Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Simpsons: The Fourteenth Season Review

Pray Anything (3)With the release of The Simpsons Season 14 on Blu-Ray this month, one must ask the following questions: are the Simpsons still relevant, and why the long delay between releases?  First answer: HECK YA they’re still relevant!  Twenty-three seasons, featuring over 1,000 guest voices, a nasty habit for leaving few races or social issues unscathed, and 27 Emmys since 1989.   Second answer: WHO KNOWS why this release is so late.  My first thought was they were just lazy like Homer sitting on his couch with a can of Duff; but in reality, I think creator Matt Groening is so bent on getting these releases right, that rushing through things is just not his way.  I’m hoping my latter guess is more on target.  Regardless of how you might feel about the current Simpsons run, as you might be watching NBC’s Football Night in America, season 14 is classic television that you should not miss.

This site is all about the unique in what we find with the world, so hopefully this fascinating box set will fit right in.  I’m not going to spend time talking about all 22 episodes here, rather share with you couple of favorites:

·         “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation,” featuring the voices of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, and other 60’s/70’s rockers;

·         “Large Marge” who accidentally receives breast implants

·          “Pray Anything,” as sacrilegious as anything I can remember from this series, as Homer uses prayer to upend Springfield;

·          “I’m Spelling as Fast as I Can,” with the absolutely epic scene of Homer consuming his first (then second, then tenth) Krusty’s rib sandwhich. 

Here's the 3D Version...
The Simpsons - The Complete Fourteenth Season (Collector's Edition) Box Art
...and the standard release

Packaging – 5/5
There are two versions available: one is a slipcover (which I am reviewing) with a picture of the aliens Kodos and Kang from the Treehouse of Horror yearly episodes, and a 3D box with the discs inside.  Both are visually very appealing, and feature a densely-packed amaray case.  It’s one of the best examples I’ve seen in which the amaray case was so well used.  Look inside and remove the discs to see additional color scenes behind the blue case!  Another exceptional part of the packaging is the artbook, detailing every episode with visual cues at the bottom of each page for director’s commentary, etc.  The quality here proves that Hollywood can use amaray to deliver a quality product without sacrificing their desire for bottom-line accountability. 

Video Quality – 4/5
Although these episodes premiered between 2002-2003 in 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the result of this transfer is impressive.  Because the animation here is fairly simple, blacks don’t bleed into whites, and blurriness was never seen.  Some fans are concerned when they learned that the source video was DVD – how could a Blu-Ray transfer be any better than the original source DVD?  My answer: It is, now get over it. However, it should be noted that Groening’s opening couch gags and the rest of the introductions are clearly from different film stock, even different seasons.  If you’re willing to look over that, the quality of these transfers is outstanding. 

Audio Quality – 4/5
Each episode features a lossless audio transfer in DTS-HD 5.1 surround.  This creates a crisp experience in the front speakers, but the rear ones will feel a little left out.  Ambient sounds (random crowd noises, street sounds, etc) are not really present; in fact, they are missing almost entirely here.  French and Spanish formats are also available, as well as subtitles, for those of you who wish to test their bilingualism.  My hope is that, as future seasons are released, the surround track will be given more attention.  The only people who would have issue with this are audio nerds like me, so don’t let that be a reason not to buy it. 

Special Features – 5/5
What makes this set so appealing is huge amount of special features.  It would take you just as long to get through all of them as to watch the episodes themselves!  From the neat motion menus, which features six different Simpsons characters interacting with each other, to the large list below, it’s clear that right people were involved with this project::
  • Audio Commentaries: Believe it or not, every episode contains a commentary.  Normally, I would say skip these, but when you have guest appearances by people like ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic and others, it’s safe to say you will be laughing a lot through these.
  • A Haunting Invite from Matt Groening (1080p, 2:12)
  • In the Beginning (Standard Def, 12:43): A selection of the opening sequences from the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes.
  • It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (Standard, 9:05): A behind-the-scenes featurette of the "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation" rockers recording their lines.  Keith Richards is…well…classic Keith here.
  • Sketch Gallery I (1080p, 2:14): Sketches for "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation."
  • The 300th Episode - Barting Over (SD, 1:56): A discussion about the airing of the 300th episode.
  • Sketch Gallery II (1080p, 2:14): More early character drawings.
  • The Halloween Classics (Standard, 8:18): A collection of more Treehouse moments.
  • Bonus: Treehouse of Horror V (Standard, 22:53): A pretty funny parody of The Shining.
  • Deleted Scenes (1080p, 11:06): Al Jean is featured in this section, with the long-time producer and writer sharing commentaries and introductions.  You can also watch specific episodes with deleted scenes re-inserted.
  • Animation Showcase: Moe Baby Blues (1080p, 5:26): In this feature, you can toggle your remote between the storyboards and completed animations.
  • Special Language Feature: Three Gays of the Condo: This episode is absolutely hilarious, is one of my favorites from the series, and has the added charm of being presented in German, Portuguese, Czech, German, or Italian. 
  • Foolish Earthlings (Standard, 3:44): The aliens Kang and Kodos are featured.
  • Bonus: Treehouse of Horror VI (Standard, 22:48): This classic Treehouse episode from 1995, shows Homer running around in a 3D CGI world.
  • Booklet: As mentioned previously, I love the fact that the artbook is present here. 

The Bottom Line: 4/5
The Simpsons remain as ridiculous, funny, irreverent, and now sacrilegious, as they ever were.  Part of the American lexicon, the lives of Homer, Bart, Lisa, and Marge have redefined America comedic television, as Seinfeld did in the live action genre.  But the reasoning for the series’ long run is simple: strong writing, witty commentary, and a flair for the dramatically funny.  Add a very good video and audio transfer, coupled with appealing special features and well-designed packaging, and The Simpsons Season 14 release makes an excellent value.  MEMO TO FOX: please release the remainder of the old seasons in this manner, and do it before 2020 gets around!