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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Lisa Simpson: Dad, I don't understand. What is she saying you did?
DVD ReviewLet me take you back to the fall of 1994. Change was in the air and life was invigorating. The 49ers went 13-3 and won a record-setting fifth Super Bowl. The Republicans swept the midterm elections and America came to know this as "The Gingrich Revolution." O.J. was in the hot seat and viewers watched it from their couches. But more important than all of those is what happened on September 4th: The Simpsons began their sixth season with Bart of Darkness, a sly parody of Hitchcock's Rear Window. Moving from Tuesday back to their original slot on Sunday nights, Matt Groening's cartoon family reached a new level of excellence, creating arguably the single most important phenomenon in pop culture to occur in my lifetime. What once was a humorous and inventive television program became a living legend, unimaginably affecting my generation.
Okay, maybe my love of the show has led me to hyperbole, but probably not a day has passed in the last decade without someone now between the ages of 20 and 30 quoting from this season, even without realizing they're doing so. Remember Ralph Wiggum's immortal "My cat's breath smells like cat food?" It originated in Lisa's Rival. How about Groundskeeper Willie informing Bart "You've got the 'shinning?'" That comes from the bloody macabre of Treehouse of Horror V. Oh, and my personal favorite, "No children have ever meddled with the Republican party and lived to tell about it," comes from Sideshow Bob Roberts, in which everybody's favorite psychopath, Bob Terwilliger, runs for mayor of Springfield. Part of the brilliance of this season is that there are countless quotable lines, more than is possible for any single person to remember.
The storytelling is more sophisticated here, employing comical non sequiturs and wild tangents to great use (one need only look at Family Guy to see the effect this has had on other cartoons). Whether it is the misleading humor concerning a car crash in Itchy & Scratchy Land or the victor at Springfield Elementary's diorama in Lisa's Rival, the show constantly plays with the audiences expectations. Sometimes things pan out as one would expect, but often the scripts provide witty alternatives to keep both laughs and sheer joy in constant supply. Take for instance Bart vs. Australia, an episode in which Bart makes a prank phone call that causes an international uproar. Everything seems to be moving toward a happy ending where Bart learns his lesson, but the writing moves us in an entirely different direction, making a social commentary about how Singapore handles littering (does anybody remember that controversy from way back?).
Filled with many film parodies, from Close Encounters of the Third Kind in Homie the Clown to Love Story in Lisa's Wedding, the team of directors made many new breakthroughs in their animation design. The shadow work on Homer the Great (incidentally, my favorite episode) is some of the best in the series history. Action scenes, such as the North by Northwest homage in Fear of Flying, move with a comical ferocity that the previous seasons lacked. Camera moves, particularly in A Star Is Burns (where the town hosts a film festival and invites The Critic himself, Jay Sherman), are more kinetic and adventurous now. Everybody on staff seems truly comfortable with the material and craft one delicious episode after another.
The voice work is also at its pinnacle. Dan Castellaneta's work as both Homer and Grampa Simpson in Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy is full of emotion and brilliant comic timing. Watch the closing scene carefully as Homer returns to his childhood home, because Castellaneta gracefully dances between a tender father-son relationship and flat-out comedy. Julie Kavner's subdued work as Marge in The PTA Disbands!, where she becomes Bart's teacher, is both motherly and funny. Nancy Cartwright jumps into Bart with glee in Lemon of Troy, creating a wondrous sense of mischief. Yeardley Smith's work as Lisa is also the best she has done on the show to date, particularly in Lisa on Ice, when she becomes Bart's hockey rival.
The supporting cast is also very effective, with Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer turning in great work as Chief Wiggum, Mr. Burns, Moe, and dozens of others. The sixth season also marks the arrival of many other accomplished actors. Apart from Kelsey Grammer's triumphant return as Sideshow Bob, Meryl Streep plays Reverend Lovejoy's devilish daughter in Bart's Girlfriend. Susan Sarandon's voice is unrecognizable as Bart's ballet teacher in Homer vs. Patty & Selma. Mel Brooks also appears in that same episode, doing a hilarious send up of himself. The presence of such dignified actors, especially Patrick Stewart as the head of the Masonic Stonecutters in Homer the Great, adds a sophistication that none of the previous seasons achieved.
Perhaps the most famous episode from Season Six is Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part One). It's a spoof of the old Dallas story line, ending the season on a cliffhanger in which everybody is suspected of shooting the town's billionaire nuclear power tycoon. It's a perfect ending to the season, propelling the momentum of these 25 episodes into the seventh season. The series never reached this level again, but now that The Simpsons: The Complete Sixth Season arrives on DVD in its original uncut format, everybody can bask in its unending glory.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 picture looks better than you've ever seen it before, though there are some flaws. Bart's Comet has a brief shimmer in its image during the first act and some artifacting is apparent in a few episodes. However, colors do look vivid and clear. Some of the colors bleed, though this is from the source material.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The newly mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes have plenty of sound separation and directionality, with the musical score permeating from the surround speakers to create an engrossing experience. Dialogue is audible and the sound effects crisp, making this an enjoyable mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 150 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish
3 TV Spots/Teasers
55 Deleted Scenes
25 Feature/Episode commentaries by Bob Anderson, Wes Archer, James L. Brooks, Dan Castellaneta, David S. Cohen, Jonathan Collier, Greg Daniels, Susie Dietter, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Julie Kavner, Ken Keeler, Mark Kirkland, Jon Lovitz, Jeffrey Lynch, David Mirkin, Steven Dean Moore, B
Like the previous seasons, each episode has a commentary from the show's creators, its runners, directors, writers, and cast members. Show runner David Mirkin easily dominates the tracks, recording for all but A Star Is Burns and 'Round Springfield in which Al Jean fills his role as show runner. There's a wonderful dorky humor to the comments made by all involved here, just like in the previous DVDs. However, the commentaries are not entirely comical. Some anecdotes about earthquakes and other dilemmas during production are also discussed. I highly recommend all the commentary tracks.
Extras on Disc 1 start with A Confession from Matt Groening (02m:09s), an introduction to the season containing episode clips in which he declares this to be his favorite season so far. Additionally, there is an animatic (09m:25s) of Treehouse of Horror V, Act One. The music and sound effects are absent, with only a rough line reading by the cast accompanying the visual blueprints. The animatic has an optional illustrated commentary by the directors, Groening and Mirkin. The demeanor is the same as the episode commentaries, with the extra bit being that they can draw pictures of the characters on the screen like John Madden draws plays during a football game. They discuss their attempts to mimic Stanley Kubrick's cinematography, but otherwise this is largely just a bunch of guys enjoying each other's company.
Disc 2 is devoid of any specific extras apart from episode commentaries and deleted scenes (more on those later), but the third disc also has an animatic (07m:14s) of the first act of Lisa's Wedding. You have the option of viewing either the storyboards or the animatic through a multiple angle feature, in which the finished cartoon is shown in a box in the bottom right corner. It's impressive to see the evolution of the animation, but no commentary is provided for this animatic.
Disc 4 has the bulk of the supplemental material, starting with an Introduction with James L. Brooks (00m:56s) to Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part One). He quickly sums up the story pitch by the writers and how they absolutely nailed its eventual success right from the get-go and features pictures of the different print ads used to publicize the episode, so it's worth a moment of your time. Following that is Springfield's Most Wanted (21m:12s), a mocking of America's Most Wanted. Hosted by John Walsh, there are a few clever jokes that merit its inclusion on the DVD. An interesting little feature is The Simpsons Plane (01m:57s). Containing commentary by Groening and Mirkin, they discuss this odd publicity stunt where an airplane was painted with each of the family members on it. There are also three 30-second TV spots, two for Church's Chicken and the other for 1-800-COLLECT.
There are 55 deleted scenes (totaling 27m:18s, including some footage that made the final cut) from the whole season. Each episode can be played with a branching feature, where a scissors icon appears in the lower right corner. Press "Enter" on your remote and you'll be taken to the deleted scene while watching the episode, otherwise just watch them here. Some are quite funny, especially Sideshow Bob's analysis of liberal desires, but were wisely cut from the final episodes. David Mirkin and Al Jean provide commentary on their respective scenes, explaining why they chose to edit them out.
There's also a Special Language Feature on Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part One). Containing Parisian French, Castilian Spanish, Czech and Russian dubs of the episode. More special features for that episode consist of another animatic (08m:05s) of the third act, with a storyboard and animatic multiple angle feature. There's also another illustrated commentary with the makersin which they explain the secrecy of the plot. There's also a collection of Original Sketches that can be viewed as a slideshow, showcasing the character and set designs. The extras come to a close with Suspect Profiles containing a file on each major character and his/her motives for shooting Mr. Burns. There's a lot of material on this DVD, enough to make a fan drool.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsArguably the best season in television history, The Simpsons: The Complete Sixth Season makes a wonderful DVD release. The image and sound transfers are the best these episodes have ever looked and sounded. The extras are good and, apart from the silly packaging, there is nary a flaw to this set.
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