The twelfth season of The Simpsons marks something of a mid-point between the glory days of the show, and its slight rebirth after a disappointing run. For me, the show started to noticeably slip in quality around season 11, and while many people would argue that everything post season 10 is of lesser worth, I think the show holds some golden moments in seasons 13 and 14, where the humour is less slapstick and has a tendency to get funnier on repeated viewings, having lodged itself in your brain (I’m thinking here of Homer’s Mr Bo Jangles dance, Marge’s re-telling of the story of Mozart which sees Lisa turning herself over to the mad house, Skinner fighting Comic Book Guy dressed as Catwoman, and a razor-sharp take on the camp 60s version of Batman, to name a few). So, season 12 sits between two extremes, and is decidedly patchy as a result.
To begin with the positives, the season opens with what is probably one of the funniest Halloween episodes of the show’s history. In the middle story, Bart and Lisa inadvertently kill Goldie Locks and get captured by an evil old crone who lives in a gingerbread house, dates a man named George Cauldron, and eventually ends up burning in her own oven (I couldn’t be in more pain!”). The Computer Wore Menace Shoes is something of a fan favourite, and features Homer attempting to make his own website, the only thing on it being lots of loud, irritating whistles and a dancing Jesus. This episode marks a trend which continues into the later seasons, wherein the story starts out as ordinary enough, but ends up becoming very, very weird (another episode to follow this pattern is Treehouse of Horror XIII The Island Of Doctor Hibbert, which sees the whole family being transformed into animals, probably one of the oddest Simpsons moments in memory).
There is gold to be had here, though, in such episodes as Lisa The Treehugger and Skinner’s Sense Of Snow. In the latter, Principle Skinner and the schoolchildren are trapped in the school by a blizzard; when he makes them watch an incredibly long, dull Christmas film. Bart stages a revolt (“mau – di di mau!”). Also of note is Trilogy Of Error (mostly for the Run Lola Run parody), three short stories that interweave at an exhilarating pace.
The only problem is there are a few too many duff episodes here. Pokey Mom starts well, but begins to feel tired and drawn out, and there just doesn’t seem to be much of a story there. The worst point by far is The Great Money Caper, – one of those moments when the writers really lose it, back themselves into a corner plot-wise, and end up having to end the show abruptly because they can’t think of a way to wrap things up. Material like this really shows as a bad stain on an otherwise great franchise. The good episodes are rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but contain enough jokes and witty dialogue to prove enjoyable to watch, or simply reminisce over. The bad episodes are never really terrible, it’s more that they’re a bit boring and will most likely have you yawning 10 minutes in. With this in mind, season 12 ends up being very much a 50/50 affair.
The DVD box sets of The Simpsons are renowned for their wealth of special features, and this season does not disappoint. Each disc is jam-packed with everything you’d expect, including commentary by creator Matt Groening, commercials for the show, various animation spots, artwork stills and storyboards.
There is a stream of deleted scenes from many of the episodes (my favourite being the rather violent but hilarious scene in which Moe inserts a petrol pump into a dolphin and throws a match down its blow-hole, with obvious results).
Each season is ‘dedicated’ to a character from the show, displayed in the particular artwork and ‘head’ of that season. As season 12 is dedicated to Comic Book Guy, another special feature brings together the best Comic Book Guy moments from each season in a brilliant montage. The quality is up there with the rest of the box sets, and it’s obvious devoted fans will snap this one up too.
The Simpsons Season 12 is out now.