Follow us on

Featured TV on DVD Review: The Simpsons - Season Twenty

January 23rd, 2010

The Simpsons - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

The Simpsons began as recurring short segments on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. Within a couple of years, the segment had grown so popular that Fox decided to give it its own half hour slot, starting with a Christmas special called Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire that first aired on December 17, 1989. That was 20 years ago and the show is still going strong. Or at the very least, it is still going. Almost no one will try to argue that The Simpsons is still at its peak in terms of creative output. However, given how high its peak was, it can fall quite far and still be one of the best shows out there. So the real question is whether or not the show is still one of the best, better than average, or has it fallen so far that all but the most hardcore fans can safely pass it by?

The longer a show has been on the air, the harder it is to review; after all, by the time a show lasts four or five years, almost everyone has already formed an opinion and it is neigh impossible to change it. For that matter, it becomes harder and harder just to come up with things to talk about that will be interesting to both long term fans and those who are new to the show. If this is a problem for a show that's four or five years old, imagine the difficulty in reviewing a TV series that as been on the air for 20 years. Usually you can at least talk about the characters that have moved on and those that have been introduced, but this is an animated show and half the characters are voiced by three men, so there's not a lot of turnover in the cast. You can't even talk about season-long story arcs, because more than 90% of the time the stories are neatly wrapped up at the end of the episode. So I'm left with talking about some of the highlights of the season and comparing those to what other seasons had to offer.

The first highlight that even casual fans will be interested in is Treehouse of Horror XIX, the annual Halloween episode. Like always there are three short segments starting with Untitled Robot Parody and you can pretty much guess what that's a parody of, and it's an effective short. How to Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising, on the other hand, is a bit of a mess. The setup has Homer accidentally killing Krusty, whose image is then used in advertising because you can use the image of dead celebrities in advertising. So Homer is paid to kill celebrities by two ad execs who want to use their likenesses in advertising. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and the short isn't funny enough to compensate. On the other hand, It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse, another parody, ends the episode on a high note. It's clearly the best of the three, especially if you are a fan of the original Peanuts special.

Other noteworthy episodes include Eeny Teeny Maya Moe where Moe searches for love on the internet and may have found it. Sideshow Bob makes yet another appearance on the show, this time in an episode entitled Wedding for Disaster. This episode marks the 13th time that that character has had a major appearance on the show, as well as the third time Marge and Homer get married. Normally, when a storyline is reused that many times, it gets stale. However, there's a good twist here and it is one of the best episodes of the season. (On a side note, I was going to point out that as of the end of this season, the character of Sideshow Bob has made 20 appearances on The Simpsons (some of which are non-speaking parts) and this is longer than either of Kelsey Grammer's previous two TV shows have lasted on the air. I was going to point that out, but it felt mean.)

Not every episode that is worth talking about is so because of high quality. For instance, Gone Maggie Gone has a series of puzzles you the viewer are invited to try to solve, but instead of feeling like an organic part of the story, it just feels like a gimmick. Lisa the Drama Queen also fails to live up to its potential; you would think a story about imagination would be more imaginative. Dangerous Curves is yet another flashback episode, but it fails to stand out from the many, many other similar episodes in the show's 20 year run. Also, Four Great Women and a Manicure is yet another anthology episode, but unlike Treehouse of Horror, none of them really connect. On a side note, the final story is an adaptation of The Fountainhead with Maggie in the role of Howard Roark. However, this show does a better job at explaining the point than the original book. In the book, Howard Roark designs a building, but the people who paid for the building don't like his design so they change it. He doesn't like the changes, so he blows it up, which could be described as an act of domestic terrorism. Talk about overreacting.

Overall, the number of classic episodes from this season is roughly... zero. None of them would rank in the top ten of the total run of the series, or even the top ten percent. That said, there are more hits than there are misses and even the worst of them are still worth checking out while most have good replay value. Let's face it, the average episode of The Simpsons is still better than most of what's on TV.

I only have the DVD and considering that was a week late, I likely won't get the Blu-ray, so I won't be able to compare technical specs. I will say that halfway through the season, the show switched to High Definition, and you could notice the difference right away, even on DVD. As for the extras, both sets have the same selection. And by selection, I mean a single short featurette on 20th Anniversary special that aired on the 10th of January. Considering the previous releases were loaded with extras, including audio commentary tracks on every episode, this is unacceptably weak. At least the Blu-ray doesn't cost a whole lot more than the DVD.

The Verdict

While many long-term fans of The Simpsons have given up on the show by this point and the quality has gone downhill since its golden years, Season 20 is still full of laughs and it is worth checking out. However, with almost no extras on either the DVD or the Blu-ray, unless you are a complete-ist, it's probably only worth a rental.

- Submitted by:

Filed under: Video Review