Of course, as with almost every episode of the series, there are some great guest stars lending their talents to the show. Johnny Cash, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Tim Conway, Jack Lemmon, John Waters and of course Phil Hartman all show up throughout the season for some truly memorable moments which has long been part of the series' charm.
Here's a play by play of what episodes appear on each of the four discs contained in this set:
Treehouse Of Horror VII: Everyone loves the Treehouse Of Horror Halloween episodes that have long since become a yearly tradition with The Simpsons and the one contained on this set is one of the best. The episode starts with a story where Bart and Lisa discover Bart's long lost formerly conjoined twin, Hugo, tied up in the attic. After that, Lisa creates a miniature world when bacteria on her recently lost tooth starts to grow – too bad for her new friends that Bart is around. The final story involves Kang and Kodos' bid for President of the United States where they kidnap candidates Clinton and Dole and impersonate them in the presidential race.
You Only Move Twice: Homer is offered a new job working for Hank Scorpio (Albert Brooks) and so The Simpsons move out of Springfield to a newly designed community that seems perfect in every way. Soon Bart finds himself in the remedial class, Lisa's allergies flare up, and Marge is drinking a glass of wine a day. Homer, on the other hand, loves his job, even if his boss does have plans for world domination.
The Homer They Fall: Homer might not be the sharpest tool in the shed but few men can take a beating the way that he can. When Moe finds this out, he decides to take Homer to the professional boxing circuit and put his tolerance for pain into a way to make a few quick dollars. It's all going well until reigning heavyweight champion Drederick Tatum accepts a fight and decides that he's going to kill Homer in the ring.
Burns, Baby Burns: Through change, Homer and the family discover that none other than Mister Burns has a long lost son named Larry (voiced by Rodney Dangerfield). Homer tries to get the two to patch things up but it's not going to be easy considering Mr. Burns' temper and Larry's bumbling ways don't exactly jive.
Bart After Dark: When Bart gets in trouble for messing around an old house Homer makes him do chores for the owner who turns out to be running a burlesque club in the old manor where many of Springfield's men have been coming for years. Marge finds out and wants to have the place torn down despite its historical significance for many of the citizens of Springfield.
A Milhouse Divided: Milhouse's world is rocked when his parents tell him that they're getting a divorce. As Milhouse starts acting up and trying to deal with all of this, Homer starts to worry that his marriage to Marge might be going through similar difficulties and so he sets out to make sure that they're relationship is as strong as he needs it to be.
Lisa's Date With Density: When Nelson gets busted for stealing the 'H' off of Superintendent Chalmer's 1979 Honda Civic Principal Skinner sentences him to work with Groundskeeper Willy as his punishment. Lisa sees him goofing off with Willy out the window one day and starts to fall for Nelson and before you know it, she's got a crush on the big lug. Although at first she's hesitant to let her feelings be known, Marge tells her she should go with it and try to change him the same way she's changed Homer. Meanwhile, Homer has been using an autodialer to telemarket the citizens of Springfield and coerce them into sending him one dollar.
Hurricane Neddy: When a hurricane rolls into Springfield it looks like total destruction will follow but really the only home that gets trashed is the one that belongs to Ned Flanders. He flips out and winds up needing psychiatric help while the townspeople all pitch in and try to set things right for him. Of course, that doesn't work and it just makes Ned's problems even worse than they already are and the angry side of Ned Flanders finally rears its ugly head.
El Viaje Misterioso De Nuestro Jomer: In one of the strangest and most interesting episodes in the show's history, Homer goes to the local chili cook off and winds up consuming a few peppers with hallucinogenic qualities. He passes out and takes a trip where his spirit guide, a coyote (voiced by the late, great Mr. Johnny Cash), tells him to find his true soul mate. Not entirely sure who he's referring to, Homer sets out on a quest aided by the coyote's cryptic hints until he finally figures out who he's referring to.
The Springfield Files: When Homer's out in the woods one night he sees what he thinks is an alien out there, glowing in the dark. He tells everyone what he's seen but no one takes him seriously. He and Bart decide to camp out overnight and figure out what's going on while David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson show up to do the X-Files thing.
The Twisted World Of Marge Simpson: When Helen Lovejoy and her cronies kick Marge out of their investors club, she decides to buy a pretzel franchise (from a man voiced by Jack Lemmon). Things look good and her business looks to be taking off until Helen and the rest of Marge's former pals decide to move in with their mobile pita truck. Homer decides to call in a favor from Fat Tony and make sure Marge's competitors know not to mess around on her turf.
Mountain Of Madness: After a fire drill at the nuclear power plant demonstrates how uncooperative so many of the employees are, Mr. Burns and Smithers decide to organize a company retreat to the mountain where everyone will have to work with a teammate to get to the cabin first – the last team will be fired. An avalanche occurs after Homer gets teamed up with Mr. Burns and although they make it to the cabin, they get buried under a massive amount of snow and start to turn on one another.
Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(D'oh!)cious: When Marge snaps over the stress brought on by trying to raise three kids and take care of Homer, the family decides to bring in an English nanny named Sherry Bobbins (Maggie Roswell) to help out around the home. She turns out to be a rather magical lady and the family falls for her, but does she feel the same way about them? Probably not.
The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show: When the producers of Itch & Scratchy decide to update the show for modern audiences they decide to bring in a surfing, rapping dog with an 'in your face' attitude named Poochie and Homer auditions, and wins, the part. Poochie doesn't take off the way that they'd hoped, however – in fact, he's soon killed off. Meanwhile, the Simpsons have a new addition, a surfer dude named Roy.
Homer's Phobia: Homer, being the concerned father that he is, starts to think that Bart might be gay. He decides to show him what it's like to be manly with a trip to the local steel mill but that doesn't go nearly as well as he'd hoped and so he decides to take him camping to make a real man out of him. Director John Waters provides the voice of 'John' on this episode.
Brother From Another Series: Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) is back in Springfield but this time out he's not trying to kill Bart, in fact, he seems to have turned over a new life. Unfortunately, his brother Cecil (David Hyde Pierce) is a different story all together – he's got plans to blow up the Springfield dam.
My Sister, My Sitter: Homer and Marge decide to go out on the town for a night and because Lisa is more responsible than Bart, they leave her in charge even though she's younger. Bart, being Bart, decides to make the night Hell for Lisa and his behavior completely messes things up for her and he winds up seriously hurt with Lisa trying to handle the situation as best she can.
Homer Vs. The Eighteenth Amendment: After the annual St. Patrick's Day parade gets out of hand and turns into a full scale riot, the powers that be reinstate prohibition in Springfield making life tough for all the local beer lovers. Homer comes to the rescue by bootlegging beer and getting it to Moe's under the alias of the 'Beer Baron' but Springfield's finest just might be on to his tricks. Dave Thomas provides a guest voice in this episode as the Elliott Ness character tasked with bringing the Beer Baron to justice.
Grade School Confidential: Having no one in their lives, Ms. Krabapple and Principal Skinner begin a whirlwind romance while working together at Springfield Elementary. Bart exposes their forbidden love to the citizens of Springfield and it seems to have cost the two lovebirds their jobs until he starts to feel guilty over it all and tries to set things right for them.
The Canine Mutiny: When Bart gets a new dog named Laddie who can seemingly do anything anyone could ever want out of a pet and then some, Santa's Little Helper gets pushed to the side and finally given away where he finds a new home with a blind man. Bart eventually realizes what he's done and so he goes to get his old dog back but it might just be too late as the old man doesn't want to part with the dog.
The Old Man And The Lisa: Mr. Burns, the wealthiest man in Springfield, suddenly loses all of his money and his possessions and finds himself living penniless in the Springfield Retirement Castle. He decides that poverty just isn't his bag and soon enough he's making a comeback with the help of Lisa Simpson by way of a recycling program that soon takes off. Mr. Burns has got more up his sleeve than trying to help the environment however, but he's not about to share that with Lisa just yet.
In Marge We Trust: Reverend Lovejoy is burnt out on being a clergyman, thanks in part to Ned Flanders, but he soon finds his spirit again when Marge, helping out as an advice lady, becomes more popular in the church than he is. Meanwhile, Homer is puzzled by a box of disc soap from Japan called Mr. Sparkle that he finds at the dump as it appears to have his face on the front of the box.
Homer's Enemy: Frank Grimes has worked his way up despite the hardships he has been dealt his entire life and now he's got a job at the nuclear power plant. It doesn't take him long to realize that Homer is lazy and he's soon really put off by Homer's work ethic. Homer doesn't understand why Frank doesn't like him and so he has him over for dinner where Frank is completely disgusted by the nice life that Homer enjoys.
The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase: Troy McClure (Phil Hartman) hosts this look back at three Simpsons spin-off shows that never made it. The first is Chief Wiggum P. I. where Wiggum and Skinner move to New Orleans and fight crime the sexy way doing battle with a crime lord named Big Daddy. The second is The Love-Matic Grandpa where Grandpa Simpson's spirit inhabits a love testing machine at Moe's bar and dispenses strange romantic advice to Moe who soon finds himself quite the ladies man. The third spin off is the Simpson's Variety Show where Lisa has been replaced by a sexier teenage girl and the family enjoys a visit from Tim Conway as they perform hokey skits and bad musical numbers.
The Secret War Of Lisa Simpson: Bart gets himself into trouble once again and soon enough he's being sent off to the military academy where he'll learn to be disciplined. Lisa realizes that the education she'd get there is way better than anything she'd get at Springfield Elementary and she enrolls too only to become the butt of everyone's joke when she has trouble with the physical activity involved in becoming a cadet.
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.
As in the past, Fox has managed to provide commentary tracks for each and every episode contained in this set courtesy of many of the writers and animators, producers and directors from the series. They even managed to get John Waters himself to sit down and discuss the Homer's Phobia episode which was a nice touch. With so many participants on each track there's never a dead air problem and it's nice to see Groening himself involved on almost every episode here. Another bonus that the commentary tracks provide is that they give die hard fans who have seen these episodes so many time (Season Eight is in wide syndication more so than a lot of other seasons) a reason to watch each episode all the way threw. They're packed with a lot of great information about who did what, little details and oddities to look out for, and where a lot of the ideas and inspiration for much of the material came from. Though it might seem like overkill to some, the devout fan of the show will want to take the time to go through these tracks as they're all a lot of fun and they're done with a great sense of humor as well. Here's who provides the commentary for each specific episode:
Treehouse of Horror VII: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, David X. Cohen, Dan Greaney, Ken Keeler, Dan Castellaneta, Mike B. Anderson
You Only Move Twice: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, Ken Keeler, Dan Castellaneta, Mike B. Anderson
The Homer They Fall: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, Mark Kirkland, David X. Cohen, George Meyer
Burns Baby Burns: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, George Meyer, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Mark Kirkland, David X. Cohen
Bart After Dark: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, Richard Appel, Dominic Polcino, David Silverman, Ken Keeler
A Milhouse Divided: Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Steve Tompkins, Steven Dean Moore
Lisa's Date With Density: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, Mike Scully, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Susie Dietter, and special guest star Alex Rocco
Hurricane Neddy: Josh Weinstein, George Meyer, Steve Young, Bob Anderson
El Viaje Misterioso De Nuestro Jomer: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein along with Molly and Simon Weinstein, George Meyer, Jim Reardon
The Springfield Files: Matt Groening, Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Reid Harrison, Steven Dean Moore, David Silverman
The Twisted World Of Marge Simpson: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, Chuck Sheetz
Mountain Of Madness: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, Dan Castellaneta, Jim Denton "Contest Winner"(Portrayed By Dave Thomas), Mark Kirkland, David Silverman
Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(D'oh)cious: Matt Groening, Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Chuck Sheetz, David Silverman
The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, David X. Cohen, Yeardley Smith, Steven Dean Moore, and special guest star Alex Rocco
Homer's Phobia: Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Ron Hauge, Steve Tompkins, Mike B. Anderson, and special guest star John Waters
The Brother From Another Series: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, Ken Keeler, Pete Michels, and special guest star Kelsey Grammer
My Sister, My Sitter: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein along with Molly and Simon Weinstein, Yeardley Smith, Jim Reardon, George Meyer
Homer Vs. The Eighteenth Amendment: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, Dan Castellaneta, Dave Thomas, Bob Anderson, David Silverman
Grade School Confidential: Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Rachel Pulido, Susie Dietter
The Canine Mutiny: Josh Weinstein, Ron Hauge, Dominic Polcino, George Meyer
The Old Man And The Lisa: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, George Meyer, David X. Cohen, Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, Mark Kirkland
In Marge We Trust: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, Donick Cary, Yeardley Smith, Steven Dean Moore, David X. Cohen, Alex Rocco
Homer's Enemy: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, Hank Azaria, Jim Reardon
The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, David X. Cohen, Dan Greaney , Ken Keeler, Yeardley Smith
The Secret War Of Lisa Simpson: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, Yeardley Smith, Mike B. Anderson
Aside from the commentary tracks, every episode save for Treehouse Of Horror VII, Bart After Dark, Homer's Enemy and El Viaje Misterioso De Nuestro Jomer contains a deleted scene or two. As with the last set, you can watch these by way of the extras associated with each specific episode, or through a 'play all' option that is contained on the fourth disc in the set. These are pretty amusing clips and while not every one is a winner, they're worth sifting through (the 'play all' option makes it easier to do this) for the few golden moments that are contained here. The deleted footage totals roughly eighteen minutes in length from start to finish when combined. If you choose the 'play all' option you can also watch these scenes with an optional commentary track from Josh Weinstein that explains why each of the scenes was removed from the final broadcast version of each episode.
There are two Animation Showcase featurettes, one each for the Treehouse Of Horror VII episode and the In Marge We Trust Episode. If you've seen these on the past sets you'll know what to expect here – it's basically a storyboard comparison that shows you what the rough storyboards looked like compared to the finished episodes. Those who are interested in animation should enjoy these as they're fairly informative pieces. There are also four A Bit From The Animators segments included – one a piece for Treehouse Of Horror VII, Lisa's Date With Density, Homer Vs. The Eighteenth Amendment and In Marge We Trust. These basically play out a few scenes from each episode with audio commentary over top where the animation team highlights a few interesting bits of trivia by way of drawing things out on the screen for us. While some of this material is covered in the respective commentary tracks for each episode these are still amusing and it's interesting the way that the visuals highlight certain aspects of each cartoon.
Rounding out the extra features is a three and a half minute featurette entitled The Simpsons House where we see a few Fox Network types examine a replicate of the home that was built in Las Vegas. Matt Groening provides an introduction on disc one that gives us a quick run down on what's included in the set and how he feels about Season Eight as a whole. Once again there's a Special Language featurette that plays out the Homer's Enemy episode in a few different international languages which proves to be amusing in an odd sort of way. Finally, two commercials are included (one where Groening draws Bart and another where he draws Homer) as is a still gallery of a dozen images from various shows.
Like season seven before it, Fox gives you the option of picking up the set in a collectible Maggie head plastic case or in the more traditional bookcase style packaging. A booklet is included inside that gives you a rundown of the credits for each episode as well as a text piece from Groening.
While this isn't the best season in the shows history, it's still got plenty of great moments that make for great viewing. There are some truly classic episodes contained in here and while as a whole it's not the strongest, there are some top tier moments to be sure. Fox has done their usual bang up job on the audio and video and the fact that every episode has a commentary track in addition to a few other keen extra features makes The Simpsons – The Complete Eighth Season a highly recommended release.
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.