The Simpsons hits the decade mark. This 10th season box set includes all 23 episodes from the 1998-1999 season, after producer Mike Scully had taken over show-runner duties from departing producers David Mirkin, Josh Oakley, and Bill Weinstein. A lot of folks like to whine and bitch and moan and complain about how The Simpsons isn’t “as funny as it used to be.” And yet, if I were up to you and say something like “Max Power” or “Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con” or “Super Bowl episode” or “Canyonaro” or “Simpsons Bible Stories” or “Knife goes in, guts come out,” you’d probably smile and nod, wouldn’t you?
Homer and Marge Simpson live in the quaint small town of Springfield with their three children, Bart, 10, Lisa, 8, and Maggie, 1. They have many adventures. For example:
• “Lard of the Dance”
Are kids growing up too fast these days? That’s the dilemma when a forward-thinking ‘tween wannabe encourages Lisa and the other girls to be ultra-hip. When they want to have their first school dance, though, Lisa wonders if she and her classmates are too young for this sort of thing. Meanwhile, grease is the word (and the scam) for Homer and Bart.
Celebrity guest voice: Lisa Kudrow
Great moment: Homer’s eye-popping fight with Groundskeeper Willie.
• “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace”
Homer does the whole mid-life crisis thing, worrying that he hasn’t accomplished anything in his life. His feelings worsen when he learns about Thomas Edison, who had made numerous inventions by the time he was Homer’s age. Homer decides to top Edison by becoming an inventor himself, but the road to fame and fortune might also include trashing the Edison Museum.
Celebrity guest voice: William Daniels, reprising his role as K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider.
Great moment: Homer’s make-up gun is set on “whore.”
• “Bart the Mother”
Neighborhood bully Nelson peer-pressures Bart into shooting at a bird. Bart kills it, only to discover that it had some eggs to take care of. Bart takes the eggs home and secretly cares for them. Once they hatch, things get really interesting.
Celebrity guest voice: Phil Hartman, in his final appearance on the show.
Great moment: Nelson says to Marge, “Cram it, ma’am.”
• “Treehouse of Horror IX”
It’s the annual Halloween show, featuring three tales of terror, bloody carnage, and alternate-reality high jinks. In “Hell Toupee,” Homer gets a hair transplant from a murderer, and starts having murderous impulses of his own. In “Terror of Tiny Toon,” Bart and Lisa are transported into a typically violent Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, as well as a few other notable programs. Finally, in “Starship Poopers,” Maggie’s true father returns from outer space to take her home with him. It’s a problem that can only be solved by appearing on The Jerry Springer Show.
Celebrity guest voices: It’s a talk show-themed Halloween, with appearances by Ed McMahon, Regis Philbin, Kathy Lee Gifford, and Jerry Springer. Plus, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo by Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger.
Great moment: Kang and Marge in “the alley.”
• “When you Dish Upon a Star”
Homer discovers two celebrities, Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, have a secret hideaway home in Springfield. He becomes their friend, enjoying the swanky celebrity high life. But it’s only a matter of time before the tabloid-obsessed populace of Springfield learns Homer’s secret.
Celebrity guest voices: Baldwin and Basinger, along with director Ron Howard and producer Brian Frazer.
Great moment: A celebrity-filled Winnebago chase that’s like something out of The Road Warrior.
• “D’oh-in’ in the Wind”
While on an epic quest to remember his own middle name, Homer meets two hippies who were former friends of his mother. Homer decides to take on the hippie lifestyle, by “freaking out” all the “squares.”
Celebrity guest voices: George Carlin and Martin Mull
Great moment: The entire town starts hallucinating.
• “Lisa Gets an ‘A'”
When Lisa is at home from school with a cold, she spends more time playing one of Bart’s video games then she does studying. Not prepared for a test, she’s tempted to cheat by buying the answers from a fellow student. Homer, meanwhile, brings home a lobster for dinner, but ends up too attached to the little fellow to cook him. It’s now “Mr. Pinchy,” Homer’s new best pal.
Great moment: Mr. Pinchy, when seen from both Homer and Marge’s separate perspectives.
• “Homer Simpson in: ‘Kidney Trouble'”
When Grandpa’s bladder bursts after not being able to go to the bathroom on a long trip, Homer offers to donate one of his kidneys. But pre-surgery doubts get to Homer, so he runs at the last minute, ending up on the “Ship of Lost Souls.”
Great moment: Homer goes to the ocean because, he says, “The sea forgives all. Not like those mean old mountains. I hate them so much.”
• “Mayored to the Mob”
Homer rescues Mayor Quimby’s life while at the bi-monthly science fiction convention, so Quimby hired Homer as his new bodyguard. Bodyguarding isn’t all honking at broads, though. It becomes deadly when local gangster Fat Tony goes after the mayor.
Celebrity guest voice: Mark Hamill.
Great moment: Guys and Dolls, now with Jedi knights.
• “Viva Ned Flanders”
Ned Flanders, Homer’s neighbor, worries that he has become a boring and predictable person, so he asks Homer to teach him how to have fun. The “Homer Simpson Program” involves a lot of alcohol and a trip to Vegas. In the midst of their morning-after hangovers, Homer and Ned learn they’ve done something they both might regret.
Celebrity guest voice: The Moody Blues.
Great moment: The Las Vegas establishing shots have some of the season’s best freeze-frame gags.
• “Wild Barts Can’t be Broken”
A town-wide curfew frustrates the kids of Springfield to no end. Inspired by the evil kids in the movie The Bloodening, Bart and the others come up with a plan to take back the town from the adults, by revealing all their parents’ dirty secrets for all to hear.
Celebrity guest voice: Cyndi Lauper
Great moment: When Milhouse suggests using the Internet, Bart says, “No, we have to reach people whose opinions actually matter.”
• “Sunday Cruddy Sunday”
With the help of a gullible travel agent, Homer rounds up a group of Springfieldians for a trip to the Super Bowl. All doesn’t go as planned, though, and our heroes get chased all over the stadium by security, finally landing in “Super Bowl jail.” Marge and Lisa, meanwhile, discover the wonders of “Vincent Price’s Egg Magic.”
Celebrity guest voices: Fred Willard, Dolly Parton, Troy Aikman, Rosey Grier, John Madden, Dan Marino, Pat Summerall, and Fox Network President Rupert Murdoch.
Great moment: “The Catholic Church—We’ve made a few changes.”
• “Homer to the Max”
Homer is delighted when a cool action hero on the new show Police Cops is also named “Homer Simpson.” Then, a week later, he’s a laughing stock when the show is retooled to make “TV Homer” a big fat idiot. In retaliation, Homer legally changes his name to “Max Power,” a decision that makes him a member of Springfield’s elite power players.
Celebrity guest voice: Ed Begley Jr.
Great moment: When asked “Do you like Thai?” Max Power responds, “Thai good. You like shirt?”
• “I’m with Cupid”
When Apu goes out of his way to pledge his love to his wife on Valentine’s Day, Homer and the other men of Springfield start to feel inadequate. They set out to learn what Apu’s final and most elaborate romantic gift is, and put a stop to it.
Celebrity guest voice: Elton John
Great moment: Apu’s delivery to the old sea captain.
• “Marge Simpson in: ‘Screaming Yellow Honkers'”
Behind the wheel of a brand-new F-series Canyonaro, Marge experiences her first taste of road rage. Unfortunately, this lands her traffic school, where she’s instructed to control her anger. But that what might be what she needs to save her family from rampaging rhinos.
Celebrity guest voice: Hank Williams Jr. returns to sing the “Canyonaro” theme again.
Great moment: Hank Williams Jr. returns to sing the “Canyonaro” theme again.
• “Make Room for Lisa”
Homer’s selfishness leads to a cellular phone tower installed in his daughter’s bedroom. To make it up to her, Homer spends the day with Lisa, with a spiritual awakening (of sorts) inside a sensory depravation tank.
Great moment: Homer describes inner peace as, “Tough on the ol’ coconut.”
• “Maximum Homerdrive”
To honor an “American hero” who defeated him in a steak-eating contest, Homer becomes a truck driver, bringing Bart along for the ride. But when they discover the secret of the truckers’ world, the ride might be cut short. Permanently.
Great moment: Senor Ding-Dong!
• “Simpsons Bible Stories”
Similar to the Halloween episodes, this one give biblical classics the Simpsons treatment. Homer and Marge are recast as Adam and Eve, Milhouse and Lisa try to convince the Pharaoh to let their people go, and Bart fills King David’s sandals for a rematch against Goliath.
Celebrity guest voice: None, unless you count AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” on the soundtrack.
Great moment: “I don’t know Dav-ey.”
• “Mom and Pop Art”
Homer’s failed attempt at building a backyard barbecue is accidentally mistaken for a work of sculpture, making Homer the latest craze in the world of high art. It’s hard to stay on the cutting edge, though, and the pressure is on Homer to come up with something truly amazing.
Celebrity guest voices: Isabella Rosselini, Jasper Johns.
Great moment: Homer’s new Euro-trash buddies pay a visit to Moe’s.
• “The Old Man and the ‘C’ Student”
Springfield comes this close to hosting the Olympics, if wasn’t for some last-minute antics from Bart. For punishment, Bart has to volunteer at the old folks’ home, where he sees the opportunity to bring some excitement into their lives. A scheme to do so involves Mr. Burns’ yacht.
Celebrity guest voice: Jack La Lanne
Great moments: A Hard Day’s Night revisited.
• “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love”
After the townsfolk are smitten with a charming adventurous millionaire, Mr. Burns decides he wants public popularity. To do so, he goes overseas with Homer, Willie, and Professor Frink to capture the one and only Loch Ness Monster.
Celebrity guest voice: Michael McKean
Great moment: Conversing with the Scottish townsfolk.
• “They Saved Lisa’s Brain”
A letter to the editor earns Lisa a membership in Mensa with the rest of Springfield’s geniuses. When the group tries to improve life in town, their efforts start to get out of hand. It’s going to take a real voice of reason to save the day. While all this is happening, Homer experiments with boudoir photography.
Celebrity guest voice: Professor Stephen Hawking
Great moment: “Take that, East Saint Louis!”
• “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo”
A seminar on penny pinching results in a budget-conscious vacation to Japan. It’s all about sumo wrestlers, paper doors, origami, fish factories, wacky game shows, and more. In order to get back home, the Simpson family must cross a bridge over a bubbling hot volcano. Is this…the end? Nah, it’s just the season finale.
Celebrity guest voices: George Takei, Gedde Watanabe.
Great moment: “Knife goes in, guts come out. Knife goes in, guts come out.”
Returning again to the topic of Internet whining, it was only until recently that there were many disparaging opinions among bitter fans as to what year they felt the series had gone from brilliant to sucktastic. A lot of those discussions ended with the Season Nine DVDs came out. The extras there revealed how many of the longtime producers and writers left to pursue other projects. Many commentaries on the Season Nine set had someone saying, “This was the last episode I worked on.” I, on the other hand, feel that new faces behind the scenes don’t necessarily make the show worse. Different, yes, but not worse.
Instead of 23 great episodes, what we have in Season 10 is 23 episodes with great moments. Even if your initial reaction is, “This episode isn’t one of the early classic ones,” keep watching and you’ll see or here something that’ll crack you up, guaranteed. It could be a sharp witticism, a venomous critique on society, a huge piece of slapstick, a movie spoof, or, yes, something gross and lowbrow. The Simpsons know good comedy, and there’s plenty of it here.
Another common online complaint is, “Why buy DVDs when the show is on TV seven days a week (if not more)?” Aside from not having to look at network promos on the bottom of the screen, it appears to me that these discs are an improvement over what’s broadcast. Comparing these to a 2003 episode on my Tivo, the colors seem just slightly brighter on the DVDs. The less eye-stinging colors, such as the gray of Moe’s hair, have a slight haze to it. On disc, though, Moe’s hair is a more consistent, clean-looking shade of gray. The sound work continues to be nice, in 5.1 surround that is similarly clean and free of flaws.
The commentaries are another reason to pick up these discs instead of relying on syndication. Every single episode has one, with producers, writers, animators, voice actors, and the occasional guest star. These tracks are not only wildly funny, but they also reveal a lot of little details to look for, and they provide a solid look into the creative process that goes into each episode. Each commentary is a must-listen.
For other extras, creator Matt Groening offers a brief intro to the season, the deleted scenes with commentary provide some extra laughs, and others show the animation in a rougher form, such as animatics and storyboards. It’s fascinating to see just how rough the early drawings are. In some, Homer doesn’t look like Homer at all, and Bart is represented as a simple red rectangle, with details to be “filled in” later in the process. There are a bunch of commercials the characters have appeared in, including a few from Australia. This is followed by a foreign-language featurette and a compilation of Bart’s prank calls to Moe. Finally, there’s a very funny deleted scene from The Simpsons Movie.
There are a lot of laughs, and a lot of really big ones, in this season, but I’ll admit there is something missing. On previous season DVD sets, the show’s creators talked about the desire to do stories with heart, ones that, along with the comedy, had an emotional core to them. Not all of the episodes this season are like that, though. When the Simpsons go to Japan, there are non-stop laughs, but where is the emotional element to the story? What do the characters learn? How do they change? Even a ridiculous comedy cartoon like The Simpsons has to ask these questions. This time around, though, only the better episodes do.
Look, most everybody likes the show, right? And everybody likes to laugh, right? In The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season, you’ll laugh and laugh a lot. Not guilty.