Every time one of “The Simpsons” season box sets comes out I’m like Homer in a doughnut store: “Oooh, I love this one... hey, this one’s good too... mmmmm... doughnuts, er, television...” It’s hard over sixteen years to pick out the show’s best moments and episodes, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say they were somewhere among this, the sixth season of the show.
Among all of the seasons of “The Simpsons” one aspect has truly defined for me how good a season is: the inevitable Halloween, “Treehouse of Horror” episode. These days the “Treehouse” typically marks the start of the season for “The Simpsons”, and although this wasn’t the way it was back in the sixth season that’s usually where I find myself drawn to whenever I pick up one of these sets. Episode flow be damned, I have to get my fix of the “Treehouse” before I watch any of the other episodes. As I said, if the show has moments that stick out above all of the others, it’s in this season as it is in this “Treehouse”, as Homer, Bart, Marge, Lisa, and Maggie spoof on time travel, Soylent Green, and my absolute favorite bit: The Shinning. As Groundskeeper Willie got hacked in the back by an axe in each segment, I knew I was in for a treat with the rest of the episodes in season six as well.
By the time the sixth season hit airwaves the show runners had made a decided change to “The Simpsons”. No longer was Bart the bad boy of the show, instead Homer had become the star focus of each week’s crazy stories. Therefore it’s not a big surprise that some of Homer’s best moments come to life in this season, including selling sex tonic with Grandpa Simpson, replacing Patrick Stewart as the head of The Stonecutters, stealing the gummy Venus De Milo, and enrolling in a Krusty-brand clown college.
Of course not all of the fun is reserved strictly for Homer. The rest of the Simpson family get their chances to shine as well. Bart discovers a comet, gets a girlfriend, and pisses off the people of Australia. Lisa pays tribute to her favorite saxophonist (“Bleeding Gums” Murphy) and finds a new rival in school. Marge discovers the possible career of policewoman, and even Maggie gets in the act when we see her speak her first word. In between we get glimpses of both the Simpson’s past with the birth of Maggie (“Do it for her”) and future as Lisa plans her wedding.
Of course what’s a season of "The Simpsons" without guest stars and movie parodies, both of which season six has in spades. As I previously mentioned, Patrick Stewart appears as the head of the Stonecutters (referred to as Number one), Dennis Franz plays the movie version of Homer Simpson (making fun of made for tv movies), and fan favorite Kelsey Grammar appears in what is unfortunately one of the weakest Sideshow Bob appearances in the series history (hey, there have to be some downsides in there somewhere), which acts as a parody of Bob Roberts. There’s even an appearance by my personal hero, movie critic Jay Sherman, who stops by for the Springfield Movie Festival. Other parodies include the infamous Beauty and the Beastesque number, “See My Vests” and ”The Simpsons” version of the most famous TV cliffhanger of all time: Who Shot Mr. Burns?
Maybe this sounds less like a review and more like a commercial of everything that falls into the sixth season. So sue me. I love “The Simpsons”. I’ll admit that in recent years they may have gotten weaker from time to time, but there is still a lot of good in there, and even when the newer episodes don’t pull through there are older seasons to look to for comfort. No matter how many times I watch it, classics like “Two Dozen and One Greyhounds” and “Itchy and Scratchy Land” will never lose their humor, and of course, there’s always that good old “Treehouse of Horror”.
The most visible difference about this season of “The Simpsons” on DVD is so obvious I’d have to be a fool not to talk about it first. It’s something so traumatic to some people, it has split the fanbase, allowing “The Simpsons” yet another target to dig at: its own audience and collectors. Of course I’m talking about the new packaging the set is contained in.
Unlike the first five seasons of the show, this is not a box set featuring the family on the couch on the cover. Instead the case itself is a plastic case in the shape of Homer’s head. Fox has already announced the next four seasons will follow this model in the shape of the other family’s heads. Frankly, this was a change that I was okay with. While I like consistency, at the same time I wasn’t crazy about sixteen-plus boxes of couches on my shelf when all was said and done with the series. If the folks over at Fox want to change it up every five seasons, I’m totally fine with that.
What I’m not fine with is the final execution of this packaging, which is made of cheap flimsy plastic that’s hard to get open, not the softer plastic clamshell material I was expecting. The head is hard to get into, and requires a clear plastic sleeve that goes around the head to keep it standing vertically on your shelf. Inside is a cardboard case also shaped like Homer’s head that actually holds the jewel cases inside, which are connected to the cardboard with rubber cement. It’s just not the highest quality set out there, and a poor execution of what I was hoping for when Fox first announced this. In their ultimate wisdom however, it would appear Fox anticipated this. Although it wasn’t in our screener, rumor has it Fox has included a card in the Homer packaging that provides unhappy collectors with a number they can call to order a package or slip cover that is closer to the previous sets. Of course, the card also takes a few pot shots at those “who fear change”.
As for the actual discs themselves, they are put together with the typical brilliance usually associated with these DVD sets. The discs have a “Who Shot Mr. Burns” theme to them, featuring characters from each episode on the disc in a line up on the main menu screen, and other murder style theming on other menus (including Clancy Wiggum looking at the contents of his desk under a magnifying glass).
The episodes then each contain commentary from writers, directors, actors, and of course, Matt Groening himself. You’d think by the sixth set the cast and crew would be tired of talking about these episodes by now, but they only seem to have gotten more comfortable with the idea of talking about the episodes, and events that occurred around them (an earthquake is a big topic for the first few episodes). The only real disappointment for me with the commentary was the episode that Dan Castellaneta introduces himself as Homer using his Homer voice. I have to admit I hoped Castellaneta would do the commentary as Homer, but alas, no such luck.
Other bonus material on the set include animatics for some episodes, a confession from Groening that the sixth season is his favorite (admitted right after he confesses that all the seasons really blend together to him) and branching deleted scenes on some episodes, which are also available all together on the last disc. Also of note is the “America’s Most Wanted” spoof “Springfield’s Most Wanted”, created to build excitement about the “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” cliffhanger. I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of this, because I remember it was pre-empted for football when it actually aired on television in my area, but I also seem to remember it being something more appropriate for the second part of the cliffhanger, which will be included in the seventh season set.
Packaging issues aside, and really those are subject to personal taste and obsessive compulsive behavior, the sixth season set of “The Simpsons” does nothing to disappoint fans of the previous five sets. If anything it’s a stronger set than the others, if only because it contains some of the best episodes the show has ever come up with. Of course, saying these are my favorites is like picking a doughnut with sprinkles over a jelly filled one. They’re all doughnuts, and they’re all good.