By the fourth season, The Simpsons had really hit its stride. It was regularly honoured in awards shows, so much so that when the showrunners entered episodes for the Emmys in categories that until that year were only open to live-action shows, yet got no nominations for them, it was considered a snub.
Guest stars were by this point a fixture, for better or worse. Elizabeth Taylor came in to deliver Maggie’s first real word, Leonard Nimoy’s appearance cemented his general comedic persona from then on, and the final episode is a parade of famous faced and Groening-ised voices. There are some great, classic episodes, most of them keeping things simple and not being too ambitious – Mr. Plow, Marge Get a Job, A Streetcar named Marge.
On the other hand, there are some signs of laziness creeping in. There was a clip show, though not the most egregious of its kind, and the plotlines were sometimes not so well-constructed, as when Krusty’s rival ventriloquist in Krusty Gets Cancelled never has his story properly concluded – he’s last seen annoyed by the bigger line Krusty’s show gets.
There are some moments that push a little too far into the surreal, many of them in Marge vs the Monorail, and Homer occasionally goes a bit far into the persona that later ruins many a later season, where he’s less loveable oaf and more outright psychopath – including when he decides to start caring for a little neglected kid called Pepi just to spite Bart.
Marge is probably the star of this season, with her well-meaning ideas on home parenting, frustration with her marriage needing an outlet and even her reaction to being caught accidentally shoplifting being highlights.
The cast is largely established by this point, though the season introduces the one-note Sea Captain and classic authority figure stooge Superintendent (Super Nintendo) Chalmers. Oh, and Jub Jub in yet another episode that surprised me with how much development Patty and Selma get with their relatively limited screen time. I always considered them the butt of ugly women jokes, but in fact there’s a lot of depth to them, and sadness to their stories.
I don’t consider the fourth season as strong as the third or fifth, but it was still a show in very good standing.