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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Bart Simpson: Didn't you wonder why you were getting checks for doing absolutely nothing?
DVD ReviewThe past 15 years have been dominated by one family. Is it the Clintons, the Bushs, the bin Ladens? No, it is that middle-class family from Springfield. In 1989, The Simpsons debuted as its own TV show, moving up from being a filler on The Tracy Ullmann Show. Looking back now, it is hard to see how the first season spawned such a phenomenon, but viewing the fourth season shows how amazing Matt Groening's creation truly is.
The Simpsons: The Complete Fourth Season is now available on DVD with all 22 episodes being presented as they were when first aired-a thankful blessing for fans who have only seen the butchered, syndicated re-runs. This was when The Simpsons changed from being a rather enjoyable, creative program into a modern American masterpiece. Fans of the show will remember that Conan O'Brien joined the writing staff this year, and introduced classic characters like the Sea Captain and Bumblebee Man.
The whole writing staff gathered together to create one of the series' finest outings. This was the year in which Homer learned to converse with his brain, when Bart found love, where Marge became an actress, when Lisa needed braces, and Maggie spoke her first (and only) word to be heard. So grab some donuts, and get ready to tour Springfield with the Simpson family.
"I've been scorched by Krusty before. I got a rapid heartbeat from his Krusty brand vitamins, my Krusty Kalculator didn't have a seven or an eight, and Krusty's autobiography was self-serving with many glaring omissions. But this time, he's gone too far!"-Bart Simpson
The season premiere features Bart and Lisa spending their summer vacation at Kamp Krusty. Unfortunately, the evil Mr. Black runs the camp and uses the school's bullies (Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearney) as counselors. While the kids are struggling for survival, Marge and Homer's marriage is better than ever. This all changes when Bart leads a Lord of the Flies style rebellion, prompting Krusty the Clown to intervene. Though this is far from being one of the series' best episodes, it is a very enjoyable outing. Movie and literary references heighten the humor and Kent Brockman's news report from the camp will leave all audience members laughing.
Four frosted donuts out of five:
A Streetcar Named Marge
"I just don't see why Blanche should shove a broken bottle in Stanley's face. Couldn't she just take his abuse with gentle good humor?"-Marge Simpson
Marge is fed-up with being alone all the time while taking care of the house, so she tries out for a community theater production of a musical version of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. The kids flock to her side, but Homer is unsupportive of Marge which gives her ample opportunity to use method acting. The animation in this episode is some of the best the series has ever produced, with amusing and impressive musical numbers. Jeff Martin's script is full of wonderful parallels between the play and the on-goings of Marge and Homer. Especially worth note is the subplot that involves Maggie fighting against a Nazi-esque day care. Jon Lovitz guest stars as the play's director and the day care mistress.
Five donuts, with sprinkles:
Homer the Heretic
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to appear on a tortilla in Mexico."-God
Adverse weather conditions and getting out of bed lead Homer into staying home from church. While the rest of the family attends church with unpleasant results, Homer enjoys himself and proclaims it to be the best day of his life. Marge prays for Homer to rejoin them, but since he has a dream about God Homer becomes convinced that he should start his own religion. The whole episode walks a fine line between blasphemy and satire. Undoubtedly religious fundamentalists will be offended, but most levelheaded believers will find a great deal of good-natured humor. Homer's meetings with God (by the way, God has five fingers!) and the family's dinner with Reverend Lovejoy are the show's highlights.
Five delicious donuts out of five:
Lisa the Beauty Queen
"When it comes to compliments, women are ravenous, bloodsucking monsters, always wanting more, more, more!"-Homer Simpson
At the school carnival, a caricature artist draws a picture of Lisa that makes her think she is ugly. Homer can't stand to see his little girl so depressed and enters her into a beauty pageant. Lisa becomes Little Miss Springfield, but the evil cigarette company wants her to promote their product. Disgusted by this corruption, Lisa speaks out against all forms of injustice in Springfield, causing the town leaders to rally against her. The beauty pageant aspect of the show is flat, especially now that the country lives in the shadow of Jonbenet Ramsey. However, the father-daughter relationship between Homer and Lisa is bittersweet and genuinely touching.
Four appetizing donuts:
Treehouse of Horror III
"We sell forbidden objects from places men fear to tread. We also sell frozen yogurt, which I call frogurt!"-House of Evil Shopkeeper
Alas, one of the fan's favorites! Each year The Simpsons treats its audience to three amusing shorts in honor of Halloween. Treehouse of Horror III is one of the best Halloween specials, with the neighborhood gathering together to tell scary stories. Clown Without Pity features a killer Krusty doll with an appetite for Homer, King Homer is an ingenious spoof on the 1933 King Kong, and Dial "Z" for Zombie is a great parody of Night of the Living Dead. There are many great one-liners and the animation has a lot of zeal in all three installments. The highlight is Dial "Z" for Zombie, featuring the best writing and voice work of the three stories.
Five deep-fried donuts:
Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie
Marge Simpson: "Do you want your son to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or a sleazy male stripper?"
Homer Simpson: "Can't he be both, like the late Earl Warren?"
At a parent-teacher conference, Marge and Homer learn how horrible Bart behaves in school. They return home only to find that Bart has ruined Grampa's dentures. Eventually Bart goes too far and Homer lays down the law, forbidding Bart to see the upcoming Itchy & Scratchy feature length movie. Bart tries in vain to see it, but Homer remains firm. This particular episode is not heavy on laughs, but it goes a long way in showing that the stereotype of Homer being a bad parent is not completely accurate. Unlike many of the shows during this season, there is no subplot here, thus this outing is very straightforward. Viewers who aren't dedicated to the show will not find much to enjoy here, but the dedicated fans will find a rewarding 20 minutes.
Three and a half donuts out of five:
Marge Gets a Job
Marge Simpson: "I worked for the Carter administration?"
Lisa Simpson: "Well you voted for him. Twice."
Marge Simpson: "Shhh...someone might be listening."
The Simpson house is sinking into the ground on account of a major foundation problem. Desperate for money, Marge takes a job at the power plant despite Homer's objections. When Mr. Burns sees Marge sitting at her workstation, he falls instantly in love and pulls out all of the stops to win her over. The writing team of Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, a favorite of Simpsons fans, creates a zesty story full of great movie homages (especially to Citizen Kane) and a hilarious guest appearance by Tom Jones. There's also a great subplot about Bart that turns into a modern day version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Five cream-filled donuts:
New Kid on the Block
"I actually had some doubts about moving to Springfield. Especially after reading Time Magazine's cover story, 'America's Worst City.'"-Ruth Powers
Conan O'Brien's first script to air as a completed episode features a new family moving into the house next door to the Simpsons. Bart falls in love with his new neighbor, Laura Powers—an older girl who baby-sits the kids when Marge and Homer go to the Sea Captain's restaurant for an "all-you-can-eat" special. Homer is kicked out of the restaurant before he finishes eating all he can eat. Filled with rage, Homer sues the restaurant. Meanwhile, Bart learns that Laura is in love with Jimbo, and experiences heartbreak for the first time. For a first timer, Conan has written a pretty good episode, but it isn't anything special. The introduction of the Sea Captain is the biggest contribution here, but the episode is not as clever and sophisticated as the others featured in this season.
Three donuts out of five:
"Hey, if you're going to get made at me every time I do something stupid, then I guess I'll just have to stop doing stupid things."-Homer Simpson
One of the best episodes in the show's history finds Homer crashing his car, only to buy a plow truck. To pay for the truck, Homer starts a business plowing driveways. Initially this is a great gig, but Barney steals Homer's idea and a rivalry is born. The laughs never stop during the show's 20-minute runtime. There are two laugh-out-loud cameos by Adam West and Linda Ronstadt and the climax is priceless.
Five delicious, chocolate swirled donuts:
Lisa's First Word
"It's not easy to juggle a pregnant wife and a troubled child, but somehow I managed to squeeze in 8 hours of TV a day."-Homer Simpson
Homer and Marge tell the children the story of Lisa's first word. Set back in 1983, the family is living in a small apartment until Marge learns that she is pregnant. Later, in the summer of 1984, Lisa is born and Bart hates her. As Bart struggles to adjust to the new baby, Homer constantly cashes in on an Olympic promotion at Krusty Burger because the communist countries boycotted the Olympics. The heart of the story lies with the two children, however, who come to love each other just like any siblings would. Like the other flashback episodes, the script has many great jokes about the time period it is set in and also manages to keep things fresh for modern audiences that weren't alive at the time or were extremely young. This isn't a standout episode, but it's a good way to spend some time.
Three donuts out of five:
Homer's Triple Bypass
"Oh, no, what if they botch it? I won't have a dad...for a while."-Bart Simpson
Years of over-eating finally catch up with Homer, causing him to have a heart attack. In order to save his life, Homer must have a surgery. The cost of the operation is too much, until everybody's favorite soon-to-be malpractice suite Dr. Nick Riviera arrives. Homer goes under the knife, but will Dr. Nick be able to perform the surgery? There are many great moments present here, especially Homer's hospital scenes with different family members. It's also nice to see Dr. Nick get a major role, because he is one of the most underused and funniest characters on the show.
Four and a half raised donuts:
Marge vs. the Monorail
"A solar eclipse: the cosmic ballet goes on."-Leonard Nimoy
Conan O'Brien's famous monorail riff, which combines The Music Man with 1970s disaster movies, pulls out all the stops. A crooked salesman, Lyle Lanley, sells the good people of Springfield a monorail that is dangerous. The whole town ignores the signs and Marge's pleas to not buy the monorail. Even the Simpson household gets swept up in the madness, with Homer becoming the monorail conductor. Easily a classic in the show's long primetime run, Conan's script is full of goodies. There's the introduction to Chief Wiggum and Mayor Quimby's rivalry and a great guest appearance by Leonard Nimoy. Also, the opening is a marvelous take on The Flintstones. In addition, the crowd scenes and monorail sequence feature some great animation and camera moves. Definitely a must see.
Five flavorful donuts:
"Oooh, this looks like fun...a bench! Kids, whaddya say you go get your Aunt Selma a beer smoothie?"-Selma Bouvier
Upon learning that her Aunt Gladys has died, Selma decides she wants to have a baby. With embarrassingly unsuccessful attempts at dating, Selma contemplates artificial insemination. As a test of her parenting skills, Selma takes Bart and Lisa to Duff Gardens when Homer falls ill due to eating an expired hoagie. The kids are a handful for Selma, with Bart getting arrested and Lisa becoming drunk. The character of Selma is one of the least appealing elements of The Simpsons, so it isn't much of a surprise that this episode is not especially inviting. There are a few good gags, most notably the story surrounding Homer and the hoagie. Unfortunately, the show just isn't terribly funny.
Two and a half stale donuts:
Brother From the Same Planet
"I know you're mad at me right now, and I'm kinda mad too. I mean, we could sit here and try to figure out 'who forgot to pick up who' until the cows come home. But let's just say we're both wrong and that'll be that."-Homer Simpson
Marge leaves Homer with the responsibility of picking up Bart from his soccer game, but Homer fails. Outraged over his dad's neglect, Bart goes to the Bigger Brother program where he embellishes his story and gets the best big brother imaginable, Tom. Homer finds out about this and tries to beat Bart at his own game, and volunteers as a big brother for the poor boy Pepi. While Homer and Bart have their battle, Marge tries to wean Lisa off of a phone line addiction to the heartthrob Corey. All of the elements present here combine together to create a well-rounded episode, with plenty of twists in the story that make for a joyous and unpredictable experience. There are also two funny horror film spoofs on Psycho and The Shining.
Five mouth-watering donuts:
I Love Lisa
"Good evening, everyone, and welcome to a wonderful evening of theater and picking up after yourselves."-Principal Skinner
After nearly four years of being on the air, Ralph becomes Chief Wiggum's son. There may not be a physical resemblance between the young lad and his father, but the stupidity is there. On Valentine's Day, Ralph receives only one Valentine, and it comes from Lisa who gives it to him out of pity. Ralph immediately assumes that she loves him and pursues her with tremendous vigor. It is easy to understand why so many people like Ralph after watching this episode, because his stupidity is so absurd that it works. Frank Mula's script does a great job of commenting on the grade school rituals of Valentine's Day and the ridiculousness childhood crushes. He also manages to sneak in a very subtle homage to Apocalypse Now that film buffs will appreciate. Not too mention, the audience gets treated to the immortal song The Monster Mash not once, but twice!
Four and a half donuts out of five:
"You got it, no deer for a month."-Homer Simpson
Homer sneaks out of work to take a tour of the Duff Brewery with his best pal Barney. Unfortunately, Homer has too much to drink and gets nailed with a DWI and loses his license. Marge, concerned about her husband's alcoholism, convinces Homer to give up drinking for a whole month. While Homer struggles to stay on the wagon, Lisa launches a vicious attack at Bart because he ruined her science project. When Bart finds out that he is nothing but a pawn in Lisa's new science project, he conducts a counteroffensive. There are many funny scenes in this episode, especially Homer's escape from work and the driver's ed scenes. It's strange to think about it, but The Simpsons have actually made alcoholism a humorous topic as opposed to a deadly disease. Who'd have thunk it?
Four yummy donuts:
Last Exit to Springfield
"Sorry, Mr. Burns, but I don't go in for these backdoor shenanigans. Sure I'm flattered, maybe even a little curious, but the answer is 'NO!'"-Homer Simpson
Homer is not exactly the 1990s Jimmy Hoffa, and his stint as the power plant's union president proves this. Mr. Burns has long held a grudge against the union and is now determined to get back his dental plan. Initially the workers are willing to grant this concession, but then Homer realizes that Lisa needs braces. Under Homer's leadership, the workers strike and Homer becomes entangled in a war of wills against Mr. Burns. This is another classic episode, with some great writing and, more than usual, fantastic style in the animation. There are two references to The Godfather, Part II that use desaturated colors quite effectively and the union jokes will make everyone laugh, from Teamsters to Strike Busters. This episode also introduces the running gag of Grampa Simpson's pointless ramblings.
Five scrum-didily-umptuous donuts!:
So It's Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show
"You couldn't fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electrified fooling machine."-Homer Simpson
Long before syndication and cable television become commonplace, fans of a TV show had to rely on clip shows in order to see their favorite bits. Of course, a major reason why TV shows employ the dreaded clip show is to give the staff a break. As far as clip shows go, this is actually a pretty good episode. The entire first act is all new, using April Fool's Day as a premise to launch Homer into a coma. But, once the clips get started they almost never stop. The opening act is quite funny, especially for those of us who treat April Fool's Day as a real holiday. The rest of the episode consists of different gags from the first three seasons and a few bits of new animation, which when juxtaposed show how much the style of the show has evolved. This just might be the best clip show ever, but who really cares about a clip show?
Three plain donuts out of five:
"If I puked in a fountain pen and mailed it to the monkey house, I'd get a better script."-Roger Meyer
Bart and Lisa's favorite cartoon, Itchy & Scratchy, is in a rut. Convinced that they can write a better episode than the show's writers, the two kids come up with a funny and hyper-violent script. In need of a grownup to get them in the door, Bart and Lisa enlist Grampa as their pseudonym and have a successful career. Much more successful than Homer's, since it is learned that he never graduated high school and must go back to school in order keep his job. This is a good episode for anybody, but it's especially fun for fans of the series. There is an infinite amount of inside jokes about the writing staff and the script wisely pokes fun at itself in a self-reflexive way. Some of these jokes will be lost on casual viewers of The Simpsons, but there's plenty of fun for all to have.
Four scrumptious donuts:
"I love the sexy slither of a lady snake."-Barry White
Whenever Superintendent Chalmers visits Springfield Elementary, it's going to be a bad day for Principal Skinner. On this occasion, Bart runs over Chalmers with Groundskeeper Willie's tractor, causing Skinner to expel Bart. When the family runs out of options, Marge decides to home school Bart. Surprisingly Bart actually starts to learn and function as a model student, which leads to him aiding Lisa in her campaign against Whacking Day (Springfield's traditional day of war against snakes). The script is loaded with jokes and there is a very well choreographed scene involving Homer's training for Whacking Day. Watching this episode reminds the viewer of how much The Simpsons changed the landscape of American comedy. Prior to the show's airdate of April 29, 1993 the JFK assassination was sacred and considered off limits for comedy (at least on TV). As a result of one simple joke, that won't be revealed here, the JFK assassination and Zapruder film are now commonly parodied by different sitcoms. This just goes to show that The Simpsons are a strong influence on American culture.
Four donuts out of five:
Marge in Chains
"Oh, the network slogan is true! Watch Fox and be damned for all eternity!"-Ned Flanders
Marge is frantically attending to her family, all of whom are sick with the Osaka flu. In all of the chaos of buying her family medicine, Marge inadvertently steals a bottle of bourbon. Despite Lionel Hutz's best efforts, Marge is convicted of robbery and goes to jail. Slowly but surely the whole town falls into chaos, spurred on by the city's purchase of a statue in honor of Jimmy Carter. The premise of this episode doesn't sound promising, but it surprisingly works. The series' original plan of having a semi-realistic show goes out the window here, and the cartoonish values are embraced with a big hug.
Four and a half tempting donuts out of five:
Krusty Gets Kancelled
"Thirty-five years in show business and already no one remembers me. Just like what's-his-face and who's-its and, you know, that guy, who always wore a shirt."-Krusty the Clown
The season finale of The Simpsons plays like Michael Todd's Around the World in 80 Days. It's loaded with cameos (Johnny Carson, Bette Midler, Hugh Hefner, and Elizabeth Taylor to name a few) and a big story that has lots of sets but not much heart. Krusty's show runs into some tough competition against the new Gabbo ventriloquist act. As his rating fall, Krusty gets cancelled but, with the help of Lisa and Bart, Krusty stages a major comeback, a la Elvis Presley. This episode is nowhere near the highlights of the fourth season, but it is a grand old time.
The final three and a half donuts from the box:
The Simpsons has come a long way as a show. Every season delivers the laughs to this day, but starting in season four the show took an impressive turn upward. The family serves as a cohesive whole and source of consistency in a town that is more than prone to break out into massive rioting, singing, and dancing. Perhaps Homer and Marge don't manage the ideal family, but they certainly have a leg up on the Bundys.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: The entire fourth season of The Simpsons is presented here in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The nonanamorphic transfer is a much stronger and sharper image than the syndicated re-runs you'll see on TV, with much more vivid colors and a cohesive look throughout the episodes. Mosquito noise is non-existent and there is no noticeable edge enhancement. There are occasional print defects, most notably on Homer the Heretic. Sometimes the source material is weak, creating a few instances of inconsistent quality. However, none of the flaws in the transfers are distracting.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Season four of The Simpsons gets the Dolby Digital 5.1 treatment in English. In addition to the Dolby Digital mix, there are French and Spanish mixes in Dolby stereo. The 5.1 mix is newly created for this release, and offers some nice sound. The opening title sequence has a nice bass and Danny Elfman's theme permeates from all the speakers. By and large, each episode is front heavy, but there is sound movement throughout the front soundboard (this is especially well done in Treehouse of Horror III). Dialogue is clear and well balanced with the music and sound effects. The standout episode is Marge vs. the Monorail, with great sound placement during the musical number and monorail climax. Some might call this gimmicky, but it's a cartoon show.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 132 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
4 TV Spots/Teasers
4 Multiple Angles with remote access
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
22 Feature/Episode commentaries by Matt Groening, Al Jean, Mark Kirkland, David Silverman, Mike Reiss, Jeff Martin, Jon Lovitz, Hank Azaria, George Meyer, Jim Reardon, Wally Wolodarsky, Jay Kogen, Jon Vitti, Rich Moore, Jeff Lynch, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Conan O'Brien, Michael C
In addition to the commentaries, each of the four discs contains more extras. There is a play all function on each disc that allows you to play the episodes with or without commentary. On disc one, you also get A Word From Matt Groening (01m:59s) to introduce the season. There is also a written transcript of this introduction on the inside of the packaging. Disc one also contains an Art & Animation supplement about A Streetcar Named Marge. As part of this feature, there is an Animation Showcase (09m:36s) of the first act that allows you to choose between viewing the animatic, storyboards, and finished product (you can also view them with a picture-in-picture function). In addition, the Art & Animation special feature has the show's original Animatic (17m:05s), which you can watch with or without director's commentary (by Rich Moore and David Silverman).
As if this is not enough, disc one also contains The Cajun Controversy (02m:13s), which chronicles New Orleans' response to A Streetcar Named Marge's musical number defaming the city. There's also a Special Language Feature on Kamp Krusty, giving the viewer an opportunity to listen to the show in Brazilian Portuguese, Italian, Japanese, and Castillian Spanish. The most interesting featurette of the entire set is Bush vs. Simpson (05m:11s), a short history lesson narrated by James L. Brooks that chronicles the controversy between George H.W. Bush and Springfield's favorite family. Finally, disc one also has Promotional Stuff (13m:55s), a featurette from 1993 that features interviews with Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Leonard Nimoy, Adam West, Danny De Vito, Nancy Cartwright, and others. There are some interesting behind-the-scenes shots of the cast performing their parts, but the majority of this featurette is designed to promote the show (seeing as how most of the people watching the special features are probably already sold on the show, it seems pointless).
Continuing onward with disc two, there are four commercials that can be played together (with a combined runtime of 01m:57s). Make sure to check out the Unforgettable Classics TV spot that places the characters into such classic films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Star Wars. Again, there is an Art & Animation feature on Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie, but it only has the Animation Showcase (07m:52s) supplement and no animatic.
Disc three offers another Art & Animation special feature, this time about Homer's Triple Bypass, that offers the same content as the A Streetcar Named Marge feature does. There is more discussion on the commentary this time about the show's move into the digital realm as of late. The other feature on disc two is four deleted scenes from Homer's Triple Bypass. There is a function to play the scenes with them inserted into the episode. None of them is especially long (the average length is ten seconds), but one is an alternate ending to the episode. They're all worth taking a look at, but it's easy to understand why they were cut out.
Finally on disc four there is one more Art & Animation extra on So It's Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show. It has an Animation Showcase (03m:54s) and Animatic (06m:00s), but no commentary. The final extras for this set are six deleted scenes from The Front. Again, there is an option giving you the ability to play them as they would have appeared in the episode. Like before, none of them is long and were wisely cut from the finished episode.
The features on this set are more extensive than any other TV on DVD to this date. More likely than not, only fans of the show will be interested in watching them. However, anybody who wants to hear some interesting tidbits and learn about the animating process should give these a look.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsEach season of The Simpsons that Fox puts onto DVD surpasses its predecessor. On this fourth installment, the image and sound transfers are better than any of the first three seasons. The extras are much more expansive and mix humor with interesting information to create a pleasant experience. Definitely highly recommended.
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