"The Simpsons" Season 6: Hours of Heady Goodness
Here it is: The sixth season of The Simpsons, all in a brand new case (more on that later). Seasons five and six (1994-1995) were what most people generally consider to be the finest hours of The Simpsons, and the stellar episodes on this new set prove it. So now, without further Apu, let’s break it down, disc by disc.
- “Bart of Darkness” – The Simpsons get a new pool, but an unfortunate mishap causes Bart to be stuck in a foot cast for the entire summer. The plot soon dives into a Rear Window parody. A very funny episode that was originally supposed to air as the finale of Season 5, “Bart of Darkness” has plenty of satire on how material possessions can cause you to be fleetingly popular.
- “Lisa’s Rival” – Allison, a smart new girl at school, tries to be friends with Lisa, but Lisa is too busy being jealous that there’s someone a little bit brainier than she. Includes the quintessinal Fugitive parody.
- “Another Simpsons Clip Show” – The only stinker on the entire 25-episode collection, this is hailed by me as the worst Simpsons episodes of all time. It’s the second clip show, only done in a more boring fashion and with fewer clips selected. Worth watching for the recycled animation self-parody jokes in the beginning, but otherwise a complete waste of time. You’re better off watching the episodes they got the clips from; they’ll be a lot funnier in context anyway.
- “Itchy & Scratchy Land” – The family goes on a disastrous vacation to a Disneyland-esque theme park. Full of dead-on parodies of many things (first and foremost Disney, but also Jurassic Park and Westworld), and great animation to boot.
- “Sideshow Bob Roberts” – The fourth Sideshow Bob episode, with Bob rigging an election to become mayor. Lots of political humor in this one, and it gets points for nailing the Kennedy/Nixon debate in a similar fashion.
- “Treehouse of Horror V” – Simply put, the best Halloween episode. It manages to combine horror and comedy so brilliantly that no “Treehouse” episode has managed to equal it since. Includes the segments “The Shinning,” “Time and Punishment” and “Nightmare Cafeteria”. Yours truly loves all three, but “The Shinning” in particular is a masterful recreation of the Kubrick film with many quotable lines.
- “Bart’s Girlfriend” – Reverend Lovejoy’s daughter is actually a worse troublemaker than Bart, and she ends up getting him framed for stealing the church’s collection money. Though not a laugh riot like some episodes, it’s a good character study and, like so many episodes, has the perfect satire on mob mentality.
- “Lisa on Ice” – Lisa vs. Bart in pee-wee hockey. Again, outstanding and cartoony animation by Rough Draft, and the zany feel of the episode only enhances this. Plus another good commentary on mob mentality, especially going bezerk over something as trivial as kid’s sports.
- “Homer Badman” – A fan favorite, and with good reason. Homer is wrongfully accused of being a pervert by a college student. The ensuing media frenzy is captured quite well, and is even more relevant today than when it was released.
- “Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy” – A more “adult” episode of The Simpsons, this one deals with Homer and Marge spicing up their sex life with an aphrodisiac drink. Once that is fixed, Homer and Grampa sell the stuff together, but when Grampa reveals that Homer was an accident, things go sour between the two. One of the most well-written episodes of Season 6, successfully combining three different plots into a coherent, smart tale.
- “Fear of Flying” – Marge reveals her paranoia about traveling on airplanes. Yes, to the nitpickers, this episode is out of continuity because Marge has traveled on planes before without any trouble, but just disregard that and you’ll have fun. It’s one of the better Marge episodes, delving into her psyche and past experiences. It also has one of the funniest lines of Season 6: “Pass me another hunk of co-pilot.”
- “Homer the Great” – Homer joins an elusive, exclusive club and inadvertedly becomes their new leader, much to their eventual dismay. Not satire-heavy and more prone to wacky situations, but still hilarious. Patrick Stewart does a bang-up job as the club’s ex-leader, treading that line of playing it serious enough to be funny.
- “And Maggie Makes Three” – This is a flashback episode, the fourth, if I’m not mistaken. As the title implies, it tells the tale of how Maggie was born. Well-written effort by first-time writer Jennifer Crittenden (who would go on to write a few more episodes and stay as a staff writer) that has a lot of great “screw you” jokes, as the staff calls them. What are “screw you” jokes? Simple: You think a joke is going somewhere obvious, but then it doesn’t, making it even funnier than it would’ve been. Also, the episode is well-written because we feel for Homer’s eventual return to the plant and the uplifting ending without a saccharine or “fake” feeling hanging over it.
- “Bart’s Comet” – Bart discovers a comet that is on a collision course with Springfield. Dark subject matter is tackled with impeccable comic timing and quality character development in an episode where all the loose ends are wrapped up nicely.
- “Homie the Clown” – Homer becomes a physical duplicate of Krusty, which gets him into hot water with the mob. Like “Homer the Great”, this one is more about the fast-paced comedy than about a satire on anything, but it’s still exceedingly humorous. The ending stunt alone is worth the price of admission, as well as the clown college and Krusty’s blatant misuse of the almighty dollar.
- “Bart vs. Australia” – This is perhaps the best Simpsons vacation episode, not only for the overly ridiculous stereotypes of Australian culture, but because the set-up to put them there isn’t forced and derivative like so many newer vacation episodes. Bart has to go to Australia to apologize for making an extremely expensive prank call, but foreign relations go out the window in a botched punishment attempt.
- “Homer vs. Patty and Selma” – Double plot: Homer tries to keep secret an I.O.U. to Patty and Selma, while Bart takes up ballet. Though the two plots don’t coincide at all, the episode still maintains a high laughter quotient, especially in the sitcom-ish manner in which Patty and Selma abuse their blackmail of Homer.
- “A Star is Burns” – The infamous episode that Matt Groening was apparently not happy with (and took his name off the credits for!), but it’s not as controversial as you might think. Really, it’s just a 30-minute ad for The Critic, which was premiering on Fox at the time. Springfield is holding a film festival, and Jay Sherman (Jon Lovitz) hosts the preceedings. This episode definitely has the feel of a Critic episode, with parodies right and left, and a crisp pace throughout. In fact, Al Jean and Mike Reiss were the executive producers for this, which only makes sense.
- “Lisa’s Wedding” – Definitely the best “looking into the future” episode. The trick is that they were careful to balance the comedy and drama in this flash-forward look at Lisa’s first love. Amidst the many many spoofs of new/old technology and “where are they now?” portraits is some good character development and moral dilemmas. And of course, the episode contains the running joke of allowing teenager Maggie to talk.
- “Two Dozen and One Greyhounds” – Like the Sherry Bobbins episode of Season 8, this episode mainly exists to be a loose parody of a Disney movie; in this case, it’s obviously 101 Dalmatians. The “See My Vest” song is one of the best songs ever sung on The Simpsons, and the comedy thoroughly works throughout.
- “The PTA Disbands!” – The age-old question, “What would happen if the Springfield Elementary teachers went on strike?” is answered in this fitfully funny episode. Though the pace drags a bit in places, the gags come through and the episode has many quotable lines, like “Paddlin’ the school canoe… oh, you better believe that’s a paddlin’!” and “Posh! Shredded newspapers add much-needed roughage and essential inks!” Truly bizarre ending, though.
- “‘Round Springfield” – Another Jean/Reiss-produced episode, this one focuses on the death of Bleeding Gums Murphy, and Lisa’s desperate attempt to get his name known. Lisa sings a truly heartfelt “Jazzman,” in a moment that may be the most emotionally satisfying of the season. Bart’s sub-plot, about swallowing a jagged piece of metal, dies fairly quicky, though.
- “The Springfield Connection” – Marge becomes a cop and uncovers a counterfeit jean-smuggling ring in her car hole… er, garage. Funny throughout, especially the repeated gag of the cops laughing uproariously at Marge. It also contains some nice jabs at not giving special treatment to family members if you’re a cop.
- “Lemon of Troy” – The beloved lemon tree is stolen from Springfield by Shelbyville. The boys (and eventually the men) risk their safety by venturing into enemy territory to take it back. Though it makes an interesting point about how ridiculously stupid border disputes and town pride are, the episode is more about the action and comedy. We also get to see doppleganger versions of Moe’s and Kwik-E-Mart, among others.
- “Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part One” – Ooooh, cliffhanger. Mr. Burns snatches the oil from Springfield Elementary and invents a device to block out the sun. The townspeople go mad with rage and all threaten to kill him. But only one does… who is it? I’m sure you all know who did it, but I won’t reveal it anyway just to be difficult. Regardless, it’s a tense episode that nails the dramatic punch and, at the time it was released, left the viewer guessing for many months.
So in conclusion, with the exception of “Another Simpsons Clip Show,” all episodes on this set are fantastically funny and well-animated, and this set is well worth the purchase for the episodes alone. But the set also comes with many special features.
As has been a tradition since the first season set in 2001, Simpsons producers, writers, directors, and voice actors take part in commentary for all episodes. Though their commentary has often been criticized for not being as in-depth as it could be, and often resorting to back-scratching compliments and half-serious sarcastic comments like “we came up with this gag first!”, it’s still a great set of audio tracks. Not only do we hear tons of anecdotes from the staff, like how an earthquake affected Season 6 production, but we also get backstories to how a particular script got started or how an episode was created from start to finish or how the Internet affected the show. And yes, they do make a few shots at Internet nerds. But they’re not nasty shots, and they actually are grateful for our feedback and input.
Having said all that, there is one glaring omission from the commentary on this set in particular: No mention of the controversy surrounding “A Star is Burns.” Despite the fact that this was apparently a big deal when it happened, with Groening removing his name from the episode, it wasn’t mentioned even in passing. It’s like they were forbidden to talk about it. Instead we hear more Al/Mike gay jokes from Jon Lovitz (they were funny on the first couple of sets, but they’re starting to get old) and comments about stuff we already knew. Considering that we don’t get any mention about this fiasco on the set, it’s rather disappointing. Even so, all 25 commentaries are worth listening to, and provide a wealth of information and humor.
The discs also contain some animatics, storyboards and illustrated commentaries. For those that don’t know, storyboards are rough sketches of the main action of an episode. Think of it as a visual script. The animatics are basic, black and white frames of animation with no inbetween work.
So what are illustrated commentaries, then? Basically, either the animatic or the storyboards run, while the staff comments on how they draw the characters while making crude drawings over the animatics. Though interesting info in spurts, the drawings they make are sloppy at best and the atmosphere is too silly to get anything substantial from it. I wasn’t fond of these illustrated commentaries on the previous set, and my feelings haven’t changed.
You can also see some deleted scenes, which were cut for a reason. Also includes commentary by David Mirkin and, for two episodes, Al Jean & Mike Reiss. While some of the scenes were funny, most are bland and slow the pace waaaaaay down. Interesting, nonetheless. There’s another selection of foreign voice cast clips, and a few commercials starring the characters, two for Church’s Chicken and one for 1-800-Collect. I’ve always liked these ads, not only for the wilder animation that is more suited for a kid’s cartoon than for The Simpsons, but the zippy pace. No wonder The Simpsons were used to sell products; the ads get your attention. [See also Japander.com for a few commercials the characters did for the editor’s Asian sugar water of choice, CC Lemon. -Ed]
But a 21-minute episode of America’s Most Wanted, centered around Mr. Burns’ death and entitled “Springfield’s Most Wanted,” is arguably the most provocative extra on here. It’s all completely tongue-in-cheek: John Walsh hosts in a deadpan, serious manner, as the team investigates the possible suspects in the shooting. Celebrity guests also reveal who they think is the trigger finger. This piece is so bizarre that you can’t help but love it, and even more so since it hasn’t been seen much (if at all) since its special airing before the Season 7 premiere. The set also includes a rather dull group of profiles of the suspects.
Another odd one is “The Simpsons Airplane Featurette.” During the sixth season, a special edition Boeing airplane was made with the Simpsons faces painted on the sides. Commentary runs through the 2 minute video, and we get to see some of the writers, producers, and directors during it! It’s worth a watch just for that.
Overall, it’s a good set of special features. Any Simpsons fan will eagerly go through all of these, just like they have with the last few releases. But there’s another controversy here: the packaging.
The Simpsons Season 6 has radically different packaging than the first five seasons. Instead of a fold-out box with a Simpsons couch gag in the middle, Fox decided to make the season sets in the shape of a different character’s head from here on out. You open it from the top, and the head folds back to reveal a four-disc booklet inside. Also included is an episode/special features guide and a sheet informing you that if you really hate this new box design, you can call the number and get an old-school box in its place.
I know I’m in the minority here, but I LOVE this new box design. The previous designs, while they looked nice, had that annoyance where you had to fold out the box until it was extremely long and required a specific way to fold them back together so they fit. With this new design, everything is compact. You open the box, and take out the disc jacket. Easy. And on top of that, the discs seem to stay in place much better than previous sets.
And with the extra space, they included a much more colorful and eye-catching insert booklet, which chronicles all episodes on the set, including airdate, running time, writers/directors info, and pictures. The previous sets were boring in this regard, but this one is visually better and neater, since each page is devoted to an episode and not squished with two episodes, like previous sets.
Plus, they don’t take up any extra space on your DVD shelf. They are almost exactly the same dimensions. Here’s one fan who WON’T be trading in his box for an old-style one.
If you’re a Simpsons fan, pick this up. If you’re not a Simpsons fan, pick this up; maybe this set will change your mind. You’re looking at a good 13 hours of material on here; 26 if you watch the episodes twice (once plain, and once with the commentary). [Hundreds of centuries of entertainment if you watch them at near-light speed. -Ed] And 96% of the episodes are gold. Well worth the $30-40.