The Simpsons: The Complete Eighth Season

Jesse Hassenger

The Simpsons deals with the serious issues -- repression, crises of faith, and fractured families -- that most sitcoms either ignore or confine to "special" quasi-dramatic episodes.

The Simpsons

Distributor: Fox
Cast: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: The Complete Eighth Season
Network: Fox
US Release Date: 2006-08-15

The Simpsons is firmly established as one of the finest television shows ever produced. Likewise, its full-season DVD collections are models of how to treat fans. Their centerpieces are commentary tracks for every single episode, featuring a wide range of participants: writers, directors, actors, guest stars, and creator Matt Groening, with each season's executive producer/showrunner guiding the proceedings.

As an animated comedy without the ongoing subplots of a Friends or Seinfeld, The Simpsons doesn't appear to be easily analyzed on a season-by-season basis. But for Season Eight, co-showrunner Josh Weinstein (who appears on every commentary, sometimes with his producing partner Bill Oakley) describes a specific creative direction.

The Season Seven set commentaries, also presided over by Weinstein and Oakley, described that their goal was to take the show "back to the family," creating emotionally involving stories about Homer and Marge and their kids. On the new DVD set, Weinstein explains that their goal was to explore the "inner lives" of the show's enormous supporting cast. And so they made episodes that looked into the pasts of upbeat neighbor Ned Flanders ("Hurricane Neddy"), Reverend Lovejoy ("In Marge We Trust"), and the parents of Bart's best friend ("A Milhouse Divided"). The writers take these opportunities to deal with the serious issues -- repression in "Neddy," crises of faith in "Trust," and fractured families in "Divided" -- that most sitcoms either ignore or confine to "special" quasi-dramatic episodes.

But well-used gimmicks have their place, too. Weinstein repeatedly mentions his desire to contribute a handful of format-busting episodes that push "the envelope, conceptually" to each of his seasons. For Season Eight, this means the hallucinatory "El Viaje Misterioso De Nuestro Homer," in which Homer ingests a "Guatemalan insanity pepper" and has a surrealistic vision about finding his soul mate.

While the hallucinations of "Viaje" are outlandish, and its overtones druggy (they seem less druggy after listening to the brainy creative team), the episode remains an uncontroversial fan favorite. Weinstein places another format-bender, "Homer's Enemy," in his "personal top three" Simpsons episodes. In it, Frank Grimes, a new worker at Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, is enraged to discover that a lazy bumbler like Homer Simpson has gone through life without any of the hardships that Grimes has endured (he was critically injured in a silo explosion and lives "above a bowling alley and below another bowling alley"). Some fans despise this episode because they feel that Homer's treatment of Grimes is obnoxious, or that the episode is overly self-referential or turns mean-spirited. The final meta-gag has Homer getting affectionate laughs during Frank Grimes' funeral.

Though the episode remains fascinating for exactly the reasons some fans hate it, the commentary doesn't go far enough in defending its honor. Weinstein and company give due appreciation, and Hank Azaria reveals that he modeled the Grimes voice and attitude -- his "seething passion under total calm" -- on William H. Macy. But the speakers brush off fans' reactions, as they do the nerd backlash against another episode, "The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show," that rejects fanboy entitlement ("They've given you countless hours of entertainment for free," Bart says at one point of the fictional Itchy & Scratchy writers. "What could they possibly owe you?"). I'm not longing for the fans' misgivings to be addressed so much as smacked down.

Despite frequent "entertainment value," the commentary for Season Eight is somewhat less excited, the pauses more frequent than for previous seasons. The show was about to pass its golden years (Seasons Three through Nine); maybe the DVD sets are heading that way, too. Of course, saying that the commentaries in this DVD package aren't as fresh or insightful as earlier season sets is about on par with calling a Season 18 Simpsons episode less hilarious than a Season Eight installment. It is true, but meaningful only for a superfan. For any casual viewer, the Simpsons commentary tracks remain exemplary: intelligent but not self-serious, packed with information but conversational in tone.







Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.