Big Shoes to Fill: "The Simpsons – The Complete 7th Season"
Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein were in a difficult position. As writers on The Simpsons since Season 4, they were promoted to executive producers at the beginning of Season 7, replacing David Mirkin. Many fans felt that Mirkin’s work in Seasons 5 and 6 was some of the best quality material on The Simpsons. How do you top that?
It was no easy feat, but Oakley and Weinstein proved their stuff, as did many talented writers, and as such, Season 7 ended up as one of the best years in the show’s history. The way the plots managed to juggle hysterical comedy, emotional moments, and originality in concepts while staying relatively down-to-Earth at the same time is a testament to the duo’s abilities. It’s a shame they didn’t stay on longer.
The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season, released on December 13, 2005, is a solid package that will make you laugh for hours on end. Here’s the breakdown, by disc:
-“Who Shot Mr. Burns (Part 2)”: Nice conclusion to the legendary two-parter has Wiggum and company trying to solve the case. The speed of this episode is breakneck, since they had to fit so much in. Of course, this also means more laughs per second, and nearly all gags work here, so it’s a winner.
-“Radioactive Man”: Bart auditions for the role of Fallout Boy but is rejected in favor of Milhouse. It’s a fantastic parody of small towns being transformed by Hollywood, the dark side of fame, and movie making in general. “Radioactive Man” is a laugh riot. Interesting tidbit: It’s the first Simpsons episode to feature digital coloring, which wouldn’t be attempted again until Season 12 with “Tennis the Menace.”
-“Home Sweet Home-Dum-Diddly-Doodly”: Through a series of misunderstandings, Homer and Marge are deemed unfit parents, and Bart, Lisa, and Maggie are sent to a foster home: The Flanders house. One of Oakely and Weinstein’s pledges when they first took the E.P. job was to bring the focus of the show back to the family, and they succeeded brilliantly here. Though it’s not the funniest episode on the block, you really feel for the characters’ plights while at the same time having a lot of fun at their predicaments, like the odd customs of the Flanders.
-“Bart Sells His Soul”: The title is self-explanatory, but the sub-plot involves Moe turning his tavern into a family restaurant. To be honest, the B story is funnier and shows just how quickly Moe’s genius idea could be squashed. The A plot, while containing many clever ideas, isn’t quite as strong, despite a solid ending and guffaw-worthy lines. “Ehhh…. Milhouse, give him back his soul! I’ve got work tomorrow!”
-“Lisa the Vegetarian”: After displaying affection for a lamb, Lisa questions whether it’s wrong to eat meat, and in the process, wrecks Homer’s BBQ. Though it veers into preachiness at times, the episode still has lots of gold material, like one of the funniest Troy McClure informational films and the ingredients that make a hot dog.
-“Treehouse of Horror VI”: Three segments as always in this annual tradition. The strongest is probably “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace,” a manic parody of the Elm Street horror films, with some great animation. “Attack of the 50 Ft. Eyesores” is also great, with the creative plot and resolution. “Homer 3,” while nifty in its day, has aged horribly with the advancements in 3D animation and thus, is the weakest offering here.
-“King Size Homer”: After realizing disabled employees can work at home, Homer gains over 60 pounds to qualify. But then he inadvertently causes a problem at the plant from afar. This episode doesn’t hit us over the head with commentary about how being fat is bad, and thus it comes out unscathed. Homer’s antics at the computer are priceless, as is the ending with Burns paying for the liposuction.
-“Mother Simpson”: Homer’s long-lost mother enters the picture! But Burns wants to take her down, since she was an anti-germ warfare hippie who killed his precious germs. Glenn Close does a bang-up job at voicing Homer’s mother, and the episode shifts from wacky comedy moments to serious drama nearly effortlessly. In fact, the ending, with Homer staring at the stars while beautiful background music plays, is probably the only moment in the entire series that has caused me to get a lump in my throat. Well done.
-“Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming”: The fourth Sideshow Bob episode, this one deals with Bob stealing a nuclear bomb on a military base and threatening to annihilate Springfield if it doesn’t abolish television. The Fox jokes don’t stop on this one, and the episode is written with such a spry wit that it’s hard not to like. Krusty’s obvious lack of ideas during his unauthorized TV broadcast is classic, as is R. Lee Ermey as Colonel Hap Hapablap, whose analogies make no sense.
-“The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular”: Troy McClure presents a quasi-clip show with rarely-played Tracey Ullman Simpsons shorts, alternate endings to “Who Shot Mr. Burns,” deleted scenes, viewer mail, and more. Far superior to the dull “Another Simpsons Clip Show” from the previous season, this one has a snarkier edge to it, making the episode funnier and more hip.
-“Marge Be Not Proud”: Bart steals a video game at Christmas and gets caught. Instead of Marge yelling him stupid, she’s utterly devastated and disappointed in him. Can Bart get her out of the funk? This is the first Christmas-themed episode since Season 1, and it’s a good one. The humor works, they nailed the drama, and any episode that mocks Police Academy deserves an “A” in my book. Detective Don Brodka (Lawrence Tierney) is also a hoot: “They weren’t home uh-huh, but I left a message on their answering machine that’s right.”
-“Team Homer”: Plot A: Homer, Moe, Apu, and Otto (later replaced by Mr. Burns) are a bowling team. Plot B: Bart’s Mad Magazine T-shirt riot causes the school to adopt uniforms. While the two plots don’t interconnect, it’s still a fine episode because of how funny each section is. Just the thought of Mr. Burns drilling into Hans Moleman’s head to get his lucky charms is enough for this one to reach top tier material.
-“Two Bad Neighbors”: George Bush Senior moves in across the street. What follows is a parody of Dennis the Menace, basically. This episode has caused debate about its merits; some claim it’s too one-note and mean-spirited, while others like the high concept of it and enjoy Bush’s mannerisms. I’m in the latter camp. While not a classic by any means, and blatantly wrecking continuity with the huge house across the street (then again, when was The Simpsons ever about continuity?), I love Bush’s unmitigated anger at Bart and Homer’s likewise behavior. Ah, miscommunication, how horrible it is…
-“Scenes from a Class Struggle in Springfield”: Thanks to a Chanel suit, Marge is offered entrance into a lush country club. But is it worth joining if her new lady friends are rich snobs that bring out the worst in her? Meanwhile, Homer plays golf and discovers Mr. Burns has been cheating for years. Many have criticized this episode for the characterization, but I honestly didn’t have a problem with it. Remember, Lisa is eight years old – it’s not a stretch that she gets giddy about horses and strives for mom’s attention. And Marge becoming more and more desperate to join a club that, deep inside, she doesn’t want, is well done and realistic. Definitely one of the better Marge-centric episodes. The Homer sub-plot is weak, though.
-“Bart the Fink”: Bart unknowingly busts Krusty for tax evasion. After multiple strokes of bad luck, Krusty fakes his own death. But Bart and Lisa refuse to believe it, and when they find him on the docks under a different guise, they strive to bring him back to TV. Full of hilarious jabs at the I.R.S. and celebrity deaths (Bob Newhart’s funeral speech is a riot!), not to mention laughter-inducing lines like “Some might say you’re a hero kid…. not me, however. I loved Krusty,” “Bart the Fink” passes in flying colors.
-“Lisa the Iconoclast”: Lisa discovers the shocking truth about Jebediah Springfield, founder of the town. Of course, nobody believes her. I still can’t understand why this episode is hated by so many. It offers a subversive view of how small town folks get so worked up over town legends, as well as mob mentality and governmental cover-ups (the assassination attempt scene at the end is great). Best of all, the ending shows that Lisa has some restraint and doesn’t always have to be right; something which has been abandoned in recent episodes where she has become a perfect snob who forces her beliefs down everyone’s throat. In addition, Donald Sutherland gives a fine performance as the Jebediah museum curator.
-“Homer the Smithers”: Burns forces Smithers to go on vacation, and Homer takes his duties. However, when Homer gets aggravated by Burns’ unruly demands and punches him in the face, Burns learns to fend for himself and fires Smithers, as he’s no longer needed. Unlike many other episodes that concern the power plant, Homer actually tries to do a good job in this one, and thus his characterization is nailed. Ditto for Burns, who steals the show with his odd customs and shaky attempts to do things on his own (like driving a car… badly). Smithers trying to find a new job rounds out the comedy, with the best moment being a horrible back injury from piano moving.
-“The Day the Violence Died”: Chester J. Lampwick, a bum on the street, is actually the founder of Itchy & Scratchy, so Bart takes Roger Meyers to court. This episode is full of non sequitur, purposely bad continuity like Homer’s extremely full wallet, as well as a humorous court scene and a dead-on Schoolhouse Rock parody. Plus, the ending, with Bart and Lisa look-alikes saving the day, is so bizarre that you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity.
-“A Fish Called Selma”: Troy McClure marries Selma to help his dying film career. A riotous bite at showbiz mentality (specifically tabloids and film deals), this episode is chock full of classic moments like the Planet of the Apes musical, Troy’s super thick glasses, the rumors about Troy’s perverted habits at the aquarium, and “She’s smokin’ for two!” And Selma’s dilemma about having a baby without love involved is very real.
-“Bart on the Road”: Bart uses a fake I.D. to rent a car and drives Milhouse, Martin, and Nelson to the World’s Fair, not knowing that it’s long been deserted. Now with the car obliterated, they have no way to get home. Though the episode is a bit of a stretch in realism (such as, um, Bart being tall enough to drive a car at all!), it fits in with the subplot nicely, with Homer and Lisa bonding at the power plant and having to reluctantly bring them home. Not the funniest episode, but well-crafted enough.
-“22 Short Films About Springfield”: I won’t bother listing all the plot summaries because it will be way too long. This compilation episode was a lot funnier when it was new and fresh; watching it now, it’s clear that the episode is flawed because it doesn’t stay on one story for very long. I’d be really curious to see more of the “Wiggum and Snake Held Hostage” story or Dr. Nick in the E.R. On the other hand, if you just want rapid fire gags, this is the episode for you.
-“Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in ‘The Curse of the Flying Hellfish'”: It’s not often we see a Grampa plot, and this is one of the stronger ones, as it combines Grampa’s worry that Bart doesn’t believe a word he says with an interesting World War II story involving stolen paintings and backstabbing. The stabber in this case is Burns, who tries to bump off Grampa to get the loot for himself. The assassination scene in the old folks home is worth the price of admission, with the nurse angrily blasting a shotgun at the intruders.
-“Much Apu About Nothing”: Mayor Quimby passes a law that requires illegal immigrants to leave Springfield. Too bad Apu is one of those, and must pass an immigration test in short order or it’s back to India. While not as hilarious as “Homer and Apu,” the internal dilemma that Apu has with abandoning Vishnu to pull an American cover is good, as is Homer’s comments in Act 1 (“I pay the Homer tax!”) and the self-referential gag on “Where is Springfield?” when Bart steps in front of the camera while Apu points to Springfield on the map.
-“Homerpalooza”: Desperate to keep on rockin’, Homer, Bart, and Lisa go to the famous rock festival. While there, Homer’s ability to bounce cannonballs off his belly shoots him to stardom. While this episode has a lot of pointless guest stars, it also makes sense in context. I mean, if you’re going to be at a rock festival of course there are going to be big-name bands, though the choice of bands does date this episode. Probably the weakest episode of Season 7, though it’s not without funny moments like Homer embarrassing the kids during the carpools, Marge frustrated with what it takes to be considered ‘cool’, and Peter Frampton’s antics.
-“Summer of 4 Ft. 2”: Quite possibly the best Lisa-centric episode to date, this season closer concerns Lisa’s need to fit in during a summer vacation to a beach house. Lisa desperately trying to hide her true nerdy personality to be one of the gang is exceptional, and has yet to be topped. And even with all the drama and character development, there are plenty of LOL moments like Homer’s item purchases at the convenience store, Milhouse constantly being the butt of the jokes, and Ned’s ridiculous amount of sticky notes in the beach house.
So, did Oakley and Weinstein succeed in making this one of the better years for The Simpsons? With a few very minor exceptions, I’d say they pulled it off, and then some. Kudos, guys.
Commentary: All 25 episodes on the set contain commentary. Oakley and Weinstein are present for nearly all of them, and bring up a slew of interesting topics. Such memorable anecdotes include the intimidating day with Lawrence Tierney, the live action filming needed for “Homer 3,” their goal to make the characters in the show act and react like normal people and not make Homer a crazy eating machine, the huge cover-up for “Who Shot Mr. Burns,” including making multiple endings and not being able to find one dishonest person in Hollywood to leak a fraudulent ending to, the running joke about how John Swartzwelder refuses to do commentaries, and much more. You can tell these two are huge fans of the show; the way they are able to pinpoint exact phrasing of lines and such is reminiscent of fans at message boards. I believe it’s this kind of fandom that made Season 7 such a hit.
Of course, they’re not the only ones who appear on these commentaries; writers, directors, and other staff members are present and they offer bits of info as well. Jeff Goldblum makes an appearance on the track for “A Fish Called Selma”; unfortunately, he’s rather quiet and doesn’t offer much. A shame.
Deleted Scenes: Season 7 had the distinction of having nearly every show run way too long instead of coming up short; thus, we get a bucketload of deleted scenes. Unfortunately, few of them are memorable (hence why they got cut!), but it’s nice to have them nonetheless. The deleted scenes include an option to play with commentary as well.
Animatic Showcase: You’ll see rough sketches of the main action, as well as preliminary storyboards. I’ve never been a big fan of these, so I skipped them.
Homer in the Third Dimension: Shows the making of the 3D visuals from “Homer 3.” Even though it’s very dated now, at the time when this short aired, the animation was state of the art, and the creation of the 3D versions of Bart and Homer, as well as the countless math in-jokes in the background, proves that this short was a labor of love for everyone involved. Quite an informative watch.
Paul and Linda’s Lentil Soup: Oakley and Weinstein remarked many times during the “Lisa the Vegetarian” track about how nobody on the internet remarked about the backwards talking during “Baby I’m Amazed,” so they finally revealed what Paul McCartney was saying: A recipe for a soup. Cute.
A Bit From the Animators: Similar to the Illustrated Commentaries from previous sets, but far superior. Basically, the animation crew starts and stops parts of episodes to show you certain things. They point out mistakes, errors, and inconsistencies that I never noticed before, and that makes it a joy to watch.
Special Language Feature: Watch “22 Short Films About Springfield” in Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, German, or Brazilian. Worth watching if you like to hear what the characters sound like with other VAs providing the voices.
And… the packaging. Thankfully, Fox has decided to let us choose the type we want up-front: The traditional box or the heads (in this case, Marge). Even with the choice, I opted for the Marge head. Why? I was one of the few who liked the Homer head from Season 6, and I didn’t really like the cover art for the traditional packaging. In addition, it gives me some continuity. I had no problems with things falling out of place with the head; in fact, the disc holders are sturdier this time around and keep the DVDs firmly in place, but not so much that they’re impossible to remove.
With 25 episodes at $29.99, it’s hard not to justify purchasing this set, especially if you’re a Simpsons fan. I’m eagerly awaiting Season 8, which is also produced by Oakley and Weinstein, and which is also one of my favorite seasons of The Simpsons. If current release patterns hold true, we may see it by the start of summer! We can only hope.