The longest running animated television series of all times continues it's amazing run of 'complete season' DVD releases with The Simpsons The Complete Seventh Season, a killer new four disc set from those fine people over at Fox. While the earlier seasons were having some problems finding their stride, by the time the sixth season rolled around series creator Matt Groening and company really started to come into their own and the show went from simply 'very funny' to 'damn near brilliant.' The seventh season continued that brilliance, and again, we've got a stand out run of great episodes in this set. By this point in the run, we knew the characters and the supporting characters well enough to understand and appreciate their quirks and oddball behavior and the writing staff started to figure out what worked and what didn't within the context of those definitions. The jokes started to get a little more off the wall and the humor was maybe a little more biting at times, but it all worked really well and it's pretty hard to argue against this selection of episodes standing as one of the strongest seasons in the show's history.
Ripe with satire and pop culture references, the episodes on this set benefit from some great replayability what with their many layers of subtle and not so subtle humor and playful, clever jabs and plain old off the wall wackiness. Add to that a another fantastic cast of guest voice actors used throughout the twenty five episodes in the seventh season and you've got yourself a roster of comedy gold that plays as well now as it did when it first aired.
Here's a play by play of what episodes appear on each of the four discs contained in this set:
Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part Two: After Smithers' hung over dream sequence in which he finds Mr. Burns in the shower, he finds out the real truth about the shooting Mr. Burns is still alive after all! As the episode plays out we find out about all the different Springfielders who had a motive and subsequently they're cleared, thanks to some slick detective work from Lisa, until it all comes down to one person. I won't spoil it for the one person out there who hasn't seen this episode, but it's a good one. What for a fun guest appearance from Tito Puente as himself.
Radioactive Man: When the big budget Hollywood adaptation of Bart's favorite comic book, Radioactive Man, decides to cast and shoot the film in Springfield, you know there's no way Bart isn't going to do his best to land the role of Fall-Out Boy. When Millhouse gets it because Bart is a bit too short, things look bad until Millhouse finds out the hard way just how tough Hollywood actors have really got it. Mickey Rooney, as himself, tries to get Millhouse's spirits back up but it's too little too late and it's going to be up to Bart to save the day and the film or the big time Hollywood movie moguls will pack up and leave Springfield for the familiar and safe confines of tinsel town one more time.
Home Sweet Homediddley-Dum-Doodily: Homer decides to reward Marge for all of her hard work around the Simpson house and he treats her to a day trip to a local spa/resort. With Homer and Marge out maxin' and relaxin' and Grandpa in charge, things quickly turn sour when, after being found infested with lice, Lisa and Bart are sent home from school. When family service shows up and finds the mess that Grandpa has made, the three Simpson's kids are sent to their new foster home, the Flanders residence! Will Homer and Marge be able to pass their parenting classes and get their kids back in time or will Ned baptize them before they even have a chance? A classic Homer enraged ending makes the finale that takes place in the river a truly great Simpsons moment.
Bart Sells His Soul: After getting in trouble for goofing off in Church, Bart offers to sell Millhouse his soul for the paltry sum of five dollars despite a warning from his sister not to do it. Of course, once he does, his life becomes all the poorer as animals no longer want to befriend him and all sorts of problems occur for the poor kid. Bart wants to get his soul back but it's too late, Millhouse has traded it to Comic Book Guy who in return has solid it to someone else. Meanwhile, Moe has turned Moe's Tavern into Springfield's hottest new family restaurant but his impatience with kids of all ages soon proves to be a problem for the surliest bartender in town.
Lisa The Vegetarian: While at a kid's amusement park, Lisa becomes taken with a cute little baby lamb and she decides to swear off eating meat and soon becomes a strict vegetarian. In order to outdo Flanders, Homer decides to throw the bar-b-que bash of the year in his backyard but Lisa objects and throws a few kinks into Homer's meaty plan. She and Homer aren't on speaking terms after the party is crashed, until Paul and Linda McCartney save the day by way of Apu and his magic garden by teaching Lisa that tolerance is a two way street. One of the coolest end credits sequences in the history of the series graces the final minute or two of this episode, and it's hard not to think of 'Maybe, I'm Amazed' without envisioning a flying BBQ'd pig since this episode went into syndication.
Treehouse Of Horror VI: The sixth Simpsons Halloween special presents another trilogy of goofy terror! The first story is Attack Of The Fifty Foot Eyesores and it shows us what could happen when statues and advertisements come to life and turn on us. The second story, Nightmare On Evergreen Terrace is a terrific send up of one of Wes Craven's better known horror movies that places Willy in the role of Freddy Kruger. The third part, Homer3 is the infamous bit where Homer gets sucked into another dimension behind the bookcase and becomes a three dimensional character.
King-Size Homer: In order to get out of the new morning exercise program that Mr. Burns has instituted at the power plant, Homer decides to get himself a disability and that the easiest way to do that would be to just get really fat. He gains sixty-one pounds to become officially obese thanks to some help from Bart and good old Doctor Nick, and Mr. Burns allows him to work from home. When he skips out on work to go to a movie, the plant starts to have a meltdown and Homer, clad in a moo-moo, has to rush out there to try and shut things down.
Mother Simpson: In another one of his clever schemes to get out of work, Homer buys a life size dummy and fakes his own death. He doesn't bank on word getting out however, and soon the power company has killed his electricity and soon this leads to a reunion with his long lost mother, Mona Simpson (voiced by Glen Close). It turns out that Mona used to be a political activist in the sixties and that she's wanted for messing with Mr. Burns but she and Homer do get a chance to enjoy each other's company for a little while before she's back on the run again.
Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming: Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) spends his days in prison cursing television and proclaiming his eternal hatred for Bart Simpson. When the one and only Vanessa Redgrave gets her own Fox sitcom, he finally declares that he has had enough and he launches a daring prison break. He steals a blimp and loads it with explosive and threatens Springfield with destruction unless they stop making television shows. Eventually the military is called in, lead by Colonel Leslie Hapablap (R. Lee Ermey) and with some help from Bart and Lisa, Bob is stopped before he goes too far.
The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular: A montage of the different opening sequences leads into this clip show, hosted by Troy McClure (Phil Hartman) who answers reader mail on the air to introduce each clip from the past. A few choice moments are remembered as are some hilarious outtakes and bloopers before wrapping the whole thing up with another montage this time filled with hardcore nudity! Buzz Aldrin appears as himself.
Marge Be Not Proud: Bart really wants the latest and greatest violent video game but Marge doesn't get it for him as she feels that it's inappropriate entertainment for her son. Bart soon has no other choice but to go and shoplift himself a copy of the game and soon he's caught red handed by the security guard who proceeds to leave a message on the Simpson answering machine. Bart is finally let go though he's banned from the store for the rest of his life. He manages to erase the message before anyone hears it and thinks all is well until Marge decides to bring the whole family down to the store to get their picture taken and Bart gets caught and his secret is out. Lawrence Tierney plays the voice of Detective Don Brodka.
Team Homer: Homer goes bowling with Moe and Apu and soon they decide to start a bowling team with Otto so that they'll be able to get a lane easier on the busy league nights. In order to get the five hundred dollars they'll need to get everything off the ground, Homer talks Mr. Burns into sponsoring them and soon, Mr. Burns has joined the league too. Meanwhile, Bart wore a t-shirt to school that said 'down with homework' and because of that, all the kids now have to wear uniforms.
Two Bad Neighbors: Just as Homer's garage sale is starting to get busy, who else but George Bush Sr. should move into the house across the street, causing everyone, including Disco Stu, to no longer care about Homer's sale. Homer's not too happy about this and soon he and the former President are duking it out in the sewers. While all of this is going on, Bart and George develop a very Dennis The Menace/Mr. Wilson style relationship. Will Homer be able to run George Bush out of Springfield or will his political influence allow him to stay and do what he wants whether Homer likes it or not? It's not often you get to see Homer Simpsons beat the crap out of a president in the sewers of Springfield and it's for that very reason that we should cherish this episode.
Scenes From The Class Struggle In Springfield: When Marge finds a Chanel dress at the outlet mall while the family is shopping for a new TV, Lisa encourages her to buy it and treat herself. She buys it, and at the Quickie-Mart, runs into a snooty girl she used to go to school with who encourages her to come out to the Country Club and get reacquainted. She does, and brings the family along with her, and the Simpsons find out that they're not cut out for high society life (with the exception of Homer who, through a run in with Tom Kite, learns the ins and outs of golf and bests Mr. Burns).
Bart The Fink: Bart and the rest of the family each inherit one hundred dollars. Bart opens a checking account and decides to use it to get Krusty's autograph if Krusty wants to cash the $0.25 check, he'll have to sign it and Bart will get his returned check. His dreams are shattered when the check comes back stamped with a Cayman Islands Off Shore Holding Company check stamp and Bart's complaints lead to Krusty getting taken in by the IRS for tax evasion. Krusty fakes his own death but Bart and Lisa find out he's still alive and track him down. Watch for Bob Newhart and Phil Hartman (as Troy McClure) at the funeral, as well as the one and only appearance of the amazing Handsome Pete, a clown-faced midget who dances for nickels at the Sea Captain's bait shop.
Lisa The Iconoclast: Springfield's Bi-Centennial Parade is coming up soon and the town is celebrating all things Jebediah Springfield. When Lisa discovers a note tucked away inside a fife that once belonged to the town founder at the museum run by Hollis Hurlbutt (Donald Sutherland) she decides to reveal the truth that Jebediah Springfield was actually a horrible pirate who once tried to kill George Washington. No one wants to believe her and the evidence she says will prove it gets tampered with so that the celebration will go on as planned, but Lisa doesn't give up and soon finds out the real truth after all. Meanwhile, Homer and Flanders are squaring off to see who will get to play the town crier in the parade.
Homer The Smithers: When the power plant employees all head out for an evening of fun at the drag racing track, Lenny has too much to drink and scares Mr. Burns while Smithers is out exchanging his foam #1 finger for a smaller and more manageable model. This leads Smithers to take a vacation while Homer fills his spot as Burns' assistant. Homer, being Homer, can't do anything right and when Smithers returns he finds that Burns is completely self sufficient for the first time in his life and that he isn't needed anymore.
The Day The Violence Died: During the Itchy and Scratchy parade Bart meets a homeless man who claims to be the real creator of Itchy and Scratchy (voiced by Kirk Douglas). Bart believes that he's telling the truth and so he and Lisa take it upon themselves to get him what he's owed from Roger Myers and so they get world famous lawyer Lionel Hutz (Phil Hartman) on the case. Eventually, thanks to Bart, the courts rule in his favor but in order to pay him back the animation studio has to close and no Bart and Lisa have to figure out how to get their beloved Itchy and Scratchy back on TV.
A Fish Called Selma: Selma helps Troy McClure out at the DMV one day and he ends up taking her out for dinner as a thank you gift. When the press sees him out on the town with a woman, it helps his sinking career out in a big way and soon he's an A-list celebrity again the only catch is that he has to continue living with Selma to keep up the ruse. Jeff Goldblum appears as MacArthur Parker.
Bart On The Road: On take your kids to work day, Bart somehow manages to end up going into the DMV with Patty and Selma while Lisa gets to go to the power plant with Homer. Bart seizes the opportunity to make himself a fake driver's license and soon, he's rented a car with Martin, Millhouse and Nelson. They tell their parent's they've gone on a school trip to the Grammar Rodeo but instead head out to the World's Fair in Nashville. Nelson makes them stop in Branson along the way so that he can take in an Andy Williams concert, but when they get to Knoxville they find out the fair ended a year ago and their car breaks down.
Short Films About Springfield: Simply a collection of short clips showing the events in every day life is it plays out in the city of the Simpsons. Highlights include Professor Frink getting into some trouble, Wiggum taking down crooks, an adventure with Apu, Lisa struggling with gum in her hair and Bart carving some sugar.
Raging Abe Simpson And His Grumbling Grandson In "The Curse Of The Flying Hellfish:" When Bart brings Grandpa Simpson in to talk to his class, he gets humiliated when he starts making things up. Later that day, Grandpa gets a letter notifying him that the seventh Hellfish has died and that there are only two left, he and Mr. Burns. Whoever lives longer will get the treasure that they hid after the Second World War ended, even though it doesn't really belong to them in the first place. Some neat flashback in this episode give us some good background information on Abe from his time in the war, when he was Burns' commanding officer.
Much Apu About Nothing: When a bear threatens Springfield, a Bear Patrol is created to keep the city safe but taxes have to be raised to pay for it. Quimby shirks the responsibility for this by blaming immigrants, and rushes through proposition 24, which threatens to deport them all. Lisa discovers that Apu could take the citizenship test and after he pleads his case with Fat Tony (Joe Montagna) and Homer, he decides to give it a shot with Homer pitching in as his tutor on all things American.
Homerpalooza: When Otto trashes the school-bus Homer ends up driving a bunch of the neighborhood children to school, all of whom are appalled by his taste in music. In an attempt to be hip, he takes Bart and Lisa to a concert festival where Sonic Youth, Cypress Hill, The Smashing Pumpkins and Peter Frampton are all playing. While in attendance Homer wins the popularity of the masses by taking a cannonball to the gut, but he won't be able to keep this up for long as it's just flat out not healthy for him. Homer wants to at least prove himself to his kids by showing up on stage and taking a shot at the Springfield show, but he's been told that if he does, he'll probably die.
Summer Of Four Foot Two: On the last school day of the year all the kids are getting their yearbooks signed except for Lisa, who has never been as popular as she'd have liked. Homer accepts Ned's offer of the use of their beach cabin for a summer vacation and while they're there, Lisa falls in with a group of kids who accept her for who she is while Bart and Millhouse find themselves on the nerd list. Homer goes out to get some illegal fireworks while Bart decides to sabotage his sister's new found popularity by bringing up her nerdy past. Christina Ricci provides the guest voice of Erin, one of Lisa's new friends.
Well, seeing as each and every one of the episodes in this set (and in fact the entire series) was broadcast in 1.33.1 fullframe, it shouldn't come as any surprise to see them presented in that very same aspect ratio on this set. As has been the norm with the Simpson's complete sets so far from Fox, the video presentation is top notch. The colors look nice and bright, the image is strong, vibrant and clean, and almost all traces of dirt, debris and print damage has been eliminated from the picture.
There aren't any problems at all with mpeg compression throughout the set during playback, though there is some mild line shimmering and light edge enhancement detectable in a few spots that, while not distracting or overbearing, is definitely there. Overall though, this is a very nice presentation in terms of video quality and each and every one of the episodes in this set look better on these DVDS than they do in reruns on TV, especially in terms of color reproduction. Everything looks brighter and more vibrant which adds to the fun of the series' unique look and style.
The English language track on this DVD is presented in a very nicely handled Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. While it's lamentable that Fox didn't include the original 2.0 stereo mixes for the purists out there, the 5.1 mixes in this set are great. They don't go completely overboard with background or ambient noise and instead use the rears to enhance what's already there in the first place with gives the soundstage a more lifelike feel. While there are instances where sound effects will come at your unexpectedly, in terms of channel separation and speaker use, there's nothing funky going on here, it all works and it all sounds pretty natural. Dialogue is crisp, clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. The opening theme song sounds incredibly lively as it plays before each episode and the background music used throughout the shows is strong but not overpowering or domineering.
Alternate language dubs are provided in French and Spanish (both in nice, robust Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Sound mixes), subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish, and an English closed captioning option is available as well.
The first thing you'll notice is that, like the rest of the releases in the series so far, each and every one of the episodes in this set has a commentary track from those involved in making the show. While this may sound like overkill, most of these tracks are not only very interesting, but also quite funny. This seems to be par for the course with the Simpsons commentary tracks, they're always enjoyable. The crew members involved in making the show obviously have a lot of fun with their work and enjoy the working relationships that they have together as it shows in each one of these track. They prove to be not only interesting in terms of the animation and background information on the show, but also in terms of trivia and little references and anecdotes littered throughout the series that you might not necessarily pick up on just watching the show regularly.
I'm going to break the extra features for this release down by what's included relating to which episode on which disc. Ready? Good. Here we go
Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part Two: This episode contains a big group commentary track from Matt Groening, David Mirkin, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Wesley Archer, and David Silverman. A single deleted scene is also included for this episode.
Radioactive Man: Many of the same participants from the first track are back for the commentary on the second episode of the season - Matt Groening, David Mirkin, Susie Dietter, and David Silverman
Home Sweet Homediddley-Dum-Doodily: Again, there's a group commentary from Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Jon Vitti, and Susie Dietter. In addition to the commentary, this episode also has a multi-angle/storyboard feature that shows you how the episode was put together.
Bart Sells His Soul: Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Greg Daniels, Wesley Archer, and David Silverman handle the discussion for this episode. A single deleted scene is also included for this episode.
Lisa The Vegetarian: The commentators this time include Matt Groening, David Mirkin, David S. Cohen, and finally, Mark Kirkland. Also included as an extra for this episode is the recipe for Lisa's lentil soup. A single deleted scene is also included for this episode.
Treehouse Of Horror VI: Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, David S. Cohen, Bob Anderson, and David Silverman get in the Halloween spirit for the last commentary on the first disc.
Also included on disc one is a quick documentary that examines how Homer was rendered in 3-D back in 1995 and how the technology has come such a long way since then. The animation team tells us about some of the challenges that this idea posed and how they were able to get around a couple of tricky spots by working Homer into the real life surroundings at the end of episode where it all takes place. Matt Groening also provides one of his standard introductions to the season on this first disc in the set which runs for about two minutes in length.
King-Size Homer: Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Dan Greaney, Jim Reardon, and David Silverman start off the second disc with a strong examination of this episode's origins. A pair of deleted scenes is also included for this episode.
Mother Simpson: Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Richard Appel, and David Silverman once again provide a commentary track. A pair of deleted scenes is also included for this episode.
Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming:Only three people on this track: Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, and Dominic Polcino but it's still a lot of fun.
The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular: Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Jon Vitti, and George Meyer provide this episode's commentary track.
Marge Be Not Proud: Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Mike Scully, Steve Dean Moore, and David Silverman handle the discussion this time around.
Team Homer: The commentary for this one is from Matt Groening, David Mirkin, Mike Scully, and Mark Kirkland. A pair of deleted scenes is also included for this episode.
Two Bad Neighbors: Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, and Susie Dietter get to talk this time for the last episode on the second disc. A pair of deleted scenes is also included for this episode.
Scenes From The Class Struggle In Springfield: Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, and Susie Dietter make up the group commentary for this episode. A single deleted scene is also included for this episode.
Bart The Fink: Participants this time around are Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, David S. Cohen, Jim Reardon, and David Silverman. A single deleted scene is also included for this episode.
Lisa The Iconoclast: Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Jonathan Collier, Yeardley Smith (nice to see him here), Mike Anderson, and David Silverman handle the job for this episode. Interesting to hear what aspects of this episode were actually based on Lethal Weapon. A single deleted scene is also included for this episode.
Homer The Smithers: Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, and Steven Dean Moore provide a slightly quieter track than usual for this episode. A single deleted scene is also included for this episode.
The Day The Violence Died: Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein provide the only two man commentary on this set. A single deleted scene is also included for this episode.
A Fish Called Selma: Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Jeff Goldblum, and David Silverman are here to talk about their work on this episode. It was nice to hear one of the guest voices participate in the track as Goldblum gives us a look at that show that differs a bit from the regular crew members who work on it day in and day out. A single deleted scene is also included for this episode.
Bart On The Road: Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Richard Appel, and David Silverman are this episode's commentators. A single deleted scene is also included for this episode.
Also included on the third disc is a fifteen minute featurette that introduces us to some of the creative minds behind the series, with a bit of emphasis understandably put on Matt Groening's life and times. There's also an illustrated commentary on The Day The Violence Died.
Short Films About Springfield: Another big group track starts off the fourth disc with Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Richard Appel, David S. Cohen, Rachel Pulido ,Yeardley Weinstein, and Jonathan Collier all getting in on the fun. A single deleted scene is also included for this episode.
Raging Abe Simpson And His Grumbling Grandson In "The Curse Of The Flying Hellfish:" Josh Weinstein, Bill Oakley, David Silverman, and Jonathon Collier are on hand for a commentary track. Also included for this episode is a storyboard/multi-angle option that does a nice job of showing us how this particular episode was put together.
Much Apu About Nothing: Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, David S. Cohen, and Susie Dietter return for another discussion of the show. A single deleted scene is also included for this episode.
Homerpalooza: Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Brent Forrester, Wesley Archer, and Mr. Ken Keeler give us their take on this classic episode.
Summer Of Four Foot Two: Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, David Silverman, Dan Greaney, and Yeardley Smith are the final five participants in the last episode of the season. A single deleted scene is also included for this episode.
The fourth and final disc also assembles twenty minutes of deleted scenes from the episodes contained on this set (all of which are also accessible through the extra features button for each individual episode if you would rather view them that way). There's an intro to the deleted scenes reel provided by Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, and David Mirkin and there's optional commentary provided for them by the same team that explains why they were excised and what the intent was in creating them in the first place. Also included on the fourth disc is a multi language demonstration (for the Short Films episode) that gives you an amusing look at what the episodes sound like when dubbed into different languages (Italian, Brazilian, Portuguese, German and Japanese). A still gallery of character sketches (ten pieces) is also included on this disc, as is a featurette in which the animation team gives us their take on specific scenes. Another illustrated commentary track is provided for The Summer Of Four Foot Two.
The copy of the set that Fox sent for review did not contain a booklet inside, though there was a spot where one could be housed and I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that retail versions of the set will in fact include a booklet inside the packaging alongside the discs themselves. In regards to the packaging controversy that occurred with the plastic Homer Head issued in retail stores for Season Six, Fox has issued this season in both a collectible plastic Marge head or a regular box so you've got your choice of packaging for the set this time around a nice touch.
One of the strongest seasons in the history of the long running fan favorite series gets a superb release from Fox. The episodes look and sound very good and the supplements are not only plentiful, but also a lot of fun. The Simpsons The Complete Seventh Season deserves the DVD Talk Collector's Series stamp of approval!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.