Complete Third Season
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Reviewed by Jamey Codding
uick, what’s the longest-running sitcom on television today? No, it’s not “Friends.” Nope, not “Frasier” either. “The Drew Carey Show” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” aren’t even close.
Well, since you’re reading a review of “The Simpsons: The Complete Third Season” DVD set, the answer should be pretty obvious. After first premiering in animated vignettes on “The Tracy Ullman Show” in 1987, Fox gave America’s favorite dysfunctional family their own series in 1989. Fourteen years later, “The Simpsons” holds seniority over all of its contemporaries and in another year, the series will surpass "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet" as the longest-running sitcom in television history.
If you’ve followed the Simpson clan since that first appearance in 1987, you’ll absolutely love this third season set, featuring 24 episodes and loads of bonus features on four DVDs. As is the case with all these TV series compilations, the real attraction here is the original season-three episodes, which many rank as some of the best in the history of this animated series. Some personal favorites include “Bart the Murderer,” “Homer Defined,” “Saturdays of Thunder” and “Homer at the Bat,” but in all honesty you won’t find a single dud in this lineup.
Of course, one of the unavoidable quirks with any cartoon series is the characters don’t age as the series progresses, but with these DVDs you can at least see how the appearances and voices of certain characters have evolved over the years. Sure, Homer, Bart, Marge, Lisa and Maggie haven’t changed much since these episodes originally aired, but throw in one of these discs and you’ll witness firsthand how secondary players like Chief Wiggum and Nelson Muntz have been fine-tuned by the animators and voice talent.
Aside from the two dozen episodes, though, there are more than enough special features on this set to keep you busy for weeks. Creator Matt Groening is joined by various writers, actors and directors for audio commentary on every single episode, divulging some juicy inside info on their ongoing censorship battles with Fox execs while revealing a few nuggets that slid past the network censors. They also, of course, uncover dozens of jokes and one-liners that likely flew under your radar upon first viewing. The commentary for “Homer at the Bat” and “Treehouse of Horror II” was particularly interesting, with the cast and crew discussing the “joys” of working with Jose Canseco and also the tremendous amount of extra work that goes into the famous annual Halloween episode.
Storyboards are included on four episodes, demonstrating just how complex the creation process is. In fact, we learn that each show generally takes about nine months to complete, and when you see that one episode alone was molded from 200-plus pages of storyboards, you’ll understand why. Groening’s included storyboard notes are rather revealing as he constantly reminds the animators to avoid overly “cartoonish behavior” and “cartoony gestures,” trying to inject as much realism as possible into his animated universe. Unfortunately, if you choose to view these storyboards with episode audio rather than as a simple gallery, you won’t have enough time to read through Groening’s notes, but this feature is cool nonetheless.
You’ll also find scene-specific sketches for 10 different episodes. This too is a nifty little feature. As you’re watching one of the select episodes, an icon appears on your screen whenever a particular scene has included sketches. Hitting “enter” allows you to scroll through the various sketches for that scene before returning to the episode. While you’ll enjoy these drawings, you’ll probably grow weary of the way this feature, and most of the others for that matter, is laid out. Unlike the storyboards, you can’t simply flip through an episode’s available sketches in gallery form. Instead, you have to watch your screen intently for the icon to pop up, and then you can only view those specific sketches.
In fact, the awkward arrangement of the majority of the special features represents this set’s biggest flaw. There’s no list that highlights exactly which episodes feature the storyboards or the sketches, which means you have to go into each individual show’s menu to find what you’re looking for. And while the box announces the inclusion of “Pop-Up Bonus Trivia,” this enjoyable feature is sadly only included on “Uncle Homer.” But again, you won’t know that unless you access the individual episode menus. And speaking of the box, we’re also promised “audio outtakes from cast and guest stars,” but, despite my best detective work, I couldn’t find this feature on any of the four DVDs. I’m sure it’s in there somewhere, but the compilation’s structure once again gets in the way.
Overall, though, this is a tremendous collection that any fan of “The Simpsons” will thoroughly enjoy, with guest appearances from Joe Mantegna, Danny DeVito, Magic Johnson, Aerosmith, Roger Clemens and the late Phil Hartman only adding to the appeal. And for the true die-hards, Fox has even included five Butterfinger commercials (remember those?) and footage from Bart’s appearance in the 1991 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, complete with the customary cheesy Macy’s commentary. The set-up could be much more user-friendly but this four-disc set is still an exceptional buy.