DVD Review: “The Simpsons, Season 6”

simpsons_6First off, before a word is spoken about the episodes, a thousand lashes to those responsible for the packaging of this box set. The box is shaped like Homer’s melon, with the binder on the bottom of the box so it opens downward, which is the opposite direction of the plastic shell that wraps around it. It’s ugly, it’s awkward, and it sticks out like a sore thumb on our shelf next to the other five “Simpsons” box sets. A pox upon your houses, Fox design crew.

As for the episodes itself, this is one of the best seasons in the show’s history, which is really saying something. If Season Four was when they hit their stride, and Season Five was when they pushed the limits of what they could do on television (a naked Michelle Pfeiffer, whose lower naughty bits are covered by a sash held by naked cherub versions of Carl and Lenny), Season Six is where they tried even harder to get into trouble with the network, and made some great, great television in the process. There are repeated references in the audio commentaries by the producers of the show on how they could never get away with the stuff they slipped past the censors in the bygone years of 1994 and 1995. Which is odd, because as funny as this stuff is, it’s doesn’t seem particularly violent or inappropriate.

The episodes on Disc One are pretty humble by comparison to what follows. In “Bart of Darkness,” where an injured Bart thinks he’s witnessed Ned Flanders commit murder, ala “Rear Window,” the creators indulge their love of Hitchcock (“The Birds” popped up in “A Streetcar Named Marge,” and “North By Northwest” makes a cameo in “Fear of Flying”) while taking shots at Lisa’s fleeting popularity thanks to their new swimming pool. “Lisa’s Rival,” where Allison Taylor (voiced by Winona Ryder) turns out to be slightly better than Lisa at everything, is memorable for the show’s last line, where Ralph Wiggum utters the line that’s sure to bring a chat room to its knees: “My cat’s breath smells like cat food.” (I know this works in chat rooms because a friend of mine did it once.)

The “Treehouse of Horror” episode is fantastic, beginning with a spoof of “The Shining” (“Urge to kill fading, fading, fading…RISING…fading…gone.”) and a far better telling of the Ray Bradbury dead butterfly ripple effect story than “A Sound of Thunder” could ever hope to be. After sneezing on a dinosaur, and setting off a chain reaction that kills every other living creature in sight, Homer delivers a perfect deadpan, “This is gonna cost me.” And then there’s “Homie the Clown,” one of the all time greats, where Homer joins Krusty’s Klown Kollege. The sequence where everyone he sees is in clown makeup and dancing, capped off with Marge’s “Yes, Homie. Doot, doot, doo doo doo doo doo, doot doo doo,” is “The Simpsons” at their wackiest.

The season also has its share of sweet moments as well, all of which, not surprisingly, revolve around Lisa. “’Round Springfield” is probably the least effective of the bunch, even though it involves the killing of jazz great Bleeding Gums Murphy. It’s touching, and it allowed Yeardley Smith to show off her singing voice, but it pales compared to “Lisa’s Wedding,” the first of many trips into the future, this time to examine Lisa’s doomed relationship with the British blue blood Hugh, voiced by Mandy Patinkin. (Fans of the show will be glad to finally see the restored virtual sports sequence at the futuristic Moe’s, which has been cut out of the syndicated version of the episode since its initial airing.)

Both episodes, however, bow down before “Lisa on Ice.” Faced with failing gym, Lisa discovers she’s a great hockey goalie, and the game unleashes her inner beast. (“Ralph Wiggum lost his shin guard. Hack the bone! HACK THE BONE!”) However, when the finals come down to a penalty shot between Bart and Lisa, they show a montage of memories where Bart and Lisa supported each other that will bring a tear to your eye.

And then there’s the piece de resistance of the season, the cliff hanging finale “Who Shot Mr. Burns, Part One.” This is a great one to see on DVD, since it affords the Databases out there the chance to go in super slow motion and uncover every clue – and there were several – the creators left for us to decipher. One of the bonus features on the last disc is a special episode of “America’s Most Wanted,” where they showed a Las Vegas betting board listing the odds on who actually shot Mr. Burns. For you compulsive gamblers out there, Maggie would have paid out a cool 70:1.

The commentaries are like most “Simpsons” commentaries. The producers and directors always talk over the actors, and are more interested in talking about the back story behind an episode than the funny-ass joke that just took place while they were talking. The voice talent, naturally, wants to talk about this great line here, or that joke there, and they always get drowned out. Smith, Castalanetta and Kavner show up on quite a few tracks, with Shearer once again being a no-show (Jon Lovitz did pop up on one, though). But executive producer David Mirkin is the star of all of the commentaries. He is clearly king of the court, even when Matt Groening himself is on hand. Mirkin is the funniest and most honest of the staff, and is completely unafraid to offend anyone, to the commentary’s benefit.

If you need one last piece of evidence to show just what fantastic television “The Simpsons, Season Six” is, look no further than “Homer vs. Patty & Selma,” where Homer reluctantly accepts a loan from Marge’s sisters in order to hide the fact that he blew all of their savings on pumpkin futures. The sisters, of course, lord this debt over him at every opportunity, culminating in one of the greatest lines ever written for a sitcom: “You can’t spell ‘obsequious’ without I.O.U.” I don’t care who you are, that’s funny, right there.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
This originally ran September 15, 2005 on Bullz-Eye.com.

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