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"The Simpsons" The Thirteenth Season DVD Review - Page 2

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

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Marge is reluctant to disrobe in front of the HAL-like, Pierce Brosnan-voiced Ultrahouse robot in the Halloween episode segment "House of Whacks." At the private school fair, Homer's drinking buddies Carl and Lenny immediately put their newly-won microscopes to use in a fencing match.

VIDEO and AUDIO

On this DVD, "The Simpsons" appears in its original broadcast and production aspect ratio of 1.33:1 "fullscreen" (still used until the show finally made the jump to high-definition halfway into Season 20). Picture quality is better than broadcast but not as sightly as, say, a theatrical animated film. The worst we find here is a rare lack of sharpness;
the show is blurry once in a while and often on the older bits still employed in the opening title sequence. This is one of two places where it is evident that show's appearance has improved over time; the older highlights excerpted in the clip show episode "Gump Roast" are noticeably lacking the polish the rest of the season enjoys. It's still television programming, which from the beginning has been cost-effective. But the DVD doesn't disappoint in providing the best conceivable presentation that remains faithful. If you disagree, there is the concurrent Blu-ray release with its higher resolution and price.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 English soundtracks are spry if not the most engulfing. To that end, they deliver light reinforcement, minimal atmosphere, and the rare directional effect. More importantly, dialogue remains crisp and clean throughout. The show is nicely accompanied by both English subtitles and closed captions in addition to French and Spanish dubs.

Chief Wiggum dodges the laser blasts of disgruntled Robocops in this deleted scene. This cut sequence from "The Blunder Years" carries the "Stand by Me" homage further with a young Homer being surprised by an approaching train. Comic Book Guy plays the Cyclops in a bit deleted from the season's retelling of Homer's 'Odyssey.'

BONUS FEATURES

Proving that The Complete Twentieth Season set released in January was a fluke at least in content, Season 13 returns us to the established tradition of every episode being accompanied by an audio commentary. As usual, on these large group sessions you won't want or need to keep track of who's who.
It's enough to know that the assemblies include writers, producers, voice actors, and directors, most of whom have claimed several of those titles over the series' long run.

Creator Matt Groening is not front and center like you might suspect; like the previous year, he maintains an infrequent presence. Closest to hosts are fan whipping boy Mike Scully (episodes 1-5) and Al Jean (6-22), the incumbent show runner who succeeded him this season. They're joined by the likes of Joel H. Cohen, Dana Gould, Matt Selman, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Matt Warburton, and David Silverman, to name just a few.

As feature film commentators typically run out of things to say about an hour in, it's amazing that the show's creators haven't grown similarly speechless after days worth of watching and speaking over their work. They come impressively prepared and retentive, managing to add insight to the episode and scene before them. That doesn't mean they're unwilling to discuss other topics less relevant but as engaging. Throughout, the tracks remain lively and full of laughter. For most fans, I would imagine these are a luxury they'll listen to all or none of. As a critic, I opted for the former; as a customer, I'd be more inclined to skip them. But there's no doubt they add considerable exclusive value to these sets, even in sparse sampling.

Among the particularly interesting subjects tackled are: the numerous effects that the 9/11 terrorist attacks had on this season, Internet fan griping, adhering to standards & practices demands, the benefits and drawbacks of switching from painted cels to digital, the endless producer credits, autobiographical plot points, and celebrities' reactions to being satired or asked to guest star. On that last point, these sessions benefit from the vocal presence of outsider guest stars such as Delroy Lindo, James Lipton, Stan Lee, and poet laureate Robert Pinsky. It's no wonder that fans raised a fuss over the timely but commentary-free release of Season 20. Informative and often hilarious, these are a treat.

Deleted Scenes can be viewed within the episode for which they were made, via an optional subtitle track in which a scissors icon shows up. Act quickly or you'll miss the chance to see the typically brief deletion, before being returned to the episode as aired. If like me, you prefer to watch these on their own, you can do this on Disc 4, where they're lumped together (14:12) and can be enjoyed with an introduction (0:27) and reserved commentary by Al Jean. As usual, the scenes use black & white shots to clarify what was broadcast and to provide context for what wasn't. There is some amusing material here. Strangely, some deletions are excluded here but found elsewhere on the set (more on those later).

Disc 1's Animation Showcase compares Homer's tethered parenting scenes in storyboard form to the final product. Changing this world record hopeful from a woman with a house of cards to a fat Marlon Brando (inset) is one of the few animatic stage alterations revealed by the Animation Showcase for "Sweets and Sour Marge." The Simpsonized version of comic book impresario Stan Lee is featured in one of the DVD's guest and costume-establishing Sketch Galleries.

On Disc 1, "A Token from Matt Groening" (1:50) lets the series' creator provide spirited audio preview of the season and its guest stars aptly set to clips.

On two discs, an angle-toggleable "Animation Showcase" provides scenes in storyboard and animatic forms while the minimally divergent final animation plays in a small picture-in-picture window. The excerpted episodes are "The Parent Rap" (7:18) and "Sweets and Sour Marge" (6:25).

Two Sketch Gallery slideshows are found. Disc 2's (3:10) displays new and altered character designs. Disc 4's (3:10) does as well, dealing largely with regular characters' costumed looks used in the interpretations of "Tales from the Public Domain."

Disc 1's "Special Language Feature" allows you to watch "Treehouse of Horror XII" in Japanese stereo and German, Czech, or Portuguese surround in addition to the usual English, French, and Spanish options. Unless you speak the languages, these are probably better suited to sampling than listening to in full, but whatever floats your boat.

A 1998 run-in with some purple berries ("they taste like burning") is one of many hilarious Ralph Wiggum moments preserved in a pair of montages devoted to the cover character. Bart Simpson's head adorns the News Corp yacht sail in the 2001-02 Volvo Ocean Race, as this short behind-the-scenes clip shows. Homer throws a mailbox at suited goons in "The Simpsons Arcade", the latest video game featured in a nostalgia-inducing Disc 3 montage.

Disc 1's "Ralphisms" (2:40) coolly compiles a bunch of the paste-eating Wiggum boy's memorable lines and moments from over the first thirteen years. Disc 4's related piece, "The Sweet Life of Ralph" (6:10), chronologically gathers mostly different and slightly longer clips of him from the same seasons with years identified.

Disc 2 supplies a couple of specific shorts. "The People Ball" (1:10) details how the rolling toppled human pyramid was created. "The 13th Crewman" (1:34) shows the painting of the mast and the side of the boat for a News Corporation ocean race yacht.

Disc 3's "Blame It on the Monkeys" (1:39) offers an audio commentary excerpt on Brazil's infuriated reaction to "Blame It on Lisa." The same disc also holds "The Games" (8:00), a chronological compilation of clips from the assortment of video games inspired by the series. Starting with 1991's 4-player arcade adventure, this awesome feature excerpts everything from console and PC games to primitive handheld devices and recent mobile phone downloads.

A Lisa Simpson figure with spin-action screen is seen in a commercial for Burger King's fall 2001 Treehouse of Horror Kids Meal toy promotion. Abe and Jasper Beardly comment nonchalantly on the sight of Maggie being carried by a crow in this deleted scene Easter egg. A TV Guide write-up proclaiming "The Simpsons" the 8th greatest show of all-time is one of several 2001-02 periodical extras waiting to be uncovered.

Last but not least among listings are five short Simpsons-flavored commercials (2:20) from 2001-02, four of them advertising Burger King's promotions and the last for Pepsico's Mexican Frito-Lay division Sabritas.

It is certainly impressive that the sets haven't run out of steam supplementally (even as we reach the seasons that fans claim suffer the creative equivalent).

EASTER EGGS

A number of Easter eggs are found on several individual episodes' menus, always in the same place or places. These appear to be short deleted scenes, typically running no more than 30 seconds.
(A cut from "Homer the Moe" on the "hunting club" runs a whopping 90 seconds.) Altogether, I encountered twelve deletions from nine episodes. It's not clear why they're only seen here and not through the Deleted Scenes subtitle tracks or the Disc 4 bundle.

One exception is a find on "Weekend at Burnsie's" (4:30) that comfortably pages through a Relix magazine article interviewing Al Jean on Phish's guest spot in that episode. Another, on "The Sweetest Apu", moves through James Lipton's "Inside the Actors' Studio"-type interview of Krusty the Clown (2:08) printed in TV Guide.

In the same vein, Disc 1's Extras menu takes you to a Village Voice cover of Homer working and on Disc 3's Extras menu, one can find a link to the paragraph on "The Simpsons" (0:45) that TV Guide ran while ranking the cartoon highly among its 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time 2002 cover article. Disc 4's similarly-placed egg supplies DVD credits and memorial (0:30).

Every member of the Simpsons family is put in front of an appropriate video game in the DVD's impressive fold-out disc compartment, with Groundskeeper Willie's out of service game holding the season guide booklet.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Ralph Wiggum is the latest supporting character to claim a Simpsons DVD's cover art. He adorns the predominantly purple, fully enclosed holographic cardboard box. Spine placement goes to Groundskeeper Willie and Nelson on one side,
Martin and Milhouse on the other. Like the six preceding seasons' DVDs, this one is also offered in embossed limited edition collectible packaging. Amazon is currently pricing that version the same as this standard box.

Inside the standard box, Fox seems to have placed saving space and plastic over stability and security. Rather than the old Digipaks originally used, the discs here are housed in a twelve-sided fold-out compartment made of thin but sturdy cardboard. When fully opened, it forms quite the impressive double triptych, with each member of the Simpsons family (plus Ralph and Willie) at an arcade game suited for them. The outside of the box gives us a wide view at the whole arcade that's full of gags, Springfield residents, and Season 13 guest character sightings.

As usual, a pocket holds the standard booklet, a lavish, colorful guide to the season. Modeled after low-tech video games, it opens with a note by Matt Groening and proceeds to supply everything you could conceivably want to know about every Season 13 episode and bonus feature: writers, directors, guest voices, chapter titles, audio commentators, air dates, runtimes, production numbers. It is astonishing how much more effort goes into "The Simpsons" releases than most TV series DVDs.

Love interest threat guest stars Amber Simpson and Artie Ziff join Homer and Marge for a rinkside view of Lisa and Ralph's Disc 2 Main Menu air hockey game. Every prize and parcel featured in the Extras menu's redemption center refers to a Season 13 episode. One item holds an Easter egg on most discs.

Menus don't come much more creative or fun than the ones found here. The 1.33:1 selection screens extend the packaging's theme with new animation depicting arcade scenes. Each disc takes us to a new setting with nods to the disc's stories and guest characters. Ralph and others take turns on Rev Rev Dance-olution on Disc 1, air hockey games adorn Disc 2, Disc 3 observes the fast-moving line for "Rock Guitar Band Hero", while Disc 4 depicts characters playing a gun-shooting game. Eventually, the menu's primary sounds are muted, though the animation and soft atmospheric sounds continue.

The menus strike a delicate balance; they're concise for those who want that and also thorough and accommodating for those wanting to jump to specific scenes or catch all the bonus features. Each episode gets its own menu, which shows clips and allows easy, relevant bonus feature access. With so many options, some complications seem inevitable; for instance, the English subtitles often turned themselves on during "Play All." Otherwise, the DVD encourages use of the "Play All" over individual episode playback; the latter subjects you to copyright notices and commentary disclaimers at the end of every installment.

The Simpsons (Bart, Homer, Marge, Maggie, and Lisa) follow up a reading of "Hamlet" with a family dance to the theme song of the movie it inspired: "Ghostbusters"!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Reviewing this DVD has confirmed that I very much like (but perhaps don't love) "The Simpsons." The show has weakened a bit by its thirteenth season on air, although viewers' changing tastes are also to blame for it not being what it used to be. Season 13 may not be up there with the series' best stuff, but it is still plenty entertaining in the grand scheme of network television. The series' endurance makes perfect sense, as does the phenomenon of viewers like myself drifting away while still satisfied. There only seems to be so much time you need and want to spend with a colorful family and town satire.

Without the threat of imminent cancellation or syndication scarcity, many must find themselves lowering the vast, growing 460+ episode canon on their priority lists. For the many others who are stronger in their investment and devotion to this universe, this set is a welcome must-own. Once again, their creators display passion for their work and appreciation for their fans by piling on worthy bonus features to complement their fun show. On its own merits, the DVD earns a sturdy recommendation and caught-up collectors will be happy to pick this up. Only in stepping back and comparing it to other seasons and other programs does its value lighten and reasons for passing emerge.

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Reviewed August 28, 2010.



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