The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season

The fifth season of the longest running primetime animated show in history is the most familiar. To any casual Simpsons fan, it's the apex of familiarity, if not creativity, and that's the biggest drawback for this long-awaited DVD set: in the decade since these were made, we've all seen them. A lot. But the Simpsons team fight back with even more vigorous extras, particularly the informative and funny commentary tracks. Creator Matt Groening has sat in on all but two commentaries in five seasons so far; he anchors the teams of writers, directors, co-stars and special guests (Conan O'Brien, Jon Lovitz), who by now very rarely comment on the episode at hand, for the most part choosing to let loose on the season as a whole. The fact that there was some behind-the-scenes tumult means there's dish to dig into: after season four, much of the writing staff moved on, so season five began with a large, inexperienced team of writers who managed to take The Simpsons in new directions. Namely, into space. An episode where Homer becomes an astronaut proved a turning point: it made explicitly clear that the show felt no allegiance to reality; it freed the Simpsons from the till-then restrictive confines of Springfield's city limits; and it opened up the challenge — if Homer's gone to space, what do you do next week? The answer is: whatever they want. Season five aptly demonstrates that The Simpsons is whatever you want: a thriller, a romantic comedy, slapstick, a morality play, a musical. Add to that nearly a half-hour of almost finished deleted animation, and season five seems fresher than it has in years. Plus: art and animatic showcases, looking back with James L. Brooks, commercials, more. (Fox)