|Simpsons, The: Complete Fourth Season|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Tuesday, 15 June 2004|
I was such a big “Simpsons” fan that for probably the first six years of the show, I would go out of my way to religiously record and archive the episodes on tape. This was long before the days of TiVo and for much of this time, the show was not syndicated, so I had to be sure that every Sunday night at 8 PM, my VCR was set to Fox to record what I felt was the best written, funniest show on television. Eventually, school and work got in the way of my quest to record and archive every single “Simpsons” episode and as the popularity of TV shows on DVD began to increase, I knew that eventually every single episode of “The Simpsons” would find its way to DVD. Fox had released several series of videocassettes with three VHS tapes that each contained two episodes apiece.
This was a great idea in theory. However, if they had kept this going, by the time all of the episodes were released, you’d have to have a full wing of your home dedicated just to storing “Simpsons” episodes on VHS tape. Fox is now up to Season Four of “The Simpsons” on DVD. As a quick refresher for you, this season features such classic lines as Ralph Wiggum’s valentine wish “Choo-choo-choose me,” Mr. Burns “Get a snoot of this gas bomb” from the “King Kong” spoof and Homer’s high school year book quote, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”
Everyone on Planet Earth who has a television knows who the Simpsons are, so I’ll spare you a synopsis of the show’s concept. As you might have guessed, “The Simpsons” is written and created by a bunch of workaholic geeks whose thirst for pop culture is unquenchable. It takes the mind of a genius to be able to come up with the kinds of jokes and references that they do on the show that keep it mentally stimulating for adults and yet still a cartoon that kids can watch and laugh at on a more superficial level. Making references to old movies and entertainment genres is a big part of “The Simpsons”’ humor and Season Four is no exception. In one of the first episodes of the season, titled “A Streetcar Named Marge,” a musical takeoff of Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the “Simpsons” writers outraged the city of New Orleans with of a line referring to the Big Easy as "a city that the damned call home."
Celebrity cameos quickly became an important part of “The Simpsons”’ appeal and many celebs only truly consider themselves “stars” after they have appeared on the show. In one of the best episodes from Season Four, “Mr. Plow,” Linda Ronstadt appears with Homer’s friend Barney Gumble on a jingle for a competing plow company called Plow King. Later in the episode, Ronstadt singing the Plow King theme in Spanish while sipping champagne is one of the most off the wall, creative ideas for a celebrity cameo since the “South Park” guys hired George Clooney to be the voice of a gay dog that just barks a few times over the course of a whole 30-minute episode. Adam West of “Batman” fame also makes an appearance as he hires Plow King to clean his driveway. As he drives off, Barney says, “So long Superman, your secret identity is safe with me,” and West hops into a broken down Batmobile that has a tailpipe dragging on the ground.
All of the celebs that appear on “The Simpsons” have to be able to poke fun at themselves a little and Season Four is so absolutely chock full of cameos that it is almost impossible to list them all. In the final episode of the season, “Krusty Gets Kancelled,” a show starring a ventriloquists dummy named Gabbo becomes such a hit that it almost shoves Krusty the Klown off the air. In a spoof of Johnny Carson’s farewell show, Krusty gets help from a huge list of stars, including Bette Midler, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Carson, Elizabeth Taylor, Luke Perry, Barry White and more. Speaking of White, he makes an appearance in the episode “Wacking Day,” a takeoff on the fox hunts in England where the whole town of Springfield goes out on one day and chases all of the snakes in the town and smacks them with sticks. Lisa, being the compassionate animal-loving vegetarian that she is, decides to find a way to put an end to this tradition. Using the lowest-pitched thing she can find, which happens to be White’s voice, she puts speakers face-down on the floor and plays White into the speakers, which attract all of the snakes into the Simpsons’ house.
For those of you who always wondered how the tall, lanky red-haired Conan O’Brien got his own late-night talk show, you need look no further than his writing and producing work on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Simpsons.” O’Brien has several episodes on Season Four with his name as the producer, as well as the main writing credit, including “New Kid on the Block” and what many fans consider to be the best episode ever, “Marge Vs. the Monorail.” In “Marge Vs. the Monorail,” the late Phil Hartman plays a fast-talking salesman named Lyle Lanley, who dupes the town of Springfield into buying a monorail system. As the Simpsons are often known to do, they break into song as the town rallies around Lanley’s idea.
“The Simpsons” has been one of, if not the, single most important shows for the network. It is their longest-running original series and, although the show is really starting to show its age as the writers struggle to come up with episodes of the caliber of those on Seasons Three through Eight or Nine, the network is still very thankful that they have it as a solid ratings grabber in their lineup. They have put a lot of money, time and care into these DVD sets. The packaging is absolutely beautiful, with a shiny blue DVD case that folds out in four sections for each of the four discs. The graphics and artwork on the case and discs themselves are extremely high-contrast and eye-popping. The amount of thought put into the commentary will have “Simpsons” addicts hanging on every word as the writers, producers and creators give inside stories about some of the jokes in the show, as well as insight into why some stuff wasn’t done for particular reasons and of course a whole host of things to look and listen for while watching the show. I’ve found it is best to watch a show the whole way through just to refamiliarize myself with it, then immediately go back and watch it again with the commentary on. During their favorite moments, the creative staff lay back and let the dialogue of the episode come through, so you will get to catch most of the good jokes and moments they are referring to as they happen on the show.
This behemoth task of adding commentary tracks, extras and creative menus to the episodes of the show has taken quite some time. In the eyes of the show’s hardcore fans, this is when “The Simpsons” was just coming into its prime. Many of the show’s favorite characters had long been established and the writers were now free to take some more creative leaps with the plots of the show. One of the show’s most popular guests was the late Hartman, who as well as playing Lanley would often appear as former B-movie star Troy McClure and silver-tongued shyster lawyer Lionel Hutz. One of the toughest things about watching these episodes and hearing the commentary by the directors, actors and producers is to realize how brilliant he was and how tragic the ending of his life was. Although he is credited as a guest voice on the shows he appeared on, it is evident from the praise he received from “The Simpsons” staff that he was more than just a guest, he was a “Simpsons” family member. All of the 22 episodes on this DVD set are much stronger than any of the episodes from show’s most recent three years. If you are a fan of “The Simpsons,” you owe it to yourself to not only revisit Hartman’s contributions to the show, but also all of the classic moments from this season in one handsome DVD package.