“The Simpsons are going to Delaware!”
Try tracking the public’s interest in The Simpsons over the years. It started as the most-talked-about show on TV, went on to cult following status, went through a “this show isn’t as funny as it used to be” phase, and now seems to be somewhere in between “established TV institution” and back to “cult following” status. Where does season 12 fit into this? I have no idea anymore.
Homer Simpson (Dan Castellanetta, Earthworm Jim), his wife Marge (Julie Kavner, Shadows and Fog), son Bart (Nancy Cartwright), daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith, City Slickers), and baby Maggie live in Springfield, U.S.A., where they have many adventures. Such as…
• “Treehouse of Horror XI”
The annual Halloween-themed episode features a dead and ghostly Homer having to do one good deed to get into Heaven, a twisted take on some classic fairy tales, and all of Springfield under siege by cute, adorable dolphins.
Great moment: “Snorky…mad.”
• “A Tale of Two Springfields”
When the phone company splits into two area codes, it causes a civil war between the haves and have-nots. Guess which side Homer ends up leader of?
Special Guest Voice: The Who
Great Moment: A tie between “Sacred bond” and “Who huddle.”
• “Insane Clown Poppy”
When Krusty the Clown meets his long-lost daughter, he turns to Homer for parenting advice. Then, the mob gets involved.
Special Guest Voice: Drew Barrymore, Jay Mohr, and a slew of writers, including Stephen King, Amy Tan, and John Updike
Great Moment: Fat Tony and the violin
• “Lisa the Tree Hugger”
To impress a sensitive and environmentally-conscious boy, Lisa goes to extreme lengths to save a historic redwood tree. She ends up inspiring others in a way she didn’t envision.
Special Guest Voice: Joshua Jackson
Great Moment: “His favorite dread!”
• “Homer vs. Dignity”
Mr. Burns, in search of amusement, hires Homer as his personal “prank monkey,” putting Homer in a series of humiliating situations in exchange for desperately-needed cash. How far will Homer go?
Special Guest Voice: Leeza Gibbons
Great Moment: Homer and the panda
• “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes”
Homer becomes a popular Internet blogger, spreading news that simply isn’t true. One of his “articles” attracts the wrong kind of attention, which lands him in a village…between the mountains and the sea.
Special Guest Voice: Patrick McGoohan as Number Six
Great Moment: All The Prisoner spoofs are spot-on
• “The Great Money Caper”
Homer and Bart become con artists, swindling folks out of their money. As their cons get more elaborate and more high-stakes, however, the threat increases of getting caught by the law or, worse, by Marge.
Special Guest Voice: Edward Norton
Great Moment: “Surf’s up!”
• “Skinner’s Sense of Snow”
Just before the holidays, a snowstorm traps all the kids in school, with Principal Skinner as their only adult supervision. Can he keep the kids under control before cabin fever sets in? What do you think?
Great Moment: The Cirque Du Soleil spoof that opens the episode
After a decades-old crayon is removed from Homer’s brain, he becomes highly intelligent, able to enjoy the finer things in life, but this distances him emotionally from his family.
Great Moment: The Bill Paxton/Bill Pullman debate
• “Pokey Mom”
Marge befriends a thuggish ex-convict who happens to be a brilliant artist. Hoping to give this guy a chance, Marge convinces Skinner to let this guy paint a new school mural. But can an ex-con really change his ways? Meanwhile, Homer becomes an unlicensed chiropractor.
Special Guest Voice: Michael Keaton, Bruce Vilanche
Great Moment: “The shapely female form has no place in art!”
• “Worst Episode Ever”
After the Comic Book Guy survives a heart attack, he gets a new attitude toward life and starts dating. Never mind that his new girlfriend is Skinner’s mother. Bart and Milhouse run the comic book store while he’s away, and you can imagine how well that goes.
Special Guest Voice: Tom Savini
Great Moment: Forget “worst episode ever,” and try “most disgusting bedroom scene ever”
• “Tennis the Menace”
Homer randomly installs a tennis court in the back yard, which makes the Simpsons the most popular family in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, it also leads to some ugly competitiveness among the family
Special Guest Voices: Vanessa Williams, Serena Williams, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi
Great Moment: Homer’s failed attempts at tennis
• “Day of the Jackanapes”
Out of jail again, the sinister Sideshow Bob plans to sabotage Krusty’s latest retirement special by brainwashing Bart and turning him into a miniature Manchurian Candidate.
Special Guest Voice: Kelsey Grammer
Great Moment: “Yes! Yes! Work the groin!”
• “New Kids on the Blecch”
Bart is enlisted into a popular boy band, leading to worldwide fame. The band’s manager, though, has other plans for the guys. Yvan Eht Nioj!
Special Guest Voice: N’Sync
Great Moment: The irate choreographer
• “Hungry Hungry Homer”
No one believes Homer after he learns the local minor league baseball team is moving to Albuquerque, so he stages a hunger strike at the stadium.
Special Guest Voice: Stacy Keach
Great Moment: Pretty much any scene with Duffman
• “Bye Bye Nerdie”
When Lisa is confronted by a girl bully, she goes to extreme lengths to find the true secret behind bully behavior.
Special Guest Voice: Kathy Griffin
Great Moment: The kids imagining what a new kid in school might be like
• “Simpson Safari”
The family wins a trip to Africa, leading to visits to famous locales, hanging out with the natives, political overthrows, battles against poachers, and survival in the wild.
Great moment: The truth about primate researchers is finally revealed
• “Trilogy of Error”
It’s a hectic day, seen from three different perspectives. Homer loses a finger, Lisa builds a robot, and Bart discovers a hidden treasure.
Special Guest Voice: Frankie Muniz
Great Moment: “Inflammable means flammable?”
• “I’m Goin’ to Praiseland”
Still dealing with the death of his wife, Ned Flanders builds a Christian-themed amusement park in her honor. It’s a conflicting enterprise for Ned, as miracles apparently start happening at the park, and he begins romancing a popular Christian singer.
Special Guest Voice: Shawn Colvin
Great Moment: The haircut
• “Children of a Lesser Clod”
While nursing an injured leg, Homer starts his own daycare business. After he hits it off with the kids, a jealous Bart and Lisa plan revenge.
Great Moment: “I’ll mace you good!”
• “Simpsons Tall Tales”
While on the way to a once-in-a-lifetime vacation in Delaware, the family encounters a hobo who spins three classic tall tales, each with a Simpsons twist. Homer becomes the gigantic Paul Bunyon, Lisa feeds the Old West as “Connie Appleseed,” and Bart and Nelson enjoy the misadventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.
Great Moment: The “backtack” versus “tackback” gag. Also, the sponge bath
Is this the best season of The Simpsons? No. Does that mean this season is terrible? Far from it. True, several episodes this season are merely amusing rather than brilliant, but they’re sandwiched by other episodes that are real winners.
On the plus side are the more outrageous episodes. Normally, I prefer the more down-to-Earth ones that emphasize the core members of the family. But this season, the ones that are standouts are the less realistic, more over-the-top crazy ones. The family’s trip to Africa is one laugh-out-loud bit after another, the “tall tales” are filled with great gags, the Prisoner spoof is hilarious (provided you’ve seen The Prisoner), and the children trapped in school with the principal during a blizzard provides a lot of solid “cool kids versus dorky adults” comedy. It seems as if getting away from the “same-old, same-old” and taking the family in new directions has brought out the best in the animators this season.
“Trilogy of Error” is one of my all-time favorites. With its time-twisting plot loaded with robots and gangsters, it’s amazing that one 22-minute episode can contain so many laughs packed into so much story. As usual, the Sideshow Bob episode and the Halloween episodes are both winners. Some of the best celebrity guests are Michael Keaton as the misunderstood (or is he?) convict, and musical guests the Who and N’Sync, who of course poke fun at themselves and their images with enthusiasm.
Again, I wouldn’t call any episode on this set bad, just not the show at its best. Homer starting his own daycare business should be ripe with slice-of-life comedy, but the creators instead go for the “wacky” route, with a courtroom drama spoof followed by a slapstick car chase. The Comic Book Guy starting a romance should be hilarious, but it’s ill-balanced by a far-too-improbable subplot about Bart and Milhouse trying to run the comic book store. Lisa versus a girl bully should be a character piece for her, but instead this episode also gets too crazy for its own good by going into a strange mystery/thriller/sci-fi mode halfway through.
As has been the case with The Simpsons on DVD, the real reason to get excited about these sets are their digital presentation. The visuals really pop off the screen, looking brighter and more colorful than they usually look on regular syndicated TV, and the sound is excellent, as well. The other reason to be excited about this set would be the extras, highlighted by the commentaries, one for every episode, with writers, actors, producers, animators, and surprise guest stars. Other extras include an introduction from cartoonist Matt Groening, deleted scenes with commentaries, the always-great animation showcases, commercials starring Simpsons characters, rainy footage from the Simpsons Global Fanfest event, original sketches, and a tribute to the Comic Book Guy.
As with the other Simpsons DVDs, if you want to watch with the subtitles on, you have to click through about four menu pages before you get to the subtitle options. Audio options, however, can be switched on the fly while watching, just by hitting your remote’s “audio” button. It’s a small inconvenience, but an inconvenience nonetheless. Hopefully, this kink can be worked out in future DVD sets.
If you’re a fan, then buying this set is a no-brainer. If you’re one of the ones who has decided that the show had become unfunny by this point, then give Season 12 another try. I bet you’ll find a lot of laughs.