The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season

How can the new DVD release of one of The Simpsons’ worst seasons yet on disc be of great interest and importance? When it brings back from the dead "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson,” the 1997 season opener that prominently featured the World Trade Towers; the episode was pulled from syndication after 9/11 and has yet to return. It’s one of the strongest entries in a season that celebrated the show’s 200th episode. (They passed number 400 last season, to keep it all in perspective.) Sadly, despite a couple of other highs (actually middles — they look better against this season’s weak competition) like "Trash of the Titans” (featuring U2 in an episode where Homer becomes Sanitation Commissioner) or "Girly Edition,” co-starring helper monkey Mojo, season nine includes some truly weak fare. The fact that only two people show up to do commentary on "Simpson Tide” (where Homer joins the Navy), the lowest number for the whole series so far, is telling for everyone but Al Jean and Mike Reiss, who seem to think even the episode’s most convoluted plot machinations are hilarious. Apu gets married, Homer gets a gun, Marge sells real estate — syndication overexposure makes all these seem "memorable,” if only because we vaguely remember them. But where the first half-dozen seasons were so densely packed that memorable lines and situations were often far from the primary action, increasingly the show struggles with a B storyline. But credit is due to the DVD producers — in nine seasons, their commitment hasn’t waned, particularly on the oft-hilarious gang commentaries. (Hearing voice talent Yeardley Smith, who plays Lisa, giggle in a slight variation of her character remains infinitely charming.) Many of the extras are animation-oriented, like sketch showcases and unfinished deleted scenes, while "behind the scenes” stories are relegated for the most part to commentary tracks. I’d like to hear a little more brash honesty about some mediocre dreck that’s started to seep into the creative groundwater but it’s hard to argue against the ongoing enthusiasm its stalwart creators still have for the show. Plus: postcards, commercials, more. (Fox)