Grade: A-
Entire family: No
2007-08, 440 min. (20 episodes), Color
Not rated (would be PG for some drinking, smoking, and adult situations)
20th Century Fox
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: B
Includes: 4 discs, booklet
Intro sample
Amazon Link

It’s almost unfathomable to think that a TV series that first aired in 1989 would still be on the air, but The Simpsons keeps chugging happily along and shows no signs of slowing down. With the 31st season in progress, it’s the longest running TV sitcom and also the longest running scripted primetime TV show.

Cartoonist Matt Groening struck gold with this series about a nuclear power plant worker who’s so dumb you’d swear there’s a leak at the plant. Then again, there might be something to that. In Springfield, where nuclear power is the big employer in town, the stream has multi-headed fish and everyone and everything in town is just a little strange—whether it’s hyper-Christian Ned Flanders, dumb-as-a-baton Chief Wiggum, Marge Simpson’s blue hair, or the Simpsons’ deep yellow pallor that tip you off.

Homer Simpson (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) is part Archie Bunker, part Al Bundy, and part Rain Man, and his clueless but try-anything demeanor gets him into all sorts of escapades, sometimes with his über-delinquent son Bart (Nancy Cartwright). Marge (Julie Kavner) is Homer’s long-suffering wife, while daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith) somehow managed to beat the family’s gene pool to be born brainy and ambitious. Cartoon families are fun because no one ever ages, and the baby Maggie keeps sucking on her pacifier year after year. Bartender Moe (Hank Azaria) also never ages, nor does Flanders (Harry Shearer), Wiggum (Azaria), Kwik-E-Mart proprietor Apu (Azaria), Principal Skinner (Shearer), bully Nelson Muntz (Cartwright), teacher Edna Krabappel (Marcia Wallace), or Bart’s friend Milhouse (Pamela Hayden).

The animated show’s success can be attributed to three things: engaging characters, sharp writing, and a steady diet of topical humor and pop culture allusions that keep the writing (and the writers) fresh. In fact, The Simpsons itself is such a cultural phenomenon that celebrities have eagerly been a part of various episodes. This season falls into what many consider the Simpsons’ golden era before the style of animation changed. And the titles alone tell you how much fun the writers had with pop culture this season.

In “He Loves to Fly and He D’ohs” Stephen Colbert guest stars with Lionel Richie, the latter coached by Homer to sing one of his standards using only the word “beer.” In “The Homer of Seville” Homer becomes an opera star (Plácido Domingo and Maya Rudolph guest star), while in “Midnight Towboy” he starts a tow truck business and has a run-in with guest Matt Dillon.

Marge fears for her safety after breaking a promise to a convict in “I Don’t Wanna Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (Steve Buscemi, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Ted Nugent), and starts her own successful gym in “Husbands and Knives” (Jack Black). Kelsey Grammer returns as Sideshow Bob in “Funeral for a Fiend,” which features fellow Frasier castmates John Mahoney and David Hyde Pierce. Dan Rather and Jon Stewart offer their voices in a show about Springfield becoming the first city in America to hold a presidential primary, and in a takeoff of “That ‘70s Show” Marge and Homer recount their turbulent lives during that decade (Kurt Loder, Weird Al Yankovic).

Terry Gross and Topher Grace appear in a funny take on Scorsese’s The Departed, and Beverly De’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation) and The Dixie Chicks appear in “Papa Don’t Leech,” which brings back the country-singing character of Lurleen Lumpkin. Meanwhile, Zooey Deschanel guest stars in “Apocalypse Cow,” and Jim Jarmusch and John C. Reilly turn up in “Any Given Sundance,” when the Simpsons go to the famous Utah film festival to see the premiere of a tell-all documentary that Lisa made. Cyclist Lance Armstrong joins actress Glenn Close in “Mona Leave-A,” and Drew Carey turns up in the season’s 20th and final episode, “All about Lisa.” All 20 episodes are included, along with audio commentary tracks and special features.

This is the first boxed DVD set released by Fox since the Season 18 set came out two years ago, and fans will be glad that Fox didn’t skip another year. But they’ll be annoyed because Fox has a habit of using cardboard only inserts for their DVDs in slots so tight that it’s tough to remove and replace the discs without overhandling them.

Because of the show’s irreverence, because the Simpsons are poster children for dysfunctional families, and because there’s alcohol, implied sexual situations, smoking, and drugs, it’s mostly a show for families with children junior-high age and older.