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. Though the series rarely hits the high notes that it did a few years ago, it still maintains a rabid cult following and is generally better than 90% of anything else on network television. There's no point in spending a lot of time talking about the show's premise, as anyone reading this is no doubt already familiar with the exploits of Matt Groening's now iconic creations, the first family of Springfield.
By the time that the sixteenth season rolled around, the characters were all pretty well established and then some. While this season isn't the strongest in the run, it's still got a lot of worthwhile moments and more than a few stand out episodes. Here's a quick play by play of what episodes appear on each of the three discs contained in this set:
Treehouse Of Horror XV: The season kicks off with the annual Halloween episode, once again telling three tales of terror! First up is The Ned Zone in which Flanders, Dead Zone style, gains the ability to see into the future. When he sees that he will kill Homer, he has to do everything he can to change it. In Four Beheadings With A Funeral Lisa and Bart get wrapped up, Sherlock Holmes style, in a series of Jack The Ripper style murders. Last but not least, In The Belly Of The Boss sees Mr. Burns swallow a pill with a shrunken down Maggie inside, which means they're going to have to go into his body to get her out!
All's Fair In Oven War: Homer finds his Playdude back issues and Marge makes him cut out all the nudie pictures. He dumps the in the garbage but Bart and Milhouse find them and take on the Playdude lifestyle. Meanwhile, Marge enters a cooking contest and finds the competition to be far more cutthroat than she ever imagined. James Caan guest stars.
Sleeping With The Enemy: Marge feels that her kids take her for granted to she gets some surrogate appreciation by taking in Nelson and treating him like one of her own. While this is going on, Lisa is teased about her weight and her ‘big butt' and goes to silly extremes to fix her image.
She Used To Be My Girl: Marge is out one day and runs into an old school mate of hers. They catch up and Marge learns she's gone on to be a decorated newswoman. Lisa looks up to the woman as a role model, while Marge can't help but wonder how her life would have turned out had she not married Homer and had kids. Kim Cattrall guest stars.
Fat Man And Little Boy: When Bart loses his last baby tooth he deals with the anxiety brought on by feeling older. Lisa helps him out and before you know it, Bart's a success at his new business: coming up with ironic catch phrases and printing them on t-shirts! Homer does what he can to help Lisa with her science project. Monty Python's Eric Idle guest stars.
Midnight Rx: Burns cuts back on the plant's medical coverage and the employees now have to pay for their own prescriptions. Homer and Grandpa decide to start smuggling in low cost drugs from Canada but when Smithers joins their ranks, Burns starts to reconsider his move.
Mommie Beerest: Moes Tavern goes out of business but Homer comes to the rescue by taking out a second mortgage to save his favorite watering hole. Too bad he didn't tell Marge beforehand. When she finds out, she decides she should manage the place and sets about changing the bar's image.
Homer And Ned's Hail Mary Pass: More or less completely by chance, Homer's goofy dance moves come to the attention of the town when he busts loose at a carnival. Before you know it he's got a nice little side business going teaching professional athletes all about showboating. While he's doing this, Flanders is filming his own Biblically inspired movie. Tom Brady, Warren Sapp, LeBron James, Yao Ming and Michelle Kwan all guest star.
Pranksta Rap: Homer and Marge get mad at Bart for sneaking off to a rap concert so he fakes a kidnapping to set them off but when Kurt Van Houten gets fingered for the job, Chief Wiggum decides to make an example out of him. 50 Cent guest stars.
There's Something About Marrying: When Springfield makes gay marriage legal, Homer becomes ordained. Shortly after that, Patty reveals the truth about her sexuality, while Springfield hopes to cash in on gay tourists.
On A Clear Day I Can't See My Sister: Lisa finally gets fed up with Bart's pranks and teasing and so she files a restraining order which forces him to go live in the backyard behind the house. Homer takes on a new job as a greeter at Sprawl-Mart. Gary Busey guest stars.
Goo Goo Gai Pan: Selma heads to China to adopt a baby and lists Homer as her husband to keep the paperwork on the up and up. The Simpsons have to head after her to try and sort all of this out. Lucy Liu and Robert Wagner guest star.
Mobile Homer: Homer takes some insurance money and buys an RV, which infuriates Marge who gives him the boot. Desperate to keep mom and dad together, Bart and Lisa highjack the RV and try to get it back to the dealership for a refund.
The Seven-Beer Snitch: The people one town over in Shelbyville call their neighboring Springfielders ‘hicks' after which Marge talks the town into sponsoring a new concert hall. Once it quickly goes bankrupt, the town turns it into a prison while Bart and Lisa try to figure out what's making their cat fat.
Future-Drama: Professor Frink invents a ‘Future Machine' which allows Bart and Lisa to visit their respective futures (in the year 2013!) to see how their lives could turn out. Things don't really go well for anyone, especially Homer, who is incensed when Marge dumps him for Krusty! Amy Poehler and John DiMaggio guest star.
Don't Fear The Roofer: Homer makes friends a with a stranger who works as a roofer after getting irritated by his usual pals. The weird thing is that nobody else ever actually sees the guy, which makes those around him think that Homer may actually be talking to an invisible friend. Ray Romano and Stephen Hawking guest star.
The Heartbroke Kid: Springfield Elementary brings on a new contractor to deal with the vending machines in the school. Bart gorges himself on the new snacks to the point where his weight gain becomes a concern after he actually has a heart attack. Albert Brooks guest stars.
A Star Is Torn: Lisa enters a singing competition and takes her dad on as her manager. Things are looking good but soon Homer being Homer makes a bad move. Lisa fires him and he starts working for her main competitor.
Thank God It's Doomsday: When Homer sees an apocalyptic movie he starts to wonder about the truth behind the film and after a bunch of bizarre and seemingly random things happen to him, he start to figure that the end is nigh. His math skills prove it, or so he thinks. We all know how Homer tends to do when it comes to math…
Home Away From Homer: Flanders has got some spare room in his house so he rents a bedroom to some college girls who, without his knowledge or consent, use the room as a location to shoot softcore sex movies! When Homer finds out, he tells everyone except Ned, who eventually learns the truth and moves to Pennsylvania.
The Father, The Son And The Holy Guest Star: When Bart gets kicked out of Springfield Elementary he winds up going to Catholic School where he meets a ‘cool' priest named Father Shawn. Marge learns that the Catholic definition of Heaven differs from her own and tries to stop the priest from converting her son. Liam Neeson guest stars.
This batch of episodes is a strong one, there are some definite classics here and more than a few that are worth watching more than once. We get plenty of creative storytelling as well as some amusing guest stars, sometimes cast more or less as themselves, other times actually crafting characters and acting more than projecting. The animation style is the same here as it had been in the years prior, there's no real shift there to speak of and while no one is really reinventing the wheel or breaking a whole lot of new ground, it's amusing to see the series take on issues like weight loss, religion, bullying gay marriage and adoption as this, for the time at least, kept it feeling fresh and fairly topical. Some may argue that the show was starting to decline around this time but to this reviewers eyes, Season Sixteen is a good one, and one absolutely worth adding to your home video library if you're a fan of the longest running sit com/animated series in TV history.
The Simpsons Season 16 arrives on Blu-ray in a nice AVC encoded 1080p image, with each episode presented fullframe, are upconverted to 1080p. The episodes look decent here, the colors are nice, there's decent depth and detail in the image and the picture is well authored in that there are no compression artifacts or edge enhancement issues. The material here doesn't look as good as the newer episodes that were actually broadcast in true HD but they look good, fans should be pleased.
The Simpsons arrives on Blu-ray with a great DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, though optional Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks are provided in French and Spanish with subtitles available in all English SDH and Spanish only. The DTS-HD tracks in this collection sound great. From the opening theme song to every ‘doh!' that Homer utters, the mixes are very clear and quite active. There's a lot of great surround activity in pretty much each and every one of the episodes in the set and the levels are always perfectly balanced. There are no problems at all with hiss or distortion and the enhanced clarity offered by the high definition audio track here really brings out the great foley and sound design work employed on the series.
Extras are plentiful and spread out by disc you'll find the following:
The first disc starts off with Greetings, Junior Scienteers!, which is a quick two and a half minute long introduction to the season courtesy of series' creator, Matt Groening. The rather obviously titled Sketch Gallery I is, as you could probably guess, a sketch gallery while the Bonus Episode on this disc, Lisa's Wedding, is an amusing inclusion of an episode that was originally broadcast in season six.
Also found on the disc are Deleted Scenes for the following episodes: Treehouse Of Horror XV, All's Fair In Oven War, Sleeping With The Enemy, Fat Man And Little Boy, Midnight Rx and Mommie Beerest.
And of course, we get audio commentary tracks on each episode:
Treehouse Of Horror XV: Al Jean, Bill Odenkirk, Matt Selman, Tim Long, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, David Silverman and Raymond S. Persi
All's Fair In Oven War: Matt Groening, Al Jean, Matt Selman, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Tom Long, Michael Price, Mike Scully, Joel H. Cohen and Mike B. Anderson
Sleeping With The Enemy: Al Jean, Jon Vitti, Matt Selman, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Mike Reiss, Lauren MacMullan and Mike B. Anderson
She Used To Be My Girl: Al Jean, Tim Long, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Matt Selman, Michael Price, Tom Gammill, Max Pross and Kim Cattrall
Fat Man And Little Boy: Matt Groening, Al Jean, Joel H. Cohen, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Matt Selman, Tim Long, Michael Price, Mike Scully and Mike B. Anderson
Midnight Rx: Al Jean, Matt Selman, J. Stewart Burns, Michael Price, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Joel H. Cohen, Nancy Kruse, David Silverman and Jeff Westbrook
Mommie Beerest: Al Jean, Michael Price, Matt Selman, Tim Long, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Hank Azaria and Tress MacNeille
Disc two includes a special language feature for the Pranksta Rap episode that allows you to watch the entire episode dubbed into Portuguese, Italian, Czech or Hungarian. Living In The Moment is a brief three and a half minute bit that features some Tapped Out clips, while this disc's bonus episode, Bart To The Future, is a fun season eleven episode included again in this set for reasons known only to Fox Blu-ray programmers.
We also get Deleted Scenes for the following episodes:
Homer And Ned's Hail Mary Pass , Pranksta Rap, On A Clear Day I Can't See My Sister and The Seven-Beer Snitch.
On top of that? More audio commentary tracks on each and every episode:
Homer And Ned's Hail Mary Pass: Matt Groening, Al Jean, Tim Long, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Matt Selman, Michael Price, Bill Odenkirk, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Dan Castellaneta, Steven Dean Moore and David Silverman
Pranksta Rap: Al Jean, Matt Selman, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Dana Gould, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Nancy Cartwright, Mike B. Anderson, Mark Kirkland and David Silverman
There's Something About Marrying: Al Jean, J. Stewart Burns, Matt Selman, Michael Price, Joel H. Cohen, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, David Silverman and Jeff Westbrook
On A Clear Day I Can't See My Sister: Matt Groening, Al Jean, Jeff Westbrook, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Matt Sellman, Tim Long, Michael Price, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Michael Marcantel and David Silverman
Goo Goo Gai Pan: Al Jean, Dana Gould, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Matt Selman, Michael Price, Max Pross, Lance Kramer, Steven Dean Moore and David Silverman
Mobile Homer: Al Jean, Tim Long, Matt Selman, Bill Odenkirk, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Raymond S. Persi and David Silverman
The Seven-Beer Snitch: Matt Groening, Al Jean, Bill Odenkirk, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Matt Selman, Michael Price, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Dan Castellaneta, Steven Dean Moore and David Silverman
Moving right along, disc three contains an Animation Showcase for the Future-Drama episode that art and animation fans should appreciate, it clocks in at just under eight minutes. Also fairly interesting is the Live! It's The Simpsons segment which is a thirty-five minute round table reading of an episode from start to finish. This gives us a look at what goes into the writing an voice acting that makes this the show that it is. Again, we get a bonus episode, this time it's Holidays Of Futures Past from the recent season twenty-three.
More Deleted Scenes? You know it, look for bits from the following episodes: Future-Drama, Don't Fear The Roofer, The Heartbroke Kid, A Star Is Torn, Thank God It's Doomsday and Home Away From Homer.
Of course, there are once again audio commentary tracks on each episode:
Future-Drama: Al Jean, Matt Selman, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Mike Reiss, John DiMaaggio, Mike B. Anderson, Lauren MacMullan and Jon Vitti
Don't Fear The Roofer: Al Jean, Kevin Curran, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Matt Selman, Dana Gould, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Nancy Cartwright, Mark Kirkland, Mike B. Anderson and David Silverman
The Heartbroke Kid: Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Matt Selman, Dana Gould, Michael Price, Max Pross, Steven Dean Moore, Lance Kramer and David Silverman
A Star Is Torn: Al Jean, Carolyn Omine, Matt Selman, Tim Long, Joel H. Cohen and Yeardley Smith
Thank God It's Doomsday:Matt Groening, Al Jean, Don Payne, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Matt Selman, Tim Long, Michael Price, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Michael Mercantel, David Silverman and Jeff Westbrook
Home Away From Homer: Al Jean, Joel H. Cohen, Matt Selman, Carolyn Omine and Tim Long
The Father, The Son And The Holy Guest Star: Al Jean, Matt Warburton, Matt Selman, Tim Long, Michael Price, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Hank Azaria, Tress MacNelle and Michael Price
The commentaries are the real gems of the supplemental section in this set. DVD and Blu-ray releases for the show have always had these and they're always a lot of fun, both packed full of information and observational scene by scene analysis from the people who bring the series to life and lots of great comedy too. A lot of fans will have seen the episodes in this set before, some of us way more than once, and the commentary tracks included here are a great way to get some new enjoyment out of some fan favorites.
Each of the three discs in the set contains some fun animated menus as well as episode and chapter selection as well as a ‘play all' option. Inside the Blu-ray case is a full color insert booklet containing episode and supplement information as well as an introduction from Matt Groening. It's written up as one of Professor Frink's books, the cover titling it What's Science Done For Me Lately, by Professor John Frink, which is kind of a fun touch. The keepcase fits inside of a slipcover featuring some slick Frink inspired artwork.
The Simpsons: Season Sixteen isn't the best of the series' run but it is a very strong collection of truly funny and frequently quite clever doses of animated comedic insanity. The transfers here are pretty solid and the audio is excellent, while on top of that you get a decent selection of extras and a fantastic collection of yet more audio commentary tracks from the cast and crew of the long running show. 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.