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Before animated shows like South Park and Family Guy were shocking audiences around the world with their sometimes raunchy style of humour, The Simpsons was the program that had parents and teachers up in arms. Despite being aired in a primetime time slot on FOX, the general consensus was that because it was a cartoon, it was intended to be a children’s program. Whatever the case may be, The Simpsons had gained significant momentum in its popularity throughout its first four seasons broadcast on television. The Simpsons even garnered multiple Emmy nominations in those first seasons, including several wins.

Season five of The Simpsons would premiere in the Fall of 1993 with internal rumblings of the shows potential demise; the only returning writer from the previous season was Conan O’Brien, and long-time show-runner Al Jean was now working on another FOX animated show, The Critic. Amongst the thoughts of disaster this season arguably contains the most consistently funny shows from episode to episode, including some all-time classics to boot.

Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season, The
For those unfamiliar with the series, The Simpsons is an animated show about a family of five: Homer and Marge together have three children named Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. They reside in Springfield (otherwise known as Anytown, U.S.A) and are accompanied by an intricate, vast cast of supporting characters. The Simpsons premiered season five with a pseudo-parody of The Beatles story, entitled Homer’s Barbershop Quartet. This story follows Homer, Principle Skinner, Apu, and Barney around the country in their whirlwind success as a musical group. The episode even includes a guest-star appearance from Beatle George Harrison. Like many episodes, this one finds many of its biggest laughs in the details, such as Homer at a flea market discarding renowned antiques (such as upside-down airplane stamps, and Action Comics #1- Superman’s first appearance) as junk. Another common element of the show this episode magnifies is the writers common practice of doing a parody of popular culture, in this case the music industry. If parody is truly the most sincere form of praise, then the writers of The Simpsons do some serious butt-kissing in season five.  

Perhaps the one thing that is most popular amongst enthusiasts of The Simpsons are the Halloween episodes. In The Treehouse of Horror IV, we are treated to three shorts occurring in the duration of a single episode, whose events essentially take place outside of the reality of the show. The first short has Homer so desperate for a donut that he sells his soul to Satan (who just happens to be church-geek Ned Flanders). Next is a parody of a Twilight Zone episode in which Bart sees a gremlin outside of his school bus attempting to sabotage the wheels. Finally is a parody of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (which Francis Ford Coppola made into a film in 1992) in which the Simpsons visit Mr. Burns’ castle in Pennsylvania (cue spooky voice). Mr. Burns of course is actually a vampire in the episode, which leads to a member of the family being bit. While I wouldn’t say this edition of The Treehouse of Horror is the best, it is certainly a very good episode with a great mixture of parody and outlandish humour.

Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season, The
A fixture of the style of comedy found in virtually every episode of The Simpsons are movie parodies. From The Godfather to The Graduate to It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad...World, you can’t watch an episode without bumping into some kind of movie spoof.  In The Boy Who Knew Too Much alone there are parodies of at least four movies. First and foremost the title is a play on the Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much. Also in the episode, Skinner’s pursuit of Bart skipping school is very reminiscent of Principle Rooney chasing Ferris Beuler in Ferris Beuler’s Day Off; throw in Skinner appearing almost as invulnerable as the machine in The Terminator, and you have yet another movie parody. One final one that I’ll mention from this episode that DVD enthusiasts will find clever, is the parody of Director’s Cut versions of films, in which Homer watches the “Director’s Cut” of Free Willy in which the boy is crushed by the whale. Considering the extended or director’s editions of films weren’t nearly as common in 1994 as they are in 2004, perhaps The Simpsons were a bit ahead of their time in that respect.

What separates The Simpsons from other brainless comedies is that underneath the over-the top humour, there is always some kind of satire being expressed. Whether it be the treatment of the elderly or the shortcomings of democracy, the writers of The Simpsons always have something to say. One of the ingenious components of the humour of The Simpsons is that its value appreciates as time goes on. The references to popular culture are vast in each and every episode and the more ones knowledge grows in this area, the better the episodes become.

Season five garnered commercial and critical success for the creative team by The Simpsons, earning two Emmy nominations. The show also embarked on a huge milestone, hitting its 100th episode. Season five is also the point in which the series starts going in a different direction. It’s in this season where the focus of the show begins its shift away from the exploits of Bart, and more towards those of Homer. Where in previous seasons the spotlight was more on Bart, at this point it’s about 50-50.

Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season, The
Season five of The Simpsons is presented in a 1:33:1 aspect ratio, otherwise known as full frame. While I did notice a couple instances of colour bleeding it isn’t anywhere close to being a common issue throughout the four discs of the set. The real issue with the video quality lies in artefacts from the original production of the animation. The transfer is so faithful to the original animation cells that it magnifies these artefacts, which do deter from the overall calibre of the season in terms of its video quality. For example, some of the cells clearly have some smudging which makes the colours seem dull and washed. Also, instances of crudely drawn lines in the animation are again held under a microscope because of the quality of the transfer. This set of The Simpsons suffers from very few technical issues, which results in the shortcomings of the picture quality.

While it may sound as though the picture isn’t anything to write home about, the picture quality is generally good in season five. I would put in on the same level as the season four release, and definitely an improvement over seasons one through three. When the animation is not suffering from production artefacts the colours are very fresh.

In addition to French and Spanish Surround tracks, The Simpsons is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital in English. Like most TV on DVD releases, it is generally the front speakers that get a workout in the episodes. The sub almost never is used, and the rear channels get their best showcase in musical numbers such as Springfield, Springfield and Who Needs a Kwiki-Mart. Overall the sound is generally very clear, with only a couple slight instances of distortion. Ultimately it’s nothing to make a fuss over, and there’s a chance that you may not even notice it. On Sweet Skinner’s Baaadssss Song there are multiple foreign language audio options including Italian, Polish, Hungarian and Czechoslovakian. What’s the point of including these foreign languages? Perhaps it’s because they’re included on the 100th episode of the series, and it shows how many languages the show has been translated in as a measure of success. Or it could just be a way to amuse inebriated college students.

Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season, The
Where to begin? The best place is the audio commentaries which are featured on all twenty two episodes. The commitment that the creative team behind The Simpsons has to this show is augmented in their insistence on having commentaries on all of their episodes; this is even more apparent as the show’s creator, Matt Groening, appears on 101 out 103 of The Simpsons episodes available on DVD. The main contributors to the commentaries are usually Groening along with the director and writers of that particular episode, even a couple tracks that have Conan O’Brien on them. In addition, there are several commentaries which also include voice talents from the show such as Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson), Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson, Barney, Krusty, Grandpa, etc), and Hank Azaria (Moe, Chief Wiggum, Apu, and a tirade of others). We’re even treated to one track with Jon Lovitz (a frequent guest star on the show, who is known best for his work on The Critic and Saturday Night Live). While many commentary tracks for television shows that feature writers and directors come off dry (like those on the Seinfeld sets) the enthusiasm and light-heartedness of these tracks just make them very enjoyable. Those participating are always quick to poke fun at their work and each other, all while praising each other as well; the humour on the commentaries is very similar to that in the show, particularly when the voice talents decide to talk in character. The dilemma that the creative team faced once Conan was hired as the host of NBC’s Late Night is documented throughout the first couple discs of episodes, and is a very interesting tale to hear unfold.

Each disc is coupled with interactive menus that put us in various environments in Springfield including the Kwiki-Mart and the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. One issue that has plagued sets of The Simpsons in previous releases is the menu navigation system: fortunately this problem is almost entirely dormant in season five. Options for each episode and the extras are well laid out and are easily accessible. The one issue I have with the menu system has to do with the deleted scenes. The thing that may turn some people of is that the deleted scenes are on one play option on the fourth disc; on the bright side you can skip from scene to scene throughout the track. Speaking of deleted scenes, they are also playable within each episode. There is a mix of really good and really poor cuts from the shows the pop up here, with my favourite being a cut scene from $pringfield where Homer is a blackjack dealer in a game between James Bond and an evil crime boss, with Odd Job waiting in the wings. Also playable within some episodes are animation showcases and original sketches from their corresponding episodes. If you are one who is interested in the production process of animation, then this is an extra that you cannot miss.

Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season, The
Rounding out the set are some commercials and a couple segments in which Matt Groening and executive producer James Brooks briefly examine the season. These aren’t anything that the casual viewer would necessarily like, but the die-hard’s might get a kick out of the Butterfinger commercials. Overall it’s another impressive job done on the extras for a DVD release of The Simpsons. They continue to sustain the level of quality extras that they’ve been offering since they started releasing season sets.

I was as shocked as anyone was when season five of The Simpsons was announced for a mid December release, making it the second DVD release of the series in one year. After being used to receiving only delays and set-backs in seasons one through three being released, the pacing that 2004 brings is a breath of fresh air for the series. Fortunately, FOX has not disappointed in their set. The extras are very comprehensive and are worthy of repeat viewing, a rare quality in any DVD release. Keeping pace with their other releases of The Simpsons, the bar is set yet again by the series by having audio commentaries on every single episode in the set. Not only that, but the episodes are among the best in the entire fifteen year run of the show. Outrageous comedy containing layer upon layer of satire and parody are the ingredients to this fantastic season. If you haven’t done so already, go out and grab season five of The Simpsons. It’s the best TV on DVD release of 2004, and the price isn’t bad at all. Hopefully the pace of two seasons per year will continue in 2006. Season six has my favourite Treehouse of Horror episode (which include Homer making a time machine out of a toaster), in addition to the famous Who Shot Mr. Burns? story which spanned from season six into season seven.