Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Simpsons: Season 15 DVD Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
I haven’t kept current with "The Simpsons" as it’s probably been a few seasons since I've watched them on television. That doesn't seem to matter though since the show generally doesn't have a continuing storyline  After watching this season, it appears that not much has changed in Springfield since I last saw it.  In fact, it was easy to pick the show right back up without any confusion.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

For the few people who haven't watched The Simpsons yet, it is an animated show which centers around Homer Simpson.  Homer is a fat, donut loving man who is married to the blue haired Marge.  They have three children - Bart, Lisa and little Maggie. As of season 15, the children have yet to age except for dreams, flash forwards, etc. and the family still lives in the town of Springfield.  Bart is the troublemaker, Lisa is the nerd, and Maggie is the baby.  Another constant is the extended family members, friends and townspeople who make recurring appearances.

Season 15 begins as usual with the Halloween themed "Treehouse of Horrors XIV". In this episode Homer kills the Grim Reaper and takes his place. Homer doesn't seem to mind taking lives until Marge’s name appears on his list. In the same episode Bart and Milhouse are able to manipulate time and we see them grow up while the town is virtually frozen. Other notable episodes of the season include “The Regina Monologues” where the Simpsons head to London and “Diatribe of a Mad Housewife” where Marge writes a romance novel based on Homer and a sexy version of Ned Flanders.

For those who have never seen the show, characters like Homer’s mom, his boss Mr. Burns, Marge’s sisters, and Comic Book Guy might seem a little less amusing without the proper context of the previous seasons. However, I do believe you would quickly figure out who they are and have a general idea of what they are all about just from the episodes that they appear in. As with any show, the more background you have the better, but it’s not mandatory for The Simpsons.  I’m glad to see that the voice actors for the main characters have remained the same, since I've gotten very used to the way Marge, Homer and the kids sound and would be very distracted by a change in voice actors.

Season 15 contains twenty-two episodes in total and like every season, there's a lot of guest stars.  For this season, the guest include: Simon Cowell, Tony Blair, Jon Lovitz, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Tom Clancy, Mr. T, and others.  Some of the episodes this season are more convoluted than usual and I found that I enjoyed the more straightforward story lines that the show usually offers.  One thing about this show that's remained constant is the humor which is fairly consistent.  Some seasons are better than others, but you can always count on a good majority of them to have some funny lines or situations in them.  By this point, the show is rarely surprising as it's been on the air for so long, but I'm not bothered by the fact that it's just more of the same of what I liked from earlier seasons.  

Here are the episodes that can be found in this set:
  • Treehouse of Horror XIV - "Reaper Madness" - Death becomes Homer and our hero must learn to reap what he sows (and pull a fast one on the almighty).
  • "Frinkenstein" - Soon to be Nobel-prize winning Professor Frink reanimates his father for some gruesome body parts-swapping.
  • "Stop the World, I Want to Goof Off" - A parody of Clockstoppers, starring Bart and Milhouse. Guest stars for the episode include Jerry Lewis, Jennifer Garner, Dudley Herschbach, and Oscar De La Hoya. 
  • My Mother the Carjacker - Homer learns of his mother's whereabouts, through clues that she leaves in the newspaper. When Mother Simpson returns to Springfield, she is quickly recognized by police and Mr. Burns, and is taken to court over her germ warfare sabotage from the 60s. Guest stars Tom Kenny and Glenn Close.
  • The President Wore Pearls - After Martin stages a school charity casino that turns ugly, Lisa replaces him as school president, defeating Nelson in the election. The teachers decide she has too much power and distract her from making real changes by filling her days with meaningless duties. 
  • The Regina Monologues - Mr. Burns loses a thousand-dollar bill that is quickly turned into the main display at the Museum of Modern Bart. After Burns shows up to reclaim his money, Bart realizes he still earned enough from charging admission to take the Simpsons to England. Guest stars include Ian McKellan, J.K. Rowling, Jane Leeves, and Prime Minister Tony Blair.
  • The Fat and the Furriest - After another failed Mother's Day gift, Homer takes the kids to Sprawl-Mart and ends up buying a Kitchen Carnival for Marge. Homer uses the Carnival to create an edible candy man, but Marge finally forces him to take it to the Springfield Dump - where he's promptly attacked by a bear. 
  • Today, I Am a Clown - When Krusty admits that he never had a Bar Mitzvah, he turns to his father for help. Later, when Krusty realizes his shooting schedule has him working on the Sabbath he proposes to hire a guest host. Not wanting to hire anyone that will upstage him or threaten his career, Krusty hires Homer.  Guest stars include Jackie Mason who reprises his role as Rabbi Krustofski, and Mr. T.
  • 'Tis the Fifteenth Season - Homer is given a Joe DiMaggio rookie card by Mr. Burns (who has no idea how much it's worth), so he sells it for a lot of money. After spending most of it on himself, Homer comes to realize his greedy ways when he sees "A Christmas Carol" on TV.  Joe Mantegna returns as Fat Tony. 
  • Marge vs. Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples and Teens, and Gays - When a group of singles, seniors, childless couples, teens, and gays band together to protest having to accommodate families (including paying property taxes used to teach children they don't have), Marge takes up the cause for the families, with some help from Bart and Lisa.
  • I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot - Homer and Bart are watching a BattleBots-type program on cable and are inspired to build a robot of their own. Marge disapproves, believing that their lack of engineering knowledge will doom their project. They build a robot anyway, but it gets slaughtered in its first competition. Unable to repair completely, they adjust the robot so that Homer can operate it from the inside. Homer and the robot begin to win competition after competition, and they eventually make it to the finals of the show that inspired them, where they not only find themselves outmatched, but with their lives at risk.
  • Diatribe of a Mad Housewife - Marge writes a novel about a woman not unlike herself married to a man not unlike Homer but who lusts for a man not unlike a muscular Ned Flanders, which becomes talked about throughout the town.  Tom Clancy and Thomas Pynchon. guest voice as themselves.
  • Margical History Tour - When the Springfield library becomes low on books, Marge educates her children on some classic tales, which include: Homer, as Henry VIII, must find a wife that will bear him a son; Lenny and Carl, as Lewis and Clark, explore the American frontier, with a little help from Sacagawea (Lisa); The story of a very Bart-like Mozart, the child musical prodigy in 18th century Austria, and his sister (Lisa) who struggles to find her own musical identity. 
  • Milhouse Doesn't Live Here Anymore - Milhouse and his mother move to Capitol City, leaving Bart without a best friend and Kirk without a son. Bart finds himself bonding with Lisa, and their relationship grows, that is, until Kirk is awarded "pity custody " of his son. Meanwhile, Homer, after getting drunk, is mistaken for a beggar, and discovers it's not a bad source of second income. Guest stars include Nick Bakay as Salem the cat (from Sabrina the Teenage Witch), William Daniels (the voice of KITT on Knight Rider), Dick Tufeld (the Lost In Space robot), and Isabel Sanford (as herself).
  • Smart and Smarter - After Apu and Majula send two of their octuplets to the prestigious Miss Wickerbottom's Pre-Nursery School, Homer is inspired to do the same for Maggie. Maggie is initially rejected because she doesn't talk, but Lisa eventually finds hidden talents in Maggie that lead to the discovery that Maggie's IQ is actually higher than Lisa's.  Guest star American Idol judge Simon Cowell appears as the Admissions Officer.
  • The Ziff Who Came to Dinner - Marge's ex-boyfriend Artie Ziff is discovered in the Simpsons' attic penniless, unemployed, and on the run from the authorities. When the feds come in to arrest Artie, they find that Homer has won all of Artie's assets in a poker game and is now the primary stockholder, and he takes the fall for Artie's shady business dealings.  Guest star Jon Lovitz reprises his role as Artie Ziff.
  • Co-Dependent's Day - Marge looks for an activity for Homer that doesn't involve beer and naively takes him to an Oktoberfest celebration. Then when Homer gets drunk, Marge winds up taking the fall for his DUI and is sent to rehab.
  • The Wandering Juvie - After setting up a fake wedding registry with a department store and receiving lots of undeserved gifts, Bart is sent to Juvenile Hall, where he befriends a bad girl named Gina, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, who helps him escape. The two of them then go on the Lam, a la The Defiant Ones. Also stars Jane Kaczmarek reprising as Judge Harm and Charles Napier as the warden.
  • My Big Fat Geek Wedding - Principal Skinner and Edna Krabappel plan their wedding, but Seymour finds himself getting cold feet during a bachelor party thrown for him at Moe's. Edna herself decides she can't go through with it, and runs away from the altar. Matt Groening appears in this episode, playing the creator of Futurama.
  • Catch 'em if You Can - Following a fight between Bart and Lisa involving water balloons, and the disruption of a family video watching, Marge and Homer look forward to taking a vacation away from the kids and going to see Uncle Tyrone. But on a whim, Marge and Homer decide to go elsewhere. 
  • Simple Simpson - Homer splurges on pork products after being inspired by a Willy Wonka-like contest where the winner of a golden ticket gets to visit Farmer Billy's Bacon Factory. A consolation prize wins him a chance to judge a pig contest at the county fair.  Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura from Star Trek) guest voices as herself.
  • The Way We Weren't - During a "family court" session, Homer and Marge wistfully recall the story of their first kiss at summer camp, and how Homer first met Lenny, Carl, and Moe. In this episode we get a glimpse at most of Springfield's more prominent citizens back when they were children.
  • Bart-Mangled Banner - While trying to avoid an inoculation at Dr. Hibbert's office, Bart's wriggling causes a side-effect and he suffers a temporary loss of hearing, which Bart milks for all that it is worth. Bart participates in the annual Springfield Elementary Donkey Basketball game. 
  • Fraudcast News - Homer ruins a town celebration by defacing a public landmark, and in the process deprives Lisa of a chance to read her poetry in front of a crowd. Discouraged, Lisa decides to publish her writing in her own newsletter, which becomes under threat of corporate takeover after Mr. Burns buys all the media outlets in town. 

Video (3 out of 5 stars)

The Simpsons is presented on DVD with a 4:3 ratio (1.33:1). Having just watched The Simpsons Movie on Blu-ray, the DVD quality suffers in comparison as you'd expect. As you get into each episode it becomes easier to ignore much of the video quality issues but the opening sequence is the roughest looking part of the show.  The opening is grainy, pixelated and it reminds me every episode how much better it would look on Blu-ray.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars)

The Simpsons is presented on DVD with English 5.1 Dolby Digital Sound. The sound quality overall was pretty much what you'd expect from an animated show on DVD. Nothing exciting but nothing worth complaining over. Audio fared slightly better than the video.

Special Features (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

There are a decent number of special features on the DVD including commentary for every episode. Matt Groening is of course, all over the features.
  • All Aboard With Matt – Introduction from Matt Groening
  • The Unusual Ones - Featurette
  • Living in the Moment - Featurette
  • Audio Commentary – Commentary is optional for all 22 episodes
  • Sketch Galleries
  • Animation Showcase
  • Commercials – Commercials featuring the Simpson’s characters
  • Deleted Scenes

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars)

The Simpsons Season 15 is a lot like Seasons 1-14 and that's not such a bad thing. They show has failed to surprise me but has continued to entertain. While I enjoyed Season 15, I did not enjoy the set's packaging. The DVD set contains 4 discs housed in a book style case.  The discs slide in between the pages and were hard to get in and out.  Furthermore, the outer green cas does not have an opening for the book to just slide into, you must open and close one side of the box.  This sealed on all sides design was too difficult to manage quickly, especially in the dark.  I did like the Springfield Visitors Guide book which gives information on each episode, and the special features content provided. I like to leave all the features for after I've watched the entire season and this book made it easy to know what I would find on each disc.

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