|"A Simpson on a T-shirt. I never thought I'd see the day." So remarks Marge Simpson in "Dancin' Homer," just one of 22 mostly classic episodes that comprise this series' brilliant second season. The Simpsons by that time was already a pop culture phenomenon, but instead of suffering a sophomore slump, this iconoclastic animated series was just hitting its stride. Series milestones include: first Oscar®-winning guest voice (an unbilled Dustin Hoffman in "Lisa's Substitute"), first Beatle guest voice (Ringo in "Brush with Greatness"), first "Treehouse of Horror" Halloween episode, first flashback episode ("The Way We Was," in which Homer meets Marge), and the first episode to make me cry (Bart's last frolic with obedience school washout Santa's Little Helper in "Bart's Dog Gets an F"). It's in this season the The Simpsons really finds its voice. The writing is sharper, and the upending of sitcom convention more subversive. "Perhaps there is no moral to this story," observes Lisa at the end of "Blood Feud." "Exactly," agrees Homer. "Just a bunch of stuff that happens."
In the first season, Bart was the series' breakout star, but in the second, The Simpsons established itself as a true ensemble series. Each character came into their own with career-best episodes. Marge, the family's long-suffering voice of reason, crusades against cartoon violence in "Itchy & Scratchy & Marge." Lisa, the heart and tortured soul of the series, develops an ill-fated crush on her new teacher in "Lisa's Substitute." Bart desperately tries to raise the money to buy Radioactive Man No. 1 in "Three Men and a Comic Book." Homer's stock rises when he grows hair in "Simpson and Delilah." Joining the Simpsons roster of scene-stealing supporting characters are Dr. Hibbert ("Bart the Daredevil"), shyster lawyer Lionel Hutz (voiced by the late, great Phil Hartman in "Bart Gets Hit by a Car"), the Ahnold-esque action hero McBain ("The Way We Was"), slobbering aliens Kang and Kodos ("Treehouse of Horror"), and "nutty professor" Frink ("Old Money"). This essential, extras-laden DVD set is illustrative of why The Simpsons is, in the parlance of Comic Book Guy, funniest show ever. --Donald Liebenson