The Simpsons: The Complete Eighth Season

I’ve been a Simpsons fan the entire life of the show, and so I’ve contributed a verse or two to the annual singing of "it sucks this year; it’s not as good as it used to be.” And since I remember that song gaining strength amongst acolytes around the time this eighth season began, I assumed of course that we were right — this is when the show wasn’t as good as at its height (seasons three through six). But a funny thing happened on the way to this review: I checked out (and jogged my memory of) this 1996 to ’97 season and discovered not only a slew of classic episodes but almost no "duds.” I admit that familiarity has tainted initial impressions of these episodes but only the grumpiest Simpsons cynic (wait, are there other kinds?) would argue against the merits of: Homer moves the family to work at Globex, owned by a Bond-esque super villain; Bart gets a job at Springfield burlesque house La Maison Derriere; Milhouse’s parents divorce; Lisa dates Nelson; and Homer goes on a hot chilli-inspired vision quest and meets a coyote voiced by Johnny Cash. For my money, few beat that last one — "El Viaja Misterioso De Nuestro Jomer” — but season eight doesn’t skimp on celebrity guests in the least. Sure, some of them are dated (Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny as their X-Files characters) or arguably played out (Sideshow Bob’s Kelsey Grammar joined by Frasier-starring brother David Hyde Pierce), but when a season features John Waters in an episode involving a gay steel mill, no one can make a case to me that this show sucks. In the DVD world, Matt Groening continues his dedication by appearing on another 22 episode commentaries, luckily livened up by a new generation of show runners, directors and writers a little less burnt out by the show (then) or by doing commentaries (now). Deleted scenes, animatics showcases and a feature on the real Simpsons house built in Vegas flesh out the excellent package. And how can you go wrong with the season that introduced the world to Frank Grimes? (Fox)