Everybody except Judge Erich Asperschlager hates Ned Flanders.
Our reviews of Christmas With The Simpsons (published October 30th, 2003), The Simpsons: The Complete First Season (published September 19th, 2001), The Simpsons: The Complete Third Season (published December 15th, 2003), The Simpsons: The Complete Fourth Season (published July 12th, 2004), The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season (published February 23rd, 2005), The Simpsons: The Complete Sixth Season (published August 29th, 2005), The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season (published January 16th, 2006), The Simpsons: The Complete Eighth Season (published August 21st, 2006), The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season (published January 22nd, 2007), The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season (published August 29th, 2007), The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season (Blu-Ray) (published September 6th, 2010), The Simpsons: The Complete Fifteenth Season (published December 24th, 2012), The Simpsons: The Complete Twentieth Season (Blu-Ray) (published January 21st, 2010), The Simpsons: Bart Wars (published June 30th, 2005), The Simpsons Christmas 2 (published December 24th, 2004), The Simpsons Gone Wild (published December 8th, 2004), The Simpsons: Kiss And Tell (published March 29th, 2006), The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season (published September 9th, 2009), The Simpsons: The Fourteenth Season (published December 22nd, 2011), and The Simpsons' Treehouse Of Horror (published November 20th, 2003) are also available.
"I have eaten the ribs of God!"
Ask fans of The Simpsons when exactly the series went downhill, and you'll get almost as many answers as there are seasons of the show. Some maintain that it hasn't been good since the single digits. Other, more generous, souls will admit to a few low spots while defending the entire series run. The more seasons hit home video, the more convinced I am that the answer is a moving target. There's something about having a full season, in a feature-rich package, that elevates the middling episodes and makes the best entries even better. Getting it all in high-definition? That's just jelly in the donut.
Facts of the Case
The Simpsons: The Complete Fourteenth Season (Blu-ray) has 22 episodes, across three Kang and/or Kodos-themed discs:
Even though it's still fun to watch, The Simpsons: The Complete Fourteenth Season is a far cry from the show's glory days. The best early season episodes told single, half-hour stories. As the show moved into its second decade, it started trading those focused plots for a random mish-mash of wacky adventures. Season Fourteen avoids the worst of that trend, keeping things mostly grounded.
This season's highlights include "Barting Over," promoted as the show's 300th episode even though it was actually number 302; and "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation," in which Homer goes to Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp, where he meets Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Brian Setzer, and Lenny Kravitz. "I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can" caters to word nerds and fast food fans alike, with the multi-talented George Plimpton trying to bribe Lisa with a college education and a hot plate, as well as Homer's introduction to Krusty Burger's addictive Ribwich.
In The Simpsons' early seasons, guest stars were a big deal. By the fourteenth season, they were ubiquitous. Besides famous rock stars and literary giants, this collection also includes appearances by Tony Hawk, Blink-182, "Weird Al" Yankovic, David Byrne, Elliott Gould, Steve Buscemi, Little Richard, Ken Burns, Adam West, Andy Serkis, Eric Idle, and Kelsey Grammar (returning as Sideshow Bob in "The Great Louse Detective"). As overstuffed as it feels at times, this season keeps the Simpson family front and center. "The Dad Who Knew Too Little," "Bart vs. Lisa vs. the Third Grade," and "Brake My Wife, Please" deal with their dysfunction, while "Dude, Where's My Ranch?" and the reality show spoof "Helter Shelter" transplant them beyond Springfield's borders.
Season Fourteen's obligatory side-character episodes are a mixed bag. "Special Edna" takes Principal Skinner and Mrs. Krabappel's relationship to a new, uncomfortable level when she gets nominated for a teacher of the year award. In "Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington," Krusty is elected to the Senate by means of complicated set-up involving the Simpson house and a rerouted flight path. The season's strangest episode, though, is the Ned-centric "A Star is Born-Again," in which the Simpsons' godly neighbor falls for, and sleeps with, a visiting starlet (voiced by Marisa Tomei). After thirteen years of goody-good Ned Flanders, the premarital sex twist makes zero sense, and encapsulates the show's latter-season problem with changing its characters to fit a premise instead of the other way around.
The Simpsons: The Complete Fourteenth Season is the third set released in high-definition, following Seasons Twenty (the first to include actual HD episodes) and Thirteen. Like Season Thirteen, the episodes on this 1080p AVC-encoded Blu-ray are just upscaled standard-def episodes, although Season Fourteen was the first to switch over to digital, rather than cel, animation. The result is a cleaner image with vibrant colors. It's not a perfect transfer—edge enhancement and ghosting are prevalent—but it's a noticeable upgrade.
The power of the new 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix isn't in surround effects, but in opening up the soundscape. Dialogue is crisp, and music has more oomph (I still can't get over the room-rattling bass notes in Danny Elfman's opening theme). In some ways, the audio upgrade is more impressive than the visuals.
Like previous sets, The Simpsons: The Fourteenth Season is stuffed with bonus features, although a good chunk of them are devoted to Halloween episodes that aren't part of this season:
• "A Haunting Invite from Matt Groening" (2:12): Series creator Groening's introduction to the season is also the first of the Halloween-themed extras, to go with the set's spooky packaging and menus.
• Audio Commentaries on every episode, with the show's writers, performers, and guest stars like "Weird Al," David Byrne, Joe Mantegna, and Stacy Keach.
• "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll" (9:05): This behind-the-scenes featurette focuses on the rock star guests from "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation."
• "The 300th Episode" (1:56): A brief look at "Barting Over," with Groening, Tony Hawk, and blink-182.
• Special Language Showcase for "Three Gays of the Condo": This weird little extra adds Portuguese, German, Czech, and Italian dub tracks for one episode, and is totally worth it to hear Marge's obviously-a-dude Czech voice.
• Sketch Galleries: One each on discs one and two, with concept art for the episodes "How I Spend My Strummer Vacation" and "Barting Over."
• Animation Showcase for "Moe Baby Blues": The opening five minutes of the season finale, with both storyboard and animatic picture-in-picture.
• Deleted Scenes (11:06): Although they are accessible via an onscreen scissor prompt while watching the episodes, the deleted scenes are also available in one big chunk on disc three, with or without commentary by a defensive Al Jean.
• "In the Beginning" (12:43): A collection of opening credits sequences from all of the "Treehouse of Horror" episodes through this season.
• "The Halloween Classics" (8:18): Following up on the previous extra, a collection of highlights from the first 13 "Treehouse of Horror" episodes.
• "Foolish Earthlings" (3:44): Another clip reel, this one dedicated to everyone's favorite Rigelians.
• Bonus Treehouse of Horror Episodes: As a Blu-ray exclusive, this set includes hi-def versions of the Halloween episodes from the sixth and seventh seasons. With classic segments like "The Shinning," "Time and Punishment," and "Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace," they're arguably the best episodes in this set. I'm not sure that was the desired effect.
By its fourteenth season, The Simpsons was struggling to stay fresh, overcompensating with outlandish plots that took focus away from the characters that made the series great. Even so, it's a better season than many fans remember, with solid laughs and more than a few memorable moments. It's not the best of the series, but this impressive Blu-ray set puts these episodes in a flattering light. The Halloween theme might not make much sense this time of year, but I don't think anyone who loves the "Treehouse of Horror" episodes is going to complain.
Not guilty…and a hot plate!
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