Essentially, our lives with Matt Groening's smash animated sitcom The Simpsons have been like a marriage in a Hollywood movie. We've had the honeymoon phase, the sickening newlywed stage, the temptation of flirting with other shows and then-- in some cases-- the divorce wherein we became committed to another hot, young, new series until we've realized that it just doesn't make us laugh like the program to which we return.
Therefore, it makes perfect sense that 20th Century Fox is giving The Simpsons a 20th Anniversary Celebration befitting of a wedding anniversary. Except, instead of the event lasting one single night and captured on film by someone's wacky uncle trying out his new HD camcorder, for the first time in history, we're presented with Homer in high-definition.
Likewise, the first season to be delivered completely to audiences in high-definition in anticipation of the digital television switch and therefore the debut for the series in Blu-ray format, The Simpsons is still the same wacky full-screen program it always was. But nonetheless, with the Blu-ray set, you'll discover a vast difference in perspective as the outlines are sharper, characters nearly walk off the screen and there's an added depth to the artwork we've started to take for granted... like a cliched movie spouse.
Like choosing mono instead stereo on records transferred to CDs, you can either play the episodes with the black vertical bars on both sides of your widescreen television to view it in its original format or expand with the full or zoom option to fill the screen. And while I prefer the original format when given the option, I was thrilled that Groening gave us much more to marvel over with hand-drawn animated character menus and a gorgeous Blu-ray box sleeve (protected by a slightly transparent white outer cover) that contains dozens of characters from the history of the series.
Although it's purposely cartoonish in its hand-drawn look, just one episode or two of The Simpsons is sure to make you nostalgic for the days when we didn't depend far too heavily on needless CGI, 3D or other gimmicks to lure people to tune into animation whether at home or in the theatre. And much like series that were inspired by The Simpsons such as Family Guy, we became hooked on the series not only due to its instantly recognizable, oddly envisioned world-- making it similar to SpongeBob SquarePants in that regard-- but because of the ingenious writing. Over the years, Simpsons scripts have tapped right into our culture, incorporating without depending upon spoofs for laughter, and delivering a wondrous result with the voice talent of individuals such as Simpsons MVP Hank Azaria who can bring any role that Groening dreams up to life.
From giving me the goal of adopting a Greyhound like Homer and Bart did with their first episode about "Santa's Little Helper" all the way up through the instantly repeat-worthy opener to this season, the humor mixed in with heart touches us in a way that most live action sitcoms just can't approach.
Yet despite the fact that it's broadcasting its 450th episode this very month, over the past two decades, The Simpsons has become the Saturday Night Live of half hour format TV comedy in terms of its tendency to move radically from low to high in content consistency. However while The Simpsons has suffered from repetition and amusing if not particularly memorable plot-lines and a really bad feature length film, in terms of enviable high to lowbrow use of homage and humor that hits every single demographic, it's Groening's show and not Lorne Michaels' that consistently redraws the box to think outside of so many times that it expands in size every single time an episode plays around the globe.
And thankfully in this particular season, there's more than enough hilarious creativity to go around as a ruckus on Saint Patrick's Day inspires Homer and religious sidekick neighbor Ned Flanders to become bounty hunters. Soon enough, they're so wrapped up in their job that Homer doesn't even realize that his wife, Marge has unknowingly begun putting her culinary skills to "adults-only" use by working in an erotic bakery.
Unlike other series that dedicate a majority of their humor to topics from popular magazines and entertainment news, The Simpsons is a show that's never been afraid to find inspiration in politics and twenty-four hour news networks. Moreover, it's incredibly fascinating that some episodes contain enough subtle commentaries to fill Comedy Central's hour long block of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report even though its parent news network of Fox is the channel mostly scrutinized and ridiculed for its right wing heavy faux “fair and balanced” approach.
Yet far from being preachy, they find the greatest comedy fodder in news-related areas including one of the show's famous Halloween themed "Treehouse of Horror" segments being devoted to a rigged voting booth error that keeps altering Homer's votes for now President Barack Obama for Senator John McCain. Further challenging us, "Treehouse" follows this up by going into riffs on contemporary shows like Mad Men, taking a daring spin when Homer is recruited to kill celebrities so that ad companies can use their likeness for free.
Still, throughout the twenty-one episodes included on two discs, silliness abounds. Bart trades places with a look alike from a rich family to discover the truism that he had it pretty good at home in their spin on Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, the family takes the long-suffering grandpa on a trip to Ireland, Bart gets hold of Denis Leary's cell phones and receives instant access to prank call bars around the world, and Lisa grows addicted to crosswords by Will Shortz in an episode that will make Wordplay fans proud.
Also evening out the madness with plots centering on the family unit as we flashback to Homer and Marge's decision to marry, Groening's ability to touch viewers is stronger than ever but the topics are similarly timelier than before as Flanders bails out the Simpson family when they lose their home by renting it back. Similarly, the series risks taboo subjects to both make a point and get you laughing at the same time via plot-lines involving terrorism and the irrational overwhelming fear of illegal immigration when Springfield, Illinois is flooded by Norwegians.
Referencing everything from Ayn Rand to The Transformers, the 2-disc set of 21 episodes that fits in one standard Blu-ray box also boasts an extra from Oscar nominee Morgan Spurlock. The season also includes the celebrity voices of Emily Blunt, Anne Hathaway, Brian Cuban, Ellen Page, Marv Albert, Jodie Foster, Dennis Leary, Joe Montana, the eleventh return for Kelsey Grammar, and of course, dozens of unexpected opportunities for Hank Azaria to crack us up.
In other words, the honeymoon for this show is far from over, thereby making The Simpsons one of those rare cases where it defies all of Hollywood's expectations by still going strong.
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