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The Simpsons | The Complete Fourth Season | review | dvd | Lollipop

The Simpsons: The Complete Fourth Season

(20th Century Fox)
by Eric Johnson

Overexposed, and over-hyped, the early Simpsons were plagued by an idiotic merchandising campaign, and a fictitious "ratings war" with The Cosby Show. The writing was weak, inconsistent, and overly focused on Bart's juvenile hijinks.

Thankfully, the show survived it's awkward adolescence and grew into its own during a brilliant fourth season. While each family member got their own episodes, it's Homer who takes his rightful place as the show's central protagonist. Belligerent early Homer evolved into the blissfully ignorant, blundering, scheming, amoral offspring of Fred Flinstone we've all grown to love. His trials and tribulations compose some of the series' greatest moments: Homer's triple bypass, his DUI, his turn as Union Kingpin, monorail conductor, plow king, and heretical religious visionary.

The taut, intelligent dialog rabid fans love to quote ad nauseum made its debut here, in all it's Harvard-bashing glory, as did the snappy pacing so vital to comedy in general and animation in particular. By this time, Springfield was teaming with tertiary characters, Chief Wiggum, Mr. Burns, and dozens of scene-stealing appearances by the late, great Phil Hartman replaced the early obsession with guest stars. Ten years later, it seems pretty clear that the series was decidedly less slapstick than it is now, balancing wit and wackiness with genuine plot lines. Every once in a while, you'd even get some actual emotional warmth, something even the best animated shows have trouble pulling off.

The DVDs have some extra features, the best being the episode commentary because it shows you what weird stuff Matt Groening actually laughs at. I've become a fan of these seasonal DVDs, cuz let's face it: Commercials and week-long waits make it difficult to judge a show on its own merit. In this format, The Simpsons is sharper and considerably better-paced than in syndication, sporting a surprisingly high level of consistency, 22 episodes and not a single stinker. There's really nothing bad I can say about The Complete Fourth Season, considering the fact that this is the season that eclipsed the show's early hype and made it a cult favorite.

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