Sunday, March 3, 2013

Repetition Is The Hallmark Of Disappointment As The Simpsons Season 12 Reaches DVD.

The Good: Moments of humor, DVD bonus features, Not the most overplayed season...
The Bad: Very repetitive plots (done before)
The Basics: Funny, but more for those who have not seen years of The Simpsons to know how much is being repeated, The Simpsons Season 12 is a good DVD set.

Some works, as it turns out, hold up much, much better on their own than they do in context. That idea was truly hit home to me the other day when my partner and I sat down and watched The Simpsons Season 12. My partner was never a fan of The Simpsons. In fact, to my knowledge her only experience with The Simpsons - other than media hype - was seeing The Simpsons Movie (reviewed here!). This did not inspire her to watch anything else of The Simpsons, though she did seem to enjoy it and I occasionally hear her singing the "Spider-pig" song around the house.

I, on the other hand, was once an avid fan of The Simpsons. I watched it eagerly each week and every weeknight, my first wife and I ate dinner while watching three syndicated episodes. So, I know quite a bit about The Simpsons and when they lost me, they truly lost me (the ridiculous way they now play the "Treehouse Of Horrors" episodes after Halloween, even if Halloween lands on a Sunday was the last straw for me!). So, watching Season 12 of The Simpsons was actually strangely enjoyable for me and having had some distance from the show for a while, I found myself joining my partner in laughing more often than not. But when I stopped and thought about the season, the less happy I was with it. After all, this is one of the first seasons where the sense of repetition between what The Simpsons had done before and what it was doing within the season became problematic. In other words, those who have not seen as much of The Simpsons are ultimately apt to enjoy this DVD set more than those who start the series at the beginning.

In the twelfth season of The Simpsons, Springfield gets two area codes, which sparks off a sort of civil war in the town and a visit from The Who. Krusty The Clown discovers he has a daughter, Lisa becomes a more extreme environmental activist (based on a crush) and Homer becomes a blogger. As well, Homer borrows money from Mr. Burns and humiliates himself to pay him back, while the source of his stupidity is revealed to be a crayon lodged in his brain. This season also finds Marge supporting the arts by befriending a convict artist and her faith in the alleged arsonist is shaken when he refuses to conform.

As well, Bart and Milhouse take over the comic book store, the Simpson family splits when they begin playing doubles on their own tennis court, and the boys in town form a boy band that is a product of the U.S. military. Sideshow Bob makes his annual appearance with a plan to use Bart to kill Krusty and Lisa discovers a geek pheromone that agitates bullies. There is a "Pulp Fiction" style episode revolving around Lisa, Bart and Homer wherein their day is strangely reassembled with Lisa's grammar robot self destructing, Bart discovering mob fireworks in Springfield cave and Homer getting his thumb chopped off while Marge makes him a sandwich. Ned Flanders tries to make a Christian theme park and Homer becomes a day care worker.

In its twelfth season, The Simpsons is largely episodic (episodes wrap up at the end and there are few elements that carry on to future episodes) with little serialization. As a result, the episodes do not build upon one another and the characters do not grow or change. This season is just about the various half-hour adventures of the Simpsons family and there is no real sense of consequence to them. As well, by this point in the series, the show is almost entirely devoid of social commentary. In fact, it is only in "Simpsons Safari" that the show makes any real sociological commentary and that is about Africa (though the idea of the U.S. propping up dictators in Africa through corporate sponsorship makes it somewhat about the United States).

By and large the humor in this twelfth season of The Simpsons is largely situational. The show is not so much funny because of quick reversals, but rather comments made when characters find themselves in weird situations. And to be fair to this set, some of the series's most memorable lines are in this boxed set. Or at least one. In "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes," Homer's fake news actually yields a real story which sinister forces need covered up. So, Homer is kidnapped and taken to a mysterious island. While he escapes, the villains send a bubble after him, which he pops which results in the hilarious delivery of the lines "Why did you think a balloon would stop them?" "Shut up! That's why!" and it is one of the funniest jokes the show ever does (I've taken to quoting it whenever I am backed into a corner in an argument and it works amazingly well!).

But by this time, the series is already suffering from a sense of repetition for fans who have seen the earlier seasons. The annual "Treehouse Of Horrors" event is a lackluster collection of stories including a terribly un-funny witch story and one with a dead Homer trying to do a good deed. The series seems to mix elements that have worked before and here they are often tiresome, like the way "Worst Episode Ever" puts Bart and Milhouse in Comic Book Guy's store and the adventure goes much the way prior business ventures between the two of them did (like when Bart, Milhouse and Martin bought a comic book together or Bart and Milhouse owned a condemned factory together). The "Simpsons Tall Tales" episode that closes off the season is particularly uninspired as it is essentially the "Treehouse Of Horrors" concept applied to folk tales.

Still, there is enough to recommend this boxed set and it comes down to the characters and the DVD bonus features. In this season of The Simpsons, the primary characters are:

Homer Simpson - The family patriarch, this season he witlessly fights against new area codes and lamely gives parental advice to Krusty. He humiliates himself for money, grifts with Bart and his father, and becomes quite intelligent when a crayon is removed from his brain. He also becomes a chiropractor, tennis player, baby-proofer, and day care worker. He helps Ned build Praiseland and he goes on a hunger strike when the Springfield Isotopes are going to be moved to Albuquerque,

Marge - In addition to accompanying Homer on ridiculous trips and adventures (to Africa, most prominently), she acts as Homer's moral core when he humiliates himself for money. As well, she guides Bart and Lisa and stretches out on her own to support an artist who is a convicted arsonist,

Bart - In addition to thwarting Sideshow Bob again, he accidentally thwarts the mob when he ends up in their cave full of illegal fireworks. He leads a revolt in school when the kids are snowed in with Skinner on Christmas and he bonds with Homer over grifting. He and Milhouse take over the comic book store when Comic Book Guy has a heart attack and he fronts a boy band for the military to help boost recruiting numbers,

Lisa - After surviving loggers and a crush on an environmentalist (who doesn't eat anything that casts a shadow!), she builds a grammar robot and fights with Homer over his creating news for his blog. She becomes closer with Homer when he has the crayon removed from his brain and becomes competitive when playing tennis on the home court. She also studies nerds this season and makes a scientific breakthrough that threatens the scientific community,

and Maggie - a supporting character this season, she guides Homer when Homer becomes a babyproofer. She is also subject to him when he opens his day-care center.

"New Kids On The Blecch" is actually enduringly funny when the Navy gets Bart, Milhouse, Ralph and Nelson into a boy band, as it successfully lampoons both the military and boy bands. Unfortunately, this season also relies a lot on guest stars for celebrity appearances to wow the audience. For example, "'N Synch" appears on "New Kids On The Blecch" and the Williams sister appear on "Tennis The Menace." Carmen Electra pops in as well, as do The Who and Joshua Jackson.

What knocks the twelfth season of The Simpsons up into "recommend" territory is the plethora of DVD bonus features. This season's twenty-one episodes each feature commentary tracks by the creative staff and those continue a tradition of being fun, funny and informative, so when the primary programming wears thin, they provide solid entertainment. As well, there are featurettes and original ads on the DVDs which look at the celebrity voices and evolution of the series.

And The Simpsons Season 12 is good, but it is not the great show or the must-have DVD set the program once was. Still, it is enough and those who enjoy comedy will find a lot to like here.

For other animated comedies, please visit my reviews of:
Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Volume 1
Invader Zim
Family Guy - Volume 9


For other television reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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