Release Date(s)2008-09 (January 12, 2010)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: F
The Simpsons is the greatest television show in the history of the medium. This is not an opinion. It is a provable fact, just like saying Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system. You might disagree. If you did, I would listen to your counter-argument for what you consider to be the greatest show in TV history, then patiently but firmly explain to you why you are 100% wrong.
Yeah yeah, I’ve heard plenty of fair weather fans whine that the show isn’t funny anymore, which simply isn’t true. Any given episode of The Simpsons is markedly superior to most other comedies on the air.
At this point, the jaded fan will then usually reply, “Well, it’s definitely not as good as it used to be.” No, sometimes it is. Now if you say it’s not as consistent as it used to be, that I’ll agree with. The golden age of The Simpsons included seasons where virtually every episode was a classic. But runs like that are rare. I defy you to name any other series that went for more than a year without a single clunker.
No, The Simpsons isn’t hitting grand slam home runs on a weekly basis anymore. But considering that the show has been on the air now for over two decades and they’re still able to occasionally knock one out of the park and show everybody else how it’s done is nothing short of astonishing. Think about that for a second. There are now people in college who literally cannot imagine a time before The Simpsons. It’s been around since before they were born. And if that doesn’t make you feel old, nothing will.
Admittedly, the show has been through some rough patches. Recent years have been too reliant on flashback episodes, flash-forward episodes and Simpsonized versions of other stories. Season 20 isn’t immune from this but by and large, it’s one of the better seasons in quite some time. Highlights include one of the best Treehouse of Horror segments of all time: It’s The Grand Pumpkin, Millhouse, a spot-on parody/homage of the classic Charlie Brown special. No Loan Again, Naturally also holds its own with the series’ best. When the Simpsons’ house is foreclosed, Flanders steps in and buys it at auction. He rents it back to the family, who immediately take advantage of the new tenant/landlord situation to get the place repaired. The season has plenty of hit-or-miss episodes as well, but even they boast some memorable moments like Jodie Foster as the voice of Maggie in an Ayn Rand-inspired segment of Four Great Women And A Manicure.
Now there’s been some speculation about why Fox would hit the next-chapter button on The Simpsons’ DVD releases, skipping from the 12th to the 20th season. Part of it probably has to do with capitalizing on the anniversary but I have another theory. For years, Fox has been releasing The Simpsons season by season at roughly a snail’s pace. If we get two sets per year, we consider ourselves lucky. But nobody’s really complained too much because the releases have been so good. Season One was released way back in 2001 and really set the standard for how to do TVD right. The production staff of the show is very involved with the sets, packing them full of commentaries, deleted scenes, animatics, and much, much more. But to do it right takes time and they’ve also been busy producing new episodes and making The Simpsons Movie in the interim.
Now factor Blu-ray into the equation. Season 20 was the year that The Simpsons started to be produced in high-definition. The first nine episodes were done in the old style but with Take My Life, Please, the show upgraded, changing its opening titles for the first time in years. (Bart’s chalkboard gag for this episode is one of my favorites: “HDTV is worth every cent.”) This means that this is the first season that’s all ready to go on Blu-ray without a lot of expensive restoration and conversion. If Fox continued to release The Simpsons consecutively at the rate they’ve been going, we’d be looking at this showing up sometime around 2017. Technology changes quickly, so who knows if Blu-ray will even be around then? Rather than run the risk of losing the opportunity to release the title on a new format, doesn’t it make sense to just skip ahead and put it out now?
Yes and no. On the plus side, these episodes look and sound terrific. The first disc includes the nine standard episodes, up-converted to a pretty decent looking 1080p. They aren’t the best things you’ll see on BD by a long shot. It’s not bad, just kind of blah. Disc Two has the HD episodes and they’re considerably more impressive. Not a flawless presentation but it’s vibrant and solid throughout. The DTS-HD Master Audio sound is consistent throughout both discs. It’s not exactly lively but it’s fairly robust, especially when music kicks in. I particularly enjoyed hearing Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue” in the episode Sex, Pies And Idiot Scrapes.
Here’s the bad news. This is not one of those wonderful, extras-packed sets that we’re used to. The only bonus feature on here, if you can even call it that, is a three-and-a-half minute promo piece for Morgan Spurlock’s 20th Anniversary Special. That’s right. You get an extended commercial for a special that aired two days BEFORE this was even released. So even if it makes you want to watch the show, tough luck. The piece includes glimpses of material that didn’t make it to the special, so I smell a “director’s cut” release coming down the pike, which is even more annoying since it should just be a bonus feature on the Season 21 set.
Apart from the picture and sound quality, everything about this Blu-ray is sub-par, especially considering what we’ve come to expect from The Simpsons on disc. Even the menus look ugly and tossed-off. My guess is that Fox didn’t give Matt Groening, Al Jean and the rest of the folks who work to make the Simpsons DVDs so special much choice in the matter. My hope is that it’s a one time thing and that when the Complete Thirteenth Season arrives, it’ll be back to business as usual. But it really is too bad that this release is such a disappointment. The Simpsons is a cultural institution, a high-water mark for television, and its 20th anniversary is a major landmark that won’t come back. It should have been celebrated with something truly special, not something like this. Lackluster Blu-ray aside, I hope you’ll join me in wishing a very happy anniversary to Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and everyone else in Springfield. May you celebrate as many show-biz anniversaries as Krusty the Clown.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke