Thursday, February 14, 2013

Life Continues In Springfield And The DVD Collection Continues With The Simpsons - Season 10!

The Good: Funny, Great DVD extras, Some interesting guest stars
The Bad: Repetitive, Does not hold up as well over multiple viewings
The Basics: As The Simpsons descends from edgy into the conventional, The Simpsons - The Complete Tenth Season arrives with good DVD extras and a light recommendation.

As shameful as it may be for a fan of The Simpsons, I still have not yet seen the feature film. Summer was busy and I just haven't gotten to it yet. Strangely, I have managed to pick up The Simpsons - The Complete Tenth Season on DVD and get through that. I suppose it's easier to have it delivered and watch it on my time as opposed to going through the hassle of going to the theaters. That said, I suppose it's equally shameful of a fan of The Simpsons to so weakly recommend the boxed set of DVD episodes, yet that is where I find myself yet again with this series.

The Simpsons - The Complete Tenth Season is available in two packages: the traditional spine slipcase package and a more fun plastic case featuring the head of Bart Simpson (this is the final head of a main character to be produced; this package variation began with The Simpsons - The Complete Sixth Season, reviewed here!). For those unfamiliar with the packaging, it's like a plastic easter basket or a decent halloween mask in consistency. The tenth season found the show packing twenty-three episodes which relied - certainly in their initial promotion - heavily on the guest starring roles of voice over performers. The show repeated a number of plots and character ideas and also becomes more self-referential than ever.

As well, this season continues the plot-driven humor of the episodic series. This means that for the most part the series does not reference past episodes and the characters do not so much grow and change as they fall into situations. In the tenth season of The Simpsons, the show finds itself tackling situations like Lisa troubled by a more mature classmate, Homer becoming idolizing Thomas Edison, Bart shooting a bird, Lisa becoming obsessed with a video game and playing hooky, Homer becoming an organ donor to grandpa, and the kids of Springfield being given a curfew. As well, Homer and friends go to the Super Bowl, Apu dominates Valentine's Day, Marge develops road rage, and Mr. Burns captures the Loch Ness monster. As well, the boxed set contains the requisite "Treehouse of Horrors" (IX - with "Hell Toupee," "The Terror Of Tiny Toon," and "Starship Poopers") and a similarly structured "Simpsons Bible Stories" episode. The success of the latter sets up similar storytelling endeavors for future seasons.

But as much as what the Simpson family is up to, this boxed set reflects the show's priority of who the Simpsons have their adventures with. In short, by this boxed set, the priority is weakly on the storytelling and almost as much as on attracting decent guest stars for the episodes. In this set, the celebrities include: Lisa Kudrow, Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford - in one of the show's few live-action bits - Jerry Springer, Ed McMahon, Robert Englund, Alec Baldwin, Kim Bassinger, Ron Howard, George Carlin, Martin Mull, Mark Hamill, John Madden and a few NFL stars, Ed Begley Jr., Isabella Rossellini, Michael McKean, Stephen Hawkins, and George Takei. As well, the series attracted musical guests Dolly Parton (who manages not to sing), Hank Williams Jr., Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, and the Moody Blues. Sadly, this season also marks the final appearance of Phil Hartman as he was killed well prior to his final episode airing. For a season that has only twenty-three episodes, that sixteen of them trade on their significant guest stars seems cheap.

But the real reason to watch The Simpsons is for the personalities of the principle characters. They may not grow like the best characters on television, but they do have something that most do not; endurance based on their memorability. Even in the tenth season, the characters are funny and their traits often inform and guide their foibles and adventures. Here is what the tenth season finds the principle characters doing:

Bart Simpson - Still trapped in the fourth grade, Bart bides his time killing a bird to impress Nelson (and then raising the chicks of the deceased mother), fights the town's curfew by exposing secrets about adults in Springfield, and costs Springfield the olympics which leads him to volunteer at the Springfield Retirement Castle where he tries to spice up life for the senior citizens,

Lisa - Finds herself competing with a new student who is popular and more mature than most, learns to cheat after playing a video game and neglecting her studies, becomes ill when Homer is forced to take in a cellular phone tower in the middle of her room, and she is inducted into Mensa after observing how poorly run Springfield is,

Marge - Installs a new doorbell and finds an old egg coloring kit with Lisa, taps into the calls of most of Springfield using her baby monitor, gives up on Bart when he kills a bird and develops road rage when she begins driving an SUV,

Maggie - Shows up as a supporting character only in this season, mostly just popping up to resolve one episode,

and Homer - Homer's big act each season seems to be what jobs he ends up in. This season, he becomes a grease collector, an inventor, shopper for celebrities who are hiding out near Springfield, a hippie, a bodyguard for the mayor, a celebrity based who shares the same name as a television character, a truck driver, an outsider artist and a model for erotic photos. As well, he raises a lobster, becomes an organ donor, goes to the Super Bowl and ends up married to a floozy in Las Vegas.

This season continues the domination of Homer in the a-plots. While the series arguably began as Bart's story, it is now clearly Homer's, with Homer having the a-plot presence in ten of the twenty-three episodes and a strong b-plot presence in an additional five. This compares with Bart only getting three a-plots, Lisa pulling in four a-plots, and while Marge takes the center stage for only one episode, she gets at least four b-plots to dominate. The show also uses more ensemble pieces where no single character so much moves the episode and at least four episodes would fall into that category. So while it is more Homer's show, it attempts to balance the series out with more use of guest characters and the celebrity of guest celebrities.

The Simpsons began as a satirical and off-center animated comedy and by this point, the show is remarkably conventional. What was once edgy is now common and the show seems to stick to the safest forms of humor. Indeed, the most righteous poke it gives is in the Super Bowl episode, "Sunday Cruddy Sunday" when it lightly mocks Rupert Murdock. The show references pop culture within the episodes far less than it initially did and the result is a set of episodes that has a remarkably familiar and settled feeling to it. The tenth season hardly has the fodder to upset sitting presidents.

The hallmark of The Simpsons on DVD is definitely the bonus features. The producers of The Simpsons seem to understand that it's on somewhere in the world every moment of every day. Thus, it's pretty easy to find on television and getting people to buy the boxed set DVDs is a challenge. They overcome that challenge with some truly impressive DVD bonus features. This season, all twenty-three episodes have commentary, there are a good number of deleted scenes (both primary ones and as easter eggs) and most have commentary as well. It makes one wonder why the DVDs do not simply integrate the scenes where they belonged and give the DVD buying public a real "director's" cut that could not be seen elsewhere, but I suppose that's asking too much. The commentaries are funny and often insightful and the deleted scenes are fun as well.

As well, there are commercials, a preview of the film, sketch galleries, a featurette on the animators, and some extensive language options on one episode. Is it enough to encourage a buyer to pick it up? Yes, barely. By this point, buying for a permanent collection is truly relegated to the true fans. The series has reached its plateau of greatness by this point and its humor is largely on the repetitive side. Those who love great commentary might do better to rent this boxed set and buy something more enduring for their permanent collections.

Ultimately, this is a good season of television, but it's not great and the DVD bonus features are fun and worth a spin, but they do not excite the viewer over multiple viewings either. Unless one is a die-hard fan and obsessive collector, I'd say stick to watching these episodes on television as reruns and if you want to listen to the commentaries and other bonus features, simply borrow it from your obsessive friend.

A better bet would be one of The Simpsons peak seasons on DVD, like season seven, reviewed here!

For other animated comedies, please visit my reviews of:
Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy
Invader Zim
Family Guy Presents Partial Terms Of Endearment


For other television reviews, check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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