The Simpsons: The Complete Fourth Season (DVD)

Choo-choo-choose me.

All 22 episodes from the monumentally great fourth season are present and accounted for, in all their uncut glory. Let’s get right to the episodes.

* “Kamp Krusty”
Bart and Lisa greatly anticipate their summer sojourn to Kamp Krusty, but learn the bitter truth when they discover their idealized fantasy world of fun and wilderness is a living hell, run by teenage goons and an apathetic director. The children eventually rise up against their tormentors, and finally face down Krusty himself making him answer for his actions.

* “A Streetcar Named Marge”
Marge decides to do some community theatre and is cast as Blanche (alongside Ned Flanders) in a musical production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Much to her chagrin, Homer shows no interest in her efforts. Meanwhile, Maggie commands a fearsome force of rug-rats as they attempt a coup at the Ayn Rand Day Care Center.

* “Homer the Heretic”
Gasp! Homer gives up church after he realizes how much fun he can have loafing around at home. All is well in the world until Homer has a dream that he meets God himself (a five-fingered Creator, generating some mind-bending “theological implications” as Matt Groening says). Meanwhile the house burns down. Can Homer’s soul be saved? More importantly, can the house be saved?

* “Lisa the Beauty Queen”
In an effort to perk up his daughter Lisa, Homer sells his precious ticket on the Duff blimp to Barney. He uses the money to enter Lisa in a beauty pageant sponsored by a tobacco company, where, through a technicality, she wins. But now she’s faced with a moral dilemma — popularity versus her conscience.

* “Treehouse of Horror III”
Three tales of terror giving us a maniacal Krusty doll running amok, a Homer-cum-giant-ape, and a zombie-riddled Springfield.

* “Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie”
The movie event of Bart’s life has arrived. Itchy and Scratchy have come to the big screen and it represents the zenith of Bart’s decade on the planet. But Homer, newly committed to steadfast discipline, enforces a ban of the movie as punishment to Bart. Homer refuses to balk, convinced his action will have positive repercussions on Bart in the future — a payoff we see at the very end.

* “Marge Gets a Job”
Thanks to some costly home repairs, Marge is forced to get a job at Homer’s nuclear power plant. She soon becomes Mr. Burns’s object of desire and must fend off his slimy advances (poor Smithers is relegated to toilet-scrubbing duty). Bart, meanwhile, learns the true moral of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” and gets bailed out by a jacked Groundskeeper Willie.

* “New Kid on the Block”
Bart becomes infatuated with the new teenage girl who’s moved into the neighborhood. He must, however, learn the hard facts of unrequited love, as he deals with the reality that she likes — the horror! — Jimbo Jones.

* “Mr. Plow”
Exhibiting the entrepreneurial spirit at its finest, Homer goes into business as the omnipresent Mr. Plow. His racket on snowplowing quickly brings Homer citywide accolades. That is until Barney unleashes the rival Plow King, an action that splits the two friends apart.

* “Lisa’s First Word”
One of the great flashback episodes, we see Homer and Marge enduring a tyrannical toddler Bart who has an affinity for flushing Homer’s valuables down the toilet. But a new wrinkle is about to be added to the unfolding Simpson tapestry as Marge announces her pregnancy with Lisa. The family buys their dream home, ships Grandpa to the old folks home, meets Ned Flanders for the first time, and deals with sibling rivalry. The very end of the episode features the much-publicized Maggie’s first word, as voice by Elizabeth Taylor.

* “Homer’s Triple Bypass”
Unwilling to face the fact that his lack of exercise and pathetic eating habits are leading to poor health, Homer finds himself the victim of multiple heart attacks. But the required surgery is beyond the scope of Homer’s meager wage. Enter Dr. Nick, with his unbeatable deal of any surgery done for $129.99. “Hi everybody!”

* “Marge vs. the Monorail”
A classic episode that finds the citizens of Springfield enchanted by the monorail-salesman Lyle Lanley. Lanley successfully pitches a monorail to the town, and all are gleeful about the superfluous conveyance, especially Homer. Marge is the lone dissenter, and, as usual, Marge is proven right.

* “Selma’s Choice”
Marge’s chain-smoking, DMV-working sister, Selma, feels the tick of her biological clock. She desires a child, but after an insane outing with Bart and Lisa, she opts for a more reptilian answer to her maternal instinct.

* “Brother from the Same Planet”
Homer forgets to pick up Bart from soccer practice, despite numerous reminders from his head. When he finally arrives, Bart is furious, and decides to forgo his relationship with his dad and join a Big Brothers organization. Homer retaliates by securing a “little brother.” The father and son eventually mend their relationship but not before a vicious fistfight that finds Homer combating Bart’s “big brother.” Homer, of course, ends up wrapped around a fire hydrant.

* “I Love Lisa”
It’s Valentine’s Day, and out of pity, Lisa gives Ralph Wiggum his only valentine. Of course, the poor sap immediately falls in love with her. Lisa tries to be as kind as possible, but loses her cool when she’s caught on television with Ralph, who then confesses her undying love for her.

* “Duffless”
Homer minus Duff = a tear in the fabric of existence.

* “Last Exit to Springfield”
Lisa needs braces and the Simpsons, now minus a dental plan thanks to Mr. Burns, cannot afford the cost of a decent set. Homer ascends to the head of the workers union and demands the dental plan. Mr. Burns, mystified by the prowess of Homer (who in reality has no clue what he’s doing) and his dealings as union boss, caves in.

* “So It Comes to This: A Simpson’s Clip Show”
It’s April Fool’s Day and after some cruel pranks by Homer, he gets his just desserts when an errant Bart-prank puts him into a coma. A visitation to the past commences. You know you’re dealing with greatness when a clip show is hilarious.

* “The Front”
Convinced they can craft a superior Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, Bart and Lisa put together a script with their grandpa’s name affixed to it. Abe Simpson soon garners accolades and money because of his hit cartoons (though he’s mainly unaware of why he’s recently become the center of attention).

* “Whacking Day”
Lisa stands up against Springfield’s beloved tradition of “Whacking Day,” which invites residents to grab a stick and go after all the snakes in town. Can one little girl turn the tide of a city full of snake-whackers? (That doesn’t sound right)

* “Marge in Chains”
Sweet, a “women in prison” exploitation episode! When Springfield is debilitated by a foreign flu, Marge is the only one upright enough to care for her brood. Overworked and fatigued, she inadvertently shoplifts and is sent to prison. Jimmy Carter and her marshmallow squares eventually lead to her release.

* “Krusty Gets Kancelled”
Unable to compete with a high-powered new act, Krusty throws in the towel. A hugely successful comeback special attracts all kinds of celebrities, and his kareer is saved.

The Simpsons is a show that has transcended the term “show.” A pop culture phenomenon, a breeding ground for endless colloquialisms, a zoo of icons, a poignant satire of society, blah blah blah blah blah.

Look, everyone knows about The Simpsons. Revered by many as the greatest thing ever on TV, lauded as a consistently funny exercise in parody and slapstick, The Simpsons has been around forever, and rightfully so.

But like all shows, it took some time to hit its stride. Rarely does a show nail it the first season or two. For the most part, I think that’s correct with The Simpsons. I own seasons two and three, and passed over season one. Perhaps I’ll be labeled as a faux-fan, but the maiden voyage just wasn’t funny enough to call for a purchase. The two subsequent seasons were certainly better, each one getting closer and closer to the unrelenting zaniness I cherish.

With season four, it is here.

What a consistently hilarious season of television this was. It’s a high-point for the series, and as such a high-point for television in general.

What separates The Simpsons from all other shows, for me, is way the show delivers utterly gut-busting laughs — the kind of gags that just thinking about them again can lead to fits of laughter. Case in point, the top three killers from this set:

Number Three: Lisa’s Braces from “Last Exit to Springfield”
When the dentist shows the computerized Lisa as she ages without braces, and eventually her teeth grow out of control, piercing her face. Add to that, it followed “The Big Book of British Smiles.” Man, I’m laughing just thinking about it.

Number Two: Baby Bart in the Clown Bed from “Lisa’s First Word”
“I know how much you liked clowns. So I figured you can laugh yourself to sleep,” says Homer as he deposits little Bart in a monstrosity of a clown bed. Holy friggin’ crap that’s funny.

Number One: Feeding the Baby Goat from “Lisa the Beauty Queen”
I can’t pinpoint why this scene, at the very end of the episode is so hilarious. Maybe it’s the utter, random absurdity of it. A baby goat being fed a bottle. Sounds innocent enough, but damned if it’s not one of the funniest things I have ever seen. “That’s obviously the wrong footage,” says Kent Brockman flatly. Outstanding.

Fox has unleashed the kind of set fans have been yearning for. Perhaps they were biding their time with the others, but Season Four is loaded silly with everything a fan could want. Every episode features a commentary track, sporting the likes of Matt Groening, the producers, the writers, the directors, and even Conan O’Brien. These commentaries are so great because everyone is having a great time, joking around, telling inside jokes, then making fun of each other for telling inside jokes on a commentary track, and unloading bales of trivia. It’s like being privy to an elite club of funny, funny people.

In addition, the set includes deleted scenes for some select episodes (which are funny by the way), tons of animation/animatic material, and even some promotional stuff featuring Matt Groening opining about his creation.

Lastly are a couple of really interesting featurettes, exposing the truth behind a couple of controversies the series sparked. One, the “Cajun Controversy,” addressed the stir created in New Orleans after the raucous musical number based on the city aired in “A Streetcar Named Marge.” Second, in “Bush vs. Simpson,” producer Jim Brooks recounts the surreal exchange between Barbara Bush and Marge Simpson, and how it culminated in an icy glare from the First Lady. Not to be missed.

The video is crisp and clean and bright, showcasing the many colors Springfield has to offer. The interface is unique and funny (though it did grow tedious having to wait for the animations with every menu selection), and having scene selection within episodes is fantastic. And all of it in 5.1 Digital to boot! Don’t expect an audio tour de force, but is certainly beats a mono mix.

The Verdict

Duff for everyone! Court adjourned!


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