It’s about time that The Simpsons has made it to Blu-ray and high definition. There’s plenty of room on the couch as we welcome Homer, Bart, Marge, Maggie, and the whole town of Springfield to the brighter, more detailed world of high definition. You might be asking yourself: Why should we spend extra bucks to watch a simple cartoon on Blu-ray? That’s a good question. The simple answer is that you just should. The longer answer follows.
The longest running show in prime time doesn’t feature cops, doctors, or lawyers. It’s hard to believe that The Simpsons have existed as long as the Fox network. While the series didn’t really begin until Fox’s second year, the characters were part of The Tracey Ullman Show, which did start the first year of Fox. Who could have guessed that an animated short from an otherwise horrible and doomed variety show would explode into such a phenomenon? The Simpsons have not only dominated the pop culture; they have placed everything else into context with their show. Like Doonesbury, it could be said that the only thing worse than being made fun of on The Simpsons is not being made fun of on The Simpsons. With that said, you’ll understand my warm feelings and appreciation for this show.
This thing has been on forever. Still, it never gets old. The show has a charm yet edginess to it that can’t be beat. Let’s not forget that while kids might love the show, this stuff is intended for adults. We’re not talking South Park trash talk here; every episode is a veritable treasure hunt of subtle and not so subtle cultural references. Even after seeing an episode several times, it’s not uncommon for me to find something that I missed before.
The head of the Simpson family is father Homer (Castellaneta). Homer’s pretty much a moron who happens to run a control panel at the local nuclear power plant. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for a donut or a Duff’s beer. He happily meanders into the most outrageous situations with really no control over his family at all. Mother Marge (Kavner) loves her family but is usually frustrated by Homer’s mess-ups. She’s the smart one who manages to keep the family together. Son Bart (Cartwright) is a teenage bad boy on a skateboard. Whatever prank there is, he’s played it. He’s lazy and will go to great lengths to get out of work. Daughter Lisa (Smith) must have been adopted, but wasn’t, much to her own disappointment. She’s bright, hard working, and talented. Too bad she ends up thwarted most of the time by her father or brother. There’s baby Maggie to wind up the family. Homer likes to hang with his friends at Harry’s Bar, where he can relax with a Duff in his natural element. The town of Springfield is populated with all sorts of colorful characters who often weave their lives intricately into the lives of the Simpson clan. Of course, this isn’t news to any of you. Love them, hate them or indifferent, everyone knows The Simpsons.
Some of the adventures you’ll find in season 20 include a few instant classics. Sex, Pies, And Idiot Scrapes is about as complicated a Simpsons plot as I’ve seen. Homer and Ned go into the bounty hunting business, but it ends up Ned hunting Homer. Meanwhile Marge finds herself working in a bakery that specializes in erotic pastries. Lost Verizon finds Bart at his phone prank game. This time he hassles Dennis Leary so much that he ditches his phone. Guess who finds it? Now Bart is making calls not to Leary, but AS Leary. Two Barts? Say it ain’t so. The Simpsons tell their own version of The Prince And The Pauper with Double Double Boy In Trouble. Of course there’s the traditional annual Treehouse Of Terror with three new fright feasts. It’s a case of racial profiling when Homer suspects Bart’s friend Bashir of planning to blow up the mall in Mypods And Broomsticks. Finally, four historical events get Simpsonized in Four Great Women And A Manicure.
This isn’t the first of the yellow family to reach Blu-ray. The feature film arrived some time ago. This is the first of the television seasons to arrive in the superior format. Fox is taking a slightly different view of the high definition road for the Simpson family. Rather than start at the beginning with seasons you likely already own on DVD, they appear to be starting with the most recent and will hopefully work backwards. I think this is a great strategy for several reasons. The most obvious is that technology has changed over the two decades the show has been on the air. It makes sense that the most recent episodes, created for a high definition broadcast market, will look the best and gain the most from the Blu-ray treatment. It also allows us to begin our Simpsons Blu-ray collection with episodes we don’t already own. At some point the replacement dilemma will hit us, and by that time we will have had a good chance to digest the quality bump enough to make a more educated decision at that time. This is the best way to go, and I applaud Fox for making such a well thought out move with this beloved show.
Each episode of The Simpsons is presented in its original broadcast format. That means you get half of the episodes in full frame and the rest in 1.78:1. This is obviously the point where the show made the HD transition. The picture quality itself doesn’t change a lot. The whole thing looks about as good as it could. Colors are bright and cheerful. Detail is something you won’t believe possible in cartoons. This will blow you away even if you’ve seen them on HD television. I would have liked to see the shows on three discs instead of two, but there is no compression artifact, just lower bit rate than I was hoping for.
The set’s audio is provided through a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The dialog sounds perfectly sharp and comes through clearly from the front. The music is well balanced in the mains, always coming in at the appropriate volume for the mood. As would be expected with a TV disc set, the use of surrounds is sparse – the rears seem to be reserved for the exclusive use of the opening musical segment. However, let’s not forget that a huge part of what makes The Simpsons great is the voice-acting and the orchestra, both of which sound great.
As much as I’m excited to see this show finally reach Blu-ray, I have to say I was heartbroken by the lack of features. The only “feature” is an advert for a television show that had already aired. DOH!
Pop culture, politics, religion, current events. Nothing escapes the satire of this almost sacred institution. Now entering its 21st season, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. It’s the longest running scripted program on television today. It has been a part of the Fox network since its inception. There’s no ending in sight. This is staying power at its best. I expect folks in the future will be watching our yellow friends through mental projection technology somewhere around the 176th season. The Simpsons appear to be with us “to the last syllable of recorded time“.