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Best Television DVD: The Simpsons Commentary with Special Guest Jon Lovitz

One of the things that separates The Simpsons DVDs from other television shows-apart from the fact that every episode is actually worth watching, which certainly can’t be said for a great many other television shows-is that every single episode features commentaries. The commentaries feature creator Matt Groening, and typically the writer of the episode (unless, of course, the credited writer is John Swartzwelder, a guy who makes Greta Garbo look like Paris Hilton), and usually the director, along with some producers, and often a cast member and occasionally a special guest. Conan O’Brien presents a special case; his appearance on some episodes is as writer or producer, but he has returned to comment on a show that aired after he left to take over David Letterman’s Late Night talk show. One of the special guests who has made repeated appearances is Jon Lovitz, who has probably played more characters on the show than any other non-regular, with the possible exception of the late, lamented Phil Hartman.

What is odd, however, is that Jon Lovitz occasionally shows up on a commentary for an episode in which he doesn’t even appear. Whether he’s commenting on his own appearance or not, however, there is no question that the Simpsons commentaries in which Jon Lovitz shows up are the greatest. In fact, I will go so far as to say that the Simpsons commentaries in which Lovitz shows up are probably the best DVD commentary special features of any television DVD in existence. As a caveat, let me admit that I have not actually listened to the DVD commentary special feature of every television show, so that statement is predicated on a certain expectation.

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Why are the Simpsons commentaries with Jon Lovitz so special? The answer is as obvious as why those Jon Lovitz Subway restaurant commercials are among the view I won’t madly dash across the room for the remote in order to change the channel when it appears; he’s a funny guy. And his addition to the Simpsons DVD commentaries add a certain surreal quality that turns them into pure gold. The great thing about Lovitz is that since he’s not “in” on the making of a show-even one in which he appears-he can feel free to ask questions that normal people would ask. Or even not-so-normal. And because he’s got his own agenda, he will go off on a tangent that has nothing to do at all with the show.

One of the funniest things is his continuing rant about the homosexual activities going on between two of the Simpsons producers. Pure silliness and off the wall and perhaps not even true, but it’s incredibly hilarious. He’s also not above plugging his own project that happens to be in the air at the time of the commentary.

But the greatest thing about Jon Lovitz and his Simpsons DVD commentaries is his chemistry with regular Simpsons cast member Hank Azaria. Hank Azaria, of course, is of the multifaceted voice actors who helps to increase the population of Springfield. He is best known for characters such as Chief Wiggum, Apu, Moe and Comic Book Guy. In addition, Hank Azaria is carving out a niche for himself as a movie actor. One of those movies is Along Came Polly, and in one of the commentaries Jon Lovitz consistently plugs that movie. After awhile, it becomes frustratingly obvious that Azaria and Lovitz have the kind of chemistry that used to result in movies being made. The fact that Lovitz and Azaria haven’t been teamed up is a testament to the inexplicable ability of Hollywood executives to peer blindly through a brilliant idea that is parading around naked right before their very eyes.

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(A live action Year Without a Santa Claus? What a fantastic idea! Let’s greenlight it. A sequel to The Candidate where we show what happened to that idealistic young Senator after thirty years in Washington? And we can get Redford to star and direct? Pass!)

Listening to Lovitz and Azaria riff on each other, as well Lovitz go off on insane rants, is worth multiple listenings. How many DVD commentaries can you say that about? In fact, almost all the Simpsons DVD commentaries bear the fruit of multiple playings. These commentaries are so packed with background information presented with hysterically humor that you will certainly find yourself going back to them. And why not? Everyone associated with the show is the funniest guy in the room. Whether it is Matt Groening, a writer, an animator or a cast member, what you get here are people who not only possess interesting stories, but actually know how to tell them. Add in the fact that you’ve usually got anywhere from three to five or more people in the room and it’s obvious why these things are far more entertaining than most DVD commentaries.

But it is those ones with Jon Lovitz that really stand out. His presence results in non-sequiturs that leave the other commentators in stitches.