The Simpsons: Season Five
with Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright, Harry Shearer
Created by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon
(20th Century Fox)
by Eric Johnson
With its inevitable late ’90s shark jump nowhere in sight, The Simpsons fifth season barreled ahead into the series’ golden years, delivering some of the finest episodes in the show’s history. With the absurd media spotlight that plagued the first three seasons firmly focused elsewhere, the writers could kick back and let the high weirdness roll in a show quickly developing cult status. While the whole family got its time in the spotlight, this season remains wisely centered on Homer and his hijinks in space, adult ed, India, college, and a brief flirtation with infidelity. The unexpected protagonist this time around is Springfield’s token billionaire and industrial monster, Mr. Burns. The nigh-immortal Burns, complete with stilted nineteenth century dialog, impotent upper body strength, and contrived schemes for exploiting the common man turns out to have a soft spot for Teddy Bears, a paternal streak, and a disturbingly Howard Hughes-esque transformation into a germ phobic centurion recluse.
The Teddy Bear episode is particularly brilliant, exploring his love for Bobo, the slightly cursed moldy plush toy abandoned during his childhood which stumbles through history, witnessing the fall of Adolf Hitler in its inexorable journey toward a bag of ice in the Quicky-Mart freezer, and ultimately the arms of one Maggie Simpson. Episodes are surprisingly focused, abandoning classic sitcom story structure by omitting any subplots whatsoever. It’s more surreal than before, but still tightly executed, mixing slapstick antics with genuine wit, warmth, and bizarre non-sequitor geek culture references. The dialog is considerably more one-liner centric than before, dozens of brilliant sound bites pepper every episode, none of which made it to T-shirts, but did migrate directly to the lips of fans. While the fourth season was overall probably a touch better, the argument is largely academic because the 22 episodes in this collection are a real hoot and genuinely worth having. The commentary is the only relevant special feature, and it’s a lot of fun in the absence of deeper making-of documentaries.
This is the series in the midst of its apex. There’s a lot to love here. Oddly, many of these episodes are less commonly run in syndication, so chances are there’s something here you haven’t seen in years.