MSRP: $ 59.99
Release Date: January 12, 2010
Review Date: January 12, 2010
Twenty years on the air, over four hundred episodes, numerous awards, and The Simpsons goes merrily marching onward. The world’s most dysfunctional cartoon family that started out rather inauspiciously on The Tracy Ullman Show all those years ago now has twenty years under its belt. What a staggering achievement! Even more impressive: the show still has the wherewithal to be hysterical, to be biting, to be topical, often within the same episode. From parodies of Mad Men and Two for the Road (and how many people would even know that masterful 1967 movie to know it’s being paid homage to?) to digs at the Apple universe, the Irish, religion, and the obsession with standardized tests in school, The Simpsons continues to be sometimes diabolical but always lovable even with the occasional dud episode.
I’m not sure what kind of ritual sacrifice had to be offered up to the gods of inspiration for the brilliant casting of the show’s core actors, but time has proven over and over what masterful actors they are and how lucky the show is to have them. Dan Castellaneta’s well meaning but often befuddled Homer, Julie Kavner’s steadfast Marge, Nancy Cartwright’s mischievous Bart, Yeardley Smith’s incisive Lisa, and the versatile Harry Shearer (Burns, Smithers, Skinner, Flanders) and Hank Azaria (Moe among so many others) create brilliant characterizations show after show and manage to find new nuances in these personas that keep audiences coming back season after season. The writing, of course, by a crackerjack team of artists manages to keep the show timely on the one hand and effortlessly respectful to its television forefathers on the other. In one memorable bit in the opening credits, for example, the family is arriving back home and manages to move through quick, thoughtful parodies of The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Brady Bunch, and Cheers. No big deal made about it, but just lovely, thoughtfully respectful nods to legendary comic families from sitcom days of yore.
Each of the core actors gets episodes that spotlight his or her specific character, but on first viewing, this seems to be Lisa’s season this year with an above average number of episodes which shine the light on her interests and problems. From her quick mastery of crossword puzzles to making friends with an imaginative English girl who preferred living in a world of fantasy rather than one of reality, Lisa had a great year. But all of the characters get some superb chances to glow in the spotlight this season, and when Marge starts telling her versions of four variations on strong women (including hilarious satires of Snow White and Lady Macbeth) in the season’s penultimate episode, you know The Simpsons is as strong as ever.
Here are the twenty-one episodes contained on the two Blu-rays discs in the set. The first disc contains the nine season episodes produced in 1.33:1 and upconverted to 1080p. The second disc contains the twelve episodes produced specifically for high definition in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio:
1 – Sex, Pies, and Idiot Scrapes
2 – Lost Verizon
3 – Double, Double, Boy in Trouble
4 – Treehouse of Horror XIX
5 – Dangerous Curves
6 – Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words
7 – Mypods and Broomsticks
8 – The Burns and the Bees
9 – Lisa the Drama Queen
10 – Take My Life, Please
11 – How the Test Was Won
12 – No Loan Again, Naturally
13 – Gone Maggie Gone
14 – In the Name of Grandfather
15 – Wedding for Disaster
16 – Eeny Teeny Maya, Moe
17 – The Good, the Sad, and the Drugly
18 – Father Knows Worst
19 – Waverly Hills 9-0-2-1-D’oh
20 – Four Great Women and a Manicure
21 – Coming to Homerica
The season contains nine episodes in 1.33:1 and twelve episodes in 1.78:1, all presented in either upconverted or native 1080p using the AVC codec. Colors are bold and bright, and lines are generally thick and distinct. There are frequent glimpses of soft banding in the brightly colored backgrounds, and there are some instances of aliasing here and there though it isn’t a major problem. Each episode has been divided into 6 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does a solid job with the jaunty score that gets filtered into the fronts and rears, and there is even an occasional use of the soundfield for discreet effects (particularly noticeable in the rears) though these are sporadic and not the norm for each episode.
For such a monumental achievement (twenty seasons on the air, the first Blu-ray release of its television season), the almost total lack of celebratory bonus features is a major disappointment. The only thing offered is a 3 ½-minute 1080p sneak preview of Morgan Spurlock’s 20th anniversary special which was recently broadcast on Fox. The special itself is not a part of this set, but it should have been.
3.5/5 (not an average)
The Simpsons continues on its markedly decisive way with hilarity and insight in bringing America’s favorite cartoon family to us for the twentieth straight season. Though this won’t be the first time viewers have been able to see Homer and the gang in high definition (the hit The Simpsons Movie was released on Blu-ray a couple of years ago), fans of the show will surely want to have the program’s first widescreen television efforts to add to their collections. It doesn’t hurt that it was a wonderful season for the show though one would have preferred such an achievement to be marked with some congratulatory bonus material. Still, recommended!