There’s a reason “The Simpsons” became a pop culture phenomenon. Quick-witted writing, coupled with heart and timeliness, made the series rise above its mediocre animation to become one of the all time great primetime series. Even though at its core “The Simpsons” is a sitcom, it rejuvenated the played-out format. Unfortunately for viewers, Fox and Matt Groening continue to sully the show’s reputation with each subsequent episode. With the release of “The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season,” 20th Century Fox helps alleviate the pain through a reminder of a simpler time when the series reached brilliant comedic heights.
Through the course of 22 episodes, the Simpson family had its fair share of ups and downs. Homer went to outer space, Lisa fought Malibu Stacey, Marge battled a gambling addiction, Bart found fame and Maggie discovers an invaluable stuffed bear. Yet through it all, viewers can find plenty of humor and compassion — even in the show’s cruelest moments.
What makes season five so different from the current crop of episodes is that the quirky citizens of Springfield serve as comic foils to the Simpsons’s storylines, rather than the centerpieces of the shows. The show still was filled with fresh ideas and nonstop jokes.
Season five derived much of its humor from the dim-witted behavior of family patriarch, Homer. Continuing a trend from earlier years, Homer’s stupidity stooped to new levels with each episode. By removing the focus further from the original breakout star, Bart, and onto Homer, the creators were able to craft funnier and stronger narratives. Bart’s bratty shenanigans had run their course as the centerpiece of the series to the point where the creators lampooned it in the episode “Bart Gets Famous.”
In season five, “The Simpsons” aimed its attacks at all realms of popular culture. Feare,” where Sideshow Bob acts as stalker Max Cady, as well as “Rosebud,” which places Mr. Burns into the role of Charles Foster Kane.
The town of Springfield has never looked clearer and crisper than in these DVDs. Years of syndication have ruined the reruns by featuring shortened episodes and worn-out video. Thankfully, Fox has restored the series to its original luster, making the viewing experience more pleasing than ever.
Moreover, the set offers fans the chance to hear from the creators on every episode. Twenty-two commentary tracks is a feat few television programs dare to take on, but “The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season” commentaries offer plenty of laughs and insights into the production of the show. Each track features Groening, the writers of the episode and some of the cast. The most satisfying of these commentaries feature former writer Conan O’Brien — yes, the same one of NBC fame — who goes into great detail about how he was lured away from the show while writing some of these episodes.
The other features on the set fail to capture fans’ attention quite like the commentaries. Commercials starring the Simpson clan, a brief featurette on the season, animatics and a collection of deleted scenes round out the extras. While the deleted scenes are hilarious, many of them have already been seen in the classic episode “The 138th Episode Spectacular” and are further hampered by being grouped together as a single 30-minute viewing option.
The television landscape has forever been altered by the impact of “The Simpsons.” It not only proved that animated programming could thrive in primetime, but it also paved the way for a throng of imitators. Yet, it was in season five that “The Simpsons” grew into the fully formed show that defied conventions and became an immortal classic.
Show: 5 stars
Picture/Sound: 4 stars
Extras: 4 stars