The Good: Moments of humor, Some wonderful guest stars, Great DVD bonus features.
The Bad: Some weaker episodes, Not as sharp or satirical as it once was.
The Basics: Funny, but nowhere near as good as it once was, The Simpsons - Season 11 is made better by great DVD bonus features!
It’s a tough racket to keep your show fresh after ten years on the air. Given that The Simpsons did not have to worry about aging actors, egos of performers or many other conditions associated with a television shows that continue on for years and make celebrities of those involved, it seemed like the series would have to only worry about its writing. In the eleventh season of the show, that seems largely true. As “Saddlesore Galactica” notes when Homer gets a horse (again), The Simpsons has already done so many plots and character arcs. This season, the series is showing its cracks in some serious ways.
However, it is at this point that the writers of The Simpsons began to innovate (or their approximation of it): they introduced a few new elements that became serialized. While the Simpson family remained stable, in this season, other supporting characters were given serialized arcs that for the first time introduced consequences for some actions into the series. Before Season 11, The Simpsons was so episodic that there were no true consequences to actions and as a result, not only did characters not grow or develop, they did not even change. In fact, the most any characters did that recurred later on was that Apu got married. In this season, that action has a consequence and in the future, other elements of episodes from this season have consequences as well. Change is in the air on The Simpsons!
The thing is, just as so much of The Simpsons was previously plagued by problems of characters not growing or developing, the eleventh season finds the principle characters with the same problems. Still, as the season progresses - and the series progresses from here - the change in the characters surrounding the Simpson family compels them to deal with their peers differently and in that way, the eleventh season becomes something of a “necessary evil” season for the show. This is the season where changes are made so in subsequent seasons, the Simpsons have more to do. Unfortunately, for fans of the core characters, there is less for them this season and the peripheral characters take center stage in many of the episodes.
In the eleventh season DVD set - shaped like Krusty The Clown - there are all twenty-two episodes from season eleven. In this season, episodes involve Homer meeting Mel Gibson and attempting to change Gibson’s latest film from a wholesome family film into a stupid action-adventure. Bart is put on antidepressants, Homer becomes a food critic, and Moe is given plastic surgery and becomes a famous soap opera star. The Simpsons take care of Mr. Burns’ mansion and Homer and Bart take his yacht out onto international waters where they encounter pirates. The Simpsons head out to a farm to avoid a duel between Homer and a Texan. And in a terrible turn for Marge, Homer’s new biker friends abduct her and he must once-again prove his love for her.
But the most significant actions in this season happen outside the Simpson family. In Season 11, Ned Flanders’s wife, Maude, dies an untimely death when Homer ducks at the wrong time. As well, Manjula is given massive amounts of fertility drugs and she gives birth to eight babies. The Octuplets return in every subsequent season and Maude’s death remains an important development for Ned, which actually gives him more scenarios to deal with. Unfortunately, some other character changes - like Barney going sober - which happen in this season, are undone in later seasons to service jokes.
This season has far less impressive humor than in some of the earlier seasons. For example, episodes tend to recycle a lot more repetition than in many of the other seasons. As a result, fans of the series are less likely to find this season enduringly entertaining and want to own it on DVD. Episodes like “Bart To The Future,” where Bart sees a vision of the future where Lisa is President and he is a deadbeat, is in many ways just a recasting of an earlier episode where Lisa’s future is told by a carnival soothsayer. Obviously, the animation of future characters like Lisa in the future, is the same, but the fact that the characterizations are nearly identical and the story has a similar resolution.
As well, because so many of the stories have a fairly recycled quality to them, the character elements are more problematic for die-hard fans than for those who only watch this DVD set. So, Marge nearly being replaced in the penultimate episode by another woman, is nowhere near as new or funny as it might appear from the idea. The season is capped off by one of the funnier finales which is a parody of “Behind The Music.” The Simpsons “Behind The Laughter” is a retrospective which makes a fictional biography of the series, as if the show had been a reality show and the series was developing in very different ways.
But for those who are fans of The Simpsons, what one truly might need to know is about the primary characters and what they actually do this season. In the eleventh season, this is who The Simpons are and what they are up to:
Homer Simpson - In this season, he meets Mel Gibson (and becomes an executive producer on Gibson’s remake of “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”), becomes a food critic, challenges everyone he can to a duel, and joins a motorcycle gang. He takes Mr. Burns’ yacht, learns the ugly truth about jockeys when he gets his own horse, flees the agents of PBS when he refuses to make good on a $10,000 pledge he makes to them,
Bart - Becomes a jockey for Homer’s new horse and lives in the mall with Millhouse for a week. He sees a future where he is a failed recording artist glomming onto Lisa’s success and he becomes a faith healer. He is also put on antidepressants, which make him believe in a conspiracy involving spying by Major League Baseball,
Lisa - The oldest daughter of Homer and Marge, she is the brains of the family. In this season, she fights the school when it becomes a test marketplace for a new toy (Funzo) and she does most of Homer’s work when he becomes a food critic. She also takes over for Marge when Marge is injured and she whines to President Clinton when her team loses in a school concert competition. She also learns to tap dance and with Bart tries to make a photograph that will be featured on the cover of the new telephone book,
Maggie - is avoided for a story in favor of Moe, Apu and/or Barney, who each get a show instead of her,
And Marge Simpson - Homer’s wife, she is a housewife who gets injured and is replaced by a psychopath who wants her family. She is abducted by a motorcycle gang, which she begins cooking for.
As well, seasons of The Simpsons by this point are famed for their guest stars. In this season, guest voices include those of Mel Gibson, Mark McGuire, Lucy Lawless, Garry Marshall, Butch Patrick, John Goodman and Parker Posey. The guest stars are fun and it does add something to the show to have people like Mel Gibson presenting fictional animated versions of themselves.
On DVD, The Simpsons Season 11 is knocked up into slightly above average territory by the DVD bonus features. All twenty-two episodes have commentary tracks and they are insightful, funny and informative (not just plot rehashes). There are deleted scenes and features on the development of the season and they are fun. This is enough for the fans who would otherwise watch these episodes repeatedly in syndication to buy this set.
In this way, The Simpsons Season 11 not only pulls itself up into territory where it is worth recommending, but it becomes something solidly better-than-average.
For other seasons of The Simpsons, please check out my reviews of:
For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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