Some TV series get tired and stale after just a few seasons, with writers recycling plots, adding babies, or shaking up the cast to try to breathe new life into them. But “The Simpsons” keeps rolling merrily along, fueled by today’s headlines and pop culture—an inexhaustible trove of parody potential.
“The Simpsons” is kept fresh and alive each season by the American movies, TV shows, politicians, musicians, artists, athletes, corporations, pop science, consumer products, and the American legal system that provide material for the plots and gags. Among the pop culture elements spoofed in Season 16 are “The Dead Zone,” “Fantastic Voyage,” Playboy and adult magazines, gay marriage, capitalism, “Sleeping with the Enemy,” the flipside of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Willie Wonka, “Midnight Cowboy,” end-zone and slam-dunk displays, gangsta rap, online ministers, restraining orders, alternate universes, junk food, “A Star Is Born,” doomsday prophets, and medieval fairs.
Pop culture has kept the series going for 25 years now, and “The Simpsons” shows no signs of slowing down or running out of energy or ideas. I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t heard about the basic premise of “The Simpsons,” but cartoonist Matt Groening struck gold with this series about a nuclear power plant worker who’s so dumb you’d swear there’s a leak at the plant. Then again, there might be something to that. In Springfield, where nuclear power is the big employer in town, the stream has multi-headed fish and everyone and everything in town is just a little strange—whether it’s hyper-Christian Ned Flanders, dumb-as-a-baton Chief Wiggum, Marge Simpson’s blue hair, or the Simpson’s yellow pallor that tip you off.
All 21 episodes from Season 16 are included in this latest Blu-ray release, the best and most classic of which are “Midnight Rx” (about prescription drug runs to Canada), “Pranksta Rap” (where Bart fakes his own kidnapping to avoid punishment for going to a rap concert), and “Future-Drama” (in which Prof. Frink shows Bart and Lisa their lives eight years into the future).
Almost as amazing as the show’s long run is the fact that most of the original voice talents are still with the series: Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Yeardley Smith, Nancy Cartwright, Julie Kavner, and Dan Castellaneta. I got a $300 gift card for working at the same place for 25 years. Hollywood trade papers reported in 2004 that the cast was paid $125,000 per episode but lobbied for more pay. Whatever they finally got from Fox, it’s money well spent.
Here’s a rundown on the 21 episodes, which are contained on three plastic center-hole clips in a slightly larger-than-normal Blu-ray case and housed in an embossed cardboard slipcase. Descriptions are from a slick 26-page full-color booklet that accompanies the set:
“Treehouse of Horror XV”—This year’s thrillogy features “The Ned Zone,” in which a knock to the noggin of Ned Flanders uncannily enables him to foretell the future—or does it—“Four Beheadings and a Funeral,” where a knife-wielding killer roams Victorian London, and “In the Belly of the Boss,” a fantastic journey (ok, voyage) through what can charitably be called the body of Mr. Burns.
“All’s Fair in Oven War”—“All’s Fair in Oven War” depicts the havoc that erupts when the Simpsons remodel. Bart becomes enthralled by adult magazines—witout the adult part—and remodels his life accordingly.
“Sleeping with the Enemy”—Bart and Lisa encounter two terrors of being a kid: Bart is tormented by a bully, whom Marge invites to live in their house, while Lisa fears she can never be thin enough.
“She Used to Be My Girl”—Shows Marge wondering what her life would have been like had she pursued a career in journalism instead of having a family.
“Fat Man and Little Boy”—When Bart loses his last baby tooth, he suddenly feels old. He pours himself into a new business, making smart alecky T-shirts for a bizarre, Willy Wonka-ish manufacturer named Goose Gladwell.
“Midnight Rx”—Mr. Burns throws a party for the power plant workers only to announce he is terminating their prescription drug program. Grandpa and the seniors realize their only hope for affordable pills is smuggling drugs from Canada.
“Mommie Beerest”—When the health inspector dies, Moe discovers his successor is not as friendly. To help Moe save his bar, Marge converts it into an English pub. But Homer begins to feel that Marge and Moe are having an “emotional affair.”
“Homer and Ned’s Hail Mary Pass”—Features guest appearances by the formidable lineup of Tom Brady, LeBron James, Michelle Kwan, Yao Ming and Warren Sapp. Homer develops a business encouraging pro athletes to develop creative taunts, while Ned Flanders is so outraged by the indecency on television that he makes a movie of his own.
“Pranksta Rap”—Bart is forbidden by his parents from attending a hip-hop concert, but does anyway. To cover up his lie he pretends to be kidnapped—and Chief Wiggum takes this as an opportunity to do the best police work of his life.
“There’s Something about Marrying”—An amiable public television journalist finds Springfield to be the most unfriendly town he’s ever met. To restore its tourist business, Springfield legalizes gay marriage and Homer becomes an online minister.
“On a Clear Day I Can’t See My Sister”—When Bart embarrasses Lisa during a school field trip, she decides to get a restraining order against him. Bart is at first skeptical (and Marge watches an instructional video on restraining orders hosted by Gary Busey) but is dismayed at how hard it can be to stay no closer than 20 feet from his sister.
“Goo Goo Gai Pan”—Selma learns she is going through menapause, with the help of a video narrated by Robert Wagner. Realizing she’ll never have a baby of her own, she decides to go to China to adopt a child.
“Mobile Homer”—After Homer has a disastrous encounter with spiders in the garage, Marge worries about what they’d do for money after Homer is gone. She becomes very penurious and an aggravated Homer retaliates by purchasing a mobile home.
“The Seven-Beer Snitch”—A Franky Gehry-inspired concert house proves unpopular when the residents of Springfield discover they hate classical music. Mr. Burns buys the hall and repurposes it as a prison. Meanwhile, Lisa discovers her cat has a double life.
“Future-Drama”—Professor Frink builds a machine that claims to project the future. We see a world where Milhouse is muscle-bound, Marge is dating Krusty, and Bart is suddenly bound for Yale.
“Don’t Fear the Roofer”—Homer keeps putting off fixing a leaky roof. After being nagged by Marge, he is happy to meet with a friendly contractor (voiced by Ray Romano). As time passes, however, the rest of the family begins to doubt if this contractor even exists.
“The Heartbroke Kid”—The school assigns its vending machine contract to unhealthy snacks, with the mascots “Scammer and Z-Dog.” Bart becomes particularly addicted to the sweets, and unusually for a 10 year old, has a heart attack.
“A Star Is Torn”—Lisa enters a “Li’l Starmaker” contest, but is dismayed to discover how tough the competition really is. Homer becomes an overprotective stage parent, so abusive that Lisa fires him. Homer goes to work for Lisa’s main competitor, and Lisa wonders just where his heart truly lies.
“Thank God It’s Doomsday”—A film about the rapture convinces Homer the end of the world is near. He draws the rest of Springfield into his beliefs, only to be terribly disappointed when the chosen hour comes and nothing happens.
“Home away from Homer”—Two sexy young women board at Flanders’ house and put their daily, titillating life online, unbeknownst to Ned. When he learns the town was mocking him behind his back, Flanders decides to move.
“The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star”—When Willie releases rats at the school medieval festival, Bart is blamed and expelled. He goes to Catholic school, where he befriends a cool priest named Father Sean and, to Marge’s dismay, considers converting.
Episodes are still presented in 1.33:1, and while there’s a consistent level of grain that we usually don’t get in Blu-rays, the detail is still improved over the DVDs, and so too is the color saturation and suggestion of depth. If there are any compression issues as a result of the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to three 50GB discs, I didn’t notice.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 (48kHz, 24MBPS) that delivers a full, rounded tone and clarity from low tones to high. But a dialogue-heavy series means front-heavy sound, so don’t look for much rear-speaker involvement. Additional audio options are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.
As customary, each episode comes with a full-length commentary featuring an array of cast and crew members, creators, and guest stars, and the show’s format and general tone seems to encourage freewheeling conversations and plenty of joking. In addition, fans also get deleted scenes (playable with or without commentary), a “Holidays of Future Passed” bonus episode from Season 23, a “Lisa’s Wedding” bonus episode from Season 6, an audio version of a script table read that you can follow along with, and a few sketch and storyboard galleries. So while the episodes keep coming, the bonus features have come to the point where “bonus episodes” are being used to pad the extras.
Keep “The Simpsons” Blu-rays coming, Fox, and keep up with the Blu-jewel cases and cardboard slipcases. Blu-ray is the way to go for fans of the show. The picture is better and the packaging is far superior to what Fox has been inflicting on DVD buyers.