The Simpsons is a huge part of our collective pop culture. The longest running animated sit-com of all time has gone on to become as identifiable as The Flintstones or The Jetsons and the clever writing and interesting cast of characters ensures that the series is just as vital and popular today as it was when it first began to air a decade and a half ago. The recent success of their first theatrical film further proves their popularity.
While season ten doesn't do much in the way of introducing new characters of altering what was, at the time at least, the Springfield status-quo it definitely contains some stand-out episodes that have gone on to become popular amongst fans of the series. Homer and Ned in Vegas is a classic episode and was responsible for bringing the term 'Vegas mom' into Simpsons-cult vernacular. We see quite a few of Homer's nutty schemes this time around, which usually makes for good viewing - his turn as an inventor is great as is the episode where he works as Quimby's bodyguard and saves Like Skywalker. Seeing him work with and emulate hippies is certainly amusing as is the episode where he takes a stint booking the Super Bowl bus. His decision to open the Museum Of Hollywood Jerks stands as one of his greatest moments.
Alongside the crazy episodes we're also treated to a few genuinely sweet moments as well. Apu's attempts to woo Manjula back lead to Homer and Marge falling in love all over again, as they seem to do every season or two, and even if it's a bit sugary it's still touching in a goofy sort of way. We also see Lisa starting to become more active in and concerned with various social issues. While she had been heading in that direction in the past, with this season we see her take up against meat eating, idiocy and mass consumerism. The Lisa-centric episodes tend to be less popular than some of the others but this time around they're well done.
Of course, as with almost every episode of the series, there are some great guest stars lending their talents to the show. Look for cameos and appearances by such notable celebrities as Lisa Kudrow of Friends, Regis and Cathy Lee, Jerry Springer, Mark Hamill, Dolly Parton and George Carlin. A few NFL stars and commentators show up, as does the one and only Stephen Hawkings and most of the time the guest stars play themselves (not always, but more often than not). One of the celebrity highlights of the season is definitely the Baldwin-Basinger episode but Elton John's appearance is certainly remarkable as well.
The Treehouse Of Horror episode for the tenth season is also a highlight. These are popular annual events for regular viewers of the show for good reason as they allow the writers to branch out from the formula a bit and great really creative in their lampooning of horror and science fiction movies.
Here's a play by play of what episodes appear on each of the four discs contained in this set:
Lard Of The Dance: Lisa gets asked to help out the new girl at school, Alex (Lisa Kudrow), but soon discovers that Alex is going to wind up being way more popular than she could hope to be. Meanwhile, Bart and Homer are collecting grease from various places around, hoping to get rich by selling it to the grease recycling plant.
The Wizard Of Evergreen Terrace: Homer just isn't happy with the way that his life has turned out. When he learns about all the inventions Thomas Edison was responsible for, he decides to become an inventor himself. Highlight of the episode? When Homer shoots Marge with the make-up gun, leaving it set to 'whore.'
Bart The Mother: Marge doesn't want Bart hanging out with Nelson, but Nelson and his BB gun prove too hard for him to resist. When Bart winds up accidentally killing a bird with the BB gun, he gets into trouble with his mother and winds up raising the bird's orphaned eggs which actually turn out to be lizards.
Treehouse Of Horror IX: In the ninth Halloween special, Snake is executed in the electric chair but his hair and organs are saved. Homer receives the hair transplant and Snakes tries to take revenge through Homer. In the second story, Bart and Lisa get trapped inside and ultra-violent Itchy and Scratchy cartoon and in the third and final chapter the Simpsons learn the truth about Maggie's real father when she sprouts her first tooth - a giant fang! Regis and Cathy Lee guest star alongside Jerry Springer and Ed McMahon.
When You Dish Upon A Star: When Homer's parasailing excursion goes wrong, he crash lands in the vacation home of Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin. Before you know it, they've hired him as their assistant and he's hanging out with Ron Howard. Homer, being Homer, decides to pitch them his screenplay but when he opens his mouth and reveals their presence the to locals, he gets fired and starts a feud with them.
Doh'In In The Wind: Homer stars in Burns' new recruitment film then applies to the Screen Actors Guild who require his middle name. He realizes he doesn't know it, so he and Grandpa go to the hippie commune where his mother lived. There, Homer falls in with two enterprising hippies who run a juice company and he too becomes a hippy. George Carlin and Martin Mull guest star.
Lisa Gets An A: Lisa gets sick and stays home from school and Ralph brings her homework back to her. She gets hooked on a video game and doesn't study properly and winds up buying some test answers from Nelson. Her cheating raises the school's average high enough that the state is going to give them a grant. Lisa confesses her secret to Skinner and Chalmers but they try and keep it quiet. Meanwhile, Homer is trying to raise his new pet lobster, Pinchy, but accidentally kills him after giving him a hot bath.
Homer Simpson In... Kidney Trouble: The family takes Grandpa out to a ghost town where he drinks a bunch of sarsaparilla. When Homer won't stop on the way home to let him use the bathroom, his kidneys explode. Homer agrees to donate one of his own kidneys to save his dad but when operation time comes, Homer runs. He boards a boat but when the men find out what he did they toss him overboard. He goes back to Springfield to do the right thing and chickens out again, but this time, his escape plan fails.
Mayored To The Mob: Homer takes the family to the Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con to meet Mark Hamill and ALF. The nerds being to annoy Homer and when they disrupt Hamill's speech about Sprint and attack him, Homer saves the day as well as Mark and Mayor Quimby. Homer soon lands a job as Quimby's bodyguard and has to save him from Fat Tony and the Springfield mafia.
Viva Ned Flanders: When Homer finds out that Ned is actually sixty, he tells him that he's never really lived a day in his life and so he coerces him into going to Las Vegas where Ned gives Homer his power of attorney. They go on a crazed bender and wind up getting married to a pair of skanky casino hoochies. When they sober up and figure this out, they flee, chased by a few Vegas personalities, and on the way home they try to figure out how to explain this to Maude and Marge. The Moody Blues guest star.
Wild Barts Can't Be Broken: When the Springfield Isotopes win their game, Homer gets loaded and goes on a drunken spree with Lenny, Carl and Barney. The cops find the damage, blame the local kids and begin enforcing a curfew, which inspires Bart to start a pirate radio station in retaliation. He starts to broadcast the dirty little secrets of many of the adult citizens. Cyndi Lauper shows up in this episode.
Sunday, Cruddy Sunday: Bart and Lisa get to go on a school trip to the post office where each kid gets a piece of undeliverable mail as a treat. Bart gets an expired offer for a free tire balance and gives it to Homer for his birthday. While in the waiting room, a travel agent cuts a deal with Homer where he can go to the Super Bowl if he can convince enough paying customers to sign up for the bus trip. Homer fills the bus with all his buddies and off they go but when they get there they find out that their tickets are fakes. They break into the stadium thanks to Dolly Parton and crash Rupert Murdoch's skybox and later wind up at a locker room party while Marge and Lisa are at home trying to fix their Vincent Price Easter game. A bunch of NFL players guest star in this one as do John Madden and Pat Summerall..
Homer To The Max: A new TV series stars a detective named Homer Simpson, and so Homer starts to make the most of his newfound celebrity name only to find out when the second episode airs that the character is actually an idiot. Homer tries to sue the creators of the series but it doesn't go so well so he has his name changed to Max Power and with his new name comes a whole new attitude. Ed Begley Jr. guest stars as himself.
I'm With Cupid: Apu and Manjula invite Homer and Marge over for dinner but wind up getting into a fight in front of them. Apu knows that Valentine's Day is fast approaching and so he decides to try and make it up to her and his romantic ways make all the other men in town look bad. The guys all join forces and try to stop Apu from his seventh romantic deed and along the way, Homer proves his love for Marge. Elton John guest stars.
Marge Simpson In... Screaming Yellow Honkers: Homer gets tired of Marge's passive, wimpy driving and so her gets her a huge SUV - the Canyonero (this is after he initially buys it for himself before realizing it's a soccer mom vehicle). Marge takes a liking to it and soon becomes a very aggressive and fairly dangerous driver. She soon gets her license taken away - but who will save Bart, Lisa and Homer from the rampaging rhinos at the zoo? Hank Williams Jr. does the Canyonero theme song and John Kassir of Tales From The Crypt pops up here.
Make Room For Lisa: An inebriated Homer decides to spend some quality time with his three children and Lisa talks him into taking them to the Smithsonian. When Homer screws up the Declaration of Independence he has to pay off his debt to the exhibit's sponsor by letting them erect a cell site in Lisa's bedroom. Lisa is forced to share Bart's room and soon her brother drives her crazy and she can't study and starts to get stomach problems. Homer takes her to a holistic and the two of them try out some hallucinatory sensory depravation tanks.
Maximum Homerdrive: Lisa gets irate when a steakhouse that lets you kill your own cow tries to move into Springfield. The entire family, without Lisa, heads over for dinner one night and Homer challenges a man to an eating contest. The man dies and Homer, in his honor, decides to finish his trucking job with Bart along for the ride. The two Simpson males hit the road and soon uncover the real truth about truckers and their practice. Back at home, Marge and Lisa are having doorbell problems.
Simpsons Bible Stories: When Reverend Lovejoy's sermon puts the Simpsons to sleep in church, they start to have dreams in which they replace various Bible characters. Marge finds her playing Eve to Homer's Adam, Lisa dreams that Millhouse is Moses and she an Israelite, Homer finds himself wearing King Solomon's prestigious sandals while Bart sees himself as David versus Nelson as Goliath.
Mom And Pop Art: Marge convinces Homer to do some yard work but when he gets back from the hardware store he's bought himself a BBQ pit. He tries to put it together and it fails miserably but an art dealer sees it and Burns winds up buying it. Homer then decides that he's an artist but he finds that his ideas are fading fast until he cooks up a big scheme that will change Springfield's outlook on his art once and for all. Jasper Johns and Isabella Rossellini guest star.
The Old Man And The C Student: Homer gets a deal on springs and orders a thousand of them. He starts finding strange uses for them around town while Lisa writes a letter that convinces the Olympic committee to consider Springfield. Bart does a stand up routine that scares them off and all the children wind up having to do community service with Bart and Lisa stationed at the Springfield Retirement Castle. Bart decides that the seniors need to feel young again so he takes them boating but things go horribly wrong. Jack La Hanne guest stars.
Monty Can't Buy Me Love: Marge makes the family go for a walk where they discover a superstore has just opened up. The owner, Arthur Fortune, gives everyone one dollar and soon he's super popular much to the dismay of Monty Burns. Burns goes to Homer and asks him to make him more popular with the people of Springfield and eventually Homer, Burns, Frink and Willy decide to go to Scotland to capture the Loch Ness Monster. Michael McKean guest stars.
They Saved Lisa's Brain: After Springfield holds a gross-out contest Lisa decides they're too stupid and she tries to enlighten the townsfolk. After she joins MENSA she convinces the other intelligent folk in town to convince Quimby to deal with the problem, but Quimby thinks he's going to get arrested and he leaves town with the brainy types now in charge. The start to make improvements but soon find they've gone too far until Stephen Hawkings shows up to help. While all of this is going on, Homer is trying to take a sexy picture of himself for Marge to help spice up their romance.
Thirty-Minutes Over Tokyo: The tenth season finale finds the Simpsons robbed by Snake at an internet cafe forcing Homer and Marge to cancel vacation plans. Homer decides to rob Flanders but Flanders teaches him how to live life on a smaller budget and he winds up going to a Mega-Savings Seminar. From here, Homer scores a deal on some tickets to Japan and so the family flies east and visits Tokyo where they eat at American restaurants and watch Sumo Wrestling. They wind up in jail and out of cash and the U.S. Ambassador tells them to get jobs so they find employment gutting fish in a factory until Homer winds up on a game show where he hopes to win enough money to get them back home to Springfield.
There are a few weaker episodes in here but by and large, the tenth season of The Simpsons is pretty damn good and it's noticeably better than seasons eight and nine. Plenty of clever writing, fantastic dialogue, memorable guest stars and pop culture references makes the material remain fairly fresh almost a decade later and the fact that some of these episodes are now considered classics of the series says something about their quality to be sure. All twenty-three episodes in the set are presented uncut with their complete opening and closing credits sequences.
NOTE: Fox, in their infinite wisdom, has only provided test discs to review. The video quality on these discs is very obviously compressed as there's mpeg artifacts and motion blurring all over the place. Additionally, a property of 20th Century Fox bug appears on screen every couple of minutes. Considering that these discs are not representative of the final product in terms of video quality, we're not going to assign a mark. The test discs look horrible. Hopefully the finished product looks better and should one be made available for review, this will be adjusted accordingly.
The English language track on this DVD is presented in a very nicely handled Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. While it's lamentable that Fox again did not include the original 2.0 stereo mixes for the purists out there, the 5.1 mixes in this set are great. They don't go completely overboard with background or ambient noise and instead use the rears to enhance what's already there in the first place with gives the soundstage a more lifelike feel. While there are instances where sound effects will come at your unexpectedly, in terms of channel separation and speaker use, there's nothing funky going on here, it all works and it all sounds pretty natural. Dialogue is crisp, clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. The opening theme song sounds incredibly lively as it plays before each episode and the background music used throughout the shows is strong but not overpowering or domineering. Alternate language dubs are provided in French and Spanish (both in nice, robust Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Sound mixes), subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish, and an English closed captioning option is available as well.
As is the norm with their complete seasion collections for the show, Fox has managed to provide commentary tracks for each and every episode contained in this set courtesy of many of the writers, animators, producers and directors from the series. If you've listened to past commentary tracks, you'll know what to expect here as it really is more of the same - which is a good thing! Seeing as most of us have seen these episodes countless times, the commentary tracks provide a reason to watch each episode all the way threw. They're packed with a lot of great information about who did what, little details and oddities to look out for, and where a lot of the ideas and inspiration for much of the material came from. Though it might seem like overkill to some, the devout fan of the show will want to take the time to go through these tracks as they're all a lot of fun and they're done with a great sense of humor as well. Here's who provides the commentary for each specific episode:
Lard of the Dance: Mike Scully, Jane O'Brien, Ron Hauge, Pete Michels, Dominic Polcino
The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ron Hauge, Dan Greaney, Julie Thacker, Mark Kirkland
Bart the Mother: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ron Hauge, David S. Cohen, Steven Dean Moore
Treehouse of Horror IX: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ron Hauge, David S. Cohen, Donick Cary, Steven Dean Moore
When You Dish Upon a Star: Mike Scully, Ron Hauge, Matt Selman, Rich Appel, Pete Michels
D'oh-in' the Wind: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Donick Cary, Ron Hauge, Mark Kirkland
Lisa Gets An A: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ron Hauge, Dan Castellaneta, Mark Hamill
Homer Simpson In... Kidney Trouble: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ron Hauge, Dan Castellaneta, Mark Hamill
Mayored To The Mob: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ron Hauge, Dan Castellaneta, Mark Hamill
Viva Ned Flanders: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ron Hauge, Julie Thacker, Neil Affleck
Wild Barts Can't Be Broken: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer,
Larry Doyle, Matt Selman, Tom Martin
Sunday, Cruddy Sunday: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Tom Martin, Matt Selman, Steve Moore
Homer To The Max: Mike Scully, Rich Appel, Matt Selman, Ron Hauge, Pete Michels
I'm With Cupid: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Tom Martin, Larry Doyle, Matt Selman, Nancy Kruse, Mike Scully, Rich Appel, Matt Selman, Ron Hauge, Pete Michels
Marge Simpson In... Screaming Yellow Honkers: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Tom Martin, Larry Doyle, Matt Selman, Nancy Kruse, Mike Scully, Rich Appel, Matt Selman, Ron Hauge, Pete Michels
Make Room For Lisa: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Tom Martin, Larry Doyle, Matt Selman, Nancy Kruse, Mike Scully, Rich Appel, Matt Selman, Ron Hauge, Pete Michels
Maximum Homerdrive: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Tom Martin, Larry Doyle, Matt Selman, Nancy Kruse, Mike Scully, Rich Appel, Matt Selman, Ron Hauge, Pete Michels
Simpsons Bible Stories: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Tom Martin, Larry Doyle, Matt Selman, Nancy Kruse, Mike Scully, Rich Appel, Matt Selman, Ron Hauge, Pete Michels
Mom And Pop Art: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, Al Jean, George Meyer
The Old Man And The C Student: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Julie Thacker, Ron Hauge, Nancy Cartwright, Mark Kirkland
Monty Can't Buy Me Love: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, Ron Hauge, Rich Appel, Mark Whitmore, Pete Michels
They Saved Lisa's Brain: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, Ron Hauge, Rich Appel, Mark Whitmore, Pete Michels
Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo: Matt Groening, Mike Scully, Donick Cary, George Meyer, Ron Gauge, Matt Selman, Jim Reardon
Aside from the commentary tracks, there are a few other goodies tucked away in the supplemental sections of a few of the discs. Disc One contains the requisite intro from Matt Groening as well as an animation showcase and storyboards for the Lard Of The Dance Episode. Disc Two contains the requisite alternate language clips allowing us to watch parts of Sunday, Cruddy Sunday in a few different dubbed languages. On Disc Three contains animation showcase material and storyboards for the Homer To The Max episode while Disc Four contains fifteen minutes of deleted scenes that you can watch with or without optional commentary from Mike Scully. If you'd rather watch the deleted scenes as they relate to the episodes they were snipped from you can do that too as they can also be found under the respective sub-menus for those episodes. Also on the last disc are an animatic from the musical scene in The Simpsons' Movie, a few Butterfinger Commercials, some ads for CC's Chips, the Homer Intel Ad, a selection of clips showing off Bart's crank calls to Moe's Tavern, a still gallery of conceptual art and a brief featurette on the creation of the menus for the DVDs. A couple of nifty Easter Eggs can be found in the set as well.
The Simpsons - The Complete Tenth Season is a solid assembly of episodes from a show that has gone on to transcend mere entertainment to become a cultural phenomena. It's not the best season in the history of the show, but it's certainly a very good one. Fox has once again done a good job with the material (video quality of the test discs not withstanding) and supplied a wealth of supplemental goodies, the commentary tracks in particular, to accompany some great material. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.