Season 12. As far as some people are concerned, the Simpsons were at this point well past their heyday. To these people I say, "Point noted. Now sod off." The Simpsons will never be unfunny, in the same way The Onion and The Daily Show in its current format will never be unfunny. There are too many talented people involved who are too invested in their episodes. If the show feels old, it's because it is old. It's like your brother. If you hang out with your brother for 20 years, the guy is going to rub you in the wrong way at some point. But if a friend of yours meets your brother (who is cooler than you are if you're tired of The Simpsons), then your friend is going to think your brother is great, and may even room with him for the next 20 years. It happens. Most of those other little brothers hanging out on Fox and Adult Swim need to bow down. Except Futurama, which is the awesome Siamese twin brother.
There's nothing I can say about the Simpson family that hasn't already been said; nothing relevant anyway. I started watching the show when I was six years old. I'm 26 now. My attention span has lasted at least as long as Matt Groening's willingness to beat a dead horse. I used to have the t-shirts and carnival-dart-game mini-posters with Bart Simpson folding his arms above a snarky saying that he never actually uttered on the show until years later. Such is the case several times in season 12: in one episode, Bart peeks at his permanent record to find Principal Skinner describes him as an "underachiever, and proud of it." He then wonders out loud how old the file is. While surfing the waves in another episode, he says, "Cowabunga!" I never understood the arbitrary, marketing-generated Bart catchphrases so early in the character's lifespan. The early '90s loved their frickin’ catchprases.
So this season, to be fair, didn't really have many classic episodes in the general sense. But it had a shit-ton of classic moments. It's a season where Marge finally develops more of a sense of humor, even in shows where she's not involved in the plot. A perfect example of this fuddy-duddiness comes in one episode when a waitress hands her a tall glass of Long Island Iced Tea, and Marge, giggling, remarks, "Ooh, they should call this a Large Island Iced Tea." And everyone else deadpans. It's a stupid joke on page, but works really well with Julie Kavner's voicework. In this season, Comic Book Guy has a heart attack after hosting a Tom Savini appearance in his comic shop. I love Tom Savini, truly a genius with movie make-up. In the commentary, it's mentioned he's a friend of Dana Gould, an effing-hilarious stand-up comic who wrote and consulted during this season. He's a comic who reaches to very dark personal places for his comedy, usually with uncomfortably side-splitting results. I'm not going to say it's because of him, but as this is the season following the death of Maude Flanders, there are a lot of Maude Flanders jokes, and they are all funny as hell. After my dad died, I had to use humor as catharsis, and even though this is a cartoon (funnily enough in a season starting just after his death in 2001), it held the same effect for me, though perhaps not to Ned, the butt of most of these jokes. Not that I need to be cathartic about Maude.
The "Treehouse of Horrors" opening this set is not very scary, but has some great stuff. The third story, "Night of the Dolphins" is one of my favorites, with Lisa unwittingly setting off a dolphin revolution parodying Hitchcock's The Birds. I want scenes from this episode to be inserted into the film The Cove, just to make some sparks fly. There is another multi-story episode, "Simpsons Tall Tales," which depicts Homer as Paul Bunyan, Lisa as Johnny Appleseed, and Bart as Tom Sawyer. Good stuff. There's also “Trilogy of Error,” a Go and Run Lola Run- inspired episode that plays one day's events out from three different points of view. It's very cleverly written, and winningly played out. Some of the Springfield boys become a boy band thanks to a guest spot by N'Sync, who mock themselves accordingly. We find out Krusty has a daughter, voiced by Drew Barrymore. The Simpsons go to Africa and Delaware! Hmm, what else? There's an Emmy-winning episode where Homer finds out his lack of smarts is caused by a crayon lodged in his brain. When removed, he's smarter than most of Springfield and starts a real relationship with Lisa, which of course complicates things and they go back to normal. In another episode, Homer discovers the Isotopes are secretly in the process of moving to Albuquerque, an incident which spurred Albuquerque's real minor league team to change their name after a huge fan poll. That's the shit, Homie. John Swartzwelder, writer extraordinaire, has quite a few here, including a 250th episode pitting two sides of Springfield against one another, set off by a Who concert. Two members play themselves, Pete Townshend's brother played his part, and the band insisted Keith Moon be the drummer animated. That's the shit, too, and I don't even like The Who.
Guest stars not already named include the awesomeness that is Joe Mantegna as Fat Tony, Michael Keaton, Joshua Jackson (strangely amusing), Stacy Keach, Stephen King, Amy Tan, John Updike, Shawn Colvin, Frankie Muniz, Kathy Griffin, Edward Norton, Pete Sampras, Venus and Serena Williams, and of course Kelsey Grammer, in a pretty average Sideshow Bob episode. There's also a Patrick McGoohan appearance as Number 6 from The Prisoner. Funny gassings are involved. The Prisoner is hopefully the adaptation Chris Nolan is leaping over to get to more Batman.
The discs are filled with the usual Simpsons extras. Every episode has a commentary, and they're usually pretty good, even when things get to "laugh at someone else's material" levels. There are a few storyboard/animatic views from certain episodes. There are the "Bit with the Animator" clips that I love, where the animators get a Telestrator and pause and start the show whenever they want just to draw over things. The Comic Book Guy "best moments" track is all right, but can probably be skipped. The "Global Fanfest" is a Q&A with cast and crew, a bit with Alf Clausen and his orchestra, and some other stuff. It's too short and is edited choppily. Finally, there are a bunch of deleted scenes, a short sketch run-through, and a small set of commercials.
It's not the strongest season by far, but no episode feels like wasted time. The cast is excellent, as always. I think people just hated on it at this point because they had been fans for so long. Was Sesame Street as good, year in and year out? Was 60 Minutes or Guiding Light? If I'd never seen this show before the 12th season, I'd still be just as much of a fan, if not more, because of the huge back catalog. These episodes deserve to be watched. Here's to Season 30!