The Simpsons: The Complete First Season Review
Everyone's favourite animated family has finally made the transition to the DVD format and like many other fans this release for myself was a much-anticipated event. Presented here is the entire 1st Season consisting of Thirteen 23-minute episodes that developed Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie into the characters that we have all come to love. Much to my disappointment there has been a great deal of distaste focused on the 1st Season due to quality issues with the animation and even the characters voices (particularly Homer) and indeed throughout these episodes you will see the characters design and animation evolve, a myriad of animation and colour faults are present, Homers voice is more Walter Matthau than what we all know today and even in the script department you will notice a more singular story approach with less outright jokes present but for myself and many others all of this makes the 1st Season even more fun as you get to watch and understand exactly how The Simpsons started.
We all know what The Simpsons is about, so rather than retread old ground I shall simply keep the content of this review to a brief description of each of the episodes that you will find in Season 1.
Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire This was the very first full length Simpsons episode that originally aired on American Television back on the 17th December 1989. In the very first episode (and the first Christmas Special) Homer has to take a part time job as a shopping mall Santa Claus since he received no Christmas Bonus with which to buy the family presents.
Bart the Genius Bart cheats on a test that when analysed leads to Bart being labelled a Genius, hence he moves school and Homer actually takes an interest in him!
Homers Odyssey When Homer loses his job (the first of MANY times!) he becomes a Town Safety activist.
There's No Disgrace Like Home Better known as the 'Marvin Monroe Family Therapy' episode we see Homer disgraced by his families behaviour at the company picnic that leads to the Simpsons going into therapy (with quite hilarious results). This episode is also notable for being the first feature-length episode to contain an Itchy & Scratchy episode (and I just used the word 'episode' far too many times in a single sentence!).
Bart the General Bart suffers at the hand of school bully Nelson Muntz so he enlists his Grandfathers help to exact his revenge.
Moaning Lisa When it becomes apparent that Lisa is 'sad' the Simpson family attempt to cheer her up. Featuring some quite touching scenes (unlike you would see in the more recent seasons) this episode also contains the absolutely hilarious Videogame Boxing matches between Bart and Homer that lead to the first true Homer scream! A joyous occasion indeed!
The Call of the Simpsons I always thought this was the first Simpsons episode (due to the original video releases years back) but hey, what do I know?! In an effort to keep up with the Flanderresseses (as Homer would say) Homer buys an RV and takes the Simpson family out on a Camping trip but of course it all goes hideously wrong.
The Telltale Head In an attempt to be liked by the cool kids Bart does something he really should not have and ends up with a murderous mob chasing him. This episode is also notable for the first appearance of Apu who is in fine form ("this is not a Library!").
Life on the Fast Lane When Marge receives a Bowling Ball from Homer on her 34th Birthday she decides to take up the sport and ends up falling for her Bowling Instructor. In his second guest appearance on the show Albert Brooks as Jacques (the Bowling Instructor) is just pure genius as he puts on a surly French accent and delivers some classic lines ("my heart and my hips cry proceed!").
Homer's Night Out After Bart witnesses Homer enjoying a Stag Party Marge demands that Homer shows Bart that women are not just objects of desire. One of the more moralistic episodes this is still a classic that features another of Homers patented falls.
The Crepes of Wrath Bart takes part in a Student Exchange program and takes a trip to France that ends up being rather more hard work than he imagined. As part of the exchange The Simpsons family take in a young Albanian student whom Homer takes an immediate liking to simply because he addresses Homer as 'Dad'!
Krusty Gets Busted When Krusty is arrested for Armed Robbery Bart sets to work on the first of many mysteries that he and Lisa will eventually solve through the various seasons thus far. Most notable for the first appearance of 'Kelsey Grammer' as long-time Guest Star in the role of 'Sideshow Bob'.
Some Enchanted Evening Homer and Marge face the first of many forthcoming marital problems while Bart, Lisa and Maggie have to deal with a criminal Babysitter.
This fantastic looking set folds out to feature some great original artwork from the series while the discs Menu system is sadly a tad bland with no animation to be found except for the Episode Chapter screens (each episode receives 6 Chapter Stops), it also features some annoying sound blips at the start of the Theme tune (that plays repeatedly). Take note that the main difference between the R1 and R2 Boxsets is that the R1 set has a dull Silver appearance (see the Front Cover picture for an example) while the R2 set uses the Fox 5-Star Edition approach with a reflective cover as seen in this picture below...
Presented at its original 4:3 aspect ratio this Simpsons set looks absolutely stunning, even more so when you look at the worn prints that the TV Networks show and even worse those ageing VHS recordings that I am sure many fans will have. Print damage is minimal, the odd white speck here and there is about the only signs of ageing as well as the occasional soft moment but other than that your Simpsons viewing will be problem free. Colours are vivid while blacks too are nigh on perfect creating a fantastic bold outline to the characters without ever going to far. The only slight problem is the occasional signs of noise, particularly noticeable around the characters eyes (the black outline next to yellow creates some slight artifacting in the picture) but this is minimal at best and nothing to cause any worries. Simply put the transfer used is quite stunning, obviously it is no match to recent film releases but it certainly gives Warners South Park discs a run for their money!
Originally broadcast in plain old stereo back in 1989 Fox have seen fit to remix the original soundtracks into Dolby Digital 5.1 (English only) and the results are pretty good (but not great). Music and sound effects occasionally make use of the surround speakers but are mostly confined to the fronts while voices are clearly defined via the centre speaker. For myself the DD5.1 track was the preferred option but for the purists out there (and those who truly despise DD5.1 remixes) Fox have also provided the original DD2.0 Stereo track and a fine addition it is with clear reproduction of the original sound. Other Audio options include a French DD2.0 track and English and Spanish subtitles.
Fox have really gone to town with this DVD release of The Simpsons so please bare with me as I take you through the various extra features that have been specifically created and sourced for this release.
Discs 1 and 3 feature a selection of the original scripts that you can navigate at will via your DVD Remote. Disc 1 contains scripts for 'Bart the Genius', 'Bart the General' and 'Moaning Lisa' while Disc 3 contains a single script for the only episode it houses, 'Some Enchanted Evening'. Mainly for the hardcore fans these scripts are well presented (as photo's of each page) and as a bonus contain all of the pencilled in scribbles, notes and changes rather than just being pure text based reproductions of what you hear in the shows.
Each of the 13 episodes contains an Audio Commentary featuring at least 3 of the following people; Creator Matt Groening (featured on 9 episodes), Producer James L.Brooks (featured on 3 episodes), Directors David Silverman, Wesley Archer, Rich Moore and Brad Bird, and also writers Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Jon Vitti, Jay Kogen, Wallace Wolodarsky and George Meyer. While these commentaries were not quite the mixture of background information and comedic genius I was hoping for they are still fairly interesting with the main focus being the quality of animation, problems they initially faced and how the characters have gradually changed over the series progression. Unfortunately most of those commentating had not seen the episodes since they originally aired (!!!) and decided to simply watch them for the first time since 1990 while commentating. This for me is always a bad idea as (is the case here) most of the commentators are simply just watching the episodes, perking up with the occasional insightful comment but mostly restricting themselves to irritating banter like "we'd never do that now" or "oh I'd forgot how bad these looked". Sadly because of the lack of research and hence useful information found in these commentaries they will only really be of any interest to the hardcore fans (and then I cannot see myself returning to them) and cannot even be saved by the occasional touch of class; a classic example of which would be when one commentator comes in with "Marge is HOT!!" followed closely by another commentators "Yeah, she's a babe!" comment! To get a sample of the best tracks I would suggest listening to the commentary on the 'Life on the Fast Lane' and 'Some Enchanted Evening' episodes.
Disc 3: Alongside the commentary track and script for 'Some Enchanted Evening' Disc 3 provides the bulk of the extra features as described below...
Never Before Seen Outtakes Presented here are around 2-minutes of slightly alternate takes from the original animation that was produced for the 'Some Enchanted Evening' episode. The video quality is pretty dire but then the film transfer for these scenes was never completed so it was to be expected. The content is quite poor (animation wise) but certainly interesting as is the optional commentary with Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, David Silverman (Director) and Al Jean (Writer), all of whom take pleasure in the quite awful animation present. If you would like a better explanation as to the story behind what you are seeing I recommend you listen to the commentary track for the 'Some Enchanted Evening' episode.
Animatic from Bart the General A brief look at the animation process showing both the before (pencil drawings, key frames only) and after (coloured, fully animated) shots of Bart taking a pounding from Nelson along to commentary from Matt Groening and David Silverman.
Making of The Simpsons A short (6-minutes) BBC produced documentary that originally aired on one of their Simpsons nights is now available on this DVD. Featuring Matt Groening and James L. Brooks (amongst others) this short piece looks at how The Simpsons came about, has a little info on 'Simpsons Mania' and, well, that is about it. While a tad short on information this is a decent piece that as an added bonus features some Tracy Ullman clips.
Foreign Language Clips The opening scene of 'Life on the Fast Lane' is featured here in French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Portugese languages. It is doubtful that this section will hold your attention for long but it is worth a quick look if only to see how the countries featured have interpreted our favourite cartoon family. Most notable is how the voices for Bart are far more blatantly female than the Nancy Cartwright interpretation while the inclusion of a French clip is quite baffling (as every episode has a French soundtrack present!).
Tracy Ullman Short Aah, possibly the best extra feature of this entire release is this single short from the Simpsons humble beginnings as a filler piece between commercial breaks on the Tracy Ullman Show. Number 1 out of 48 shorts this particular mini-episode (2-minutes) features Homer and Marge inadvertently tormenting their children via traditional 'Good Night' stories and showcases the superb sense of humour that has made The Simpsons what it is today. The picture quality is quite breathtaking (considering the age of these shorts) while the sound is standard DD2.0 Stereo. If I have any complaints about this extra it would be that it is a teaser for something we will supposedly never see (all 48 shorts on DVD) and if they could only have put one short on this disc they could have chosen one that is not already in a future episode (138th Episode Spectacular) that will be featured in the Season 7 Box set.
Albert Brooks Audio Outtakes This short extra (running for around 4-minutes) features still pictures from the episode 'Life on the Fast Lane' with what I assume is Albert Brooks either improvising or reading an original script for the same episode as his character Jacques. Some of these readings are quite funny and this certainly comes as a welcome extra (Brooks is fantastic in this role) although outtakes from the entire cast would have been even better.
Art of the Simpsons Delve within this section and you will find a picture of Matt Groenings 'Life in Hell' comic strip as well as a selection of early concept/design work for the various characters found in The Simpsons. These pictures are all well presented and give an insight to the design process and are again a welcome inclusion to this set.
To round things up you will find that Disc 3 also contains two Easter Eggs that consist of a selection of Magazine covers featuring Simpsons Artwork and an ABC News Broadcast (running for around 5-minutes) focusing on Bart Simpson T-Shirts and how they were banned from many American schools back in 1990. Both of these Eggs are short but interesting pieces that are worth the minimal effort required to find them.
What can I say? The shows content is second only to the seasons that followed and is certainly worthy of any serious fans collection and while Fox have presented a fantastic package with superlative Audio/Visual qualities I must admit to finding the extras slightly lacking. There is certainly plenty here to look at (and listen to) but I found all of the extras to be just far too shallow. The commentaries verge on becoming a chore and are far too light on background information while the video based supplements are again of the 'watch once' variety, and of course, I have to go back to the fact that the simple inclusion of the 48 Tracy Ullman shorts would have made this a killer package. Still, this is The Simpsons and is simply put a must have on DVD.