The Simpsons: Season 8
August 22, 2006
Mike B. Anderson, Jim Reardon, Steven Dean Moore, Bob Anderson, ,
Starring: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Pamela Hayden, Maggie Roswell,
The eighth season of The Simpsons saw the show maintain its consistent ability to satirize all aspects of popular culture while also tackling serious issues like homophobia in an entertaining and engaging way. As usual, a host of famous guest star voices graced this season, including Willem Dafoe, Tim Conway, Jack Lemmon and Johnny Cash.
In “In You Only Move Twice” Homer gets a lucrative offer to work for a new corporation known as Globex. His boss Hank Scorpio (voiced by Albert Brooks) appears to be an enthusiastically friendly Bill Gates type but we soon find out that he’s a power hungry millionaire. At first, the new town that the Simpsons move to seems like a perfect utopia but maybe it’s a little too perfect. Bart is relegated to the special education class because of his learning problems; Marge’s perfect, self-cleaning house renders her obsolete, leaving her time to develop a drinking problem; while Lisa’s idyllic romp though the neighbouring forest sets off her allergies. It turns out that Scorpio is threatening the world with a doomsday device and even dispatches a James Bond type with Homer’s help (and an amusing homage to Goldfinger). In a nice touch that the show is famous for, the episode even ends with a faux Bond theme song.
“The Springfield Files” has Homer see an alien late one night on the way home from Moe’s Bar after one too many bottles of Red Tick Beer (secret ingredient: “Hmm, needs more dog.”). Of course, no one believes him and FBI agents Mulder and Scully (voiced by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson no less) are called in to investigate. There are some spot-on parodies in this episode as it is introduced by Leonard Nimoy in what is clearly a nod to his ‘70s documentary T.V. show about all things strange and unusual, In Search Of… Best of all, the episode is an excellent parody of The X-Files with Duchovny and Anderson gamely making fun of their humourless characters while taking sly pokes at the likes of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Star Wars (1977) and The Shining (1980). Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) also gets referenced twice with the infamous Devil’s Tower appearing on the cover of Lisa’s copy of Junior Skeptic magazine and the famous musical notes used to greet the aliens in the movie played by a minor character at one point.
Cult filmmaker John Waters guest stars in “Homer’s Phobia” where Homer begins to suspect that Bart is gay. John operates a shop that buys and sells retro toys and knick-knacks of popular culture and introduces the concepts of “camp” and “kitsch” to the Simpson clan. Homer ends up inviting John over to their house and the shop owner finds himself in Americana heaven, especially when he goes through their trashy vinyl collection. Bart digs that John likes Itchy & Scratchy maybe more than Lisa and he does but when Homer learns that the shop owner is gay, he freaks out. The show proceeds to use comedy and satire to illustrate how stupid homophobia is. Waters is his usual irrepressible self and he even alludes to a secret relationship with Smithers which is a priceless throwaway gag. Home tries all kinds of stupid things to keep Barton on the straight and narrow, like taking him hunting with Moe and Barney, but the trip is a bust. The episode ends with a great verbal punchline from John: “Well, Homer, I won your respect and all I had to do was save your life. Now if every gay man could just do the same, you’d be set.”
“The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase” is hosted by hack actor Troy McClure (voiced by the late great Phil Hartman) and pokes fun at the notion of T.V. spin-offs that showcase supporting characters in starring roles. And so we get Wiggum, P.I. with the inept Chief Wiggum as a private investigator after being fired from the Springfield police department (now there’s a shocker). Principal Skinner is along for the ride as his sidekick. The show’s opening credits cleverly reference Miami Vice and mostly Magnum P.I. The next segment features Moe getting his own sitcom complete with a laugh track as he befriends a love tester machine possessed by the spirit of Abe Simpson. This segment has its moments but isn’t as funny as it could have been. The last show is the Simpsons’ Variety Hour with Lisa being recast (a jab at Roseanne perhaps?) and song and dance numbers done in the same vein like the Osmonds and the Brady Bunch. There are even goofy sketches with canned laughter and applause.
There are audio commentaries for every episode with staff writers, directors, cast members and some of the guest voice stars. One highlight is the commentary for “Homer’s Phobia” by Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Ron Hauge, Steve Tompkins and John Waters. Many of the staff members are long-time fans of Waters’ movies with a couple of them growing up in the director’s home town of Baltimore. Waters loved how he was drawn, in particular, given more hair and a wavy moustache and that he had finally become a caricature. Waters recounts his experiences doing the show and conveys how much he enjoyed it. This is a fun and entertaining track.
However, not all guest star commentaries are as good. On “The Brother from Another Series” with Groening, Weinstein, Ken Keeler, Pete Michels and Kelsey Grammer, there are several lulls in between comments. Not surprisingly, the writers were inspired by Frasier and wanted to write a Sideshow Bob episode with an opportunity to feature Grammer’s co-star David Hyde Pierce as his brother Cecil. The commentators tend to get caught up watching the episode while occasionally poking fun at the fan reaction to it. Grammer talks about how he gets into the character and what inspired the cadence of the voice and so on.
Also included are deleted scenes for 21 episodes with optional commentary.
There is a commentary by a few of the animators on four episodes and the occasional look at multiple stages of animation for an episode. To compliment this is a sketch gallery.
“The Simpsons House.” 20th Century Fox actually built a real replica of the Simpsons house in Las Vegas. Blueprints for the house were drawn up by watching various episodes. It looks the same but a little narrow in width but every detail was taken from the show and recreated.
Finally, there are a few promos for the show featuring Matt Groening showing how easy it is to draw the characters from the show.