Case Number 22993

THE SIMPSONS: THE FOURTEENTH SEASON

Fox // 2002 // 482 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // December 22nd, 2011

The Charge

"Public transportation is for jerks and lesbians!" -- Homer Simpson

Opening Statement

As always, Homer tells it like it is. Well, no, not really, but at least he is amusing, which is enough. This isn't The Simpsons at its peak, but it does have enough entertaining moments to be worth watching.

Facts of the Case

The Simpsons: The Fourteenth Season has twenty-two episodes compiled on four discs:

Disc One
* "Treehouse of Horror XIII" -- Three Halloween tales including a horde of Homer clones, Billy the Kid leading an army of resurrected outlaws, and a Island of Lost Souls parody.

* "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation" -- The family sends Homer to a rock 'n' roll fantasy camp. Guest voices: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Lenny Kravitz, Tom Petty, Brian Setzer, Elvis Costello.

* "Bart Vs. Lisa Vs. the Third Grade" -- Lisa is promoted from the second to the third grade at the same time that Bart is demoted from the fourth to the third grade, leading to rivalry when they end up in the same classroom. Guest voice: Tony Bennett.

* "Large Marge" -- Marge goes to get some minor cosmetic surgery and ends up with breast implants that lead her to a lucrative career as a showmodel. Guest voices: The Baha Men, Jan Hooks (Saturday Night Live), Adam West and Burt Ward (Batman: The Movie).

* "Helter Shelter" -- When the family's home is plagued by termites, they're forced to take up residence in a reality show house that's patterned after life in the 1890s. Guest voices: Larry Holmes, David Lander (Laverne and Shirley).

Disc Two
* "The Great Louse Detective" -- When Homer starts receiving mysterious attempts on his life, he's forced to turn to Sideshow Bob for help in tracking down his enemy. Guest voice: Kelsey Grammer (Frasier).

* "Special Edna" -- Bart nominates Miss Krabappel for Teacher of the Year, but Principal Skinner fears that her newfound success will take her away from the school. Guest voice: Little Richard.

* "The Dad Who Knew Too Little" -- When Homer realizes that he knows almost nothing about Lisa, he hires a private detective to find out what she likes and dislikes. Guest voice: Elliot Gould (M*A*S*H).

* "The Strong Arms of the Ma" -- Marge takes up bodybuilding after being accosted by a mugger. Guest voice: Pamela Reed (Major Dad).

* "Pray Anything" -- When Homer sues the First Springfield Church after being injured in its parking lot, he ends up owning the entire building. Guest voices: Ken Burns (The Civil War), WNBA player Lisa Leslie.

* "Barting Over" -- Bart sues to be emancipated as an adult after learning that Homer used him as a child actor and then squandered all of his earnings. Guest voices: Tony Hawk, Blink-182.

Disc Three
* "I'm Spelling As Fast As I Can" -- Lisa wins her school spelling bee and is entered into the national spelling championship, but is shocked to learn that the sport is not what it seems. Guest voice: George Plimpton.

* "A Star is Born Again" -- Ned Flanders finally lands a date with a beautiful customer in his left-handed shop, but is surprised when he learns that she's a world-famous movie star. Guest voices: Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny), Helen Fielding (author of Bridget Jones' Diary), director James Brooks (Terms of Endearment).

* "Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington" -- When Springfield's airport changes its flight routes to go over the family's home, the Simpsons urge Krusty the Clown to run for Congress to help them. Guest voice: Joe Mantegna (Criminal Minds).

* "C.E.D'oh" -- Homer attends a motivational class and is inspired to push for a promotion, but ends up outmaneuvering Mr. Burns for control of the nuclear power plant.

* "'Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky" -- A documentary filmmaker visits Springfield Elementary to make a film about education and Lisa decides to demonstrate her commitment to science by launching a campaign to ban light pollution. Guest voices: Eric Idle (Monty Python's Flying Circus), Joe Mantegna.

* "Three Gays of the Condo" -- Homer is so hurt when he learns that Marge once wanted to dump him that he moves out and finds an apartment with two gay roommates. Guest voices: "Weird Al" Yankovic, Scott Thompson (The Kids in the Hall), Ben Schatz.

Disc Four
* "Dude, Where's My Ranch?" -- The family spends a vacation at a dude ranch, where Lisa learns how jealous she can be, and Bart and Homer take on the task of destroying a sizable beaver dam. Guest voices: David Byrne, Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Home Improvement), Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings).

* "Old Yeller-Belly" -- When Santa's Little Helper becomes a successful animal actor in commercials, his original owner comes back to take control of his money and career. Guest voice: Stacy Keach (The New Mike Hammer).

* "Brake My Wife, Please" -- When Homer's driving license is revoked, he takes up walking everywhere, until Marge hits him with her car and he realizes that she may have some hidden resentments against him. Guest voices: Jackson Browne, Steve Buscemi (Fargo), Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle).

* "The Bart of War" -- When Bart and Milhouse break into Flanders' house and cause some damage, they are separated and forced to participate in separate youth volunteer groups who end up warring with each other.

* "Moe Baby Blues" -- After Moe saves Maggie's life, the two strike up an unusual friendship but are forced to separate after Homer and Marge feel that he's become too affectionate. Guest voice: Joe Mantegna.

The Evidence

The common wisdom on The Simpsons is that once you get past the show's first eight or so seasons, the show's quality drops off steeply. That's not entirely true, but it is true that those seasons were generally fairly consistent, ranging from good to great. After that, the series became more inconsistent, and only rarely hit the peaks it did during that period. This has led some old-school Simpsons fans to proclaim that the show should have just ended there, rather than (supposedly) soil its legacy.

Well, yes and no. It's true that even the best episodes here don't quite rank with the best of the series' classic seasons, but that doesn't mean that they're not worth watching anyways. "Moe Baby Blues" gives some much needed humanity to Moe, easily one of the series' most scabrous characters. "I'm Spelling As Fast As I Can" is one of the better Homer/Lisa episodes, particularly when Homer inspires Lisa to be honest no matter how much it costs her. Even though these are episodes that echo earlier ones in their stories and themes, they still make for entertaining viewing.

Also worth noting that is that even though the humor may not be as groundbreaking as it was in earlier seasons, that's not to say that it's no longer funny. At its peak, the show's unique mixture of highbrow and lowbrow paved the way for shows such as South Park, Beavis and Butt-Head, The Office, and Family Guy. This isn't quite as innovative, but there are still some laugh-out-loud moments here and there. The "Treehouse of Horror" episode is amongst the best for the series, especially the Island of Lost Souls parody. "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation" has some trenchant swipes at corporate rock culture, as well as the artists' public images; you'll never look at Keith Richards and storm windows the same way again. "A Star is Born Again" has one of Ned Flanders' finest moments: the scene where he desperately tries to find a biblical justification for consummating his relationship with his new girlfriend. There are enough funny scenes like this to justify buying this set for fans, even if it isn't the show at its remarkable peak.

As for this DVD set, it ranks with the other Simpsons DVD sets technically. If anything, it's actually a bit superior. This was the first season that the show jettisoned regular paint-and-cel animation and embraced digital coloring, so the visual quality is exceptionally sharp. You'll definitely notice the difference when scenes from earlier seasons appear in contrast. The Dolby surround mix is excellent as well. The extras are also a decent lot, although not as full as earlier DVD releases. There are commentaries on every episode, and although creator Matt Groening only appears on a handful of them, there are also appearances by cast members and guest stars (such as Byrne, Mantegna, and Hawk) that make them worth a listen. The remaining extras are not as exciting, consisting mostly of montages from earlier seasons and some animation and art galleries.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

To be sure, there are some real clinkers this season. Both "Large Marge" and "Strong Arm of the Ma" prove that writing good episodes about Marge seem to be out of the question by this point. Similarly, "'Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky" suffers from the flaw that many of the post-Season-Eight episodes have: the beginning sequence is long and elaborate but has nothing to do with the actual plot of the episode. This is especially disappointing because Eric Idle's character is an interesting comic creation but he essentially disappears after the first act. By normal TV standards these are not unwatchable, but by Simpsons standards, these are the episodes you probably won't watch over and over again.

Closing Statement

If you keep your expectations reasonably low -- that this isn't in the same league as the show's best seasons -- you'll find some laughs and entertaining episodes here. It's about a third good-to-great, a third acceptable, and a third mediocre-to-forgettable. That's a decent ratio, and though it's not the place to start for newcomers, it's still worth getting if you've already collected the previous season. Plus, the cover has Kodos! (or is it Kang?) What else do you need?

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2011 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 85
Acting: 90
Story: 80
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile
Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 482 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Episode Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurettes
* Image Galleries

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0096697/combined

* Official Site
http://www.thesimpsons.com/

* The Simpsons Archive
http://www.snpp.com/