Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 5, 2006)
Only four months after the DVD release of Season Six, we get Season Seven of The Simpsons. That’s progress since the first few years came to DVD at a glacial pace. Who knows? Maybe we’ll be up to Season 10 a year from now!
That’s unlikely, but a boy can dream, I suppose. Without any further ado, let’s dig into Season Seven of The Simpsons. Presented in their original broadcast order, I’ll look at each show individually to document the lows, the highs, and the creamy middles. The plot capsules come straight from the DVD’s press release.
Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part Two) (aired 9/17/95): “In the conclusion of the cliffhanger which ended Season Six, we learn the identity of Mr. Burns’ (voiced by Harry Shearer) mysterious assailant. The culprit turns out to be the sweetest little suspect of all.”
Cliffhangers are tricky for dramatic series, but they’re even more difficult for comedies. That causes “Burns” to stumble at times. The episode deals with so many expository bits that it doesn’t always exploit the comedy as well as it should. It finishes the cliffhanger acceptably well but never shines.
Radioactive Man (aired 9/24/95): “A movie based on comic book character Radioactive Man is filmed in Springfield. Much to Bart’s (Nancy Cartwright) chagrin, the coveted part of the hero’s sidekick Fallout Boy goes not to him but to Milhouse (Pamela Hayden).”
Season Seven rebounds from its lackluster start with this episode. While not a classic, it offers more than a few amusing bits, most of them connected to the Hollywood production. Spoofing the movie business isn’t anything new, but the show does it well in this solid program.
Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily (aired 10/1/95): “After a series of misadventures, the Simpson children are put in the custody of Ned (Shearer) and Maude Flanders (maggie Roswell). Learning that none of the children have been baptized, Ned sets up a bargain – which Homer (Dan Castellaneta) and Marge (Julie Kavner) thwart just in time.”
While “Radioactive Man” was good, “Sweet” is even better. Its best elements come from the always-amusing bizarreness of the Flanders home, but Homer and Marge’s classes are also fun. Chalk this one up as Season Seven’s first great episode.
Bart Sells His Soul (aired 10/8/95): “After perpetrating a prank on the First Church of Springfield, Bart sells his soul to Millhouse for five dollars. Bart comes to regret his decision and goes on a desperate quest to regain his soul. In the end, he gets it back with the help of an unexpected source.”
Arguably the worst show of Season Seven, I find only one redeeming element in this episode: the concept that your soul triggers the sensors for automatic doors. Anytime I use something similar – like motion-activated faucets – and they don’t work, I figure this reflects on my lack of soul. Otherwise, “Soul” trips into sappy territory and offers too few laughs. It doesn’t provide the cleverness and zing I expect from the series.
Lisa the Vegetarian (aired 10/15/95): “After a trip to the petting zoo, Lisa (Yeardley Smith) is unable to eat lamb. This exposes her to ridicule and resentment from her father and friends. But with the help from vegetarians such as Apu (Hank Azaria) and Paul and Linda McCartney (themselves), she stays true to her new path.”
With “Vegetarian”, The Simpsons achieves its Beatle hat trick. First Ringo appeared on the show, then George, and now Paul. I like George’s appearance the best, but Paul does fine here, along with the late Lovely Linda. As an aspiring vegetarian myself, I identify with Lisa’s plight, and I like the fact the show doesn’t beat us over the head with its message. It gets in its ideas without being condescending and tosses in many good gags to boot.
Treehouse of Horror VI (aired 10/29/95): “In this annual Halloween-themed trilogy, advertising logos attack Springfield, Groundskeeper Willie (Castellaneta) terrorizes Springfield children in their dreams, and Homer enters a terrifying three-dimensional world.”
“Attack of the 50-Ft. Eyesores” stands as the strongest of the three segments. It doesn’t blast off the screen but it seems imaginative and fun. The Nightmare on Elm Street parody has its moments and comes across as generally entertaining. However, it lacks the bite the best pieces offer. Unfortunately, “Homer3” gives us the weakest of the bunch. It tosses out a few funny bits, but it mostly feels like an excuse to feature some 3-D animation.
King-Size Homer (aired 11/5/95): “Homer gains weight in order to claim a disability and work at home. But then he finds that he cannot fit into his clothes and his life is falling apart – the only thing he is good for is sealing leaks at the nuclear plant with his butt.”
If I ever stop loving the sight of obese fantasy Bart saying “I wash myself with a rag on a stick”, then put me out to pasture. One of the series’ more cynical episodes, “King-Size” pours on the laughs. It’s amusing to see Homer’s pursuit of obesity, and it exploits his idiocy well. It lacks the expected mushiness about the plight of fat folks, though it does make a point about sensitivity in an understated way. It’s an excellent program.
Mother Simpson (aired 11/19/95): “Homer’s mother (Glenn Close), who abandoned him when he was young, returns to the Simpsons. The family learns that she was a radical in the Sixties who fled town after destroying Mr. Burns’ germ warfare lab. Then Homer is dismayed to lose his mother just after being united with her again.”
After the terrific “King-Size”, I suppose a letdown was inevitable. I like the development of Homer’s backstory, but it doesn’t offer one of the series’ funnier episodes. It’s a good one but not anything special.
Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming (aired 11/26/95): “The Simpsons’ nemesis, Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer), returns to threaten Springfield with a nuclear bomb. Then Bob tries to destroy Krusty (Castellaneta) with the Wright Brothers’ plane, but fails yet again.”
Sideshow Bob episodes rarely falter, and “Gleaming” lives up to expectations – mostly. Though it doesn’t compete with the best Bob shows, it has more than a few nice moments. I like the guest spot from R. Lee Ermey – he makes the most of great lines like “I’m gonna corpse you up!” – and this shows bites the hand that feeds it in an amusing manner.
The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular (aired 12/3/95): “Troy McClure (Phil Hartman) hosts this retrospective featuring never-before-seen clips and outtakes from The Simpsons. Troy also answers viewer mail and reveals alternate endings for the ‘Who Shot Mr. Burns?’ cliffhanger.”
A clip show by any other name is still a clip show. “Spectacular” gussies up the concept with some interesting elements, though, and keeps repetitive material to a minimum. Instead, it offers lots of then-unseen footage as well as old snippets from The Tracey Ullman Show. It still feels like a cheap way to crank out a new episode, but it’s one of the better clip shows you’ll see.
Marge Be Not Proud (aired 12/17/95): “The Simpsons go to the local mall to get a family photo taken, but Bart is arrested for shoplifting. His mother’s disappointment in him is extreme and a dismayed Bart desperately tries to win back her respect.”
Despite being one of the sappier episodes at times, “Proud” still packs some terrific laughs. I about lost it when we got Homer’s drawing of a robot grilling a hot dog - it’s funnier if you see it - and Lawrence Tierney’s guest turn as the store detective adds hilarious grit to the show. It doesn’t fall into the “classic” category, but it offers more than enough entertainment to satisfy.
Team Homer (aired 1/7/96): “Homer organizes a bowling team but is forced to include Mr. Burns in order to raise the money for the entry fee. Meanwhile, Bart wears a sassy T-shirt to school, leading Principal Skinner (Shearer) to institute a dress code.”
To my surprise, the dress code plot works the best. I like the mockery of Mad Magazine and the overemphasis on the way it disrupts the educational process. The bowling theme has plenty of nice moments, too, and these add up to a solid show.
Two Bad Neighbors (aired 1/14/96): “Former President George HW Bush (Shearer) buys a home across the street from the Simpsons. Bush takes a disliking to Bart and spanks him, leading to a fistfight between Homer and the 41st president.”
“Neighbors” offers the kind of episode that only The Simpsons could pull off well. The idea of bringing a president to live in Springfield is high-concept to say the least, and it could – and probably should – have bombed. However, the silliness works well and turns this into a great show. Is these much funnier than Bush at Krusty Burger?
Note that “Neighbors” introduces a new running character: Disco Stu. However, I think he should’ve stayed isolated to this one episode. He was funny here but got old quickly.
Scenes from a Class Struggle in Springfield (aired 2/4/96): “Marge buys a Chanel suit at a discount and is invited to join a country club. At the club, Homer discovers that Mr. Burns cheats at golf, while Marge discovers she doesn’t really fit in with upper-class life.”
I don’t know if I accept “Scenes” as being in character for Marge, and it also borrows liberally from The Flintstones, but I like it anyway. The show jabs the idle rich nicely, and I also enjoy Homer’s brush with golf greatness. The program succeeds despite a few problems.
Bart the Fink (aired 2/11/96): “Bart’s attempt to get Krusty’s autograph inadvertently leads to Krusty’s indictment for tax evasion. Krusty fakes his own death but he is tracked down by Bart, who convinces him to return to society.”
If nothing else, “Fink” would be a great show due to the premiere of “Handsome Pete”, an odd character who looks just like Krusty. I also love the “100 tacos for $100” special - though that doesn’t actually seem like a very good deal – the “Pier 1 down by Pier 17” and many other aspects of this show. It’s a winner.
Lisa the Iconoclast (aired 2/18/96): “Lisa discovers that Jebediah Springfield, the founder of her town, was in reality a terrible man. But she decides to keep her findings secret to protect the town’s image of its hero.”
Lisa-centered episodes tend to be preachy, but I suppose that’s inevitable given her character. I like the fact Lisa takes the high road here, though, as she proves she doesn’t always have to be right. Homer’s turn as the town crier brings mirth to a solid show.
Homer the Smithers (aired 2/25/96): “An overworked Smithers (Shearer) takes a vacation and is replaced by Homer. Burns decides he no longer needs Smithers and fires him upon his return. But when Burns falls out a window after a fight between Homer and Smithers, he becomes dependent on his long-time aide again.”
Any doubts about Smithers’ sexuality won’t last long when we see his vacation. Not that we had many anyway, but this episode offers nice exposition for that character. It’s fun to see more about his pampering of Burns, and it’s amusing to watch Homer take over for him. Heck, we even learn that Burns’ mother is still alive – and she had an affair with President Taft!
The Day the Violence Died (aired 3/17/96): “Bart meets Chester J. Lampwick (Kirk Douglas), the actual creator of Itchy and Scratchy. When Lampwick, with Bart and Lisa’s help, wins a suit against the Itchy and Scratchy studios, they are forced to shut down and cease production of their cartoon.”
It’s hard to beat I&S-centered shows, and “Violence” is a hoot. I love Itchy & Scratchy Meet Fritz the Cat, and Shearer’s impression of David Brinkley is great. It’s hard to top the original Itchy cartoon – where else can you see a cartoon mouse kill both an Irishman and Teddy Roosevelt? We find a nice twist; for once, when Bart and Lisa team up to do the right thing, it backfires badly. Add to that a nice guest turn from Kirk Douglas and you have a winner.
A Fish Called Selma (aired 3/24/96): “Actor Troy McClure marries Marge’s sister Selma (Kavner) in order to conceal a peculiar sexual fetish of his from the world. But in the end, she decides she would rather not remain in a loveless union.”
Many will disagree, but I must admit I never cared much for this episode’s Planet of the Apes musical spoof. I suppose it’s clever, but we’ve seen so many parodies of this sort in the past that this one doesn’t dazzle me. Otherwise, this show works fine. It’s nice to get a look at McClure as something other than a one-note character, and Jeff Goldblum’s take on a sleazy agent is terrific.
Bart on the Road (aired 3/31/96): “While spending time with his aunts at the Department of Motor Vehicles, Bart creates a fake driver’s license. He uses it to rent a car and drive to Knoxville, Tennessee, thinking it is still hosting the World’s Fair, and he must be rescued by Lisa and Homer.”
Another terrific show, “Road” flies in all its settings. I love the kids’ experiences at their parents’ jobs, and when they head out of town, the fun continues. Any episode that sends the kids to the site of the 1982 World’s Fair is okay by me.
22 Short Films About Springfield (aired 4/14/96): “In a series of short, interconnected stories featuring various Springfielders, we see Principal Skinner invite Superintendent Chalmers (Azaria) over for dinner, Maggie get locked in a newspaper box, and Nelson the bully (Cartwright) get a taste of his own medicine.”
Sometimes The Simpsons can be a little too clever, and I’d lump “Films” into that category. It wears its pretensions on its sleeve, and it gets to be too self-conscious at times. The show presents decent laughs but doesn’t stand out as a particularly strong episode.
Raging Abe Simpsons and His Grumbling Grandson in “The Curse of the Flying Hellfish” (aired 4/28/96): “Grampa (Castellaneta) reveals that he stands to inherit a small fortune as the last survivor of his old army unit – assuming Mr. Burns dies before he does. Burns and Grampa tussle over the treasure until the US Government arrives on the scene to return it to its true owner.”
Many Grampa episodes tank, but “Hellfish” provides a very notable exception. It’s a lot of fun to see his wartime past, especially since we find precursors of series regulars. I also like the action swing the story takes, as it becomes clever and inventive. This comes out as a terrific show.
Much Apu About Nothing (aired 5/5/96): “Springfield passes an ordinance outlawing illegal immigrants. Apu is worried that he will be deported and tries desperately to pass a citizenship test.”
If any show’s taken a more unusual path to a story about xenophobia, I’ve not seen it. I like the bear scenes, as they’re the show’s most amusing. The parts with the immigrants are also good, especially since they make their point deftly. Add to that the hilarious sound of “American Apu” and this is a strong program.
Homerpalooza (aired 5/19/96): “Homer accompanies popular rock bands around the country, entertaining audiences by catching cannonballs in his stomach. When the show gets to Springfield, however, Homer decides to quit for the sake of his family.”
If you want a picture of popular music circa 1996, “Homerpalooza” offers a good snapshot. The show lands plenty of big acts from that period and integrates them well. The Gen X references can be dated, but it’s still a funny show. Heck, it’s tough to top Marge’s line: “Music is none of my business!”
Summer of 4 Ft. 2 (aired 5/19/96): “The Simpsons rent a summer cottage. Hanging around with a new set of kids, Lisa becomes popular, while Bart is uncool and nerdy. Bart tries to sabotage his sister’s newfound acceptance but fails.”
The series often trumpets how Lisa has no friends, but I don’t understand this. Sure, she’s a brainy nerd, but there are plenty of other brainy nerds at her school. Why isn’t she friends with the dorky kids who worked on the yearbook with her?
Despite that issue, “Summer” is a decent show. I like how it addresses Bart’s resentment of Lisa’s popularity. Granted, it makes him a little too mean, but it’s entertaining. Marge gets the best moment again, as I love watching her non-violent approach to the bumper cars.