The Simpsons: The Complete First Season

The Simpsons: The Complete First Season (1989)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Extras: Audio Commentaries, Documentaries, Unaired Episode, Outtakes, Animatics, and more!

Surely it was only to be a matter of time before this generation’s favorite dysfunctional TV family would find it’s way to DVD in such grand manner. Indeed, creator Matt Groening’s "The Simpsons" has achieved a level of popularity such that many would aspire to but which few could actually achieve. Whether you consider it a latter-day "Flintstones, " complete with moral undertones, a biting satire that takes unrelenting aim at our modern-day social troubles, or an offensive exploitation of youth and the current TV culture through its unabashed irreverence, there’s no denying that "The Simpsons" has made it’s mark, for better or worse. Now, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings the complete first season – 13 episodes – to DVD in a 3-disc box set that is overflowing with more extras than you can shake a pink frosted donut at.

Disc 1 of this set includes the family’s first prime-time full episode, the holiday special "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire." Appearing in a style leaps an bounds beyond their initial renderings from the Tracey Ullman Show shorts, this flagship episode worked not only to test the redesign of the characters but also TV audiences’ acceptance of this cutting-edge style of brutish comedy and familial commentary. Whether as pure escapism or as truth-is-stranger-than-fiction delivery, the show worked. From there, the disc delivers the next five episodes in "Bart the Genius," "Homer’s Odyssey," "There’s No Disgrace Like Home," "Bart the General," and "Moaning Lisa." Disc 2 then picks up with "The Call of the Simpsons," "The Telltale Head", "Life on the Fast Lane," "Homer’s Night Out," "The Crepes of Wrath," and finally with "Krusty Gets Busted."

In all, the thirteen first season episodes effectively establish not only the Simpsons as something of a beleaguered clan (something they recognize and accept as their lot in life), but also fleshed out each character fully enough to draw alignment with individuals in the viewing audience. While Homer’s "D’OH!" exclamation has become part of our pop culture sensibility, it was Bart’s nose-thumbing "eat my shorts," "don’t have a cow, man," and "I’m Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?" that brought the spiky-headed youth to the forefront of the clan – not to mention the marketing onslaught. Regardless how the characters individually or the family as a whole appealed to or antagonized the morals and values of the viewers, the Simpsons quickly became required curriculum for the new-day nuclear family if, for nothing, to simply maintain pace with the gritty 90s attitude.

But "The Simpsons" requires deeper analysis and understanding, each episode overflowing with insight and advice to real families struggling to cope with the fast-paced, high-tech, and coldly impersonal new age. Perhaps an antidote to the hedonistic 80s that brought forth Generations X and Y, a closer look at the Simpsons reveals a troubled family that desperately seeks harmony, enlightenment, and self-acceptance. While the show could have become mired in mere sophomoric shock-value antics a la "South Park," the Simpsons works in its content and comedy thanks to a team of talented writers (led by Groening’s ultimate vision) who skillfully weave a variety of perspectives, attitudes, and beliefs into each episode’s narrative in a way that consistently delivers big on laughs but also touches on social statements that, thankfully, never wallow in melodramatic sadness or self pity. And, yes, though it’s just a cartoon on its base level, I’ve always found much more to enjoy from the series throughout its dozen years on the air.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment presents "The Simpsons – The Complete First Season" in a wonderful transfer that will please all fans, hard-core or casual. Presented in its original <$PS,full frame> 1.33:1 standard format, the episodes have never looked better. The colors are quite vibrant throughout though expect to see inconsistencies from episode to episode (and sometimes scene-to-scene) as color temperature does vary. And, be it blessing or curse of DVD technology, you’ll likely notice some source flecks and shadows that result from the animation process – not overtly so but noticeable all the same. And, I noticed a bit a variation in image sharpness from time to time, edges going somewhat soft then sharpening up in the next scene. It’s clear, then, that this box set wasn’t intended to provide digitally corrected images yet, though the imperfections are to be found, these episodes are still likely to look much better than the syndicated reruns we’ve all been viewing.

The audio comes by way of a newly mixed <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack. Certainly there’s nothing in a Simpsons episode to aggressively exercise the 5.1 capabilities yet the overall ambiance is full and sounds significantly better than the show’s original Dolby 2.0 Surround mix (also available on this disc). Sound effects, simple though they were in this first season, are delivered nicely and the dialog is never difficult to understand. There is also a French Dolby 2.0 Surround mix included for each episode.

When it comes to extras, there’s nothing much dysfunctional in this box set. To begin with, each episode is graced with a <$commentary,audio commentary> that usually includes creator Groening and developer James L. Brooks along with either an episode’s director or writer. Their discussions are genuinely interesting as they fondly recount development ideas, alternate plot lines, and a multitude of hidden in-jokes and sight gags. Simpsons fans will also be glad to find an unaired episode, "Some Enchanted Evening," on Disc 3. Beyond that, the third disc is rife with other goodies such as original outtakes (with commentary), developmental animatics (animated "roughs"), a short BBC documentary ("America’s First Family"), an original short from The Tracey Ullman Show ("Good Night Simpsons"), audio outtakes, "The Art of the Simpsons," foreign language clips, and the script from the "Some Enchanted Evening" episode. Oh, and there’s also a couple of Easter Eggs nestled in all this. Ay caramba!

Without a doubt, this first box set to celebrate the Simpsons succeeds wonderfully. With hours upon hours of entertainment, this is an affordably-priced set that really delivers. Whether you’re a casual viewer or a long-time Simpsons maniac, "The Simpsons – The Complete First Season" is a 3-disc extravaganza that you’re sure to enjoy and will likely whet your appetite for future Simpsons season releases from Fox.