The Simpsons: The Complete Second Season Review
After enjoying a decent run with its first season, everyone's favourite dysfunctional family is back for a full twenty-two episode second season. Whereas the first season saw The Simpsons find its feet as an animated sitcom, testing out both visual and comic styles en route to finding its niche, the second season was full to the brim with classic gems. Quirky, surreal, deeply hilarious with an on-the-nail mirror of TV-culture familes, The Simpsons demonstrates that it was starting to peak very early in its life cycle.
The second season of The Simpsons benefits from a team of writers unafraid to push the show down an unconventional route. You sensed with the first season that The Simpsons relied upon stereotypical storylines in order to establish the background for each character. However, the reason the second season of The Simpsons is far more memorable is purely due to each episode standing alone as a separate entity, and yet still embodying some of the show's growing themes. It is the second season where we see Smithers ongoing (sexual?) fondness for his tyrannous boss Mr. Burns. We also start to witness the full-scale war between Bart and Principal Skinner, the proper hatred that Patti and Selma inflict upon Homer and best of all the first Halloween Special - Treehouse Of Horror to name but a few.
The first season clearly established the protagonist family in The Simpsons, and so the second series has room to fill in the finer details of the background universe of Springfield. Indeed, one of the show's most endearing charms is the fact that Springfield itself is a fully self-contained universe, in which everything from the Kwik-E-Mart to Moe's Tavern is gloriously characteristic and fully three-dimensional in terms of structuring. Bart himself was becoming a mega-celebrity in terms of his own iconic image, finding his face plastered on every consumer item in every continent. To combat this, Matt Groening and his skillful team ensures that The Simpsons strives above mere novelty by cementing the show's classic status with an assured wit, combined with a healthy dose of film-references and television in-jokes.
Indeed, there are two strong reasons why The Simpsons works so well as comedy. Firstly, the lack of both an audience or even a pause for breath ensures that each episode never stops for applause. Each joke is edited so quickly and tightly that the show never choreographs when a funny moment occurs or has just happened, enabling each viewer to laugh or watch at their own momentum. Secondly, the show is so successful because it appeals to both adults and children, and for different reasons. Adults laugh at the deeper, more cynical humour that is superficially hidden in The Simpsons, and children laugh at the more slapstick, obvious moments, such as the gory excess of the Itchy & Scratchy show or the antics of Bart.
Many more seasons followed this second series, but this is still arguably the best collection of Simpsons episodes. Yes, the animation is still unrefined compared to today's Simpsons standard, but the humour was sharper than ever. Compare the second season with a later batch of episodes and you will notice the writers have an abundance of riches in terms of comic ideas as opposed to a shortage, which plagued them during the show's inevitable decline.
Presented in the show's original 4:3 television aspect ratio, the transfer to The Simpsons is better than that of the notorious first season, as animation techniques are better and edge enhancement is considerably reduced. On occasions the transfer appears murky and somewhat lacking in bright primary colours, considering that the simplistic nature of the animation is ripe for remastering, but the presentation of the series is still very acceptable.
Although remixed in 5.1, the episodes are mostly two-track stereo in both design and final product. Rears are only used on seldom occasions, and mostly feature over-dubbed sound effects only. The music is given decent left/separation from the dialogue, which itself is mostly confined to the central channel.
Menu: Fox haven't learnt from the criticisms of the first season, and have given season two of The Simpsons annoyingly clunky menus that insist on the viewer clicking on a weird, revolving pre-menu before you are taken to the actual episode options. Also, on random occasions you have to wait for the menu music to stop playing before an option is activated, which suggests a bad design structure.
Packaging: A similar packaging design to the first season, with cardboard gatefold packaging housing the four discs, and housed in a separate card-board dust-cover.
Audio Commentaries With Matt Groening and Crew
: This is a real bonus for Simpsons fans as commentaries are provided for every episode. Matt Groening features on each of the twenty-two episodes along with a rotating pattern of writers and directors including multi-Oscar winner and show co-creator James L. Brooks. What's refreshing is that each commentary focuses strongly on the relevant episode and many anecdotes and jokes are shared by Groening and co. The commentaries are fun to listen to, and as each episode lasts for under twenty-five minutes the contributors never run out of steam nor lose their commentating impetus.
American Music Awards With Optional Commentary: This is a two minute excerpt from the 1991 American Music Awards in which Nancy Cartwright dressed up as Bart Simpson to present an award, and it is highly embarrassing to watch, just as Matt Groening and his pals admit to on the optional commentary.
'Deep Deep Trouble' - Music Video With Optional Commentary: The music video of The Simpsons second UK top ten hit is an awfully dated attempt at early-nineties rap with a somewhat better video. The commentary even sparse and uninspired, which suggests that the song lacked creativity and was nothing more than a cash-in on the large success of 'Do The Bartman'. Amusingly, the commentary comes into its own when the video finishes, when we are treated to a 'hair and beard' commentary from the contributors.
'Do The Bartman' - Music Video With Optional Commentary: The funky video to the catchy song 'Do The Bartman', which was a number one UK hit is presented here uncut. The commentary mentions Michael Jackson's input and influence into the song, and mentions how rushed and stress-filled the song's production came to be due to time deadlines.
Butterfingers Commercials: Three early nineties commercials are featured here in which The Simpsons helped advertise the Butterfinger chocolate-crispy-peanut bar. Each commercial lasts for approximately thirty seconds and features some noticeable colour quality drop-outs on occasions.
David Silverman On The "Creation Of The Episode": David Silverman, the senior director of The Simpsons second season, and this six minute featurette explains the transition between idea to full-animated episode, and all of the processes involved in bringing The Simpsons to the screen. Silverman is quite a bland host, and the stylistic issues of the featurette are dated, but this still proves interesting watching.
Emmy Awards Presentation: A funny excerpt from the 1990 Emmy Awards in which an animated Simpsons family present the Emmy Award for Best Television Actor, and pad it out to unbearable lengths due to in-fighting and Bart clowning around. You have to feel for Ted Danson, the award winner, as they take nearly three minutes to announce the winner!
Interview With Matt Groening & James L. Brooks: This is a ten-minute 1990 interview with Groening and Brooks explaining why they started The Simpsons and their insight into the characters they created. It's fun to see Groening hold such fondness for the dysfunctional characters he has helped to define America by, and he even mentions that just as his father was named Homer, so was his newborn son. This suggests that Homer isn't actually based on Groening's real father as much as might be first assumed. It's also possible Groening named his son 'Homer' just to convince his father of this fact.
Art Of The Simpsons: This is a good collection of storyboards, early sketches and drawings and some humourous magazine covers that featured The Simpsons, which mostly mention the head-to-head battle the show had with The Cosby Show. One cover even features Bart on the front of Time magazine, which suggests how the show had reached such a grand scale. The images are accessible via linear user navigation.
Foreign Language Clips: A bizarre feature, the ability to watch a clip of The Simpsons dubbed into five European languages. What's funny is that each different language has their own distinctive voice tones for each of the characters, which renders the European version of the Simpsons family almost completely unrelated to the characters we know and love. If anything, this suggests how easily the show can translate to foreign formats.
You know what to expect when purchasing whole seasons of The Simpsons, and luckily the extras featured here are far better than that of the first season, in particular the commentaries for each episode and the two music videos that are relics of the early nineties. As long as you pick this up at an affordable price, The Simpsons: Season Two is an excellent purchase and contains twenty-two brilliant time-fillers for any time of the day.