Matt Groening/USA/1997-98; R4 (4-disc set)
Fox/RS, NZ$59.95 | Reviewed by Graeme Edgeler

The Simpsons: Season 9 saw its 200th episode – the Emmy Award-winning “Trash of the Titans”. This milestone season receives a timely DVD release this year – with the Simpsons 18th season, currently airing, to see episode 400, and the long-awaited Simpsons Movie in cinemas July.

The episodes are now ten years old, and die-hard fans will have seen each a half dozen times in syndication, but the DVD offers the opportunity to see them once more uncut and uncompressed (that’s around 30 minutes extra over the season), and without the credits ruined by a halfscreen promo and a voiceover – just as five-fingered God intended.

There are true Simpson’s classics in the ninth season – it was the year of the “City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” and “Lost our Lisa” – but sadly, it was also the first year of the inevitable decline, and the year of creator Matt Groening’s “Worst. Episode. Ever.”: “The Principal and the Pauper”. Doubtless, these episodes of The Simpsons remained highlights of the television year – 1997/8 saw the demise of Seinfeld, and the beginning of Buffy and genre-leading Ally McBeal, though not much else – but they are a slight step down from the heyday of seasons four through eight.

You’ll laugh. A lot. But not quite as long, nor as loudly, as you might have in a truly classic season – and it’s still a few seasons before “Kill the Alligator and Run”. It’s well worth a purchase – there are some truly great episodes – and it’s merely that this first season helmed by Mike Scully isn’t as consistently brilliant as the earlier Oakley-Weinstein, Jean-Reiss and Mirkin-led efforts.

Long-winded episode synopses are the preserve of wikipedia and fansites, and those interested can seek plot-lines and allusions from one of the many out there (I suggest wiki or snpp.com). Among the 25 episodes is a diverse selection: from strong character-driven episodes like “Lisa’s Sax” (in which we learn the story of Bart’s first day at Springfield Elementary... and how Lisa got her first Sax) and “This Little Wiggy” (where fan-favourite Ralph shows Bart there’s more to him than glue-eating), to the wackier plots that would characterise The Simpsons’ later seasons (and the Mike Scully era in particular), such as “The Joy of Sect” (where our favourite family joins the lima-bean-eating Movementarians). Add in Phil Hartman’s last appearances as Lionel Hutz, and the first appearance of down-on-his-luck Gil (he’ll get his star turn in “Kill Gil: Vols. 1 and 2”) and there’s a lot to look for in season nine.

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THE DVD set itself is among the best TV-on-DVD sets you’ll find, with bonus features longer than the actual programmes: commentaries on every episode (some with more than one), animation showcases, TV advertisements (though nothing to rival the Flintstones’ Winston cigarette efforts) and more than 15 minutes of deleted scenes (plus more deleted scenes available as Easter eggs.

The video has less of a problem with edge-enhancement than some of earlier box sets (and they looked pretty good!), and the ‘seamless’ branching of the deleted scenes, if still imperfect, is the best it’s been. It’s not quite reference quality, but this is the best The Simpsons will ever look (at least until July).

Two alternative box arts are available – a collectible plastic Lisa-head, continuing the line the commenced with season six, and a cardboard box for conservatives and late-comers. Although the plastic casing falls far short of the standard of the Star Trek sets, the problems that manifested with the first and second in the collectible line are gone.