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Thursday, December 22, 2011

THE SIMPSONS: THE FOURTEENTH SEASON -- DVD review by porfle


Whenever I hear that heavenly chorus singing the title as the camera's eye descends upon the town of Springfield--followed by one of the greatest TV sitcom themes of all time (thanks to Danny Elfman)--I know I'm in for a half-hour of almost supernaturally blissful cartoon comedy.  With 20-Century Fox's 4-disc DVD set THE SIMPSONS: THE FOURTEENTH SEASON, I get to experience this heady sensation 22 times! 

That may sound a little over-the-top, but aye carumba!, I love this show.  Breezy, colorful, and as addictive as only the most delectable mind candy can be, the irreverent and sharply satirical (yet often heartfelt) adventures of Homer and Marge Simpson and their kids Bart, Lisa, and Maggie easily earn a spot in the top ten greatest situation comedy series of all time.  Maybe even the top five.  Top three?  Arguably.

Some fans insist that the long-running show has long been running on fumes, but by season fourteen it was still going strong, netting an impressive array of guest stars, winning Emmys, and serving up some of its most memorable episodes with all the familiar panache.  As usual, each one reels us in with some intriguing situation which seems to be the main plotline until it unexpectedly veers into something entirely different.
 


A family jigsaw-puzzle obsession leads to Homer and Marge's sudden breakup; a disastrous trip to the Springfield Botanical Gardens morphs into a heartwarming love story between baby Maggie and eternal loser Moe the bartender ("Moe Baby Blues").  When movie star Ranier Wolfcastle holds an estate sale to pay off his debts, this gag-filled opening gives no indication of the trauma that will ensue when Marge is mugged on the way home and becomes a trembling agoraphobe hiding out in the family basement ("The Strong Arms of the Ma").

The season comes charging out of the gate with an outstanding Halloween episode, "Treehouse of Horror XIII", featuring three scarifying stories: "Send in the Clones", in which Homer acquires a magic hammock that generates even dumber duplicates of himself; "The Fright to Creep and Scare Harms", which tells what happens when the Old West's baddest outlaws rise from the grave to menace Springfield just after Lisa has succeeded in wiping out all handguns; and "The Island of Dr. Hibbert", a twist on the old H.G. Wells tale which has the Simpsons and other characters being transformed into manimals. 

This is followed by one of the series' most celebrated episodes, "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation."  After an inebriated Homer is caught dissing his family life on the reality show "Taxicab Conversations", Marge and the kids decide he needs a break and ship him off to a Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp presided over by none other than guest voice talent Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, Lenny Kravitz, and Brian Setzer.

"Barting Over" marks the milestone 300th episode (or does it?) with Bart suing to become an emancipated minor and becoming pals with skateboard ace Tony Hawk after moving into his own loft apartment. In "Pray Anything", Homer's ongoing turbulent relationship with God is further explored when he's awarded ownership of the church in an accident suit and turns it into party central. 

"Three Gays of the Condo" finds him exploring the world of homosexuality, not to mention his first guy-guy kiss, when yet another tiff with Marge results in him rooming with two gays including guest voice Scott Thompson ("The Kids in the Hall").  Marge's unconscious resentment of Homer surfaces with a string of attempts on his life in "Brake My Wife, Please", featuring the voices of Steve Buscemi, Jackson Brown, and Jane Kaczmarek. 



Other episodes in this collection include "Bart vs. Lisa vs. the Third Grade", "Large Marge" (a hospital mix-up results in Marge being given huge fake boobs), "Helter Shelter", "The Great Louse Detective", "Special Edna" (regular Marcia Wallace voices Bart's lovelorn teacher Miss Krabappel), "The Dad Who Knew Too Little", "I'm Spelling As Fast As I Can", "A Star is Born Again" (widower Ned Flanders has an affair with Marisa Tomei's sexy movie star character Sara Sloane), "Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington" (Krusty the Clown runs for Congress), "C.E. D'oh", "'Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky", "Dude, Where's My Ranch?", "Old Yeller-Belly", and "The Bart of War."

Some of the guest voices not already mentioned: Kelsey Grammer (returning as Bart's eternal nemesis Sideshow Bob), Tony Bennett, Jan Hooks, Adam West and Burt Ward, Baha Men, Larry Holmes, David "Squiggy" Lander, Little Richard, Elliot Gould, Pamela Reed, Ken Burns, Lisa Leslie, blink-182, George Plimpton, Jim Brooks, Helen Fielding, Joe Mantegna (as mobster Fat Tony), "Monty Python" star Eric Idle, "Weird Al" Yankovic, David Byrne, Andy Serkis, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and Stacy Keach.

In addition to some beautifully designed menus featuring the entire cast being hosted for "dinner" by ravenous aliens Kang and Kodos, the set is overflowing with a wealth of fun special features.  These include an introduction by creator Matt Groening (bo-ring!), audio commentaries on all episodes, deleted scenes, lots of featurettes, sketch galleries, and several Easter eggs that can be accessed by pressing the "up" button on individual episode menus.  The packaging itself is an eye-pleasing double-sided pictorial foldout containing a sizable information booklet.  The only snag is having to fish the discs out of those snug built-in pockets.

Watching THE SIMPSONS: THE FOURTEENTH SEASON is similar to taking a trip through a theme park brimming with childlike delights, like Six Flags or Knott's Berry Farm (but not Dollywood, because Ned Flanders wouldn't approve) without the inconvenience of finding a parking space or having to walk.  If you're a Simpsons fan, the rewatchability factor is pretty much endless. 


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