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20th Century Fox presents
"Yes, the Simpsons have come a long way since an old drunk made humans out of his rabbit characters to pay off his gambling debts. Who knows what adventures they'll have between now and the time the show becomes unprofitable?"
DVD ReviewIt's become cliché to slam the new seasons of The Simpsons on the internet ("Worst episode ever!" has been the weekly rallying cry for the last, oh, nine years). While I still love the show every week, I have to admit, going back and watching the older seasons as they are released on DVD, what is now merely good was once truly great. The golden yearsŃseasons three through nineŃrepresent about the most consistent run of quality entertainment in the history of the known universe (I mean, really, who reads all those Shakespearean histories? Zzzzzz...). And smack dab in the middle of that is Season Seven, for my money the flat-out best in the 17-year history of Homer, Marge, and the rest of the yellow-skinned, four-fingered Springfield denizens.
If ever I could avoid a series summary, it's here, so I'll get right into explaining why you need to own this even though the episodes have been run into the ground over the last decade. The Simpsons used to be shown something like four times a day in syndication in Chicago, and more often than not, I'd watch them all (two at dinner, two before bed). I've seen some episodes dozens of times. It has been on so long, I don't know which episode comes from which season, but while looking over these DVDs, I couldn't believe how many of my absolute favorites are here, including my number one of all time, King-Size Homer, in which Homer decides he's going to gain 100 pounds so he can go on disability and work from home ("All my life I've been an obese man trapped inside a fat man's body.")
When showrunners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein took over from David Mirkin after Season Six, they decided to place the focus squarely back on the entire family rather than on Homer's wacky adventures. Thus, the season is packed with strong, family-focused episodes that feature solid plots rather than the occasionally brilliant surrealism and absurdity that defines the series these days. And they'll all good, too—in the early years, the "serious" shows, particularly the Lisa episodes, had a tendency to feel a little sappy, but here, the writers are firing on all cylinders, combining humor and heart in equal measure in episodes like Lisa the Vegetarian (featuring the funniest Troy McClure appearance of all time: "Come on Jimmy, let's take a peek at the killing floor. Don't let the name throw you. It's not really a floor, it's more of a steel grating that allows material to sluice through so it can be collected and exported.") and Summer of 4 Foot 2, in which Lisa tries to fake being cool so she can make some friends, only to have her "nerdish leanings" reveal themselves at the worst possible moment.
This is the season in which we learn Who Shot Mr. Burns? (a conclusion so off the wall, none of the viewers made the correct guess in a call-in contest). Then Bart Sells His Soul (to Milhouse, for $5, a decision he quickly regrets). Radioactive Man comes to town to make a movie, resulting in some great parodies of the old Batman series (Paul Lynde as the terrifying Scoutmaster!) and of Hollywood in general.
Homer's long-lost hippie mother (voiced by Glenn Close) returns in Mother Simpsons, and the ending always makes me sniffle. Sideshow Bob declares war on television in Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming (" Oh, my utopia lies in ruins! How naïve of me to think a mere atom bomb could fell the chattering cyclops!"). Troy McClure celebrates The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular (" Tonight we're here to honor America's favorite non-prehistoric cartoon family.") in a clip show that doesn't feel at all like a clip show, peppered with trivia and deleted scenes (which two popular Simpsons characters died? If you said Marvin Monroe and Bleeding Gums Murphy, you're wrong... they were never popular).
Mr. Burns joins Homer's bowling team in Team Homer, another I'd place in my top ten episode list ("Well, I'm tired of being a wannabe league bowler. I wanna be a league bowler!"), if only for Burns attempt at being one of the guys ("Oops, lost a nail. Well, that's leprosy for you!"). President George Bush (the first one) drops by in Two Bad Neighbors and starts a feud with Homer (featuring an appearance by Bush II as well). In Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield, Marge gets a deal on a Chanel suit at an outlet mall and gets more than she bargained for when she attempts to join the local country club (I love Homer's reaction when Marge tells him not to let a valet park their junky car: "Just once I wanted someone to call me 'sir' without adding, 'You're making a scene.'").
I suppose I could go on, listing every episode from the season, because they're literally all good. From looking at message boards archives, it looks like, at the time, many fans didn't like the introduction of sight gags and non sequiturs into the series' repertoire, but, to me, that's what makes them so re-watchable, especially in these 25 episodes. And thus, I must declare: Best. Season. Ever!
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: As the show matures, the animation improves, and Season Seven is the cleanest yet on DVD. For the most part, it looks great, with sharp, bright images free of edge enhancement and obtrusive grain. Here and there are brief scenes that look a little faded, or even a tad blurry, but it's the fault of the source material—there's only so much it can be cleaned up, and these faults have been there as long as I can remember.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is on par for the series: clean, DD 5.1-remixed recordings that present dialogue and sound effects well, with limited directionality and stereo separation across the front soundstage.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 150 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
42 Deleted Scenes
25 Feature/Episode commentaries by Matt Groening, Jeff Martin, Mark Kirkland, David Mirkin, Jim Reardon, David Silverman, Wes Archer, Greg Daniels, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Yeardley Smith, David X. Cohen
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Extras Review: It seems like it's taking forever for The Simpsons to come to DVD (and with at least 11 seasons to go, it will be longer still), but at least the bonus materials are consistently great.
Once again, every episode includes a commentary track, with participants as varied as this season's executive producers, Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, creator Matt Groening, voice actors, guest stars, writers, and directors. Their discussions are always funny and informative, and shed a lot of light on the creative process. It amazes me that they still have so much to say after talking over 125 episodes, but regardless, these tracks remain my favorite feature.
There are also bonuses on each disc. Most episodes include a handful of deleted scenes, for instance, and there's an option to see them integrated into the show via a clickable icon (though all 42 of them are grouped together with commentary on Disc 4).
Disc 1 has a featurette, Homer in the Third Dimension (06m:09s), which focuses on the then groundbreaking CGI Homer sequence in the Treehouse of Horror episode, with peeks at some behind-the-scenes rendering models and such from the folks at PDI (the company that, thanks largely to this bit of footage, was able to partner with DreamWorks and make films like Shrek and Antz).
Disc 1 also includes Paul and Linda McCartney's recipe for lentil soup, for reasons that will become clear after you hear the commentary for Lisa the Vegetarian.
Discs 2 and 4 also have an Animation Showcase, presenting part of an episode in multi-angle storyboard, animatic, and final form. Find them for Home, Sweet Homediddily-Dum-Doodily and Curse of the Flying Hellfish.
Discs 3 and 4 include A Bit from the Animators, illustrated commentary on a portion of an episode (Summer of 4 Foot 2, The Day the Violence Died). It's basically a more technical commentary track, focusing on the intricacies of the animation (pointing out continuity errors and the like).
Disc 4 gives the option to watch 22 Short Films About Springfield in Italian, Japanese, German, or Portuguese, in addition to boring old English. Rounding out the disc are a half-dozen original sketches of props and character poses.
The presentation is as great as ever, with simple menus featuring some funny new animation, and your choice of packaging: cool Marge head for those who can embrace change, and slightly less cool cardboard for those who respond to message board topics regarding the best method for alphabetizing their DVDs (By genre? By director? Oh, the possibilities!). Shocking even myself, I find I am the former.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsSeason Seven is easily one of The Simpsons' best and most consistent (and that's saying something, considering there are kids now graduating high school too young to remember a time before "d'oh!" became an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary). Nearly every episode is a fan favorite, and many are among the best of the (thus far) 17-season run. I'm glad Fox is finally picking up the pace with these releases; the next can't come fast enough.
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