The Simpsons: The Complete Twentieth Season

The hit-and-miss quality would be a lot more interesting with greater context coming from the commentaries or retrospectives sorely lacking from this commemorative yet empty set.

The Simpsons: The Complete Twentieth Season

Cast: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer
Network: Fox
Release Date: 2010-01-12

Given that its status as one of the longest-running primetime series ever, with probably the most sustainable DVD fanbases of any show to last more than ten seasons, it makes sense that Fox would celebrate the recent 20th anniversary of The Simpsons with some kind of promotional DVD. Complete season sets of the show have been appearing once or twice a year for the better part of a decade, so obviously the release of next-in-line Season 13 wouldn't cut it as a promotional tool.

Instead, Fox has skipped ahead to the near-present: the 2008-2009 season of The Simpsons, that historic 20th, jumped the queue and onto shelves. In their rush, though, they've left out just about everything that's made Simpsons DVDs, even of lesser seasons, endlessly collectible. The first 12 season sets contain, at minimum, audio commentaries on every episode and outtakes in various forms. The 20th season features none of these. It has all of the episodes from season 20, unadorned, and a "sneak preview" of Morgan Spurlock's retrospective on the show, which actually aired before these DVDs were released.

This combination of opportunism and sloppiness is faintly mind-boggling. If Fox was looking for an easy cash grab without much effort, it seems like the best option would be some kind of best-of compilation: four discs of episodes from all 20 seasons, say. It wouldn't necessarily entice the hardcore Simpsons fans, but it could serve as an overview for casual viewers who might want to re-watch some classics without buying a dozen or two boxed sets.

Instead, Simpsons fans have the opportunity to watch episodes that, in some cases, were just rerun over the summer. All that remains on the discs is the show's late-period inconsistency. Some episodes display structural inventiveness, like the puzzle-centric "Gone Maggie Gone", or canny pop-culture riffing like "Lisa the Drama Queen", a heartfelt spoof of Heavenly Creatures. Others fall back into bad habits: season opener "Sex, Pies, and Idiot Scrapes" has both Marge and Homer getting new jobs and, get this, Homer's has ample opportunity for grotesque, over-extended slapstick gags involving tasers and bullets (he's a bounty hunter, not to be confused with the times he became a sheriff, or a vigilante, or a biker, or a secret service agent). The show also continues to build episodes around visits to new locations ("In the Name of the Grandfather" sends the family to Ireland) and anthology pieces based more on by-now worn out novelty than wit ("Four Great Women and a Manicure").

More vexing, 21st century The Simpsons isn't always even coherently inconsistent; it's not simply a matter of good episodes alternating with mediocre. Sometimes, episodes feel like they're written and produced without much knowledge of each other, repeating themselves within seasons: "Idiot Scrapes" opens with a bunch of funny Irish gags at a St. Patrick's parade, and a dozen episodes later we have more Irish stuff in "Grandfather".

Other repetition is even less concealed. Early in the season, two episodes in a row, "Lost Verizon" and "Double, Double, Boy in Trouble", have almost the exact same story thread, with Bart happily separated from his family and then learning to appreciate them in their absence. Nevermind that both episodes, especially "Double", knock off the classic episode "Burns' Heir", because after 400 episodes, a feat unmatched by any sitcom of this quality, the show is bound to encounter its own tracks. In fact, both episodes are pretty funny. But a peculiar grab-bag approach places them not only in the same season, let alone one after the other.

Still, the show's more erratic years represent less a betrayal of its eight or nine years of unfiltered genius than a settling into more typical sitcom groove. That hit-and-miss quality would be a lot more interesting, as it is on some of the recent season sets, with greater context coming from commentaries or retrospectives sorely lacking from this commemorative yet empty set. Why not at least include a longer version of Spurlock's fluffy but entertaining documentary, rather than a shorter preview? It doesn't even make sense as promotion, since the TV special has already aired to decent ratings.

The Simpsons has been a commodity for Fox since it premiered; merchandising has ebbed and flowed over the years, but little has matched the onslaught of chintzy consumer products circa 1990, before the show even reached its creative peak -- before, really, anyone could've predicted the heights of that peak. Two decades on, The Simpsons sustains its ability to make us laugh -- and occasionally, to rip us off.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.