Weird for the Sake of Weird
Those who thought (hoped? prayed?) The Simpsons had stopped attaching the name to cheap cash-in crap back when the “Rasta Bart” t-shirts will be sorely disappointed with the franchise’s latest DVD release, The Simpsons Gone Wild.
The seasonal Simpsons releases (season four hit shelves stateside this past summer) are some of the best reasons to own a DVD player, chockablock with rare extras and insightful, witty commentary tracks. The only problem is, the seasonal DVDs take a while to produce (22 episodes make for a lot of commentary tracks), and, as a result, the unsuspecting public is beset by stop-gap releases like The Simpsons Gone Wild.
This disc is as bare-bones as they come. (No commentaries, no production or other episode information.) Can you smell the money yet? It gets worse. Yes, to paraphrase Bart, the show has given us thousands of hours of entertainment for free… but hey, we fans are not idiots.
As well, the four selected episodes—“Homer’s Night Out” (from the first season), “Sunday, Cruddy Sunday” (Season 10), “The Mansion Family” (Season 11), and “Homer the Moe” (Season 13)—evince no thematic cohesion. Granted, Homer (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) gets a little wild with Princess Kashmir in the first episode, Homer and Bart (Nancy Cartwright) rock the Super Bowl in “Sunday, Cruddy Sunday,” and a monkey knife fight breaks out in “The Mansion Family,” but Moe’s (Hank Azaria) redecoration of his bar in “Homer the Moe” is decidedly not-wild. And shouldn’t a disc whose title references Girls Gone Wild feature the spring break episodes, “Bart on the Road” and “Kill the Alligator and Run”? Just sayin’, is all.
I can live with thematic DVD collections of the Christmas episodes or the Treehouse of Horror eps (memo to Fox: if you’re hellbent on releasing these unnecessary compilations, a DVD of the vignette episodes, like “Simpsons Bible Stories” and “Margical History Tour,” is a more thematically-apropos excuse for asking fans to part with their money).
But Gone Wild‘s selections feel arbitrary; it’s like watching a regular week of syndicated episodes on your local Fox affiliate. If you’re looking for “wild,” where are episodes from the series’ Golden Age, Seasons 3-8? Our Favorite Family went wild more times than I can count between 1991 and 1997. (Methinks no episode from that era is included on the current set because those seasons form the DVD packages fans are most likely to buy. The mere existence of this DVD is leaving a bad taste in my mouth.) Lone silver lining: the episodes on the disc restore the scenes cut out to make room for more commercials on the syndicated episodes.
None of these episodes will end up in the Simpsons Hall of Fame. “Homer’s Night Out,” where a camera-armed Bart snaps a photo of Homer dancing with an exotic dancer, suffers from the typical season one maladies: slow-pacing, voices that haven’t settled into recognizable form, cruddy animation, a tendency to moral mawkishness (Homer must apologize to Princess Kashmir to prove to Bart that women are not objects). It’s all harmless, but wince-inducing, like an embarrassing baby photo.
“Sunday, Cruddy Sunday” finds Homer leading a party bus of Springfielders to the Super Bowl, only to end up battling Rupert Murdoch when they learn their tickets are fake, having been printed on crackers. It’s not a bad episode—the sexed-up Super Bowl ad for the Catholic Church is the funniest moment on the whole disc—and Lisa (Yeardley Smith) and Marge’s (Julie Kavner) subplot involving Vincent Price’s Egg Magic craft kit grants a few laughs, if a little bizarre.
“The Mansion Family” is hardly a classic episode, but Lord knows there are plenty worse from season 11 (paging “Bart to the Future”). Mr. Burns (Harry Shearer) visits the Mayo Clinic, and has the Simpsons house-sit while he’s gone. Homer commandeers Mr. Burns’ yacht to throw an anything-goes (see the aforementioned monkey knife fight) party in international waters and rock out to the Doobie Brothers. Somehow Chinese pirates take everyone hostage (if anything, this episode should be included in the “batshit-crazy endings” DVD).
And in “Homer the Moe,” Moe, trying to rekindle his passion for getting people drunk, renovates the bar into a po-mo (“Postmodern! All right, weird for the sake of weird”) hipster hangout, alienating Homer, Lenny, Carl, and Barney. Homer opens his own bar in the family garage, R.E.M. drops in for Thanksgiving dinner, and Moe’s bar goes back to the way it was. Eh. Not that we’re keeping score, but “Homer the Moe” gets docked a point for opening with the go-nowhere fake-plotline of Bart digging a hole to China. The show’s fans have long since grown accustomed to openings that have little to do with the episode’s main plot, but “Homer the Moe”‘s opening is an affront to fans who appreciate a coherent, well-told-from-stem-to-stern episode.
Simpsons fans are a knowledgeable, fiercely loyal bunch. To ask them to part with the $13 Amazon is asking for this disc is unfair. Wait until Season Five comes out on DVD, the one that contains the classic “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy” episode, where Malibu Stacy fans are powerless not to buy the newest incarnation of the doll… because she comes with a new hat. The Simpsons people have lost sight of their own message.