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"The Simpsons" The Thirteenth Season DVD Review

The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season's Ralph Wiggum DVD cover art - buy DVD from Amazon.com The Simpsons: Season Thirteen (2001-02)
Show & DVD Details

Creator: Matt Groening / Developers: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon

Writers: John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti, Dana Gould, Joel H. Cohen, John Frink, Don Payne, Carolyn Omine, George Meyer, Mike Scully, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Bill Freiberger, Matt Selman, Tim Long, Bob Bendetson, Deb Lacusta, Dan Castellaneta, Andrew Kreisberg, Josh Lieb, Matt Warburton / Directors: Mark Kirkland, Steven Dean Moore, Lance Kramer, Matthew Nastuk, Lauren MacMullan, Michael Polcino, Jim Reardon, Jen Kamerman, Nancy Kruse, Bob Anderson, Mike B. Anderson, Michael Marcantel, Chuck Sheetz, Pete Michels

Regular Voice Cast: Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson, Grampa Simpson, Krusty the Clown, Barney Gumble, Snake, Mayor Quimby, Groundskeeper Willie, Hans Moleman, Gil, Kodos, Disco Stu, Itchy, Sideshow Mel, Yes Guy, Professor, Yoda, Dennis Miller, Rich Texan, Marlon Brando, Count Fudgeula), Julie Kavner (Marge Simpson, Patty Bouvier, Selma Bouvier), Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson, Nelson Muntz, Todd Flanders, Kearney), Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson), Hank Azaria (Moe Szyslak, Chief Wiggum, Carl Carlson, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Comic Book Guy, Cletus Spuckler, Dr. Nick Riviera, Officer Lou, Professor Frink, Duffman, Kirk Van Houten, Drederick Tatum, Luigi Risotto, Mesmerino, Formico, Geoff Jenkins), Harry Shearer (C. Montgomery Burns, Ned Flanders, Lenny Leonard, Dr. Hibbert, Waylon Smithers, Reverend Lovejoy, Principal Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, Otto Mann, Judge Roy Snyder, Rainier Wolfcastle, Captain McAllister, Officer Eddie, Kang, Pimento Grove Emcee, Woody Allen, Bob Dole, Strom Thurmond)

Recurring Cast Members: Pamela Hayden (Milhouse Van Houten, Jimbo, Ginger, Joy Behar), Tress MacNeille (Lindsey Naegle, Agnes Skinner, Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon, Amber, Dolph, Squishee Lady, Gypsy, Brandine Spuckler, Dia-Betty, Starr Jones, Lisa Ling, Samantha, Carrie), Karl Wiedergott (College Professor, Bill Clinton, Baron von Kiss-a-lot, Additional), Marcia Wallace (Edna Krabappel), Jane Kaczmarek (Judge Constance Harm), Russi Taylor (Martin Prince, Sherri, Terri), Joe Mantegna (Fat Tony), Marcia Mitzman-Gaven (Mrs. Elizabeth Hoover, Miranda, Charlotte)

Notable Guest Voices: Pierce Brosnan (Ultrahouse/Himself), Matthew Perry (Himself), Jess Harnell (Charlton Heston), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Gloria), George Takei (Waiter), R.E.M. (Themselves), Paul Newman (Himself), Judith Owen (Singer), Richard Gere (Himself), Delroy Lindo (Gabriel), Ben Stiller (Garth Motherloving), Jon Lovitz (Artie Ziff), Reese Witherspoon (Greta Wolfcastle), Wolfgang Puck (Himself), Dennis Weaver (Buck McCoy), Frank Welker (Tough Street Dog, Other Animals), Olympia Dukakis (Zelda), Bill Saluga (Ray Jay Johnson), Phish (Themselves), Stan Lee (Himself), James Lipton (Himself), Robert Pinsky (Himself), Frances Sternhagen (Myrna Bellamy), Carmen Electra (Herself)

Running Time: 491 Minutes (22 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated

1.33:1 Fullscreen / Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned or Subtitled
DVD Release Date: August 24, 2010; Season 13 Airdates: November 16, 2001 - May 22, 2002
Suggested Retail Price: $49.98; Four single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Twelve-sided Fold-out Accordion Compartment in Holographic Cardboard Box
Also available in Limited Edition Collector's Box DVD ($49.98 SRP) and on Blu-ray Disc ($59.99 SRP)

Buy The Simpsons: Season 13 from Amazon.com: DVD / Collector's Box DVD / Blu-ray


Everyone seems to agree that "The Simpsons" is past its prime. American television's longest-running primetime entertainment series ever, the Matt Groening-created animated sitcom had its twenty-first season wrap last spring. So claims of a drop in quality are just about inevitable. Some of the kids for whom the show was initially considered too racy are now in their thirties with children of their own. Network television has been made over several times. And still the funny yellow family continues, enduring ratings drops and an audience that's always been more satisfied than substantial in number.

In general, fans agree that the show started strong and hit its peak stride a few seasons in. The faithful point to around the turn of the millennium as the time when the Simpsons jumped the proverbial shark,
moving from meaningful character stories to zany jokes. I can't say if I agree with them or not, because I've never been zealous enough to tune in religiously and judge accordingly.

And yet, I would definitely consider myself a Simpsons fan. I've owned and worn at least two Simpsons t-shirts (one, officially licensed). I've enjoyed their soundtracks. The Simpsons Movie was one of my favorite films of its year. I was excited back in 2001 by news of DVD sets coming and dutifully purchased the first three or four seasons. But beyond that, something keeps me from a greater level of devotion to the often diverting show. There are literally hundreds of episodes that I haven't seen or been in any great rush to. It's not that I doubt they're worth watching and maybe owning. But I have a few theories why I've developed a degree of apathy to the show that I suspect many other onetime fans share.

Homer's mishaps fuel Bart's creative juices when the boy creates the hit comic book turned Internet cartoon series "Angry Dad." Homer and his fellow plump citizens celebrate Springfield's entry into the record books as the world's fattest town.

For one thing, there are just so many episodes out there. Next month's season premiere will be #465. I'm not sure there are any characters likeable enough to want to experience that many stories with. A canon of that size is overwhelming and even though Fox has slowed down the DVDs from semiyearly to yearly, I fell behind in collecting and haven't been compelled to catch up.

Another theory is that the Simpsons are already so loved by so many people that I feel my support isn't really needed. I like the show, the huge cast of characters, and most of the writing sensibilities, but not enough to make it an all-time favorite. Like "Seinfeld" and the Lord of the Rings movies, "Simpsons" praise-singers are so abundant that I feel a greater personal connection to things that don't enjoy such far-reaching fanbases.

Finally, no one will disagree that "The Simpsons" is a cultural institution. I was only mildly surprised to discover that Bart Simpson was among TIME Magazine's 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. The show's legacy is great enough to assume it will remain in syndication for a long time to come. And it's pretty easy to find there. Where I live, it's run twice a day on Fox affiliates seven days a week. If you happen to want to see some TV at that time, be it for random channel-surfing urges or workout accompaniment, it's tough to beat the old standby "Simpsons" rerun. You needn't really make time for it, just let it find you. And I'd be shocked if we're not still seeing it rerun twenty years from now; they could quite possibly still be creating new episodes for primetime then.

A family Monopoly game brings out the worst in the Simpsons. Smithers is just a baby and Mr. Burns is less ancient in this nimble, well-preserved 1970s security footage that solves a long-puzzling Springfield mystery from Homer's youth.

Okay, now you've either stripped me of my Simpsons fan card or sympathized with my moderate appreciation of the show. The question rises: how does The Thirteenth Season, released this week to DVD and Blu-ray by Fox, stand up for someone just looking to jump into a full, semi-recent year of episodes? Pretty darn well.

Nearly everything that makes "The Simpsons" what it is can be found here. Most important is the large cast of Springfield residents used to perfection. While the Simpsons family and their schlub of a head are often front and center, the vast character roster is so terrifically maintained that no side personality outright disappears. From functional professionals to walking gags, your favorites may not all get stories regularly written for them, but they recur enough to appreciate their existence and distinct manner. This is the ideal backdrop to plots that often seem to affect the community at large.

Clearly, real thought and lots of it goes into each episode's creation. Like the films of Pixar (a studio that's embraced many a "Simpsons" crew member), you can tell that personal input is encouraged and that steps are taken to maximize every second of animation. Whereas Pixar has the benefit of four-year productions, this show has weekly deadlines to meet, an American television demand that drains the juices of even the best TV writers. Take that into account and it's almost miraculous how fresh and sharp "The Simpsons" remains in its thirteenth year on air.

A live-action flipbook shot is one of Season 13's most memorable opening sequence couch gags. In song, "The Simpsons" pokes fun at overripe entertainers (like Yakov Smirnoff, center) who take to the stages of Branson, Missouri.

Not every moment here is brilliant. After a rocky start, the season really hits its groove a few episodes in. Even though jokes don't always land, there are guaranteed to be at least a few amusing moments per episode. The stylings haven't changed all that much. There are tasteful homages and cultural references, including loving parodies of classic movies, television, and literature
("Seinfeld", "The Sopranos", Stand by Me, Midnight Cowboy, and The Graduate are among the many properties paid tribute in Season 13). There are the sight gags whose richness seems proportional to their subtlety. There are the little unique touches to the opening titles and end credits.

As usual, tons of famous guest stars lend their voices, some as themselves and others as fictional characters. Some in the former group appear to be just any old body they can get (which by 2001, is practically anyone); the three members of R.E.M., for example, are shoehorned into an episode without much rhyme or reason. Others fare better, like Ben Stiller as a jerky CEO, Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee as an amusing caricature of himself, Richard Gere as Buddhism's spokesperson, and, in short turns making fun of their personas, Paul Newman and Matthew Perry.

Season 13 takes the Simpsons on the road, in spirited trips to Brazil, Toronto, and Branson, Missouri. Fun is also poked, almost always good-naturedly, at celebrities, TV shows, the XFL, even a saint. One doesn't detect the bitter superiority that pervades the pointed references of ADHD-structured "Family Guy." "The Simpsons" writers don't toss in mentions to other things to stroke viewers' egos for their powers of recognition. They do so for opportune laughs that fit the story, which is always taken seriously, no matter how outlandish it may be. The same is true of music, be it original ditties or savvy instantly-identifiable selections, all of which are thankfully cleared for DVD.

The same quality that has fueled the series' remarkable longevity -- the lack of change afforded by animation -- may be the one thing that dissuades supporters like me from staying invested. There is no growth and little lasting change. You never wonder what will happen next. Bart and Lisa remain 10 and 8, Marge and Homer have aged slightly but advancing no further than 40. Flanders may be widowed, Barney may swear off alcohol, and Phil Hartman's characters may have been retired with him. Still, Springfield exists much in the same way it did over twenty years ago. That is essential to the series' enduring appeal and an asset for seeing any episode at any time. Yet, it does welcome unfaithful viewing habits.

Becoming the second season released to Blu-ray and the fourteenth released to DVD, The Thirteenth Season came to stores on Tuesday. Some fans consider it to be among the best of the show's post-decline years. I've designated my favorite episodes with a blue star ().

Homer and a long-necked Bart find the leprechaun they hope will clear the family curse in "Treehouse of Horror XII." Newly-introduced no-nonsense Judge Constance Harm throws the book at Homer and Marge in "The Parent Rap." A nearby Homer ensures Mr. Burns remains alive and youthful for his meter maid girlfriend Gloria.

Disc 1

1. Treehouse of Horror XII (22:34) (Originally aired November 6, 2001)
Per tradition, this Halloween-ready episode consists of three macabre non-canonical shorts. Per Fox having World Series rights, this was the second year the Halloween show followed the holiday as a delayed season premiere. In "Hex and the City", a gypsy fortune teller places a curse on clumsy Homer and his loved ones.
"House of Whacks" automates the family's home with a Pierce Brosnan-voiced housebot. "Wiz Kids" sends Bart and Lisa to a Hogwarts-type wizarding school.

2. The Parent Rap (22:34) (Originally aired November 11, 2001)
When Bart goes joyriding in Chief Wiggum's car, newly-introduced no-nonsense Judge Constance Harm (Jane Kaczmarek, "Malcolm in the Middle") punishes Homer. When Marge has to join him, they seek revenge.

3. Homer the Moe (22:33) (Originally aired November 18, 2001)
While a burned-out Moe visits his bartending alma mater, Homer takes over his tavern. When Moe returns, he gives the place a postmodern redesign. But all is good when R.E.M. joins the Simpsons for Thanksgiving dinner.

4. A Hunka Hunka Burns in Love (22:33) (Originally aired December 2, 2001)
Homer helps Mr. Burns seem youthful and virile for Burns' new, considerably younger girlfriend Gloria (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a Flag Day pairing predicted in a fortune cookie fortune written by Homer.

5. The Blunder Years (22:34) (Originally aired December 9, 2001)
A hypnotist leaves Homer into a state of screaming, which the family traces back to a repressed childhood trauma. The Simpsons seek to solve the 30-year-old quarry mystery behind it.

Playing himself, Richard Gere encourages Lisa to try Buddhism in "She of Little Faith." Gabriel, a social worker Homer's convinced is an angel, arrives to sort out the family's problems. Homer gets ready to scale a giant human pyramid in a failed world record attempt that gets Springfield recognized for different reasons.

Disc 2

6. She of Little Faith (22:33) (Originally aired December 16, 2001)
After a model rocket mishap wrecks it, Mr. Burns takes over the Simpsons' church and commercializes it. In response, Lisa takes a stand and becomes Buddhist.

7. Brawl in the Family (22:34) (Originally aired January 6, 2002)
An angelic social worker (Delroy Lindo) helps the family get along, but a new set of problems arrives in the form of the women Homer and Flanders secretly married in Las Vegas.

8. Sweets and Sour Marge (22:33) (Originally aired January 20, 2002)
When Springfield makes the Duff Book of World Records as the world's fattest town, Marge takes on the corporation behind the nutrition problems and gets sugar banned.

Getting his "Jaws Wired Shut" renders Homer more attentive to his family than usual. Nerd turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur Artie Ziff treats Marge to a recreation of their 1970s high school prom in "Half-Decent Proposal." Greta Wolfcastle, privileged daughter of "McBain" himself, takes a liking to Bart.

9. Jaws Wired Shut (22:34) (Originally aired January 27, 2002)
Enraged by pre-movie ads and trailers, Homer gets hurt and has his jaws wired shut, allowing him to be a better listener and gentleman.

10. Half-Decent Proposal (22:35) (Originally aired February 10, 2002)
Sleep-deprived by Homer's snoring, Marge spends a night at her spinster sisters' apartment, where a drunken e-mail brings high school boyfriend Artie Ziff (Jon Lovitz), now a multimillionaire, back into her life.

11. The Bart Wants What It Wants (22:34) (Originally aired February 17, 2002)
At a prep school fair, Bart falls for Greta (Reese Witherspoon), the daughter of McBain actor Rainier Wolfcastle. When the relationship goes south, Bart and family go north, to Toronto.

Old cowboy Buck McCoy lassoes a snack for his new friend Bart but denies Milhouse's banana request in "The Latest Gun in the West." After reaquiring his driver's license, Grampa Simpson gets a death race challenge from this stylish gang, Los Souvenir Jackitos. Portraying Saint Joan of Arc, Lisa rallies French soldiers in the middle of three "Tales from the Public Domain."

Disc 3

12. The Lastest Gun in the West (22:34) (Originally aired February 24, 2002)
While escaping from a hostile neighborhood dog, Bart befriends old Western star Buck McCoy (Dennis Weaver) and helps him try to make a comeback.

13. The Old Man and the Key (21:39) (Originally aired March 10, 2002)
To impress a new arrival at his retirement home, Abe reacquires his driving license, creating father/son discord and a spontaneous trip to Branson, Missouri.

14. Tales from the Public Domain (22:33) (Originally aired March 17, 2002)
From a long overdue library book, Homer reads classic stories to the kids, giving us Simpsons versions of Homer's Odyssey (with Homer as Odysseus), Joan of Arc (starring Lisa), and Hamlet (with Bart as the Dane).

The Simpsons find their way around Rio de Janeiro the Brazilian way, by joining a conga line. Under the influence of medical marijuana, Homer sees rainbows shooting out from his face during his morning shave. On a bench with a box of chocolates, Homer comes close to being arrested for impersonating a movie character in the opening to his clip show "Gump Roast."

15. Blame It on Lisa (22:07) (Originally aired March 31, 2002)
When an orphan Lisa sponsors goes missing, the Simpsons travel to Brazil for kidnapping, conga lines, racy children's shows, and other fun.

16. Weekend at Burnsie's (22:30) (Originally aired April 7, 2002)
After crows peck at his eyes, Homer is given a prescription for medical marijuana. When Springfield outlaws the substance, Homer has to adjust.

17. Gump Roast (21:35) (Originally aired April 21, 2002)
This clip show devoted to Homer begins with a Forrest Gump parody and moves to a Friars Club Roast that relives the Simpson patriarch's songs, screw-ups, and shenanigans along with a shameless parade of prior guest star turns.

Green paint, ripped clothes, and a release of pent-up anger makes Homer resemble an incredible hulk. Lisa hopes a black beret will help her blend in on the Springfield University campus in "Little Girl in the Big Ten." Homer takes private security seriously as seen in this SpringShield commercial from the season finale.

Disc 4

18. I am Furious (Yellow) (22:23) (Originally aired April 28, 2002)
After Bart's "Angry Dad" cartoon series turns him into an Internet sensation, Homer tries staying mellow, with dangerous consequences.

19. The Sweetest Apu (21:54) (Originally aired May 5, 2002)
Simpsons Wall Graphics on sale now!
An affair with the Squishee Girl threatens Apu's marriage.

20. Little Girl in the Big Ten (22:02) (Originally aired May 12, 2002)
Lisa poses as a college student to hang with her fellow gymnasts. Bit by a Chinese mosquito, Bart is confined to a plastic bubble.

21. The Frying Game (21:38) (Originally aired May 19, 2002)
Homer and Marge are put on death row for the murder of a sweet but demanding elderly woman they've been serving.

22. Poppa's Got a Brand New Badge (21:52) (Originally aired May 22, 2002)
After causing a riot-inducing blackout in a heat wave, Homer forms SpringShield, a private security firm that's soon officially put in charge of the town's welfare.

Legendary Springfield bully Nelson Muntz displays perfect timing as he is the first to ridicule Bart for being confined to a plastic bubble. Looking for Branson, Homer and family mistakenly wind up in Bronson, a town whose citizens all look and sound like actor Charles Bronson.

Buy The Simpsons: Season Thirteen from Amazon.com: DVD / Collectible Head Box / Blu-ray

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Reviewed August 28, 2010.



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