Fox // 2001 // 491 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski (Retired) // September 6th, 2010
"They'll never stop The Simpsons! Have no fears, we've got
stories for years."
-- Writers' reassurance song that ends this season's clip show episode
The above promise holds true today, as the "stories for years" are still rolling on into Season Twenty-Two. But the catch is that as the show ages, those stories trend in a couple of less-than-desirable directions: those that are totally outlandish, and those that rehash the stories of previous seasons. For me, then, the key to appreciating the show beyond its seventh or eighth season is to watch for the jokes and just go along for the ride on its wackier plotlines.
For good jokes, this season has as many as...as Groundskeeper Willie has cold, lonely nights? As Apu has bullet wounds? As Moe has restraining orders? ("See, when you don't use Milhouse it's hard!").
The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season (Blu-Ray) includes all 22 episodes, spread over 3 discs. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that anyone reading a review of the thirteenth season doesn't need a rundown of what the show is about, so let's get straight to the episodes:
* "Treehouse of Horror XII"
In the yearly tripartite scare-fest (well, not really), Homer gets gypsy cursed, a lusty robot automates the Simpson house, and the kids go to wizard school.
Highlights: The frog that wizard Bart turns into a prince; Homer's "Mmmmm, unexplained bacon..."
Special Guest Voices: Pierce Brosnan, Matthew Perry
* "The Parent Rap"
Bart's in trouble again, and this time a tough new judge who's into creative sentencing blames Homer and Marge.
Highlights: Bart careens a car into the "Promising Young Athletes Picnic," Homer's baseball coaching
Special Guest Voice: Jane Kaczmarek
* "Homer the Moe"
When Moe loses his passion for getting people hammered, Homer takes over the bar.
Highlights: Bart tells his psychiatrist, "My dad's always yellin' that whitey's keeping him down."
Special Guest Voices: R.E.M. members
* "A Hunka Hunka Burns in Love"
Burns needs a hip young wingman to go on dates with him. Naturally, he chooses Homer.
Highlights: Burns' reaction walking into a strip club; a fortune cookie Homer writes, "You will be aroused by a shampoo commercial."
Special Guest Voices: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, George Takei
* "The Blunder Years"
A hypnotist triggers a repressed memory of Homer's from his adolescence.
Highlights: Homer says finding a corpse explains everything that's gone wrong in his life -- especially his fear of corpses.
Special Guest Voice: Paul Newman
* "She of Little Faith"
When the church adopts a for-profit business model, Lisa takes her business elsewhere.
Highlights: Milhouse mourns his "beautiful eyebrows" that were burned off by a model rocket
Special Guest Voice: Richard Gere
* "Brawl in the Family"
Another Simpson family brawl gets the family a social worker.
Highlights: Marge muses about Monopoly, "How can an iron be a landlord?"
Special Guest Voices: Jane Kaczmarek, Delroy Lindo
Extras, disc one: A Token from Matt Groening, Animation Showcase, Ralphisms, Special Language Feature
* "Sweets and Sour Marge"
When Springfield receives the dubious honor of being the fattest town in the world, one of its thinner residents tries to help slim people down.
Highlights: The library's "Yes, we have pornography!" banner
Special Guest Voice: Ben Stiller
* "Jaws Wired Shut"
When another of Homer's crazy encounters breaks his jaw, his inability to speak changes family dynamics.
Highlights: The gay pride parade's "Salute to Safer Sex" float
* "Half-Decent Proposal"
Trouble in her marriage leads Marge to consider a half-decent proposal from old beau Artie Ziff.
Highlights: Artie's line "You can't spell party without Artie -- if you misspell party..."
Special Guest Voice: Jon Lovitz
* "The Bart Wants What It Wants"
Bart isn't quite ready for a relationship with Rainier Wolfcastle's daughter, but that doesn't mean he wants her to date Milhouse.
Highlights: Homer's advice on women, "Don't give them nicknames like Jumbo or Boxcar."
Special Guest Voices: Wolfgang Puck, Reese Witherspoon
* "The Lastest Gun in the West"
Bart has a new hero: a washed-up movie cowboy.
Highlights: Kent Brockman's news report about the grade school cowboy trend, "I guess you could say this barely qualifies as news."
Special Guest Voices: Dennis Weaver, Frank Welker
* "The Old Man and the Key"
Grandpa gets his driver's license back to impress some new oldster at the retirement home.
Highlights: "Old Man Yells at Cloud" newspaper story
Special Guest Voices: Olympia Dukakis, Bill Saluga
* "Tales from the Public Domain"
Simpsons characters in period garb, doing The Odyssey, Joan of Arc, and Hamlet.
Highlights: Disco Stu's classical-era seduction
* "Blame It on Lisa"
Another in a series of "The Simpsons are going to _______" takes the family to Brazil.
Highlights: Homer's scrapbook of his kidnapping memories
Extras, disc two: Animation Showcase, The People Ball, The 13th Crewman, Blame it on the Monkeys
* "Weekend at Burnsie's"
Homer gets a prescription for medical marijuana.
Highlights: Homer's theological question to Ned
Special Guest Voices: Phish members
* "Gump Roast"
It's a clip show. At least they scripted in an apology.
Highlights: The "They'll Never Stop the Simpsons" song
* "I Am Furious (Yellow)"
Bart draws a comic book featuring Angry Dad, a character that makes Homer, well, angry...also hungry.
Highlights: Homer's random exclamation while running around on fire, "Oh, I hope no one's drawing this!"
Special Guest Voice: Stan Lee
* "The Sweetest Apu"
Apu has a tawdry affair, which of course heavily involves Homer in a non-sexual capacity.
Highlights: Badminton and its many double entendres
Special Guest Voice: James Lipton
* "Little Girl in the Big Ten"
Lisa passes as a college student by wearing a beret.
Highlights: Homer's answer to the rhetorical question about gymnastics "Who wants to put on a leotard and get screamed at?"
Special Guest Voice: Robert Pinsky
* "The Frying Game"
Killing an endangered Screamapillar gets Homer community service, and then later a death sentence.
Highlights: One of the reasons the Screamapillar is endangered, that it's "sexually attracted to fire"
Special Guest Voices: Carmen Electra, Frances Sternhagen
* "Poppa's Got a Brand New Badge"
Homer becomes police chief of Springfield, and a target for mafia hitmen.
Highlights: Homer's "You know I've had a lot of jobs" list
Extras, disc three: Commercials, The Games, The Sweet Life of Ralph, Sketch Gallery, Deleted Scenes
As you can see from my grades for these episodes, Season Thirteen offers up a lot of pretty good installments, though it rarely soars or dives to the comic extremes of other years. All the same, these episodes will certainly lift your spirits, if you're having the worst Flag Day ever.
The two strongest, from my perspective, are this year's chapter of "Treehouse of Horror" and "Weekend at Burnsie's." "Treehouse" succeeds because of wall-to-wall laughs: Homer announces he's committed "the perfect crime" and then mentions he'll be in court next Tuesday, Kodos is embarrassed that he "always secrete[s] ocular fluid at weddings," Homer gives a killer robot unfortunately timely advice on how someone could steal his wife, Bart yells at witch Lisa "You think you're so great just because you have godlike powers!" and Skinner makes liberal use of his magic amnesia dust at a school assembly. And I'm not sure I could be friends with someone who didn't at least chuckle at the horrible vomiting frog "prince" that Bart enchants. "Weekend" has lots of great gags, too, but also benefits from a fairly simple premise that's just brimming with potential: showing what Homer would be like high. Even the obligatory super-random introductory story that transports us into that main plot is particularly good here: Homer becomes the leader of a flock of ominous crows -- excuse me, a murder of crows.
Though there are fewer of the nicely gooey family moments in this season than in the golden years of the series, the writers do make an effort to sprinkle these in. We see wacky scenarios force Homer to bond with his family, to a rather heartwarming effect, in episodes such as "The Parent Rap" and "Jaws Wired Shut." Marge and Homer also share some tender moments in "Half-Decent Proposal" and "The Frying Game."
Then there are the clunkers. "Homer the Moe," for example, seems to be a tepid remix of previous Simpsons plots: Moe remodels the bar, Moe's becomes too cool for Homer and his buddies, and Homer has to find somewhere other than Moe's to drink. To fly my nerd flag a bit higher, let's just say "all of this has happened before, all of this will happen again." "The Lastest Gun in the West" is a different kind of bad, seeming to take a lazy premise -- let's do something with Westerns; wouldn't the Springfield kids look cute in cowboy outfits? -- and build a frightfully thin episode around it. "Gump Roast" gets the official Comic Book Guy "Worst Episode Ever" award for this season. In addition to being an automatically-underwhelming clip show, it's also a clip show with a lackluster frame story that doesn't really make sense -- and I mean that last part in a bad way! Why the extended Forrest Gump bit at the beginning? Why is a roll-call of the show's humor-killing celebrity guest stars a clip selected for a roast of Homer?
But before I get lumped in with all the aspiring Comic Book Guys who complain bitterly about how terrible The Simpsons got, I do think Season Thirteen of this show is still considerably better than 95 percent of scripted comedies on TV. Even fairly cruddy episode "The Lastest Gun in the West" has a priceless moment: when Homer tries to become Bart's hero by giving him a poster of himself as Farrah Fawcett.
Also working in this set's favor is its top-notch Blu-ray release. Picture and sound quality are excellent. Let's face it: if there's one piece of media that cries out for a high definition presentation, it's this crudely drawn cartoon. But seriously, the animation here is great; one can really see how much it has stabilized over the years in the clip show when old and new footage plays back to back. Plus, the garish colors the series is famous for have never looked more garish than in this painfully vibrant transfer. The DTS-HD track is surprisingly impressive, too, especially in its active use of directional effects. The one problem is those darned skin tones. Everyone looks freakishly yellow...whoops, nevermind.
As usual, Fox jam-packs its Simpsons release with delicious special features. Mmmmmm, animatics...Leading the charge are 22 commentary tracks -- one for each episode -- with producers, writers, directors, cast members, and even celebrity guest voices. Some of the last category are really fun additions (the amusingly cocky Stan Lee, unabashed ham James Lipton) while others are strangely awkward (Delroy Lindo, who doesn't seem to get the format, tries to duck out before it's over, and then comes back to ask for some free DVDs). The regular commentators do a super job, hardly ever allowing for dead air despite doing literally hundreds of these tracks over the years. They share behind-the-scenes tidbits of course (raunchy jokes that the censors axed, how certain animation effects were achieved), but the best part is that getting a bunch of comedy writers in the same room talking is naturally pretty funny, so the commentary adds new jokes to the episodes, in a way. Also, I really enjoy hearing which lines the writers themselves crack up over ("Monster put in wallet" got the most attention this season). The episodes also come with a couple dozen deleted scenes, which can be accessed from within the episodes themselves or all together as a separate feature (with optional commentary from Al Jean). Most were rightly deleted, but there are some gems (the Sea Captain's origin story, "Little Homer needs some attention," and the book Bart and Milhouse read titled Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Strange New Feelings).
We get a lot of other extras, too, including the customary short intro from creator Matt Groening, and two Animation Showcase features that present portions of an episode as storyboards or animatics. A Sketch Gallery adds to the Animation Showcase with initial sketches of the new characters/costumes/etc. from the season (including a Smithers outfit that didn't fully make it into "Weekend at Burnsie's"). Ralph is the featured character on the box and menus this season, so there are also two little compilations of Ralph moments (Why two? They even overlap in places). An 8-minute extra takes us on a tour through all the franchise's video games, starting back in 1991 with Gameboy and Nintendo titles (some of which I remember playing back then!). This is a fun extra that shows us a bit of gameplay from each, and plays us the grating and horrible "music" of the early '90s ones. There's one minute on how the animators made "the people ball" from "Sweets and Sour Marge," which is technically interesting, but unfortunately about an unpleasantly silly moment from the show. A few other extras give us a sense of the international mania for The Simpsons: commercials the family appear in from around the world; an episode that can be viewed in German, Czech, Japanese, and Portuguese; a racing boat that flies a giant Bart sail; and a tidbit about how Rio de Janeiro tried to sue the show for the insults they perceived in "Blame it on Lisa." I guess that last one isn't quite an example of the "international mania" for the show, though. Even the basics here are fantastic, like an accompanying booklet that's a bonafide episode guide and disc menus that include funny new material (watch for the Obama parody poster of Squeaky Voiced Teen). There are a few Easter Eggs you may stumble upon, too.
Long story short...is a phrase whose origins are complicated and rambling. But to make this long story short, The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season (Blu-Ray) is worth your time and money.
We'll let The Simpsons off the hook this time. As Springfield crowds are known to yell, "We are mollified!"
Review content copyright © 2010 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 491 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes
* Animation Showcases
* Sketch Gallery
* Official Site
* Simpsons Wiki