'The Simpsons,' which is now on its 21st season, is bona fide Americana. There’s no other way to describe a series that has so permeated our culture that references to the show can be had daily, and Homerisms like "D'oh" have actually been added to the dictionary!
When harkening back to its humble beginnings, the show's success never felt like a sure thing. The earliest animated Simpson family consisted of nothing more than crude animations for 'The Tracey Ullman Show' (which are actually featured prominently on the spine of the slipcover of this Blu-ray release). I can still remember tuning into the very first 'Simpsons' episode -- the Christmas special where Homer became a department store Santa -- only to have my mother squeal and make us shut off the TV when Bart asked, "Who the hell are you?" as he ripped Homer's Santa beard from his face. Swearing from a cartoon? This was not your typical animated series! Incredibly, 'The Simpsons' is now the longest running prime time show in American television history, and just as creator Matt Groening had hoped, it has woven its way into American culture and amassed legions of fans (many of them far more knowledgeable about the series than I am).
So, you may ask, how does the landmark 20th season stand up to some of the classic installments? The answer isn’t so simple. The 20th certainly has its moments. In the episode “Mypods and Broomsticks,” the writers take every opportunity to cleverly jab at Apple and it’s hipster-preferred products, but with other episodes like “Dangerous Curves,” we find ourselves in the all-too-familiar territory of seeing Homer and Marge’s marriage in jeopardy. This story line has been played to absolute death. It was even a main plotline in the 'The Simpsons Movie!'
Overall, while epic in number, season 20 isn't monumental in terms of the storytelling we've come to know and love from our favorite yellow family. That's not to say the season stinks, because it doesn't. There are plenty of moments for laughter: Homer and Ned Flanders becoming bounty hunters is one of my very favorite episodes. Still, when the entire season is put into focus, noticeable holes appear here and there. Add in some rehashing of old, tired plotlines and you have a ho-hum season by 'Simpsons' standards, but you still have a season of one of the best and funniest shows on TV.
Besides The Simpsons Movie,' this is the show’s first venture onto a high definition format. We Blu-ray reviewers are occasionally guilty of throwing around the phrase "mixed-bag" (often in relation to Fox releases) when it comes to reviewing a video presentation that wows in some areas, and isn’t quite up to par in others. The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is definitely a another grab bag, and while the final product is fairly palatable, this isn’t the colorful pristine masterpiece of video quality we might have expected. First off, the season is basically split down the middle, with the first half being framed in 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and the second half being framed with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The 1.33:1 framed episodes really suffer from quite a few notable issues like banding, aliasing, and less than stellar animation clarity. When the 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio kicks in the picture gets a noticeable upgrade in fine detail, clarity, and just an overall better looking picture. While the banding and the aliasing that were visible in the first half of the season are still there to some degree, they are less noticeable and not nearly as distracting. With that said, if you liked the quality of the Blu-ray for the feature-length movie, then you’ll like the quality of the last half of the season.
It’s hard to fault the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 provided on this FOX release, because ‘The Simpsons’ has never really been a show that featured a wide range of sounds. Most of the season, even times where you’d expect the surrounds to kick in, are mostly front-heavy. Everything seems to be pushed up front with the soundtrack, voices, and effects. The show isn’t built for surround sound, and that’s fine, but just beware it isn’t going to be something to show off your system. On the bright side, there is a heavy helping of LFE every now and then during explosions and the like.
Worst special features ever.
For a show with such rich, extensive history, FOX puts out a 20th season Blu-ray with just one lousy special feature?!! To call it "special" is to degrade the word, since it's only a teaser trailer for the hour-long 20th anniversary documentary hosted by Morgan Spurlock (which aired two nights before this set was even released!). Other than that, there's seriously nothing extra in this package. It's a travesty! No commentaries, no trivia tracks, no behind-the-scenes footage, no look-how-it-all-started footage, NOTHING!
Season 20 of 'The Simpsons' is certainly a milestone by anyone's standards. The series is engrained in the American culture like apple pie and baseball. It's a part of us. So why, oh why did FOX give this such a haphazard release? Some questionable video is okay, even the front-heavy audio experience is passable since we understand the nature of the beast, but the ugliness exhibited in the exclusion of any extras is abominable, especially for an iconic series like this. It's disgraceful to the show and to the fans who love it so dearly that they will still probably end up buying this Blu-ray, even with the complete lack of bonus features. With a chance to really make 'The Simpsons' shine, Fox has instead treated it like a second rate show.
This is probably best for fans only.
I have one word for you, FOX: "D'OH!"