The Complete First Season
September 25th, 2001
1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
English & French Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
English Closed Captions
English & Spanish Subtitles
MOVIE Overall Season Grade
The Simpsons has been on for so very long (now in its 14th Glorious Season) many have forgotten that when the show began, the drawings were crude, the voices were strange, the house changed layout at will and the show (with few exceptions) focused on little rapscallion Bart. (The shift towards Homer didn't begin until season two) This first season delighted viewers at a time when, think back, Twin Peaks was still on, the Cosby Show and Cheers dominated the ratings, Seinfeld hadn't even started yet and we were all a good deal younger and more naive. Back then, these 13 episodes delighted much of the country, propelling Fox into the spotlight and causing ridiculous controversies over Bart's "Underachiever and proud of it!" attitude, to the point of causing Simpsons T-Shirts to be banned from many schools, mine included. And I loved them too. Flash forward thirteen years and nearly three hundred episodes and my tastes have changed. The show has evolved so far that it's almost difficult to watch these originals without hoping for that Fox rerun block to come around and dish out an episode or two from the show's golden years (somewhere between 3 and 8). So, unfortunately it is with that bias and prejudice that I looked back on these first 13, each briefly reviewed below. (Special thanks to The Springfield Nuclear Power Plant [www.snpp.com] for additional episode info)
Some Enchanted Evening
Homer and Marge have themselves a well deserved night at the Off Ramp Inn, hiring the criminal babysitter Ms Botz (guest voice Penny Marshall). The episode was the first to be produced, but not first aired (and almost killed the show via its original version) and introduced both Moe and Dr Marvin Monroe.
Bart The Genius
Bart switches his test with Martin's, propelling him into a gifted class. He finds himself unable to fit in. Wacky and fun, very Bart centered, it's easy to see with this episode why Bart became the figurehead for a few years of class clowns.
The first season at its worst features Homer railing against Springfield Nuclear and any other unsafe place in Springfield. Notable for introducing Mr. Burns and (a strangely African-American) Smithers, but otherwise boring and preachy.
There's No Disgrace Like Home
We glimpse Hell for the first time on the Simpsons as Homer compares his family to another family at the Springfield Nuclear family picnic, this leads homer to take the family to see Dr. Marvin Monroe for counseling that goes badly. This episode shows that the characters weren't properly developed at this time with Homer concerned that the family will make a scene and Marge, carefree, heading into a drunken stupor. Itchy and Scratchy make their first appearance.
Bart The General
Another episode that helped to propel Bart's popularity into the stratosphere as he leads a gang of children into battle against Nelson the bully. This began the Simpsons usage of classic films, drawing heavily from Patton. This episode also introduced Grandpa and Herman, one armed owner of the local military kook store. Fun and light.
Lisa broods and develops much of her future personality in this episode as she meets blues musician Bleeding Gums Murphy. The family dynamic is starting to fall into place, as is the relationship between Homer and Lisa.
The Telltale Head
Bart cuts the head off of the town founder Jebadiah Springfield's statue to impress Nelson and crew, shocking the town into a patriotic fervor. This is a strange episode, touching on many bizarre aspects of the show to come. Also the first time we see Reverend Lovejoy.
Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire
The first episode to air, I have fond memories of the trailers for this show and watching it way back when, when the Simpsons were born as a show on December 17th, 1989. Surprisingly, this early episode has a lot of the zest of the later shows, despite fairly odd looking art and a very Walter Matthau voice for Homer, still has some laughs. An interesting note I've felt is that during the opening, Homer says hello to many people we've never heard from again in the school auditorium, making me realize that today, we'd know all of them, how the featured population has grown.
Call Of The Simpsons
The Simpsons go on a camping trip, get lost, Maggie gets adopted by some bears and Homer is mistaken for bigfoot. The surrealism of Homer as bigfoot is a major misstep. This type of gag would be very different today, if done at all. Not that great.
Homer's Night Out
One of my two favorites of the first season, Bart's picture of Homer with a belly dancer gains him fame and fortune, infuriating Marge. This episode allows us to see that Homer really does love Marge a lot without having to blatantly stamp sentimentality all over it. It's strange, goofy and fun, between Mr. Burns request that homer teach him the way to a woman's heart and Bart's exploits with the spy camera. Does anyone remember when every Simpsons commercial featured the line "Mom! Bart's taking a picture of his butt again!"
Life On The Fast Lane
Marge dabbles in the possibility of being unfaithful with Jacques, a bowling instructor she met due to Homer's selfish birthday present of a bowling ball with his name on it. This introduces one of the "one thing follows another" plot shifting episodes to come and has a brilliant guest star voice with Albert Brooks. The dream sequence is classic, and so is the "ironic street" that Marge drives down. "Those are not bowling trophies, Marge; they are for love making!" We meet Helen Lovejoy for the first time.
Krusty Gets Busted
Krusty gets framed for murder by Frasier. . .erm. . .by Sideshow Bob (guest voice Kelsey Grammer) beginning a long time feud between Sideshow Bob and Bart, the boy who put him away. Perhaps I'm overly nice to this episode because of what it yielded (the Cape Feare ep, specifically) but oh well.
The Crepes Of Wrath
While the laughs are a bit dry in this episode featuring Bart being exchanged with Adil from Albania and going to France, the over the top plot (Adil is a spy using Homer to get a glimpse of the Power Plant) is indicative of zaniness to come.
The Simpsons is presented in its original television ratio of 1.33:1. It's hard to know whether the poor quality of these are due to the transfer, the age or simply the poor quality of the original cartoons. They look bad in syndication and they look little better here, despite the digital format. There are a few exceptions, some of the later episodes look noticeably better than the earlier. It's a good thing the series abandoned these bizarre gradient backgrounds after this season, but I can little fault the DVD for that.
The sound is good, with a few moments, great. Danny Elfman's score has never sounded better than it does in Dolby Digital 5.1, fully enveloping and deep. Unfortunately, after the credits finish it's seemingly simple stereo with dialogue hanging in the center track. Nothing impressive, but it is television, and the show wasn't recorded in surround until much later.
Okay, now that I've dissed this first season set from here to kingdom come, I've arrived at the reason to own the set. (aside from completeness, which is why I and many geeks across the country own it) There are thirteen full length audio commentaries on this set, one for each of the episodes, all offering more than informative information, laughs, fun and are, in many cases, funnier than the episode they're commenting on. Matt Groening and James L Brooks are seemingly the most frequent contributors and they offer insight into a show they've obviously enjoyed working on throughout the years.� Original Version of Some Enchanted Evening.� In the commentary for the episode "Some Enchanted Evening" they mention the original animation that came back and almost killed the show. Here it is. Ghastly character designs with animation to match. Don't bother watching the actual show, watch with the commentary track. Not all participants can stomach the horror and some walk out.
Albert Brooks Outtakes From Life On The Fast Lane.� These are HILARIOUS, it's Albert Brooks improv-ing until the cows come home, delivering deliciously nonsensical monologues in preparation for Jacques' date with Marge.� Good Night Simpsons.� A short from the Tracy Ullman show that you've undoubtedly seen if you're a regular viewer, the one where Marge and Homer say goodnight to the kids and then inexplicably go to bed with their clothes on. Homer has never sounded more like Matthau as he does in this short.� On top of these, there's a few original scripts for the episodes, some VERY short featurettes, seven clips in other languages, a nice still gallery and a handful of magazine covers.
Okay, you might ask, how can I give out a 2, two 2.5s and a 4 and then assign a 3? Because I think we're overwhelmingly hard on this first season these days, simply because they're not what they ultimately became. I know I am anyway. Now that I've watched each episode on this DVD set at least three times, then the commentary, I can feel comfortable with them on my shelf, but not watching them much more. They're there for completeness, and if you're a DVD collector like myself, it would just be strange to have several Simpsons seasons and not this first one. It's fairly cheap, especially if you go through an online retailer, and, hey, if nothing else, it's a trip down memory lane.
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