The Simpsons: The Complete Second Season appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As the show’s production values rose, so did the quality of the picture for the various episodes. However, Season Two only offered a modest improvement over Season One; for the most part, both years looked a lot alike.
Sharpness appeared generally acceptable, but it could fluctuate quite a lot. Usually the programs looked reasonably distinct and accurate, and close-ups fared best of all. Wider shots seemed decent as a whole, but they often came across as somewhat soft and ill defined. Many edges looked blurry and rough, but the programs lacked the same level of apparent edge enhancement seen on the Season One shows; they looked smoother and didn’t present as many distinct haloes.
Source flaws also caused fewer concerns during Season Two. Occasional specks appeared, but these stayed pretty minor. Overall, the shows seemed fairly clean and lacked many issues.
The Simpsons offered a broad palette, and while the tones didn’t give the best Disney animation a run for their money, they did show improvements over Season One. Colors usually looked somewhat thick and dense, but they appeared reasonably bright and lively much of the time. The hues didn’t dazzle me, and they generally were somewhat muddy compared to better animation, but at least they demonstrated some growth.
Black levels seemed pretty consistent with the older shows. They looked acceptably dark and solid much of the time, but they lacked much depth or force. Shadow detail was similarly erratic, and nighttime shots could be excessively opaque.
Although I felt the Season Two package definitely looked better than did Season One, I didn’t increase my grade very much; it jumped from a “C” to a “C+”. What gives? While the set presented a stronger picture, I also had higher expectations for the product. The Simpsons remained a new, untested property when the Season One shows were created, while it was a certified smash when they made the episodes for Season Two. I expected higher production values and better visuals.
Even with the improvements, I also simply didn’t think they warranted anything higher than a “C+”. Call it a gut thing, but that grade felt right for this set. The DVDs represented the original material well, but The Simpsons remained somewhat crude and rough through its second season.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of The Simpsons remained consistent with the sound heard during the first season, and I regarded that as a good thing. The Season One shows demonstrated surprisingly positive audio, and the programs from Season Two kept up those high standards. Overall, the soundfield maintained a very strong emphasis on the front speakers. Occasionally, the surrounds added some general reinforcement, but they remained passive as a whole; they maintained general ambience and that was about all.
Within the forward domain, the audio seemed pretty lively and active. Admittedly, much of the sound stayed basically monaural. Score and other music demonstrated very nice stereo imaging, and the environmental elements popped up on the sides whenever logical. Because the programs remained dialogue-based overall, the mixes didn’t go nuts, but they added a good sense of space and environment to the presentation.
Audio quality also seemed very good. At times, I noted a little edge to some speech, but usually the lines sounded natural and distinct, and I heard no concerns related to intelligibility. Effects remained a fairly minor part of the mix, but those elements seemed accurate and lively throughout the shows, and they also provided decent bass response when necessary. Music appeared quite bright and rich. From the score to various songs, these elements appeared vivid and dynamic and really came across well. Ultimately, The Simpsons provided a very satisfying auditory experience.
As with the Season One package, The Complete Second Season includes a moderate roster of extras. Most of these appear on DVD Four, but all 22 episodes provide audio commentaries. The crew heard on these varies from show to show. Here’s a listing of the rosters for all 22 episodes:
“Bart Gets an ‘F’”: Series creator/executive producer Matt Groening, series developer/executive producer James L. Brooks, director David Silverman, and executive producers Al Jean and Mike Reiss;
“Simpson and Delilah”: Groening, Jean and writer Jon Vitti;
“Treehouse of Horror”: Groening, Jean, Reiss (acts 1 and 3), Brooks (act 2), writers Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarksy (act 2), and Silverman (act 3);
“Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”: Groening, Jean and Reiss;
“Dancin’ Homer”: Groening, writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs, Reiss and director Mark Kirkland;
“Dead Putting Society”: Groening, writer Jeff Martin; Jean, Reiss, and director Rich Moore;
“Bart vs. Thanksgiving”: Groening, Brooks, writer George Meyer, Reiss, Jean, and director Silverman;
“Bart the Daredevil”: Groening, writers Kogen and Wolodarsky, Jean and Reiss;
“Itchy and Scratchy and Marge”: Groening, Jean, Reiss and director Jim Reardon;
“Bart Gets Hit By a Car”: Groening, Reiss, and director Mark Kirkland;
“One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”: Groening, writer Neil Scovell, Reiss and Jean;
“The Way We Was”: Groening, Brooks, writers Jean and Reiss, and director Silverman;
“Homer vs. Lisa and the Eighth Commandment”: Groening, writer Steve Pepoon, director Rich Moore, Jean and Reiss;
“Principal Charming”: Groening, Reiss, and director Kirkland;
“Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”: Groening, writer Jeff Martin, Jean and Reiss;
“Bart’s Dog Gets an ‘F’”: Groening, writer Vitti, Jean, and director Jim Reardon;
“Old Money”: Groening, writers Kogen and Wolodarsky, Jean and director Silverman;
“Brush with Greatness”: Groening, writer Brian K. Roberts, Jean and director Reardon;
“Lisa’s Substitute”: Groening, writer Vitti, Jean, Reiss, and director Moore;
“The War of the Simpsons”: Groening, Reiss, and director Kirkland;
“Three Men and a Comic Book”: Groening, writer Martin, Jean and Reiss;
“Blood Feud”: Groening, Jean, and director Silverman.
When I wrote about the commentaries included in The Complete First Season, I indicated that they seemed somewhat spotty, and I worried that future commentaries would become even less lively. I needed have felt concerned, for the material presented on these tracks offered a lot of good information. To be certain, some bland moments occurred. At times, the participants did little more than watch and enjoy the programs, and a moderate number of empty spaces appeared.
However, most of the commentaries seemed entertaining and compelling. Scads of good information popped up during these tracks, and they kept me interested from start to finish. We got a mix of trivia and behind the scenes info. The participants covered the Cosby Show controversy and many elements related to the production, and they usually did so with good humor. As with the commentaries heard during the first season, I think that Simpsons diehards will get the most from these tracks, but even casual fans might enjoy them. I know that I had a blast listening to all 22 of them; whatever sags appeared didn’t take away from the fun heard across the board. Despite my concerns, these commentaries seemed superior to those that came along with Season One - can’t wait for Season Three!
Within the “Special Features” domain on DVD Four, we get a number of pieces. The American Music Awards clip provides a painful experience. The 140-second snippet shows two parts of the program, both of which involve Nancy Cartwright as she performs a live-action version of Bart on the show. Bart opens the show, and he also presents an award with country singer K.T. Oslin, who looks like she can’t believe she agreed to do this. The presentation seems hilarious simply because it’s so terrible, a fact noted during the optional audio commentary. The disc doesn’t identify the participants, but I think we heard from Groening, Al Jean, and Ken Levine. Their remarks make the pain even more delightful.
Next we get two music videos from the era. In late 1990, an album called The Simpsons Sing the Blues came out, and it included songs performed by the Simpsons. Both the videos cover Bart tracks. “Deep Deep Trouble” runs four minutes and offers a pretty primitive rap tune. It isn’t much of a song, and it hasn’t aged well, but the video seems moderately entertaining; it also feels like a part of its era, but it’s watchable.
I feel the same way about the second video, “Do the Bartman”. The six-minute video itself has aged better than “Trouble”, but even though Michael Jackson worked on it, the song remains a relic of the period. The tune isn’t terrible, but no one will ever consider it to be a classic.
Both videos can be viewed with optional commentary. “Trouble” includes remarks from Groening and animation director Greg Bansell, who offer a moderately informative but fairly dry track, at least until the end, when the pair discuss shaved heads and beards; they actually continue to chat for a minute past the end of the video!
Consistently more entertaining is the commentary for “Bartman”, which comes from video director Brad Bird and Groening. Bird seems especially eager to chat about the clip, which he states was a very rushed experience. It’s a lively and useful commentary.
Three Butterfinger TV Commercials crop up next. From 1990-91, those appear as one running piece and last a total of 85 seconds; chapter encoding allows us to skip easily between them. They’re a cool archival piece for fans to possess. In a piece of promotional material from the era, director David Silverman discusses the Creation of an Episode. A fairly dry chat, this six-minute and 13-second program covers parts of the making of one segment from “Treehouse of Horror”. The demonstration is quick and fairly basic, but it actually provides a reasonably good look at the rudiments of animation such as storyboards.
Another potentially embarrassing archival clip, the Emmy Awards Presentation comes from September 1990. Unlike the AMA piece, the three-minute snippet features the animated family as they give the award for the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. It’s not particularly entertaining, but at least it doesn’t provide the humiliation seen during the American Music Awards.
Also part of the Season Two publicity materials, we get an Interview With Matt Groening and James L. Brooks. This 10-minute and 14-second piece provides a pretty general chat about the series. It packs a lot of show clips into its brief running time, and the other moments include decent comments, but there’s nothing special on display here.
Art of The Simpsons splits into four different areas. We get storyboards for “Bart Gets an ‘F’” (20 screens) and “Bart vs. Thanksgiving” (four screens). These make a decent addition, but they’re somewhat hard to read due to their moderately small size.
”Early Sketches and Drawings” includes 39 drawings that cover six episodes: “Bart Gets an ‘F’”, “Treehouse of Horror”, “Bart vs. Thanksgiving”, “The Way We Was”, “Old Money” and “Blood Feud”. Most of these show basic character looks, and we also see some test art and model sheets. Most interesting is the depiction of teen Homer from “The Way We Was”; the text commands that “Young Homer is thin! Don’t make him look fat!”
Finally, “Art of The Simpsons” ends with 18 “Magazine Covers”. Many of these address the battle against The Cosby Show, but others deal with a mix of topics. They’re fun to see.
In the Foreign Language Clips area, we can watch the opening of “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish” in five different tongues: French, German, Hungarian, Portuguese, and Spanish. It’s a fairly long clip, as it starts with Bart’s capture of Blinky and goes through the start of the safety inspection at the plant. Most of the re-voicers fail to capture the originals well, though most of the Marges come closer than the rest; I guess Julie Kavner’s rasp translates best, though the Spanish one barely bothers with that tone. However, the German Lisa provides the strongest match of the whole crew, and the Deutschland Burns also sounds pretty good. Of the Barts, only the Spanish one seems decent.
Inside the DVD’s case, we get a funny introductory note from Matt Groening. He provided a similar statement for The Complete First Season. That package also tossed in a booklet with chapter stops and some production comments. I’d bet that The Complete Second Season includes a similar booklet, but alas, my screener copy omitted it. If your retail copy tosses in the text, enjoy it; if not, don’t blame me!
One odd aspect of The Complete Second Season relates to its menus. When you pop any of the four discs in the drive, first you wade through some warning and promo screens. After those, you’ll see a graphic that looks like a spinning wheel, and four different Simpsons characters appear in the corners. However, the wrong heads show up on their bodies. If you hit “enter”, the wheel will spin, and the heads will still end up in the incorrect places. After three clicks, they’ll finally attach to the right bodies, and you’ll get to the disc’s main menu.
Yes, this is annoying, or it would be if Fox made you suffer through it every time you use one of the discs. Happily, they don’t; just hit the “menu” button on your remote and you’ll bypass the gimmick. Really, the spinning heads seem cute and fun as long as they’re not forced upon you, so since you can easily skip them, I think they’re a neat touch.
Season Two of The Simpsons made me the fan I am today, and the shows hold up very well after more than a decade. Most of the programs vary from good to great, and almost no clunkers appear. The DVDs offer decent picture that seems to accurately represent the source material along with very good sound and a nice roster of extras highlighted by fun audio commentaries for all 22 episodes. For Simpsons fans, resistance is futile. Grab this excellent package now and thank me later.
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