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THE SIMPSONS Season 15 DVD Review

A new DVD set reminds me why I still love The Simpsons and gives us some extra laughs exclusive to the new box set.

I am a lifelong fan of “The Simpsons.” Quite literally, the show has been on for more than 2/3s of my life. I actually have never missed an episode. Whether it was VHS or DVR, I always made sure I saw every Sunday’s new episode, and now there are over 500 of them.

I’ve also never thought the show stopped being funny. “The Simpsons” will always have new social benchmarks to address. Some of my favorite episodes involve Homer getting a flat screen TV and the immigration debate. Some “Simpsons” fans gave up during a perceived rough patch around season 12, and boy have they missed out. Season 13 was a particular favorite of mine, but now we’re over the hump on the DVD releases.

Season 15 is kind of a sweet spot, because it’s got some highlight episodes I love, but also plenty that I don’t remember. I’ve seen all 500+, and I could probably tell you everything about the first 200 or so, but at a certain point even I go hazy. So some of this DVD is a chance to watch “Simpsons” episodes again for the first time.

I think you’ll all remember Pie Man. Homer’s superhero alter ego made loving homage to the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man. There was another episode spoofing Catch Me If You Can as Homer and Marge tried to get away from Bart and Lisa. This is also the season where we again went back to Homer and Marge’s past, before they first met and they made that work emotionally and chronologically. I did not remember Homer taking the fall for Artie Ziff’s internet company, but it seems very timely for 8 years ago. I didn’t remember that they did an Evita spoof either.

Re-watching Season 15 episodes reminded me of all the little touches that always make “The Simpsons” what it is, no matter what season we’re in. Homer lights a flashlight on fire so he can go exploring with a flaming torch, and the flashlight behaves as a torch from there on out. There are freeze frames within freeze frames. They go to a video store (Lackluster Video back then), and it’s not only the fake titles you can read when you pause, but the blurry box covers are jokes too. You can see Star Wars: Episode II, The Ring and Titan A.E. (remember that one?) on the shelves.

One of my favorite parts of the “Simpsons” DVDs are the menu animations. Each disc features an animated loop of Simpsons characters pertaining to the episodes on that disc. These are all visual slapstick and you get four new pieces of “Simpsons” animation  in each collection. Season 15 has an Otto theme so they all take place with the characters sitting on the school bus. However, the best menu animation is a submenu bit between Otto and Pimple Faced Teen at a gas station.

I also love listening to all the audio commentaries on every episode. It’s usually “Simpsons” regulars like Al Jean, Matt Groening, David Silverman and episode writers and directors. They all have great stories about where the ideas came from and how individual gags developed in the writer’s room. This season also introduces some celebrity commentators like Michael Moore and Jeff Nathanson. Moore is clearly a fan of the show and is kind of interviewing them. They want to talk to Nathanson about Spielberg and he clearly doesn’t want to talk about his film, but it’s cool that they got the screenwriter of Catch Me If You Can for an episode that spoofed the movie.

Other bonus features are a little light. The deleted scenes only run about eight minutes and none are memorable enough to stand out except maybe Cletus’s comment against (heh) the liberal media. There are commercials for Ritz and Mastercard I’ve never seen, but that’s my fault for not watching live TV anymore. Animation fans will appreciate “The Unusual Ones,” where the animators discuss homages they’ve paid to other animators over the years. “Living in the Moment” is just a gallery of stills from the 500th episode anniversary event and of course the usual introduction by Matt Groening sums up the season.

I’m also struck by how good these episodes look. This set is also available on Blu-ray, and HD is not going to add anything to standard definition shows (they didn’t go HD until season 20), but compared to the syndication airings we usually see, these are brightly colored with sharp lines.

“The Simpsons” The Complete 15th Season is a solid season of episodes with some nice extras. The greatest extra of all, the menu animation, isn’t even listed as a special feature. I’d get the season just for the episodes, so having menu animation and lively commentaries are already good bonuses for me, even if the other extras are a little light this time.