Saturday, March 13, 2010

DVD Review The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition

The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition

(Released January 12, 2010 by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

When last we left The Simpsons on DVD, the “Complete 12th Season” had been released as a Standard Definition set on August 18, 2009.

For that set, and every other since the beginning, my review comments below for the “Complete 11th Season(SEE REVIEW HERE) had been applicable:

If there were a single DVD product that consistently stands above the rest, it would be each and every release of THE SIMPSONS!

Indeed, every review I could write would sound the same. The episodes are always great, and no series offers more in the way of extra features and general quality!

That was then. This is now…

As you may know from THIS POST, I’ve recently joined the HD TV / Blu-ray ranks. “Joined” is hardly the word! More like I’ve drunk the “HD Kool-Aid” and would storm the Gates of Hell on the merest word from Blu-ray! Kinda like Homer Simpson and donuts. Mmmm… Donuts! Mmmm… HD and Blu-ray!

The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition marked my first Blu-ray DVD purchase. I knew going in that about only HALF the 20th Season was produced for HD broadcast and, thus, only half the set would be fully Blu-ray capable. To view this any other way would be unfairly critical. However, many unexpectedly unpleasant surprises were to be found therein. Which takes us to…

…Our customary list of CONS and PROS. Between the CONS and PROS, we’ll add a neutral catch-all category we’ll call OTHER.


Only Half a Season of HD: But, again, this is known to any fan of the show. The HD episodes, which began on February 15, 2009, are easily identified to all by the NEW OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE that, even if in a blur, shows just about every member of the extensive cast. See THIS POST for details on what and whom you may have missed during the quick camera pan.

The Special Features: NO ONE… and I mean NO ONE did DVD Special Features like THE SIMPSONS! Consider that each previous set offered most if not all of the following:

Commentaries with writers, directors, producers, and actors on EVERY EPISODE.

Creator Matt Groening’s Introductory Feature for each Season Set – discussing the high points and guest stars.

Animated menus that reflected the contents of each disc.

A detailed and lavishly illustrated BOOKLET, listing the contents of the set, original airdates, and other notable aspects of each episode.

Deleted scenes. Offered as “Stand Alone” (with optional commentary) or, with a touch of your remote, integrated into their intended spots as part of the episodes.

Selected storyboards and animatics.

Easter Eggs, offering hidden surprises.

None of this is included with The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition!

There is a bare-bones listing of episode titles, listed by disc, and a PROMO for FOX TV’s Simpsons 20th anniversary special. Not the special, mind you. That might have been welcome. Nope! We get only the promo FOR the special, which is billed as a “Special Feature”. Nothing else!

One can only hope that the reason for this is that The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition was a “rush-job” intended to capitalize on the unprecedented occasion of an animated series running for twenty seasons and beyond. Hopefully, when FOX Video resumes the series with Season 13, the usual list of goodies will return.

Still, this leaves me very dissatisfied… especially if there is a fully-loaded release of Season 20 in the future!


The Menus:
Unlike the more elaborately animated menus of sets past, The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition menus present simple graphics of the heads of various characters being slowly drawn in outline. Disc One’s menu plays a “hauntingly slow” version of The Simpsons theme, while Disc Two’s menu offers a more lively and jazzy version.

HD Distribution: The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition is a Two Disc Set, with all 9 Standard Definition episodes on Disc One and all 12 High Definition episodes on Disc Two. I understand the SD version’s discs are distributed differently.

Lots of Lisa: This is only apparent when watching Season 20 in order, without interruptions and older repeats thrown into the mix. 10 out of 21 total Season 20 episodes are “Lisa-centric” in either their main plot, or their sub-plot. That’s okay with me, as I like the character of Lisa, but here she seems to rival Homer for the most screen time.


The Half Season of HD:
The Standard Definition episodes of The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition look great!

Sharp colors, but not presented in wide-screen. This results in the far right and the far left of the flat screen displaying “horizontal black space”, while the image (…though vastly improved over that played on a SD DVD player) occupies the basic center of the screen only.

The High Definition episodes, however, fill the entire screen with bright, sharp, and vivid colors! It is like no Simpsons I’ve ever seen before!

The Packaging: After all the CONS of this set, here’s an unexpected PRO. The Season 11 and Season 12 sets were simply awful in their packaging. Details are found in THIS POST!

The packaging for The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition has reversed that unfortunate trend and provided more conventional and sturdy protective packaging.

And, of course, the biggest PRO of any Simpsons set…

The Episodes: Over and over the Internet continues to drone on about how The Simpsons is no longer funny. Not so, as this current batch proves.

Here are some of the highlights (without airdates, because they’re not included):

“HD” denotes the episode is in High Definition.

Sex, Pies and Idiot Scrapes Marge unknowingly works for an erotic bakery, while Homer and Flanders become bounty hunters! What a way to start a season!

Treehouse of Horror XIX Voting machines with minds of their own, transforming lethal household objects, dead celebrity product endorsements, an unbelievable send-up of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”, and even a cleverly constructed parody of the opening of MAD MEN are among the delights of our annual Halloween episode.

“Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words” Lisa finds a new passion – The New York Times Crossword Puzzle. Times Crossword editor Will Shortz appears as himself. Perhaps “Hard Luck Gil’s” only great moment!

Mypods and Broomsticks Two great stories in one episode. Lisa overindulges in her new “myPod”, receives a massive bill for music downloads, and pleads with “Steve Mobs” (at his idyllic, underwater compound) to forgive the debt. Bart befriends an Arabic boy, and Homer immediately suspects his father of being a terrorist. Unfortunately for all, he sets out to prove it… as only he can! Great climax!

The Burns and the BeesLisa establishes a bee colony and Mr. Burns plans to build a mega-arena for his new professional basketball team on that very site. Opens with a special Christmas / Holiday / Winter variation of the usual opening title sequence. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and sportscaster Marv Albert play themselves.

Take My Life, Please” (HD) Homer blames his failure to be elected High School Class President as the reason he is not included in Springfield’s “Wall of Fame” – an all-inclusive monument to the town’s achievers that includes even Poochie! This is the first HD episode.

How the Test was Won” (HD) Lisa frets over a standardized test. Skinner and his school’s underachievers have an adventure in Capital City. Homer forgets to mail his property insurance payment. This bit culminates in a hilarious climax that injures a passing Mr. Burns… just in the nick of time for the insurance to pay the damages.

Gone Maggie Gone” (HD) With Marge temporarily blinded, Homer accidentally allows Maggie to be claimed by an ancient order of nuns. Lisa infiltrates the order to reclaim her sister, leading to a “Di Vinci Code-like” adventure concerning one of Springfield’s landmarks. Hysterical ending, confirming everything we’ve ever suspected about Bart.

In the Name of the Grandfather” (HD) Homer and Grandpa Simpson end up owning an old Irish Pub, and try to make it work in modern day Ireland. Lots of great “Irish parody” names of well known chain stores, businesses, and products.

Four Great Women and a Manicure” (HD) Marge takes Lisa for her first nail salon manicure. This serves as a backdrop for the pair to tell female-centric stories. Highlight: The story of Lisa as “Snow White, with Homer, Moe, Barney, Lenny, Kearney, Dr. Hibbard, and Mr. Burns as the dwarfs – with a great “Hi-Ho” parody song and the expected jabs at Disney lawyers.

Coming to Homerica” (HD) The Swedes of neighboring Ogdenville invade Springfield when O-ville’s barley-based economy tanks. At first, they are welcome. But soon, Springfield is gripped by anti “Barley Jack” hysteria. A great commentary on the nation’s immigration controversy.

OVERALL: The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition delivers a remarkable amount of entertainment and laughs for a series that’s been around, non-stop for two decades. And the half season’s worth of HD episodes are magnificent!

However, given all the CONS vs. the high standards that the series DVD sets have previously maintained, I cannot give it a high recommendation.

Enjoy it for what it is, but never lose sight of what it could have been. D’OH!

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