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Simpsons: Season 16 Blu-ray Review

By   Dec 16, 2013 11:43 AM EST

The Simpsons: The Sixteenth Season may in fact be "more of the same", but in this case, that's decidedly good news.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of just how indestructible The Simpsons seems to be is the fact that the latest Blu-ray release of The Simpsons is "only" its sixteenth season—which aired virtually a decade ago from fall 2004 to spring 2005! Many of us have always felt a special relationship to Homer, Marge and the rest of the extended Springfield clan—as many know, series creator Matt Groening grew up in Portland and many of the main characters' surnames in the show are actually street names in and around Portland. And while Portlandia has received the lion's share of recent attention for the semi-isolated little burg, in a very real way The Simpsons was the first series to really exploit the "Keep Portland Weird" ambience. The show has frankly fallen largely off the cultural radar as it has trundled into its third (third!) decade of broadcasting history, but it still occasionally makes news—its recent gigantic syndication sale was huge entertainment industry news, and on a much sadder note, the death of Marcia Wallace, the unmistakable voice of Bart's teacher and (eventually) Ned's wife Edna Krabappel made headlines in even mainstream news outlets. The Simpsons may indeed have lost some of its cultural mojo, but the show continues to be a prime example of character driven comedy, and as this sixteenth season proves, the show can still tap into the "current" zeitgeist with often alarming acuity, and sometimes even amazing prescience. The Simpsons continues to mine an astounding array of voice talent—in fact, is there any other animated show that could command the involvement of such disparate talents as Thomas Pynchon, Stephen Hawking and (just for good measure) 50 Cent and Gary Busey?

Usually when a critic throws around an epithet like "it's more of the same", it's an unabashed insult, but in the case of The Simpsons, it's actually a compliment—and a rather wondrous one at that, given the show's duration. While there's nothing new under the Springfield sun in this sixteenth season, and indeed at least a few episodes seem like partial retreads of those from previous seasons, there is a generally excellent consistency in the writing, which continues to provide choice comedic nuggets for all of the central cast as well as the revolving door of fantastic supporting characters and the usual assortment of (often rather odd) guest stars.

The season starts with yet another Treehouse of Horror, with its attendant send ups of both films (The Ned Zone apes The Dead Zone and history (Lisa and Bart investigate a Jack the Ripper-esque set of murders) and ends with a rather piquant examination of the longstanding rift between Protestantism and Catholicism. Sandwiched in between are 19 other episodes with varying degrees of hilarity. A brief rundown of each follows:

1. Treehouse of Horror XV: In addition to the two segments mentioned above, there's a third which riffs on the science fiction classic Fantastic Voyage.

2. All's Fair in Oven War: Two parallel stories play out in this episode, one involving Marge deciding to cheat in a baking competition (a plotline which was just recycled, albeit with Gloria and Manny, in a recent episode of Modern Family. The other has Bart "rescuing" Homer's discarded Playdude magazines and becoming something of a 10 year old swinger.

3. Sleeping With the Enemy: Once again The Simpsons tackles a rather serious subject— anorexia—with its typically insouciant sense of humor. Lisa gets teased about the size of her posterior and immediately goes on a dieting binge. Meanwhile, Marge decides to take in town bully Nelson as her new adopted son, leading to some jealousy on the part of Bart.

4. She Used to be My Girl: Kim Cattrall guest stars as an old chum of Marge's, who has gone on to considerable fame and fortune as a globe-trotting reporter. Much like Bart in the previous episode, this provokes feelings of jealousy in Marge, especially when Lisa starts hero worshipping the visitor.

5. Fat Man and Little Boy: "Little" Bart is growing up—and he's none too happy about it. His childhood "midlife" crisis leads to some unexpected riches, shunting Homer off to the sidelines, where he suddenly finds he has a daughter named Lisa waiting. The Simpsons is probably the only show on television which can make the threat of nuclear holocaust (which also crops up in the Treehouse of Horror episode this season) fodder for a joke.

6. Midnight Rx: The ever dastardly Mr. Burns, never the most generous of employers, decides to cut his employees' health benefits (and this was years before Obamacare). That leads to some unlikely drug smuggling which ultimately ensnares Smithers, Grampa, Apu and (diddly!) even Ned Flanders.

7. Mommie Beerest: It seems like virtually every season of The Simpsons has had an episode dealing with either a makeover or shutdown of Moe's, and this is this season's version of that story. In fact, there's both a shutdown and a makeover in this iteration, and Moe's long not so repressed urges for Marge finally burst through when the two become business partners.

8. Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass: We've already seen Homer as a carnival attraction in a previous season, as a human cannonball. Here, he wows a crowd with some off the cuff dance moves and becomes a football game halftime choreographer. Ned meanwhile takes a page out of The Passion of the Christ and starts producing hilariously inappropriately graphic Biblically themed movies. Several sports stars are featured as guest voice artists.

9. Pranksta Rap: Bart's nonstop scheming sets off a very funny set of dominoes in this episode (see the supplements if you'd like to hear this episode in a variety of exotic languages). When Homer and Marge forbid him to attend a rap concert, Bart of course goes anyway, and then has to fake his own kidnapping to make his disappearance plausible. That in turn sets off a chain of events that sees Kirk Van Houten both jailed and then lionized as a frightening felon.

10. There's Something About Marrying:: This turns out to be one of the more forward thinking episodes of this season, a nicely done piece on tolerance and gay marriage. Marge gets a shock when an unexpected (to her, anyway) character comes out of the closet. And to top everything off, Homer gets an internet ordination so that he can rake in the bucks marrying gays right and left.

11. On a Clear Day I Can't See My Sister: The typical dual plotline approach is highlighted again in this episode, with the first one dealing with Lisa filing a restraining order against Bart, who then has to live in the Simpsons' backyard, and the second dealing with Homer going to work at Sprawlmart as a greeter (evidently Costington's doesn't have greeters). Again, The Simpsons manages to work in acute little digs at pressing contemporary issues—in this case how big box stores treat (or mistreat) their employees—while never forsaking its inherently snarky and cyncical take on the vagaries of human nature.

12. Goo Goo Gai Pan: In another odd linking with Modern Family (which of course would not debut until a few years after this season of The Simpsons), Selma decides to adopt an Asian baby (in this case Chinese, unlike Modern Family's Vietnamese Lily). Unfortunately, she's required to name a husband, and suddenly Homer's worst nightmare has become reality—he's "married" to his sister-in-law.

13. Mobile Homer: This has elements of several episodes in previous seasons, including Homer injuring himself and Marge going on a major economizing effort, not to mention the introduction of a recreational vehicle just for good measure.

14. The Seven Beer Snitch: For me, this was one of the highlights of this season, if only because in yet another totally bizarre yet hilarious voice acting coup, this episode features architect Frank Gehry as the designer of Springfield's immense new concert hall, which of course goes bankrupt on opening night and is instantly turned into a jail. Things get even more deliriously funny when Homer ends up in the luxurious new jail and decides it's just the place for him.

15. Future-Drama: Professor Frink, who is this season's mascot (and who "wrote" the insert booklet's "What Has Science Done For Me Lately?", allows Bart and Lisa to peer into their future (another trope the series has utilized previously, as fans will probably remember). Things do not go swimmingly (literally) for Homer, who is separated from Marge and living "under the sea". Meanwhile, Bart's future shenanigans threaten Lisa's chances at happiness—so what else is new?

16. Don't Fear the Roofer: This is one of the odder, but more enjoyable, episodes of this season, with Homer maybe (or maybe not) hallucinating a "special friend" voiced by Ray Romano. Once again the series gets into rather serious philosophical matters (like the nature of perception and reality) without making things serious at all. Stephen Hawking also shows up to help straighten everyone out.

17. The Heartbroke Kid: There might just be a recessive gene in the Simpsons clan leading to substance abuse—after all, Homer is not exactly a disciplined drinker, and it turns out that Bart develops a similar addiction for junk food. That leads to disastrous health consequences for the lad, which in turn ends up with him being shipped off to a "fat farm", while the Simpsons struggle with a strategy to pay for it all.

18. A Star is Torn: Lisa participates in an American Idol style competition, and is initially coached by Homer, but ends up firing him when he turns into a marauding "stage father". He then decides to use his talents to help her chief rival.

19. Thank God, It's Doomsday: The Rapture once again pokes its (disappearing) head into a Simpsons storyline, though in a rather unlikely turn of events, Homer becomes the apocalypse's major prophet. This well done takeoff on prognosticators of the last days has a great series of gags, as Homer first predicts the end of the world and then is mortified when it doesn't actually happen.

20. Home Away from Homer: Karma's a you-know-what, as Homer finds out in this very funny episode. Poor, trusting Ned rents a room in his house to two young nubile females who run a webcam site (if you catch my drift) from the Flanders household. Ned has no clue, but Homer does, and Homer lets the entire town know about it. A mortified Ned moves away and the bully who moves into Flanders' home end up out-Homering Homer.

21. Father, Son and Holy Guest Star: This finale is mentioned above, and guest stars Liam Neeson as a hip priest trying to get Bart and Homer to accept Catholicism in their hearts.   
The Simpsons: The Sixteenth Season is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.33:1 (some of the supplemental features are in 1.78:1). The best elements here are probably with regard to the color, which is deeply saturated and nicely varied. Line detail on the other hand is frequently unstable and fuzzy looking. The Simpsons: The Sixteenth Season offers each episode with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, but the series tends to exploit the front channels much more consistently than the sides or rear channels. Dialogue is cleanly presented, and the always fun and inventive score does spill into the surround channels, as do occasional sound effects.
Special Features:
  • Audio Commentaries on every episode of the season. Though time considerations prevented me from listening to all of these all of the way through, sampling several proved they're the usual incredibly funny and chatty commentaries from the cast and crew.
Disc One:
  • Greetings, Junior Scienteers! is a kind of overview of the series with Matt Groening offering hyperkinetic narration.
  • Sketch Gallery I
  • "Lisa's Wedding" Bonus Episode - Season 6
Disc Two:
  • Special Language Feature - Pranksta Rap offers this episode in Portuguese, Italian, Czech, or Hungarian.
  • Sketch Gallery II
  • Living in the Moment supposedly features "The Longest Daycare" and "Tapped Out", but seems to really only have "Tapped Out" along with a couple of stills.
  • "Bart to the Future" Bonus Episode - Season 11  
Disc Three:
  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary  
  • Animation Showcase Future-Drama features Storyboards and Animatics accessible by toggling with the remote "Angle" button.
  • Live! It's The Simpsons! is a more or less audio supplement of a table read, with the script scrolling by.
  • "Holidays of Future Passed" Bonus Episode - Season 23
The Simpsons: The Sixteenth Season may in fact be "more of the same", but in this case, that's decidedly good news. The series did go through a bit of a slump a bit after this year, but this season has a wealth of finely tuned character comedy. The video and audio quality are completely in line with previous seasons, and the supplementary package is quite impressive

For more information about The Simpsons visit the FlickDirect Movie Database. This release has been provided to FlickDirect for review purposes. For more reviews by Chris Rebholz please click here.

The Simpsons images are © 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.

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