Though the fifteenth season of Matt Groening’s The Simpsons had its fair share of hilarious and memorable moments, it’s far from the buzzworthy show it was during its first half dozen years on the air. As always, the show riffs on (then) current events and references outstanding (or sometimes infamous) movies, music, and television shows of the past in telling its stories, but the 2003-2004 season of the show was not one of its landmark years.
The Simpsons: The Fifteenth Season
Directed by Steven Dean Moore et al
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 484 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, 2.0 surround French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
Release Date: December 4, 2012
Review Date: November 30, 2012
The world’s most dysfunctional cartoon family that started out rather inauspiciously on The Tracy Ullman Show all those years ago enters its fifteenth season in a comfortably confident manner: the show still has the wherewithal to be hysterical, to be biting, to be topical, often within the same episode. From parodies of The Shawshank Redemption and Evita to digs at panhandling, the British, romance novels, sibling rivalry, the Star Wars prequels, Comic-Con, interment camps, and media moguls, The Simpsons continues to be sometimes diabolical but always lovable even with the occasional dud episode.
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? The fifteenth season proves yet again what masterful, versatile actors they are and how lucky the show is to have them. Dan Castellaneta’s well meaning but often befuddled Homer, Julie Kavner’s often-irritated though always steadfast Marge, Nancy Cartwright’s mischievous Bart (who seems a little more controlled this year apart from the penultimate episode), 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. And the guest stars who come in and do voices, sometimes as themselves and sometimes playing outrageous characters, are always memorable. This season the show made good use of Jerry Lewis, Jennifer Garner, Oscar De La Hoya, Glenn Close, Michael Moore, Marcia Wallace (who appears in quite a few of the episodes), Tony Blair, Jane Leeves, Ian McKellen, J.K. Rowling, William Daniels, Isabel Sanford, Charles Napier, Jackie Mason, Mr. T., Simon Cowell, Jon Lovitz (returning as Artie Ziff), Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jane Kaczmarek, and creator Matt Groening.
Among the most outstanding of this season’s episodes are “The President Wore Pearls,” the Evita parody episode and also a musical as Lisa becomes school president, “The Regina Monologues” where the hapless family visits London, “’Tis the Fifteenth Season” as the show’s Christmas-themed episode - a riff on A Christmas Carol and heavy satire on lots of Christmas programming, the brilliant “Margical History Tour” which features satire on three historical icons: Henry VIII, Sacagawea, and Lewis and Clark, and “Smart & Smarter” where Lisa is mortified to learn that baby Maggie has a higher I.Q. than she does.
Here are the twenty-two episodes contained on four DVDs in this fifteenth season set. A note on packaging: the discs are stored in an accordion-like folder that the discs slide uneasily into and out of. This all fits inside a flap-closing box, another irritant.
1 – Treehouse of Horror XIV
2 – My Mother the Carjacker
3 – The President Wore Pearls
4 – The Regina Monologues
5 – The Fat and the Furriest
6 – Today I Am a Clown
7 – ‘Tis the Fifteenth Season
8 – Marge Versus Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples, and Teens and Gays
9 – I, (Annoyed) Grunt-Bot
10 – Diatribe of a Mad Housewife
11 – Margical History Tour
12 – Milhouse Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
13 – Smart & Smarter
14 – The Ziff Who Came to Dinner
15 – Co-Dependents’ Day
16 – The Wandering Juvie
17 – My Big Fat Geek Wedding
18 – Catch ‘Em If You Can
19 – Simple Simpson
20 – The Way We Weren’t
21 – Bart-Mangled Banner
22 – Fraudcast News
The Simpsons didn’t switch over to widescreen presentation until the middle of its twentieth season, so here the aspect ratio is 1.33:1. As always, the show is wildly colorful, and the deep, rich hues come through with excellent clarity and impressive levels of saturation that never bloom. Due to the interlaced nature of these 480i transfers, there are some occasional problematic aliasing artifacts and some slight instances of line shimmer once or twice. You’ll occasionally see some minor banding, too, but again, it’s only there sporadically and not as a general rule. Most of the lines in the animation are solid and without artifacts. Each episode has been divided into 6 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is surprisingly immersive for a television cartoon series. The music is constantly filtered throughout the soundfield, and the sound design makes sure that occasional sound effects and incidental dialogue pan out through the fronts and rears as appropriate, often to impressive effect with the directionalized dialogue. You’ll also be impressed with the power of the LFE channel on occasion when things blow up or when music takes on a heavy bass beat. Since the show is heavily-dialogue centered, it’s important that the dialogue has been masterfully recorded and mostly lands in the center channel.
Every episode contains an audio commentary with a large number of the episode’s creative personnel in attendance led by executive producer Al Jean. This doesn’t make for the most organized or informative of discussions, but the comments are occasionally enlightening. Some feature discussion during the entire episode while others find lots of moments where the participants just watch and laugh at their show or at their own asides. Only occasionally do actors such as Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, or Nancy Cartwright take part.
All of the featurettes are presented in 480i.
The menu for each episode offers the viewer the option to view the episode with deleted scenes which had been completed added back into the show. (Ten episodes contain deleted scenes. A scissor icon appears in the episodes to denote the cut footage, usually only seconds long.) Deleted scenes have also been collected in a bonus feature on disc four and can be viewed with optional commentary by Al Jean. They run a total of 9 ¾ minutes.
“All Aboard with Matt” features creator Matt Groening introducing this season’s efforts in a brief 1 ¾-minute vignette.
“The Unusual Ones” finds show personnel David Silverman, Mike Anderson, Mark Kirkland, and Steve Moore showing a montage of unusual animated bits in episodes culled from seasons 1-15 and describing which artist the animators were paying tribute to. This runs 17 ¼ minutes.
“Living in the Moment” is a brief 2-minute series of photographs arranged in scrapbook style celebrating momentous events in the history of The Simpsons in 2012 (including their completion of their 500th episode and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.)
There are two sketch galleries which offer a montage of rough pencil art for various episodes. Each runs about 2 ½ minutes.
For the episode “The Wandering Juvie,” an animation showcase feature is offered which allows the viewer to use the “angle” button on the remote to switch from storyboard to animatics to finished animation for a sequence from the episode.
For the episode “My Big Fat Geek Wedding,” four additional language tracks including Italian and German are offered for the viewer.
The use of characters from The Simpsons in two commercials are shown in this 1-minute vignette.
The enclosed 26-page booklet makes a welcome addition to the set here and is chock full of information about each episode.
4/5 (not an average)
The Simpsons is in the midst of its twenty-fourth season on the air, an industry record for a prime time entertainment series. While the fifteenth season was not up to the overall quality of some of its other seasons, America’s favorite cartoon family gets a nice box set with an eclectic selection of bonus material and a helpful and most welcome booklet to guide the viewer through each episode. Recommended!