The Simpsons smartly subverts traditional family sitcom convention, but anyone who thinks the show doesn't have a heart is advised to watch "I Love Lisa" and "New Kid on the Block", two fourth-series gems that absolutely nail the agony and ecstasy of unrequited crushes ("You won't be needing this", a heartbroken Bart fantasises his babysitter saying while dropkicking his heart into a wastebasket in "New Kid"). While the Simpsons' celebrated ensemble gets all the glory, we must pause now to praise the peerless writing staff, among them George Meyer, Al Jean, Jon Vitti, John Swartzwelder, David Silverman and Conan O'Brien. One can only marvel in astonishment at the alchemy that went into creating, week after week, such essential episodes as "Kamp Krusty", "Streetcar", the profane and profound "Homer the Heretic" and "Lisa the Beauty Queen" (and that's just disc 1!). The animators, too, rose to the occasion, particularly in "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie", with its dead-on, ultra-violent sinking of the seminal Disney cartoon "Steamboat Willie". Another benchmark in The Simpsons' rise to the TV pantheon is its very first clip show. What Homer says about donuts in "Monorail" holds true as well for The Simpsons itself: is there anything this show can't do? --Donald Liebenson
But I was seriously tempted to mark it down for the most annoying inclusion on any Simpsons boxed set to date, the anti-piracy warnings at the start of every episode. Are the warnings at the start of the DVD not enough? They last for the best part of 10 seconds each and you cannot scroll through them. The only way to avoid them is to go to 'Scene Selection' and start playing the episode from Scene 2 (which begins immediately after the opening credits), but alas, the episode menus are so slow to navigate that it defeats the purpose. Each part of the menu carries a little animation, which are funny the first couple of times, but become quite annoying after a while. Given that the purpose of these menus is supposed to enhance the accessibility of scenes and extra features (including the obligatory commentaries, which once again are mostly the writers laughing at their own jokes), it seems rather self-defeating to make them so slow.
That said, despite all those criticisms, the sheer heavyweight comedy punch that these 22 brilliant episodes delivers demands a 5/5 rating. Even the foreword from Matt Groening himself recognises that some of the most popular episodes ever are on here. And although these episodes have seen more than their fair share of air time of British TV, some are curiously unfamiliar, possibly due to the controversy that they provoked. Season 4 has everything we have come to know and love about the Simpsons, including some particularly black humour in places (e.g. Dr. Hibbert coming out of the operating theatre and telling Marge, 'I'm sorry, Mrs Simpson, your husband is dead..., only kidding, April Fool's!') and Homer's great moments are almost too numerous to list...
Some of the most memorable episodes of the entire run make it onto this set, and within them some of the funniest moments - the Monorail song; Apu's nephew when he gets to run the Kwik-e-Mart; the moment when Ralph Wiggum's heart actually breaks; Smithers' thoughts on seamen; Dr Nick's heart surgery; and Mr Plow getting it on. You may not have seen some of these episodes for a while, but you'll be back into them straight away.
If you're not a Simpsons fan, and you've never understood what all the fuss is about - you will never get a better chance than here. Intermingled with the limitless humour are plotlines about teenage heartbreak, the possibility of a parent dying, being distant from your kids, the thought of never having any kids, and alcoholism. The best show never made for children.
Kamp Krusty - For the summer, Bart and Lisa get to go to Kamp Krusty, but once
they get there they discover it's a living hell.
A Streetcar Named Marge - Marge tries out for the starring role in A Streetcar
Named Desire. Though the producer rejects her at first, he gives her the role
upon discovering she is deeply depressed.
Homer The Heretic - Homer skips church one week, and after having such a
great time at home, decides never to go back.
Lisa The Beauty Queen - Lisa places second in a beauty contest, but by default
becomes the new Little Miss Springfield.
Treehouse Of Horror III - A Krusty doll tries to kill Homer, A King Kong parody,
and Bart reviving zombies are the three stories in this season's Halloween
Itchy And Scratchy: The Movie - Bart fails to look after Maggie, and she takes
the car, crashing it. As a punishment, Homer forbids Bart to ever see the new
Itchy and Scratchy movie.
Marge Gets A Job - When the Simpson home takes damage, Marge must take a
job with Homer at the nuclear plant to pay for it.
New Kid On The Block - A teenage girl moves into a home near the Simpsons
and Bart falls in love with her.
Mr. Plow - At a car convention, Homer buys a snow plow and uses it to become
a local hero.
Lisa's First Word - While wondering when Maggie will speak her first words,
Homer and Marge tell the story of when Lisa spoke hers.
Homer's Triple Bypass - Homer begins to have heart problems, and shops
around for the cheapest surgeon.
Marge Vs. The Monorail - Springfield uses its newly-obtained three million
dollars to build a monorail.
Selma's Choice - When Homer gets too sick to take Bart and Lisa to a new
amusement park, Selma takes them instead. They raise hell there.
Brother From The Same Planet - Bart begins to hate Homer, and gets a new
father figure from a local non-profit organization. Meanwhile Homer uses the
same organization to get a new son.
I Love Lisa - When Lisa shows pity for Ralph on Valentine's day, he falls in love
Duffless - When his driver's license is revoked for drunk driving, Homer must
give up beer.
Last Exit To Springfield - The power plant attempts to do away with its dental
plan. Homer fights to save it because Lisa is in need of braces.
So It's Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show - Bart shakes up a beer can in a
paint mixer, and when Homer opens it the explosion hospitalizes him. The family
then recounts past experiences.
The Front - Bart and Lisa write a series of Itchy and Scratchy cartoons under
Whacking Day - Bart is expelled from school. Soon enough he and Lisa try to do
away with a very awkward town holiday.
Marge In Chains - Marge accidentally forgets to pay for an item at the local
convenience store and must spend a month in jail.
Krusty Gets Kancelled - A new puppeteer steals Krusty's ratings. He becomes increasingly desperate for ways to stay on the air.
If you're a Simpsons fan, you'd be doing yourself a huge favor. These are GREAT episodes all the way, and I strongly recommend them.
The 5 stars are for the seasons original broadcast.
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