Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 12, 2007)
Since entire years have passed with no DVD releases of The Simpsons, it comes as great news that Season Eight hits the shelves barely four months after we got Season Eight. Does this mean we should hold out hope for an Easter 2007 release of Season 10? Probably not, but we can dream!
As always, I’ll look at the shows in their original broadcast order, which is how they show up in the set. I’ll examine them each on their own to document the specifics. The plot capsules come straight from the DVD’s booklet.
The City of New York Vs. Homer Simpson (aired 9/21/97): “The family travels to New York to get Homer’s (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) car back. Homer recalls a terrifying experience he had in Manhattan when he was younger.”
In a post-9/11 panic frenzy, fans worried that we’d never see this episode again since it prominently features the World Trade Center. Happily, these fears proved wholly unfounded, as “City” offers a solid show. Homer’s story about why he hates New York amuses, and Marge’s usual nerdy sense of awe adds comedy. I wouldn’t call it a great program, but it’s a nice start to Season Nine.
The Principal and the Pauper (aired 9/28/97): “The people of Springfield are stunned to learn that the man they believed was Seymour Skinner (Harry Shearer) may not be who they thought. The man they knew as Skinner flees to Capital City until the Simpsons get him back.”
“Pauper” leaves me in a quandary. On one hand, the story’s kind of idiotic, and the way the series dismisses it from its continuity at the end seems cheap. On the other hand, the program has far too many laughs for me to dislike it too much. Though the flaws keep “Pauper” from becoming top-notch Simpsons, it’s still good.
Lisa’s Sax (aired 10/19/97): “Lisa’s (Yeardley Smith) saxophone is destroyed and her family tells her how she came to get it. Then Homer must choose between an air conditioner and replacing Lisa’s instrument.”
Over the run of The Simpsons, Lisa-centric episodes tend to be some of the least interesting. She’s simply not a character who lends herself to lively, clever stories, as hers usually focus too much on sappiness and not enough on wackiness. That doesn’t become a serious problem here, mostly because the show uses a fun flashback format and doesn’t focus on Lisa’s current misery. The look at Bart’s Kindergarten experience is particularly amusing.
Treehouse of Horror VIII (aired 10/16/97): “In ‘The Homega Man’, Homer must confront a post-apocalyptic Springfield. Bart (Nancy Cartwright) becomes half-fly, half-boy in ‘Fly Vs. Fly’. And we learn a shocking secret about Marge (Julie Kavner) and her sisters in ‘Easy-Bake Coven’”.
I thought the “TOH” tradition started in a lackluster manner back in 1990 but improved as the years progressed. “TOH VIII” may well be the best one to date. Each of the three segments soars and provides great laughs. The “Fly” segment stands as my favorite but all three are terrific.
The Cartridge Family (aired 11/2/97): “A soccer riot leads Homer to decide he needs a gun to protect his family. Marge makes him promise to get rid of it but he defies her.”
Any episode that belittles the eternal boredom that is soccer and knocks the national affection for guns works for me! Homer’s sudden gun obsession seems a little much even for him, but the show manages to make it fit. Some will see the show’s cracks as easy gibes, but I won’t complain, as they’re consistently funny.
Bart Star (aired 11/9/97): “Bart joins a junior-league football team. When Homer becomes the coach, he replaces quarterback Nelson (Cartwright) with the less-talented Bart.”
“Star” works best when Homer razzes Flanders for no reason other than his undying hatred of his neighbor. The show goes downhill a bit when Homer takes over as coach. It’s interesting to see Homer actually try to do the right thing by his kids for once, but the episode seems a little moralizing and easy.
The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons (aired 11/16/97): “Apu’s (Hank Azaria) pre-arranged bride Manjula (Jan Hooks) comes to Springfield. After trying to escape the match, Apu agrees to be married at the Simpson home.”
I don’t think all that much of the main story, but I love the portion in which Homer takes up residence with Grampa in the Retirement Castle. Only the ever-lazy Homer would envy folks in wheelchairs and on a respirator since their bodies have to do less work. Those elements compensate for the lackluster Apu side of things.
Lisa the Skeptic (aired 11/23/97): “A skeleton is discovered in Springfield that seems to have come from an angel. Lisa is sure there is a rational explanation but her beliefs are sorely tested.”
As I mentioned earlier, Lisa-centric shows tend to run into problems. That’s the case here, as the angel plot doesn’t manage to take off and go much of anywhere. The series usually throws in a fun “B”-plot to compensate – ala Homer in the Retirement Castle – but “Skeptic” throws all its bones in one skeleton and suffers for it. While the episode offers a decent allotment of laughs, it feels less than special.
Realty Bites (aired 12/7/97): “Marge becomes a real estate agent but is too honest for the job. Meanwhile, Homer buys a vintage convertible at a seized-property auction.”
Although Season Eight offered a riff on the Jack Lemmon role from Glengarry Glen Ross - voiced by Lemmon himself - but “Bites” is the first appearance of Gil (Castellaneta), a part based on that movie’s Shelley Levine. It also puts Gil in his correct context as it parodies aspects of Ross. The show mostly concentrates on Marge’s dilemma, however, and those elements don’t feel well-developed. We’ve seen this sort of Marge story in the past, and despite the usual assortment of decent gags, it doesn’t become a strong show.
Miracle on Evergreen Terrace (aired 12/21/97): “When Bart burns down the Simpson Christmas tree, he refuses to admit the truth. The town takes pity on the Simpsons then are furious when they realize they have been fooled.”
“Miracle” doesn’t fare especially well. It’s a little too moralizing, and it simply lacks much of the clever and incisive humor we expect from the show. It tries a little too hard, so while it elicits a few chuckles, it seems somewhat weak overall.
All Singing, All Dancing (aired 1/4/98): “Homer rents a Clint Eastwood movie only to discover it’s a musical. Featuring clips from past music-themed episodes of The Simpsons.”
Yes, that’s right: “Dancing” offers that lowest form of life, the clip show. The musical segments that link the scenes from prior shows provide some entertainment, but we don’t get enough of them to redeem this mostly forgettable program.
Bart Carny (aired 1/11/98): “The Simpsons lose their home to a crafty carnival roadie (Jim Varney) and his son. The Simpsons then must outwit the carnies to get their home back.”
If nothing else, “Carny” provides one segment that made me laugh longer and harder than anything in recent memory: when Bart and Lisa go through a tunnel of horror, a skeleton drops to the accompaniment of a "hee-haw” sound. I laughed like crazy nine years ago, and I still lose it now. The rest of the show isn’t as good, but it’s entertaining, and it helps Season Nine rebound after a string of lackluster programs.
The Joy of Sect (aired 2/8/98): “Homer is lured into a cult that grows popular in Springfield. When Marge deprograms Homer, he gets the cult to disband.”
Wow - The Simpsons mocked Scientologists back before it was cool! In fact, I don’t think I realized that this show’s cult was based on the Scientologists when I originally saw it; their ways weren’t as well known as they’ve become in recent years. While they make an easy target, the episode has good fun with them. The way Homer thrives in the cult reminds me of his affection for the Retirement Castle, but it’s still an amusing show.
Das Bus (aired 2/15/98): “The Springfield Elementary School bus crashes, stranding the children on a deserted island. Meanwhile, Homer takes on Bill Gates and is crushed like a bug.”
Didn’t the series already spoof Lord of the Flies back with Season Four’s “Kamp Krusty”? Yes, we did, so it comes as a disappointment that “Bus” revisits familiar territory. No, it doesn’t seem like a simple replication of “Kamp”, but it lacks great originality. I prefer the secondary plot about Homer’s Internet service.
The Last Temptation of Krust (aired 2/22/98): “Krusty (Castellaneta) realizes that his material is no longer young and hip. He attempts to reconnect with his audience but in the end reverts to his old ways.”
At times, “Krust” feels a bit like an excuse to cram in as many cameos from guest comics as possible. Nonetheless, Krusty’s terrible routines are more than enough to compensate. Combine those with Bart’s ever-inspiring loyalty to the Klown and this is a nice show.
Dumbbell Indemnity (aired 3/1/98): “To support a new girlfriend, Moe (Azaria) attempts insurance fraud. He lets Homer take the rap for his crime and Homer plots revenge.”
It’s nice to see Moe happy for once, even though we know it won’t last – and he inevitably ruins the situation in many ways. The episode follows some predictable lines, however, and never quite catches fire. It’s a perfectly decent show, though.
Lisa the Simpson (aired 3/8/98): “Lisa is horrified to learn that she might be losing her intelligence. Then she is relieved to learn that smarts in the Simpson family are passed down in a very surprising manner.”
As expected, the Lisa elements here provide the standard semi-sappy explorations of her woes. The theme reminds me some of Season Six’s “Lisa’s Rival” – another show where Lisa doubted her skills – but it manages to go down a moderately interesting path. The bizarre “Frostillicus” subplot is more amusing and satisfying, especially when Apu turns the Quik-E-Mart into a hall of oddities.
This Little Wiggy (aired 3/22/98): “Bart befriends Ralph Wiggum (Cartwright) and gets a master key to the town. Their explorations lead them to endanger the mayor’s (Castellaneta) life.”
Does the story of “Wiggy” exist as anything other than an excuse to put Bart in plenty of nutty police-related situations? No, but that’s fine with me. The episode digs into many funny circumstances and exploits them all quite well. Ralph is a terrific character – in moderation. Since we’d not seen that much from him this year, he stands out as a positive in this fun program.
Simpson Tide (aired 3/29/98): “Homer and his friends join the Naval Reserve. Homer seizes control of a nuclear sub and causes an international incident.”
Remember back when Simpsons episodes actually sort of existed in the realm of reality? Okay, they’ve gone onto goofy tangents many times in the past, but for some reason, “Tide” irks me a bit in its absurdity. The arrival of pierced ears at Springfield Elementary works a bit better, though, if just for the odd sight of Milhouse regarded as cool.
The Trouble with Trillions (aired 4/5/98): “Homer’s poorly-prepared tax return leads to an IRS audit. Homer helps entrap Burns (Shearer) and learns of the existence of a mysterious trillion-dollar bill.”
This episode’s best moments come at the start when we see Flanders’ early preparation of his tax return. After that it proceeds in an erratic manner. Homer’s escapades with Burns offer decent amusement, though, and this is a reasonably entertaining show.
Girly Edition (aired 4/19/98): “Bart and Lisa land jobs doing a children’s edition of the evening news. Meanwhile, Homer obtains a monkey helper, Mojo.”
”Girly” takes a clever concept and turns into something more than expected as it digs into the usual Bart/Lisa rivalry. I’m not quite sure why Bart reacts so sadly to Lisa’s comments about his stupidity when “Lisa the Simpson” just delved into the dumbness of the male Simpsons. There’s enough to like here to make the episode fun, though.
Trash of the Titans (aired 4/26/98): “In the 200th episode of the series, Homer becomes the sanitation commissioner for Springfield. His ineptitude pollutes the town and leads to a drastic solution.”
Good guest stars help embellish “Titans”. Steve Martin offers an amusing turn as Homer’s rival, and we get U2 to boot! This one starts well with the cynical “Love Day” – a concept I’m surprised the corporations haven’t pursued – and progresses with many funny moments in its goofy story. This is one of Season Nine’s top programs.
King of the Hill (aired 5/3/98): “Homer attempts to get in shape by eating nutritional bars and working out. Overconfident in his newfound physique, Homer agrees to climb Springfield’s towering Murderhorn.”
Am I the only one who gets hungry when I see the Powersauce bars? They sound tasty! It’s awfully hard to believe Homer would ever have the discipline to get into shape, though. The various elements generate decent laughs but never quite coalesce into anything memorable.
Lost Our Lisa (aired 5/10/98): “Lisa gets lost in a strange part of town and Homer must get her back. Then she and Homer discover an age-old secret.”
I must admit “Lisa” does something unusual: it actually offers moments that spark childhood memories. I can recall what a big deal it was to go on an “adult” bus as a kid, and Lisa’s excitement triggers those recollections. Does it amuse in addition to its evocation of days gone past? To some degree. The show has its moments and that’s about it. I do like the callback to the “khlav kalash” guy from the season’s first episode, though.
Natural Born Kissers (aired 5/17/98): “Homer and Marge discover their waning love life can be spiced up with public make-out sessions. This backfires when they are forced to flee naked across town.”
“Kissers” doesn’t exactly end this package on a strong note. It falls into that vast category of entertaining but forgettable Simpsons episodes. Actually, that was a small domain for quite a while, but as the seasons have mounted, we’ve found more unmemorable episodes like this. “Kissers” boasts a fun premise, but it wears it out and the plot becomes too thin to sustain it.
Unfortunately, the show is pretty typical for Season Nine. I don’t want to slam the year, as it includes a lot of fine material, and even the “duds” still have their moments. However, it represents a moderate decline from prior years and doesn’t show the series at its best. This is a pretty decent season but it rarely shows us The Simpsons on top.