Simpsons: Season 15, The (US - DVD R1)
Gabe checks out the latest in the never ending Simpsons season collections...
At one time, The Simpsons transcended the ghetto of television animation to become the most beloved show in America. At the show’s peak, every episode became an endlessly quotable, subversive masterpiece. Then fatigue started to set in. Some of the best writers moved over to Futurama or just plain quit, and a lack of consistency caused major fan and critical backlash. And the show deserved it – it was a pale shadow of its former self and it needed to end. But it didn’t end and, sometime around the release of The Simpsons Movie in theaters (a surprisingly solid movie), fans started accepting the fact that the show is never going to go away, at least not as long as Fox has the money to pay the main acting cast. These days, The Simpsons is comfort food, the macaroni and cheese of television entertainment – something that will always be there when we need it. It won’t offend us, it won’t challenge us, and, if we miss an episode, it isn’t going to adversely effect our day.
Season 15 aired between 2003 and 2004. The relics of this recent era drip from every episode, which I assumed would be annoying, but is surprisingly charming. It’s kind of fun waxing nostalgic about stuff that happened less than a decade ago. Bart-Mangled Banner, where the family is sent to an internment camp for being anti-American, is probably the best sample of dated satire. Outside of these trips down recent memory lane, season 15 doesn’t have too many high points. There aren’t any flat-out bad episodes in this mix, but there aren’t any episodes I’d mark as particularly good, either. Peppered throughout some decent laughs (at least four or five per episode) are clear and sometimes pathetic examples of the writing staff being utterly out of ideas. The saddest cases see them recycling past episodes (often with a nod to past effects, as if this makes it better) or worse, recycling the ideas of shows that owe their very existence to the success of The Simpsons. The first part of Treehouse of Horror XIV, Reaper Madness, sees Homer replacing the Grim Reaper, which was already done during the first season of Family Guy. The Regina Monologues features the Simpsons taking a trip to the UK so that Grandpa can catch up with an old flame, which mixes the events of the family’s season six adventures in Bart vs. Australia and the events of a King of the Hill episode where the Hill family journeys to Japan to catch up with Hank’s dad’s old flame.
At first, I was a little upset I didn’t get a Blu-ray copy of season 15 to review, but then I remembered the show didn’t changeover to HD broadcasts until halfway through the 20th season in 2009. I also remembered that when I reviewed season 20, I saw what Fox did with 1080p up-conversion and was not particularly impressed with the ‘digitally’ look. Overall, this standard definition release looks more or less as good up-converted by my Blu-ray player as the season 20 on-disc up-conversions looked in terms basic details and vibrant colours. I agree that the same day Blu-ray release would certainly look sexier on the shelf (and, let me tell you, this DVD box is idiotically difficult to get into), but there’s no great reason not to save 10 or 12 bucks buying this collection on plain old DVD. Well, except this one thing – these 1.33:1 transfers are presented in 480i, instead of 480p, which, unfortunately, matches their original release format. It’s kind of a bummer, but only slightly. At its worst, this transfer is inconsistent between episodes – some appear plenty crisp and colourful with only minor edge enhancement, low level noise, and banding effects to point to their standard definition status while others feature heavy Gibbs effects along the edges and interlacing/combing effects. Most of these could probably be fixed by using a progressive source, but, oh well. Throughout some of the episodes, the framing fluctuates and shifts off a few pixels. This could be a mastering error, but it could also be a problem with the source video, since the edges weren’t meant to be seen on the traditional tube sets these episodes were prepared for.
The Simpsons season 15 comes fitted with the usual Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. I think episodes were still airing in 2.0 in 2003, so I suppose this is a remix. It sounds as good as these things have sounded since they started releasing season sets. The majority of these tracks are centered, including the dialogue and basic effects, while the stereo channels are mostly devoted to scene-establishing music. Directional effects are limited, including characters talking from off-screen (a popular way of telling jokes) and vehicles moving across/through frame. Dream/fantasy sequences get a little more immersive and directionally zippy, but there’s just about nothing moving between the rear speakers. The LFE channel gets a solid boost over the syndicated reruns, specifically when it comes to the pop music choices.
The extras begin as Simpsons DVD release extras often do – with commentary tracks. Lots and lots of commentary tracks. One track per every one of the 22 episodes, to be exact. There’s just not enough time in the day to cover all of these bases, so I’m just going to list the participants and move on. Each track features one or more of the following people: producers/sometimes writers Al Jean, James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Kevin Curran, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Michael Moore, Matt Selman, Michael Price, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Matt Warburton, Marc Wilmore, Don Payne, Joel H. Cohen, Carolyn Omine, Dana Gould, J. Stewart Burns, John Frink, and David Silverman, directors Mark Kirkland, Lauren MacMullan, writers Tim Long, Valentina Garza, Jeff Nathanson, and Allen Glazier, storyboard artists Steven Dean Moore and Mike B. Anderson, layout artist Nancy Kruse, and actors Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, Nancy Cartwright, and Maurice LeMarche. Every disc in the collection also features a selection of deleted scenes, including: Treehouse of Horror XIV, My Mother the Carjacker, The President Wore Pearls, The Regina Monologues, Marge Versus Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples and Teens and Gays, Diatribe of a Mad Housewife, The Wandering Juvie, My Big Fat Geek Wedding, Simple Simpson, and Bart-Mangled Banner.
The extras continue on disc one with All Aboard with Matt (1:50), a brief creator introduction, and the first of two sketch galleries. On disc two you will find The Unusual Ones (17:10), an exploration of some of the ‘unusual animation’ (usually stylistic homage and hallucination scenes) that has appeared on the series over the first 15 seasons, and Living in the Moment (2:00), a gallery of images from the show’s 500th episode celebration. Disc three features an animation showcase picture-in-picture option for The Wandering Juvie and a special language comparison feature for My Big Fat Geek Wedding (which is a fancy way of saying the episode features German, Portuguese, Ukrainian, and Italian dialogue tracks). Disc four features the second sketch gallery and a collection of series commercials.
The Simpsons season 15 isn’t one of the series’ best, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t one of the worst either. I suppose I’m not willing to do an exhaustive comparison, though, so this will just be an assumption for now. This DVD release is interlaced, which leads to some definite issues with video quality, but there’s also no good reason for fans to pass it up in favour of the up-converted Blu-ray version, since these episodes weren’t animated for HD, anyway. The extras are certainly adequate, including another big collection of cast and crew commentaries.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 4th December 2012
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Surround 2.0 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Cast and Crew Commentaries, All Aboard with Matt, The Unusual Ones, Living in the Moment, Animation Showcase, Language Comparison, Sketch Galleries, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Tress MacNeille
Genre: Animation and Comedy
Length: 505 minutes
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