The Simpsons: Season 1

Whether you like them, you don’t, you’ve jumped on the backlash bandwagon, or you worship at a shrine in their honor, you can’t deny that The Simpsons has been one of the most influential, most quoted, most memorable and most watched TV series of all time. Their brilliant satire on family, society and pop culture has evolved and changed over time in many ways, but Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie (not to mention a supporting cast of hundreds) are as stable and steadfast as the Rock of Gibraltar. The grunt “D’oh!” is now in the official dictionary, thousands of Simpsons merchandise has been produced and sold worldwide, and the show has been blessed with numerous awards and accolades.

Let’s go back to see how it all began, then.

It’s 1989. The Berlin Wall has fallen and PoolMan has turned 13 years old, while Kyle’s at a pre-pubescent 10. MRFH itself is a mere eight years away from starting up. Out of a series of crudely drawn cartoon shorts on the Tracey Ullman Show, Fox creates a brand new prime-time animated series called The Simpsons. The first show, a pilot lacking the proper title sequence, introduces us to the jerky and dysfunctional Simpsons family as they try to keep Christmas from going in the gutter.

Season One, a mere 13-show “half” season, is basic. It’s not the Simpsons we know and love today, or even knew and loved back in 1992. The drawings and animations were still being worked out (check out one episode where Smithers was accidentally shaded black, or another one where a kid is drawn with only a head and no body), few supporting cast characters were in place, nobody had their characters’ personalities figured out quite right, and even quite a few of the voices were different. And I haven’t even mentioned Season One’s glacier pacing, a universe of difference from the fast jokes and fast cuts of today’s episodes.

If Season One of the Simpsons had a theme, it would most likely be “family problems”. The show took itself a LOT more seriously back then, with Homer as a more menacing and abusive father and the family going to pieces over everything. There was even one episode, “There’s No Disgrace Like Home”, where a psychiatrist tries to hammer out the family’s issues. You get the feeling that this is a suffering family, as Lisa spends an episode severely depressed, Bart gets shipped off to a forced labor vineyard, and Marge flirts with the idea of adultery. Yet, Season One was much more grounded in “real” issues and stories, working the comedy around them (verses the more fantastical plots of later seasons where comedy always took precedence over drama), and there’s a camp of Simpsons followers that pine for this era. They’re incredibly naive, but we put up with them anyway.

So what are the highlights? Since I remember actually watching the Simpsons Christmas special when it first aired, it’s had a soft place in my heart (Santa’s Little Helper’s backstory is a sweet one, too). Homer gets his first moonlighting job as a safety protestor in “Homer’s Odyssey”, setting the stage for numerous second jobs in the future. “The Call of the Simpsons”, where the family gets stranded in the woods and has a series of very wacky adventures, is some of the strongest comedy of the season and hints at the pure potential of the combined Simpsons stupidity and hardiness. “Krusty Gets Busted” shifts the episode’s focus somewhat to a supporting character that would quickly become one of the strongest series staples, and also introduces the long running fued between Sideshow Bob and Bart.

But to be honest, this wasn’t the greatest of seasons. The laughs aren’t constant, the groundwork is still being laid out, and several of the stories left many viewers disenchanted. I really dislike Homer’s voice in the first couple seasons (Dan Castellaneta was still figuring that one out), and the series relied heavily on the antics of Bart and his “outrageous” behavior for its notoriety (which became very tame later on as South Park’s raunchiness made any of Bart’s actions seem bland in comparison).

So why should you get the Simpsons Season One DVD set? Well, while I can’t recommend it hands-down (my hands are otherwise engaged in a wrestling match with a stuck gummy bear), the presentation and options are terrific. I strongly recommend listening to the audio commentary by Matt Groening and the other writers/directors for each episode, as they wince and hem and haw through the roughness of this first season. Feast your eyes, also, on an early Simpsons animation test, where the studios did such a horrible job creating the look that the show almost got canned before it began.

But ultimately, this package is pretty much for the die hard Simpsons fan who must collect all 245 seasons of the Simpsons. Not that that would make you the Comic Book Guy or anything.

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