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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/21/01

The Simpsons: The Complete First Season
1989-1990 (2001) - 20th Century Fox

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

The Simpsons: The Complete First Season Program Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A/B

Specs and Features
Approx. 286 mins (13 episodes at 22 mins each), NR, full frame (1.33:1), 2 single-sided, dual-layered discs (containing 6 episodes each) and 1 single-sided, single-layered disc (containing 1 episode and bonus materials), custom gatefold/slipcase packaging, audio commentary for each episode (by Matt Groening along with some combination of the following: James L. Brooks, directors David Silverman, Rich Moore and Wesley Archer, and writers Jon Vitti, Jay Kogen, Wallace Wolodarsky, Al Jean, Mike Reiss and George Meyer), scripts for Some Enchanted Evening, Bart the Genius, Bart the General and Moaning Lisa, outtakes from first attempt of Some Enchanted Evening (with optional commentary from creator Matt Groening, producer James L. Brooks, director David Silverman and writer Al Jean), animatic from Bart the General narrated by Matt Groening and director David Silverman, The Making of The Simpsons: America's First Family featurette (6 mins), foreign language clips from Life on the Fast Lane in French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Portuguese, Good Night Simpsons short from The Tracey Ullman Show, audio outtakes of Albert Brooks from Life on the Fast Lane, Art of The Simpsons galleries featuring Matt Groening's Life in Hell and early sketches and drawings, Easter eggs, program-themed menu screens with music, scene access (6 chapters per episode), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned


Well... it was a long time coming, but they're here. What's here you ask? The Simpsons - one of the great social commentaries on life in America is finally on DVD, and I for one couldn't be happier. Sure, it's only one season, but it's one season closer to getting each and every season on DVD. Plus, it's an entire season - not some lame ass "best of" crap like what Warner's going with Friends and South Park. Nope, it's the first complete season of The Simpsons on DVD and it's in my grateful hands.

Let's run through the episodes, shall we?

Disc One

Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire (7G08) - Our first introduction to the Simpsons' very own show was this Christmas Special, broadcast in 1989. A trip to the mall finds Bart getting a tattoo inscribed "Mother". Of course, kids just don't have tattoos, so Marge has it removed, which wipes out her special savings. Homer's Christmas bonus will just have to be used sparingly... but what happens when Homer's bonus doesn't happen? Homer has no choice but to take a part time job as a Santa Claus at the mall. But that nets him a lousy $13 after training, taxes and the suit. No worries though, $13 still buys a bet at the local dog track, right? Even that has it's trials, and when Homer bets on a loser like himself, he can only reap the rewards when the losing dog becomes a part of the Family - Santos L. Halper a.k.a. the new family pet, Santa's Little Helper.

Bart the Genius (7G02) - School days are here for The Simpsons. Martin Prince turns Bart in for spraying school yard graffiti, on the day of an aptitude test. To even the score, Bart ends up switching tests with Martin and, thanks to his answers, Bart's deemed a genius by the never-to-be-seen-again school psychologist.

Homer's Odyssey (7G03) - There's nothing more proud for a pop than when his son takes a class visit to his work place. But on the day of Bart's visit, Homer loses his job at the power plant. When life hands him lemons, Homer learns that suicide might be the best answer. Tying a boulder to his waist, Homer heads to the Springfield Bridge. But when his family tries to stop him, they're almost hit by a speeding car. This inspires Homer to live and put an end to safety violations in the town. Of course, Homer gets a little carried away.

There's No Disgrace Like Home (7G04) - It's picnic time at stately Burns Manor. And with Mr. Burns focusing on family unity this year, Homer tries to make his wacky family look more like a loving unit. But Marge's latent alcoholism and Bart and Lisa's bratty behavior forces Homer to seek family counseling with Dr Marvin Monroe. And to come up with the $250 fee (double your money back if he fails to put your family back together) Homer sells the family television and a resentful family submits themselves to a hysterical shock therapy session.

Bart the General (7G05) - Nelson Muntz, the greatest school bully Springfield has ever known, shakes Lisa down for her cupcakes and Bart comes to her rescue. But Bart is no match by himself and gets a smack down day after day until he decides to fight back. In comes Grandpa, and a master plan to bring the kids together to declare war against the neighborhood bullies.

Moaning Lisa (7G06) - Lisa's got the blues and bad. Her bratty brother pesters her, her dad's an uncaring oaf and her mother gave her last cupcake away. But when she meets blues man 'Bleeding Gums' Murphy on a bridge, she realizes that music is her outlet.

Disc Two

Call of the Simpsons (7G09) - The neighbor, Flanders, gets a brand new RV. Homer feels that he has to keep up, so he goes out and buys the biggest motor home he can afford. Turns out he can't afford much. So off he and the family unit go, over the river, through the hills and then off a cliff. And things don't get much better than there.

The Telltale Head (7G07) - Poor Bart, trying to impress a new group of roughneck friends, he does the unspeakable and lops off the metallic statued head of the town icon, Jebediah Springfield. The mob mentality of Springfield kicks in and a hunt for Bart is on. Can he find a way out?

Life on the Fast Lane (7G11) - In one of the first season's best loved episodes, Marge celebrates her birthday with a special present from Homer - a bowling ball that he really intended for himself. Too bad for him, because Marge actually decides to learn the game. Her instructor: Jacques, the lane lover who sets his sights on the high haired beauty.

Homer's Night Out (7G10) - One of Homer's co-workers is having a bachelor party and Homer is the life of the party. But Bart is testing his new spy camera at the restaurant dad's partying at, and snaps a picture of Homer and a dancing girl named Princess Kashmir. When the picture makes its way around town, Homer has to show Bart that women aren't objects, but this act of moral cause only gets Homer into deeper water.

The Crepes of Wrath (7G13) - Take one cherry bomb, add in Skinner's mother and Bart... and you get a one way trip to France. At least in this case. Bart becomes a sort of indentured servant/exchange student and the Simpsons get a Albanian boy who just happens to be a high level spy who's using Homer to gain knowledge of nuclear power. Oh, the hilarity.

Krusty Gets Busted (7G12) - One of the best Simpsons episodes ever is a mystery really. Did Springfield's lovable clown Krusty really rob the Kwik-E-Mart, or is he being set up. Homer is the witness and as much as he hates to bring Bart's hero down, he believes it's his civic duty. But Lisa and Bart go undercover and reveal the truth. And it's not pretty.

Disc Three

Some Enchanted Evening (7G01) - The story on this episode's making is better than the episode itself, so be sure to give the commentary a listen. Marge gets fed up with Homer's ignoring her needs and calls local radio psychiatrist Marvin Monroe to complain. Homer hears it at work and sets things right with a night on the town. But the babysitter they get is none other than Ms. Botz - the Baby Sitter Bandit. Lisa, Maggie and Bart have to outwit her and save the day. This was the last episode of season one, but the first episode produced. Again, see commentary for why.

The Simpsons' first season was pretty much a mulligan season. Most of the character development is totally off from what is going on currently. A lot of the character designs are way off (meaning, that they've changed a lot in later seasons) and the personalities aren't quite there yet. Homer is a big oaf, but he's more mean and concerned about his standing in Springfield. Nowadays, Homer is a lovable idiot who couldn't give a rat's butt about what people in the town think. Lisa isn't portrayed to be as smart as she is now. There are some hints of it here and there, but it's not quite there yet. Of course, there's the awful animation from Klasky-Csupo, that looks really bad when you compare it to the newer episodes. But when you think about it, it all had to start somewhere, right?

The quality of this DVD set, is a mixed bag actually. Video-wise, we have some good, some bad and some confusing. The good, is that the colors are all very well represented. These are some bright and shiny discs. Yellows are very solid, blues are as blue as the sky and all the other primary colors used in the show are well represented. The bad, is that the blacks are lacking and some heavy edge enhancement is used here and there. There are artifacts from digital compression throughout the video on these episodes. Just look at the credits for proof of that. The confusing, is a weird phenomenon with a blurring that goes on in place of fades. When the picture starts to fade, right before it goes black, it just blurs. It has to be production based, but it's really odd the way it shows up on these discs. Overall, the video here is fair - a good attempt. It's not a home-run, but it'll do for this season.

The audio, on the other hand, would make Homer give a big "Woo-hoo!" There's a very nice Dolby Digital 5.1 track on each of these episodes and they all sound great. There's a little bit of play in the rear channels, clean and centered dialogue and an overall crisp and clear sound stage. This season wasn't the most creative audio-wise, so this is more a nice hint that the upcoming seasons will really rock the house down. You'll also find the original Dolby Digital 2.0 audio here, as well as a 2.0 French track for our French-Canadian friends.

So what about the extras? Mmmmm. Extras. There's not a whole not of meat on these discs, but there's a couple of things. First up, the first and second disc both have scripts. Disc One has Bart the Genius, Bart the General and Moaning Lisa and Disc Three has Some Enchanted Evening. This is neat, as there are doodles denoting that they were probably culled from creator/producer Matt Groening's personal library, but this is a DVD-ROM extra don't you think? I mean - it would be even cooler to have the option to print these scripts to read. Having them is great, but Fox could have gone the extra mile.

Next, you'll find that every episode on the DVD set has scene-specific commentary by the production crews of the various episodes. You'll find folks like Matt Groening, producer James L. Brooks, director David Silverman and writers Al Jean, Mike Reiss and Jon Vitti to name a few. There's a lot of information on these commentaries, but most of them are really just these guys coming back together to watch the shows after 10 years. Still, I listened to just about every episode's commentary and some of it is pretty funny. The must-listen track is Some Enchanted Evening on Disc Three. You'll learn a thing or two with that one.

The remaining extras are also on Disc Three. We get about five minutes of outtakes from Some Enchanted Evening as it originally came back from the animators. It's ugly, but entertaining historically. You can watch the clip with or without commentary by the creators. The video quality is third generation video and not very good, but it's still wild to see. There's an animatic (preliminary animated drawings) from the Bart the General, presented with commentary from Matt Groening and director David Silverman. It's pretty short, but clues us into the development of the show, at least in the first year. For those looking for a documentary, there's Making of The Simpsons: America's First Family, which is a 5-minute, behind-the-scenes piece that will surely disappoint those looking for something more substantial. This is studio fluff, through and through.

Cute, but also fluffy, is a short selection of foreign language clips from Life on the Fast Lane in French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Portuguese. It's wacky, and the first thought on my mind was, how many languages do some of the cast members speak, because there are a few that are dead on with the original voice actors. You also get ONE (and only ONE) of the original Tracey Ullman Show shorts, which is where The Simpsons got their start. The one we're given is Good Night Simpsons. I understand that legal rights issues prevented the rest from being included, and that's a real shame. Still, the one you gets perfectly illustrates just how far the show has come. A brilliantly funny audio clip edit of some improv bits done by Albert Brooks, who played Jacques in Life on the Fast Lane, can also be heard on Disc Three, with appropriate stills from the episode. And completing the disc are some art selections. There's one comic from Groening's Life in Hell strip, as well as a ream of early sketches and production drawings that give us a look at the progression some of the characters went through from early concept to final art. Oh... and also on Disc Three are two Easter eggs. One is an ABC News report on Simpsons T-shirts being banned from schools and the other is a selection of magazine covers featuring The Simpsons.

The Simpsons is really the only TV show I actually bother to watch. So having it on DVD is great for me. It's not the set I wanted, nor is it a sign of good things to come. Hopefully, Fox will get more interactive (especially some animated menu screens at least!) with these shows and give us a kick-ass set for The Simpsons: The Complete Second Season and later releases. And with my luck, my kids will be completing my Simpsons collection as I sit in an old folks home writing angry letters to TV producers.

Todd Doogan
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