The recent debacle that was The Simpsons movie had fans and critics scratching their heads. Here was 90 minutes of largely unfunny, lazily plotted animation that simply served to sully the memory of a once great show.
It’s odd though that expectations were so high in the first place. If we’re being honest here, The Simpsons has been distinctly off form for a while now. Common opinion is that the show began to go downhill after around season nine, which is no mean feat when you think about it. Nine series of pitch-perfect comedy and inventive storylines means over 200 episodes of genuinely laugh-out-loud animated entertainment stretching out over just under ten years. I guess the party had to end somewhere.
It’s also worth noting that an average Simpsons episode is still better than most other comedy shows out there at the moment, animated or otherwise. One look at the majority of BBC Three’s or ITV2’s output will vouch for that.
So, with all this in mind, how do the 22 episodes included in this series box set stack up? Well, it’s something of a mixed bag. Without going through each and every one of them, there are some fine episodes to be found here. Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder’s tale of Homer hitting the perfect score in bowling is a highlight, as is Faith Off, which sees Bart become a faith healer. The programme’s song Testify harks back to the brilliance of the show’s great musical numbers like The Stonecutters Song.
However, in amongst the good are a whole lot of okayepisodes, and even some that are just plain bad. Take season closer Behind The Laughter. It’s a decent idea, looking at how the Simpsons family themselves coped with their rise to fame and fortune. The problem is it doesn’t raise a single laugh.
The main issue I have with at least half of the series is that the plots are all over the place. Once the programmes had a heart, as viewers were taken on a journey with the show’s characters. Here instead episodes are loaded with ever wackier and zanier gags – ones that unfortunately just don’t marry together. On this evidence, The Simpsons has well and truly jumped the shark.
The cobbled-together feel to the series stops it from reaching the heights of a few years before. It’s a shame, as the animation is as solid as ever, but it’s been let down by lazy writing. Proof of this comes when, on more than once occasion, the scripts include get-out clauses for the ridiculous storylines being churned out. For example, in Pygmoelian, Moe has cosmetic surgery. However, at the show’s end his more familiar face is suddenly returned to him following an accident and the fact that this happens without horrendously disfiguring him is pondered upon by Moe himself as the credits roll. Playing this card once might be funny, but after three or four times it’s just plain lazy.
The show’s also surprisingly risqué at times with a smattering of swearing and distinctly un-PC jokes strewn around here and there. While I don’t have a problem with more adult humour, it doesn’t quite fit right with my Simpsons watching. If I want crude jokes, I’ll watch Family Guy, which frankly does it much better anyway,
When it comes to the DVD itself, the presentation is as superb as ever. This time round it’s Krusty’s head used for the packaging and the animated menus are great fun. The extras too are truly top notch. Commentaries on each episode from various members of the cast and crew, a decent smattering of deleted scenes, and a bunch of featurettes are spread over each of the four discs. The best of these featurettes are the A Star On Hollywood Boulevard, with footage on the day the show got its own Boulevard star, plus And Then There Were Menus, which looks at the original artwork behind the DVDs menus. As with most Simpsons box-sets, it would be nice to have an in-depth interview with Matt Groening on the series, or with the show’s vocal artists on their part in the process. Still, this is a solid bunch of extras.
Ultimately, it’s not the extras you’ll buy this for though. You’ll buy it for the episodes, and on this front you’ll need to decide just how much you need this in your collection. For me, I’m a Simpsons nut, so despite my rather deflated review, I would still happily fork out the cash. As I mentioned earlier, even sub-standard Simpsons episodes are funnier than most other shows on the box, and it’s still terrific value for money. For casual fans however, this is probably one to avoid. I guess the underlying problem is that there are precious few great episodes on display and that’s just not how it was a few series back. The animation is excellent but there is a distinct feeling that the writers are going through the motions. It pains me to say all this as I truly do love the show. but this box set is only good, not great.
The Simpsons Series Eleven DVD is out on October 6th.