The Simpsons is a huge part of our collective pop culture. The longest running animated sit-com of all time has gone on to become as identifiable as The Flintstones or The Jetsons and the clever writing and interesting cast of characters ensures that the series is just as vital and popular today as it was when it first began to air a decade and a half ago. This ninth season was important for a few reasons, some of which did go on to impact the long-term continuity of the series – the marriage of Apu to Manjula, for one – but it also marked a departure into wackier territory. The earlier seasons had stronger characterization and more detailed family dynamics, and here we start to notice these qualities fading in place of crazier plotlines and more obvious, slapstick humor. That's not necessarily a bad thing as far as most fans are concerned and the ratings weren't hurt by this in the least, but it does mean that we won't see as many cute and sweet moments this time around as we had in the past.
This season was also the first time we got to see the romantic side of Moe and learn about the hereditary condition that affects certain members of the Simpson family. Most importantly to the success of the show, however, is the fact that this season is just plain funny. There are plenty of classic moments here, like Homer impersonating Ganesh or his trip up the towers of the World Trade Center buildings. Bart and Lisa co-host a TV show, while we learn the truth behind the origins of Seymour Skinner. And who can forget the fleeting but ever so important addition of Homer's Helper Monkey to the Simpson clan? Historically speaking, this season was also important as it contained the 200th episode of the show (Trash of the Titans, which won an Emmy!), quite a landmark for any television series to hit.
Of course, as with almost every episode of the series, there are some great guest stars lending their talents to the show. Martin Sheen, Roy Firestone, Mike Judge, Joe Namath, Jan Hooks, Andrea Martin, Phil Hartman, Alex Trebek, George Harrison, Jim Varney, James Earl Jones, Bruce Barne, Janeane Garofalo, Bobcat Goldthwait, Jay Leno, Hank Williams Jr., Steven Wright, Helen Hunt, Bob Denver, Rod Steiger, Steve Martin, U2, Brendan Fraser, Steven Weber, and of course, Marcia Wallace 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:
The City Of New York vs. Homer Simpson: When Barney winds up as the designated driver for the night, Homer is relieved until the next day when Barney goes on a bender and leaves Homer's car in the middle of New York City. Because of a horrible incident that happened in Homer's past, he hates the Big Apple but he and the family head off to get the car, which has been left between the two towers of the World Trade Center (where Homer uses the bathroom in a classic Simpsons moment!). Marge and the kids enjoy their time in the city while Homer finds out that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
The Principal And The Pauper: Skinner is truly surprised when, at a surprise party to celebrate his twentieth year as principal, the real Seymour Skinner (voiced by Martin Sheen) shows up. Turns out that the Skinner we all know and love is actually Armin Tanzarian and he took Skinner's name after he didn't come home from the war. Armin quits and decides to live as a drifter until some of the residents of Springfield start to miss the guy and Marge, Agnes and Edna Krabapple decide to come up with a plan to get him to come back and resume the status quo.
Lisa's Sax: When a heat wave hits Springfield and the Simpsons find themselves without air conditioning, Homer decides to sit the family down and to tell them the story of how Lisa got her saxophone in the first place (after it gets run over by car). Through a few different flashbacks we learn the story and eventually Homer decides that history should repeat it self and he spends the money he had put away for a new air conditioner on a replacement saxophone for his daughter.
Treehouse Of Horror VIII: The first of the three stories in this season's traditional Halloween episode is The Homega Man, where Homer finds himself in the role of Charlton Heston (or, Vincent Price if you prefer) – the last man on Earth! Unfortunately for Homer, there are hordes of undead mutants cruising around to ruin his fun. The second story, Fly vs. Fly, finds Bart melded with a fly after Homer buys some teleportation pods at Professor Frink's garage sale. The last story, Easy-Bake Coven, finds Marge guilty of witchcraft. She and her two sisters decide to go door to door and eat a few kids to show the town they mean business.
The Cartridge Family: After a soccer riot breaks out, Homer decides that he needs to find a way to protect his family and so he goes out and buys a handgun. No sooner than he gets the gun does Homer start acting like a maniac, using it to turn lights on and off and open beers. He joins a local gun club but it soon kicked out for being completely irresponsible with his firearm. Marge takes the kids and leaves him, as he refuses to get rid of the pistol, until Homer finds himself alone with only his gun to keep him company.
Bart Star: The local kids are starting to put on too much weight and so the parents decide to enroll them in a football league so that they can get some exercise. Flanders is the coach and he proves to be an excellent choice until Homer steps in and forces him to quit. Homer makes Bart, one of the weaker players on the team, the new quarterback (much to Nelson's dismay) and soon the team has become the laughing stock of the league. Will Homer wise up and put Nelson back in as the quarterback so that the kids can start winning again? Mike Judge, Joe Namath and Roy Firestone all guest star.
The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons: Apu finds himself Springfield's most eligible bachelor after becoming the hot ticket item at a charity auction. He's enjoying his new playboy lifestyle until his mother contacts him and tells him that it's time to abide by an agreement made in his youth where he is to marry an Indian woman named Manjula. Homer decides that Apu can pretend to be married to Marge so as to fool his mother when she arrives in hopes that she'll cancel the arranged marriage but soon Apu's mother finds out that her soon is lying to her and decides that the marriage will go on as planned. Homer, on the other hand, decides to dress up as the Hindu god Ganesh and crash the wedding.
Lisa The Skeptic: When a contractor decides to build a shopping center on an old burial ground Lisa decides to protest so that Springfield Elementary can do an archeological dig there. The kids find a skeleton of what appears to be an angel, which Homer swipes and uses as a moneymaker. There's more to this skeleton than meets the high, however, as it brings with it a message of the impending apocalypse and even little Lisa is starting to wonder about her agnosticism with the end times fast approaching and the discovery of what looks like the remains of an actual angel.
Realty Bites: Homer and Marge decide to attend a police auction where Homer winds up buying Snake's muscle car, Lil' Bandit. He drives it like a bat out of Hell and scares Marge so much that she walks home, and on the way she meets Lionel Hutz who talks Marge into taking a job at a real estate company. Marge learns the hard way that selling houses is no easy gig and she soon finds out that she's just too honest to make it in this business. Meanwhile, Snake is on the loose and he wants his car back.
Miracle On Evergreen Terrace: The Simpsons are getting ready for Christmas and the kids are chomping at the bit to get up early and open up their gifts. Bart defies his mother and wakes up early to open gifts only to burn down the tree and all of the presents. He hides the debris and buries it in the backyard, telling his parents that a burglar broke in and swiped all of their holiday booty. Kent Brockman finds out and puts the word out on his news show and soon the charity gifts start pouring in. Soon, however, Bart's lie catches up with him and so does Kent Brockman, making the Simpsons look like con artists in the process. Alex Trebek guest stars as himself.
All Singing, All Dancing: Homer is bored so he goes out and rents Paint Your Wagon, figuring with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin in the cast it'll be a manly action film. He puts it in and is annoyed by all the singing and dancing, but his family is there to remind him, by way of some handy clips and flashbacks, just how often he and the rest of the Simpsons tend to break out in song. George Harrison guest stars.
Bart Carny: Homer takes the family to Colonel Tex's traveling carnival when it rolls into Springfield. Homer explains to Bart what great and honest people carnies are and soon Homer is conned by a carnival worker named Cooder (Jim Varney). Meanwhile, Bart takes Hitler's car, which is on display, for a joyride and trashes it which means that he and his dad are going to have to work off their newfound debt to the carnival. Homer runs the ring toss for Cooder but gets it shut down so he winds up taking Cooder and his son into the family home only for them to kick the Simpsons out and take over the place for themselves.
The Joy Of Sect: A strange religious group solicits Homer at the airport and he decides to check them out. He likes what he sees and soon, after a few failed attempts, they succeed in brainwashing him. He signs over the deed to his house to The Leader, but Marge is on to their tricks. She gets Flanders, Lovejoy and Willie to help rescue Homer from the cult, meanwhile Mr. Burns has decided to start a religious group of his own so that he won't have to pay as much in taxes.
Das Bus: Bart and Lisa join the model United Nations club at school and wind up going on a field trip when Otto accidentally drives the bus into the water where it drifts out into the middle of the ocean. Otto is picked up by the Chinese and the kids take refuge in a remote island where they start their own society in a clever parody of The Lord Of The Flies. The party doesn't last too long, though, as soon the kids find that they're running out of food and that there's a monster on the island with them. Meanwhile, back in Springfield, Homer is trying to cash in on the internet after learning about Ned's new home business.
The Last Temptation Of Krust: Bart talks Jay Leno (who guest stars as himself) into letting Krusty the Clown have a spot at a stand up comedy concert for charity. When Krusty doesn't go over so well with the crowd he hits the bottle hard and Kent Brockman ends up replacing him on television. Krusty winds up living at the Simpsons' house until he decides to announce his retirement at a press conference. The ensuing laughter from the crowd gives Krusty the confidence he needs and soon he starts trying to get his career back on track, but this time he swears he won't sell out like he did in the past.
Dumbbell Indemnity: When Homer rambles on about how great Marge is, he notices how alone his good friend Moe is. This inspires Homer to take Moe under his wing and teach him how to meet ladies the Homer Simpson way. Soon, Moe finds a perfect match in the form of Renee (Helen Hunt) but soon finds that wining and dining her is an expensive habit. He decides to have Homer get rid of his car so that he can cash in on the insurance money he'd be sure to receive, but Homer gets caught and winds up in jail while Moe continues his Casanova lifestyle.
Lisa, The Simpson: When Lisa has trouble trying to solve a puzzle she fears that Grandpa might not have been lying when he says that the Simpson gene affects the brains of all family members. While Lisa is wrestling with what's happening to her, Jasper freezes himself inside the freezer at the Kwik-E-Mart and Apu finds a way to cash in on this. As Lisa starts to truly believe her brain is turning into goop, she gets a surprise visit from a few unexpected family members who show her the truth behind Grandpa's story.
This Little Wiggy: When Marge and the kids go to the museum, she notes how sweet little Ralph Wiggum is and she decides that Bart needs to be a better friend to him. She sets up a 'play date' and Bart is completely unenthused until he goes to Ralph's house and finds all the nifty police gear that Chief Wiggum leaves lying around. The two of them wander around and cause all kinds of trouble until they run into the local tough kids who pick on Ralph. Eventually, Mayor Quimby decides to go on TV and pretend to be electrocuted at the old jail, not realizing that Ralph and Bart where playing with it earlier and that they've left it active.
Simpson Tide: When Homer gets fired from the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, he finds a new job with the Navy Reserve where he, Barney, Moe and Apu all wind up working on a submarine. Seeing as Homer has experience with nuclear power, they figure he's the right man for the job. While this is going on, Bart gets an earring, which Homer is not happy about at all. Homer gets promoted but during a mock war exercise he almost starts an international incident. Bob Denver (as himself) and Rod Steiger (as Captain Tenille) provide guest voices on this episode.
The Trouble with Trillions: When Homer realizes that he's way past the deadline to get his tax papers in, he decides to cheat but soon this catches up with him and the IRS decide to audit him. Homer's in big trouble until the FBI offer him a deal – if he'll wear a wire for them so that they can bust Mr. Burns for the trillion dollar bill that he stole years ago, they'll let him off. He agrees, and Mr. Burns lets him in when Homer convinces him that he's going to write a magazine article on him but that trillion dollar bill looks mighty tempting, and Homer is known to be impulsive.
Girly Edition: When one of Bart's pranks destroys Willie's shack, he earns his wrath but soon forgets about it when he and Lisa start co-anchoring a kids news program. Lisa steals the spotlight until Bart, with some help from Kent Brockman, decides to start focusing on human-interest stories in a segment called 'Bart's People.' His popularity skyrockets and Lisa's attempts at sincere journalism are pushed to the side. When Lisa decides to expose Bart for the fraud that he is, things get hairy as Willie moves back into the picture, hungry for revenge. While all of this is going on, Homer adopts a helper monkey who soon learns Homer's lazy ways for himself.
Trash Of The Titans: A greeting card company decides to make some extra money by making up a new holiday, Love Day. Of course, the Simpsons celebrate it with style but soon, Homer has to clean up. When he takes the garbage to the curb, he gets into an argument with the garbage man and soon they won't collect trash from the Simpson house. Homer takes his problems to the Sanitation Commissioner (voiced by Steve Martin) but gets nowhere so he decides to run for Sanitation Commissioner himself. When he wins, he makes some unorthodox changes to the way that the garbage collection department works in Springfield and soon blows through his budget. U2 guest star as themselves.
King Of The Hill: At the church picnic, Homer teams up with Bart to beat Flanders at Capture The Flag. Unfortunately, Homer is way out of shape and so he's not very good at the game. He decides to join a gym and start jogging to get into better shape and Rainer Wolfcastle is helping him work out. The Powersauce Energy Bar Company want to get Wolfcastle to climb the Murderhorn, the tallest mountain around, but he refuses and so Bart, proud of his dad, volunteers Homer for the job. Homer accepts, but things soon get out of hand and Homer's life is in danger. Brendan Fraser and Steven Weber provide voices for the Powersauce guys.
Lost Our Lisa: The kids get the day off school so Bart uses some super glue to adhere some gag props to his face. Marge has to take him to the doctor's office to get them removed, which means that Lisa misses out on the exhibit going on at the museum that she had her heart set on attending. Lisa decides to circumvent her mother and get her dad's permission to take the bus downtown. Homer agrees, but Lisa gets lost along the way and Homer winds up having to go out and look for her.
Natural Born Kissers: Homer and Marge celebrate their anniversary but something just doesn't seem right and it looks like the spark that their marriage once had has slowly started to die out. They decide to take a trip out of town to try and spruce things up a bit while Grandpa watches the kids. While they're off being husband and wife, they find out that they get off on making out in public places, enjoying the thrill that possibly getting caught provides. Meanwhile, Bart and Lisa use their grandfather's metal detector and wind up finding an alternate reel of footage for Casablanca.
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 Simpsons 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 have 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, animators, producers and directors from the series. With so many participants on each track there's never a dead air problem and it's nice to see Groening himself involved on so many of the episodes here alongside many of the writers and voice actors. Another bonus that the commentary tracks provide is that they give die-hard fans that have seen these episodes so many times (Season Nine is still very much in wide syndication) 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:
The City Of New York vs. Homer Simpson: Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Jim Reardon
The Principal And The Pauper: Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Ken Keeler, Steven Dean Moore
Lisa's Sax: Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Dominic Polcino
Treehouse Of Horror VIII: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, David S. Cohen, George Meyer, Matt Selman, Mark Kirkland
The Cartridge Family: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, John Swartzwelder, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Ron Hauge, George Meyer, Donick Cary, Yeardley Smith, Pete Michels
Bart Star: Mike Scully, George Meyer, Donick Cary, Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright, Dominic Polcino
The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons: Mike Scully, Richard Appel, Steven Dean Moore
Lisa The Skeptic: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, David S. Cohen, George Meyer, Yeardley Smith, Pete Michels
Realty Bites: Mike Scully, Dan Greaney, Richard Appel, Swinton O. Scott III
Miracle On Evergreen Terrace: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ron Hauge, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Bob Anderson
All Singing, All Dancing: Matt Groening, David Mirkin, Steve O'Donnell, Hank Azaria, Yeardley Smith, Steven Dean Moore
Bart Carny: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Mark Kirkland
The Joy Of Sect: Matt Groening, David Mirkin, Steve O'Donnell, Yeardley Smith, Steven Dean Moore
Das Bus: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, David S. Cohen, Pete Michels
The Last Temptation Of Krust: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ron Hauge, Danick Cary, Yeardley Smith, Jay Leno, Mike B. Anderson
Dumbbell Indemnity: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ron Hauge, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Dominic Polcino
Lisa, The Simpson: Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Ned Goldreyer, Susie Dietter
This Little Wiggy: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Dan Greaney
Simpson Tide: Al Jean, Mike Reiss
The Trouble with Trillions: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Matt Selman, Swinton O. Scott III
Girly Edition: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Yeardley Smith, Mark Kirkland
Trash Of The Titans: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ron Hauge, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Yeardley Smith
King Of The Hill: Mike Scully, Richard Appel, Steven Dean Moore
Lost Our Lisa: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, David S. Cohen, Yeardley Smith, Pete Michels
Natural Born Kissers: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Matt Selman, Dan Castellaneta, Mark Kirkland
Aside from the commentary tracks, there are Animation Showcases provided for The Principal And The Pauper, and Lisa The Simpson. Original Sketches are provided for The Last Temptation Of Krust while All Singing, All Dancing and Lost Our Lisa each feature A Bit From The Animators wherein we learn a little bit about how various portions of those episodes where put together. A Special Language Feature is available for Trash Of The Titans if you want to hear the show dubbed into a couple of different languages for novelty purposes, and there's an amusing, if brief, featurette about this same episode included here as well.
The Deleted Scenes section that has appeared on the previous releases is here again in the same convenient format, meaning you can watch excised bits and pieces as an extra attached to the respective episode, or all in a row as a supplement on the fourth disc where an optional commentary track (courtesy of Matt Groening, Mike Scully, Josh Weinstein, David Mirkin, Al Jean, Steve O'Donnell) is provided explaining the context of the piece and why it was cut. The City Of New York vs. Homer Simpson, Lisa's Sax, Treehouse Of Horror VIII, The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons, Lisa The Skeptic, Bart Carny, The Joy Of Sect, Das Bus, The Last Temptation Of Krust, Dumbbell Indemnity, Lisa The Simpson, This Little Wiggy, Simpson Tide, Girly Edition, Trash Of The Titans, and finally King Of The Hill all contain various deleted segments included here for your viewing pleasure. Mike Scully provides an optional introduction to this material.
Also lurking within the confines of the menus on disc four are a half dozen or so commercials that ran during this season featuring the characters from the show. A sketch gallery is included here, as is A Moment With U2 which is a three minute segment where The Edge talks about appearing on the show, followed by commentary from Dan Castelleneta and Yeardley Smith. Animated menus are included for each disc. You can watch each episode individually or by way of a 'play all' option. A promo spot for the upcoming feature length The Simpsons movie is also included.
Inside the slipcase is a gatefold package that holds the four discs inside some sturdy plastic jewel cases which are bound to the spine. There's a booklet contained inside made up to look like a copy of Rolling Stone Magazine that features episode credits and synopsis' as well as a text introduction from Matt Groening. Also inside the packaging are six nifty postcards each containing a different piece of artwork pertaining to the series.
Not quite as good as the two season that came before it, The Simpsons – The Complete Ninth Season is still a fantastic collection of some of the best episodes that the series has had to offer so far in its long and lengthy run. Fox has once again done a great job with the audio and video presentation of the material and supplied a wealth of supplemental goodies to accompany some great material. Highly recommended.
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.