wars nerd jokes (“People, this man has ACTUALLY been in space.”) Mark Hamill’s appearance triggers a riot (even faster than usual for Springfield) which in turn triggers Homer’s nerd-bashing instincts. So Homer begins, you guessed it, another career, as Quimby’s bodyguard. And we learn…again…how ridiculously corrupt Quimby is, as he takes bribes from the Legitimate Businessman’s Club and discovers a really disgusting rat milk scam. (“Bart, I don’t want you ever drinking milk again.” “Can I?” “Uh, go nuts.”) Fat Tony brings the awesome (“Accidents will happen. Like the killing of you, by us.”) Things fall apart in the final act, however, as they go to “Guys And Dolls” at dinner theater for the big climax. Although “Luke Be A Jedi Tonight” is pretty funny.

– “Viva Ned Flanders” So it’s a big revelation for Ned, as he’s revealed to be 60 and looking to Homer for advice on loosening up. So off to Vegas they go, and a white wine spritzer leads to surprise marriages to cocktail waitresses Amber & Ginger. Las Vegas doesn’t appreciate people who dishonor their marriage vows, however. And I’ve got nothing else here. Homer & Ned is always good, but not hugely funny or anything.

– “Wild Barts Can’t Be Broken” Great comment on fairweather fans as the Isotopes finally win and Homer gets drunk and trashes the school. So the kids get blamed and curfew is in effect. The kids take revenge by revealing secrets over the radio, avoiding the internet because they want people whose opinions matter. Ouch. The big payoff is a song, which is always the tip-off that they’ve got nothing.

– “Sunday Cruddy Sunday” The bad run continues, as a trip to the post office somehow leads to Homer getting new tires and organizing a giant trip to the Super Bowl with a shady travel agent. The bizarre B story is Lisa & Marge doing a Vincent Price-endorsed egg painting. Lots of guest stars, but it needed more guest jokes.

Disc Three

– “Homer To The Max” OK, now we’re back into the groove again, with one of my all time favorite episodes. Written by John Swartzwelder, of course. Mid-season fever sweeps the Simpson house, and “Homer Simpson” is a featured character on hot mid-season show “Police Cops”. Sadly, the issue of retooling crappy shows is examined, and “Homer” becomes a drooling idiot, which gives us lots of meta-references to changing voice actors and altering characters. Homer’s discussion with studio yes-men is great (“He’s not stupid, he’s a fish out of water, living in a world that he didn’t make”) Homer’s despair causes him to change his name to Max Power (“I got it off a blow dryer”) and gives us another all-time great Homer line: “Nobody snuggles with Max Power, you strap yourself in and feel the G’s!” Max’s entrance into high society gives us some random celeb bashing (“Marge, it’s Lorne Michaels, pretend you don’t see him.”) The tree-hugging payoff is a bit of a letdown, but it’s somewhat offset by Homer randomly tossing a chain into the air and killing an endangered eagle. I could watch this one all day and night.

– “I’m With Cupid” Here’s another one that doesn’t get much play in syndication. Apu finally takes a day off and hosts the Simpsons for dinner. Apu playing “The Concert Against Bangladesh” is great. Some nice observational humor sees Apu getting himself in hot water with Manjula, and showering her with gifts leading up to Valentine’s Day. And so again Homer’s marriage is in trouble as a result and everyone blames Apu. Wackiness results. Pretty weak.

– “Marge Simpson in: Screaming Yellow Honkers” This one gets way too much play in syndication. It’s the return of Canyonero! Escaping the faculty talent show convinces Homer to buy an SUV, but a sleazy salesman sells him an F Series, which is obviously for women. On behalf of sleazy salesmen, I’d just like to say “Ouch”. Marge gets it instead, and as an SUV owner myself might I just add that the bit about fitting 30 bags of groceries into the back is quite true and quite awesome. Bart as Baron Von Chickenpants is random but hilarious. Marge’s road rage is funny stuff and quite true to life, but true to form for the season they can’t pay it off in the third act and instead we get a goofy zoo plot and rampaging rhinos. That inability to carry the great ideas through to the end was the major failing of the season, I think.

– “Make Room For Lisa” A trip to the Smithsonian leaves the Bill of Rights destroyed and this somehow leads to Lindsay Nagel building a cell phone tower on the Simpsons’ roof, all to stick Bart & Lisa in the same room. The cell phone tower also leads to Marge picking up conversations on the baby monitor. Homer & Lisa have very different out of body experiences while bonding in sensory deprivation tanks (yeah, this one jumps all over the place), but it makes for a nice ending with dad and daughter learning about each other. Homer’s “And ooga booga to you” and Flanders being ready to bury someone at a moment’s notice are the winners here.

– “Maximum Homerdrive” The family goes to a steakhouse, and because it’s the Simpsons, it’s a REAL steakhouse, where everything is meat and you kill your own cow. Matt Groening’s bitterness towards steak eating scams comes through loud and clear on the commentary. A tragic steak death leaves Homer driving a truck cross-country with Bart, who goes to school about as much as Homer goes to work. More from Gil as the B story sees Marge and Lisa installing a doorbell FROM HELL. Marge is of course so square that she needs someone to ring the bell, which gives us an awesome joke with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Homer, meanwhile, runs afoul of another global conspiracy, this one involving trucks that drive themselves. Senor Ding-Dong debuts here, another character that sadly failed to catch on. It’s Swartzwelder, it rules, nuff said.

– “Simpsons Bible Stories” So this is the start of a trend that began in this season: Anthology episodes outside of Halloween. Story #1 sees Homer & Marge in the Garden of Eden, facing the wrath of Flanders. That one writes itself, especially Snake playing, well, you know. Story #2 has Milhouse Van Moses freeing the Israelites from Pharaoh Skinner. Egyptian letter dictation (“Bird, eye, guy doing this”) is the best joke of many. Story #3, after a brief interlude with King Solomon Homer, sees Bart in David v. Goliath II: Stone Cold. Basically a million action movie parodies leading up to Ralph Wiggum owning us all with “Where’s your messiah now?” All entertaining, unlike some of the crap pawned off on these episodes later on.

Disc Four

– “Mom & Pop Art” Homer’s latest project is building a BBQ pit, and as usual it goes horribly wrong. This one gives us Homer’s renditions of “Beer in the Coconut” and “Shaving My Shoulders”. His rage at the BBQ turns him into an artist. “Wow, it’s like Marge’s dream come true — for me!” Sadly, the art world is fickle, and Homer hallucinates into paintings to find his ultimate inspiration: Venice. But without the black plague. Good stuff.

– “The Old Man And The C Student” For some reason, the Olympics decide to come to Springfield, and Bart messes it up and does community service as a result. The obnoxious and cloying “Kids Are the Future” anthem is very true, Bart’s ethnic humor less so. So it turns into a battle between Bart & Lisa for the souls of the old people at Grampa’s retirement home. The B story has Homer trying to sell off thousands of springs, and if you think those two plots can’t possibly intersect, you’d be WRONG. The old Jewish guy’s “I want some taquitos” is frequently quoted in our household for reasons I can never really understand.

– “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love” The Simpsons visit the new Megastore in town, giving us a great shot at Kevin Costner (“I’m so very sorry. But Field of Dreams was good, wasn’t it?”) The actual plot begins with Mr. Burns feeling unloved and needing Homer to help with his image. So they end up in Scotland, looking for the Loch Ness Monster in a plot twist that’s a bit of a stretch. Great wacky stuff here, like Homer playing pinball in his diving suit in a bit so funny that it has the guys on commentary laughing for about two minutes and Burns single-handedly catching the monster off-screen. Now that’s a quality Swartzwelder moment. “If you wanted to be loved, you sure blew it with the insane rampage.” Crazy and hilarious.

– “They Saved Lisa’s Brain” A trip to the local gross-out contest turns into yet another riot and Lisa fearing for the intellectual future of the town. Well, duh. So we meet the Springfield chapter of MENSA, who take over the city in one of those twists that just kind of happens because the plot requires it. The B story is Homer taking boudoir photos for Marge. Stephen Hawking has a badass cameo, but the episode is a dog.

– “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” Homer gets cyber-robbed by Snake in a dated joke, leaving them shopping at the 33-cent store because the 99 cent store is too expensive now. Next step in their war on poverty: Taking a mega-saver trip to Japan. So we get the usual roll-call of cultural references, like the seizure-inducing cartoons and sumo wrestling, before they actually find the plot. Even the commentary admits that it took them a while to wind their way around to it. Yes, it’s the wacky Japanese game show, which gives us lots of quality Homer physical abuse. The lightning round in particular is great stuff.

And that’s the season!

The Video

Hey, it looks good for a cartoon from 1999, 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

You should know the drill by now.

– Audio commentaries on EVERY episode! Most feature tons of people and sound like they’re actually having fun instead of reading off a cue card with a gun to their head, like some other commentaries.

– 16 minutes of deleted scenes, with commentary.

– A compilation of Bart’s crank calls, running 6 minutes

– 3 minutes of Simpson-themed commercials.

– Assorted foreign language features on selected episodes.

– Assorted multi-angle features on selected episodes, showing you the differences from animatic to storyboard to finished episode.

The Ratings:

The Show: ****

The Video: ****

The Audio: ***1/2

The Extras: *****

The Pulse:

I dunno, you could tell it was going downhill, but I hadn’t seen a lot of these episodes in a while, and I laughed a LOT during this season. Unfortunately Swartzwelder was carrying the show on his back at this point, but he was doing a heck of a job doing so. Still, the Mike Scully era can’t match the Al Jean & Mike Reiss era, and there’s no episodes here I’d classify as “can’t miss”, but there’s a lot that I would call “very, very funny.” There’s also a lot of lowlights, but I’d say this one is still worth picking up for casual fans as well. I find it hard to fathom that there’s people who HAVEN’T been watching the show since the Tracy Ullman days like many of us crusty old Internet nerds have and thus don’t have all the episodes from this season memorized already, but I’d pick it up either way.

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