'The Simpsons: The Complete Eighth Season'


The year was 1997. "The Simpsons" was well into its eighth season, and people were taking to the Internet to discuss how the show wasn't as good as it once was.

Naturally, the show's writers decided to make fun of that idea, giving us "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show," one of the highlights of what was really a pretty strong season for the show, the first under the day-to-day leadership of Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein.

In their commentary on the episode, Weinstein, "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening and writer David X. Cohen are upfront about taking some umbrage at the online criticism (Groening says he always imagines hearing such carps in Comic Book Guy's voice). Groening also reveals that an executive once actually suggested adding another character to "The Simpsons," in the grand (and lame) sitcom tradition of Cousin Oliver on "The Brady Bunch" or the Great Gazoo on "The Flintstones."

Either Groening or Weinstein takes part in every commentary track in this DVD set, which is typically bursting with extra content. Every episode has alternate audio with writers, producers and voice actors -- including the first by Kelsey "Sideshow Bob" Grammer, for "Brother from Another Series" -- as well as deleted scenes and a featurette on the real-life "Simpsons" house that was built outside Las Vegas as part of a FOX contest.

Also enlightening is the "A Bit from the Animators" feature, which appears on several episodes. Groening and several other animators comment on a segment of the episode while doodling on a Telestrator, drawing hats on various characters and pointing out flaws they'd forgotten existed. It's not always the most focused discussion, but it's interesting to hear these professionals talk about their craft.

Other highlights of season eight include "A Milhouse Divided," which sees Milhouse's parents split up; "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment," with "SCTV" alum Dave Thomas doing spot-on work as tough-guy Rex Banner; "Homer's Phobia," with John Waters; and "In Marge We Trust," which features one of the all-time "Simpsons" B-stories of Homer discovering his likeness on a box of Japanese "Mister Sparkle" dish soap.

Fans of "The Simpsons" can, and probably will, keep debating whether the show is as strong as it once was. Evidence in this DVD set, however, would indicate it wasn't during season eight.

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
PRICE: $49.98
TIME: 9 hours, 10 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: Commentary on all episodes, intro by Matt Groening, deleted scenes, illustrated commentary on select episodes, multi-angle animation showcase, original sketches and animatics, "Simpsons House" featurette.

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