“The Simpsons” became the longest running scripted primetime TV series in 2009, and before that it set records for being the longest running American sitcom and longest running animated TV series. Like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps going, and going: the satiric roast of popular culture via a strange yellow-skinned family, which first aired on FOX on December 17, 1989, is headed for yet another season in 2013.
Out of all the seasons, there really has been just two mediocre ones: Seasons 14 and 22. Everything else falls somewhere between good and terrific.
Season 15 was a bounce-back one for creator Matt Groening and his writers. While there may not be as many laugh-out-loud moments as in those early terrific seasons (2 through 10), and while some of the episodes seem like more of a stretch, the cultural satire is still fairly sharp and the plots manage to avoid the repetition that plagues sitcoms that DON’T draw their inspiration from the year’s headlines and pop-culture icons.
The episodes this season are also as rambling and random as ever. In one of the more true-to-life satires, the long-married Homer Simpson and his wife, Marge, get fed up with the restrictions that children place on a couple’s love life—especially after they ruin family movie night by making fun of “Love Story”—that they tell the kids they’re going to Dayton, Ohio for an uncle’s birthday. But when they get to the airport, their amorous natures kick in and on an impulse they fly to Miami instead. Back home, Lisa and Bart are watching the news with Grandpa when they are horrified to see that a tornado completely demolished the hotel at which their parents told them they’d be staying. Later, when they learn that they survived and are in Miami, the shaken kids con Grandpa into taking them to Miami, where Abe finds a man who actually appreciates his stories and the kids continue to pursue their parents, who, seeing them hot on their trail, next head for Atlantic City, and finally Niagara Falls. Finally, when Bart and Lisa get it—that their parents need some space apart from the family—they decide to leave them alone, but are surprised when they accidentally run into them at an amusement park, where Homer and Marge seek refuge in one of those bouncy inflatables that, for them, finally serves as a water bed. Grrrrrrlllllll!
Thrown in are all sorts of pop references, with a kicker that sticks the stick-in-the-mud Ned Flanders with the credit card bill.
It’s that random expansiveness that characterizes the episodes this and most seasons. Twenty-two episodes are contained on four single-sided discs and tucked into an accordion-style cardboard insert that is maddeningly difficult to get back into the closed-flap cardboard box. If you’re a true fan of the series, by-pass the cheap DVD packaging, with its heavy potential to scratch discs, and pick up Season 15 on Blu-ray instead.
Here’s a list of the episodes:
“Treehouse of Horror XIV”—Death looks for Bart, and the family tries to give him the slip, but Homer ultimately kills death and no one can die anymore. D’oh!
“My Mother the Carjacker”—Marge spots a typo and gets a free t-shirt, which makes Homer jealous; meanwhile, Homer tries to get his own t-shirt but finds trouble instead, and has an adventure with his mother.
“The President Wore Pearls”—Homer wins big at Vegas Night at Springfield Elementary, and Lisa runs for class president against Nelson.
“The Regina Monologues”—The Simpsons go to London, where Grandpa reunites with a long-lost love.
“The Fat and the Furriest”—Sprawl-Mart takes center stage as Abe works as a greeter and Lisa shops with her two aunts to buy a Mother’s Day gift for her mom.
“Today I Am a Clown”—Maggie gets locked in the bathroom, Dr. Hibbert drops off puppies that Santa’s Little Helper fathered, Krusty the Clown gets one of the puppies, and somehow it all leads to a Bar Mitzvah.
“’Tis the Fifteenth Season”—Christmas episode revolves around Mr. Burns’ holiday bonuses.
“Marge vs. Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples and Teens, and Gays”—Babies riot at a Roofi concert at Cletus’s farm, and that leads to the formation of a parent organization to revolt against children and the damages they caused.
“I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot”—A be careful what you wish for story revolves around Bart’s bike.
“Diatribe of a Mad Housewife”—Homer his fired from his job at the nuclear plant, and to pick up the slack Marge begins work as a novelist.
“Magical History Tour”—Marge and the kids are horrified to see that there are no more books on the library shelves.
“Milhouse Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”—Milhouse develops a “who cares?” attitude after a field trip, and it rattles Bart.
“Smart and Smarter”—Apu and Manjula try to get two of their octuplets into an exclusive pre-nursery school and Homer decides to do the same with Maggie.
“The Ziff Who Came to Dinner”—When the multi-plex is sold out, Homer takes the kids to see “The Re-Deadening” and it leads to all sorts of horror paranoia and the discovery that Artie Ziff has been living in the attic . . . and the police are looking for him.
“Co-Dependent’s Day”—Homer and the kids are dissatisfied with the latest installment of “Cosmic Wars.”
“Wandering Juvie”—The family goes downtown and each has an adventure, even the little one.
“My Big Fat Geek Wedding”—Principal Skinner and Mrs. Krabappel get married, and each has a bachelor/bachelorette party.
“Catch ‘em if You Can”—The episode where Marge and Homer try to ditch the kids so they can make love.
“Simple Simpson”—Homer goes all out to win a behind-the-scenes tour of a bacon factory.
“The Way We Weren’t”—Homer and Bart get into a fight over a game of spin the bottle, and land in family court, with Lisa presiding.
“Bart-Mangled Banner”—A shot from Dr. Hibbert creates a temporary loss of hearing in Bart, and he milks it for all it’s worth.
“Fraudcast News”—Lisa gets to read a poem at a landmark ceremony, which Homer basically destroys when he removes a bush that causes the landmark to break apart.
As always, “The Simpsons” is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and the picture quality is decent enough. Edges are stronger, and there’s more detail readily apparent in the Blu-ray (which, unfortunately, I wasn’t sent), but as DVDs go this one is above-average.
The audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1, which, again, is a step down from the DTS-HD MA 5.1 to be found on the Blu-ray. Additional audio options are Spanish and French Dolby Surround, with subtitles in English SDH and Spanish. At least the dialogue is clear, but I wouldn’t call the audio a very full or resonant soundtrack.
I didn’t have the time this outing to run through all of the bonus features, but there’s another nice complement of them. As with previous releases, there’s a commentary track for every single episode featuring producers, writers, directors, and actors, and there are also deleted scenes with optional commentaries. If you like to see how animation is created in layers, there’s an interesting “Multi-Angle Animation Showcase.” Other shorter features include “All Aboard with Matt,” “The Unusual Ones,” “Living in the Moment,” and original sketches and commercials.
There are plenty of good episodes in Season 15, but if you’re a “Simpsons” fan, go for the Blu-ray and avoid the cheap, infuriating, cardboard DVD cases.