The Simpsons return with Season 17 on DVD containing 22 new episodes and a number of special features including episode commentary and deleted scenes. Despite being considered one of the greatest shows of the modern era, even the most long-time fans would agree that the previous six seasons have seen the show’s quality drop dramatically. Is Season 17 a return to form for the once great show? Read on to find out.
The Simpsons uses self-contained episodes to tell a variety of stories concentrating on the family that everybody loves, with assistance from a variety of other characters around Springfield. Despite many years of quality story lines, it seems the town of Springfield has run out of exciting moments. The season begins slowly, and this sets the trend for what’s to follow. Nothing early on screamed instant classic, and it seemed that a lot of these episodes were just going through the motions to reach the end. The Treehouse of Horror special was especially disappointing, with all three segments falling flat and also failing to scare in the slightest.
Unfortunately, episodes only get worse as the season continues. For every episode that was tolerable, such as “Marge’s Son Poisoning”, “The last of The Red Hat Mamas” and “We’re on the Road to D’Ohwhere”, there are episodes that were a complete disappointment, such as “The Bonfire of the Manatees”, “Million-Dollar Abie” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore”. “Homer’s Paternity Coot” was another big disappointment and wins the award for the most pointless episode of the season. If Mason Fairbanks was truly Homer’s father, more than 15 years of Simpson’s history goes out the window. If he wasn’t, 20 minutes has just been wasted going around in circles.
The celebrity guests were somewhat of a highlight, but were only able to do their best with the material available. Richard Dean Anderson leads the best subplot of the season as himself in Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore and Kelsey Grammar once again returns to voice Bart’s arch nemesis Sideshow Bob in the “Italian Bob”. For an episode with a lot of hype and history this was one of the biggest let downs of the season and is by far the worst Sideshow Bob episodes so far, not even coming close to classics such as “Cape Feare” and “Black Widower”. Other celebrities that lend their voice talents to this season include Alec Baldwin, William H. Macy and Susan Sarandon, with Ricky Gervais providing his voice and writing talents for the episode “Homer Simpson, This is Your Wife”.
The best overall viewing experience would go to “The Seemingly Neverending Story”. Although still not reaching the heights of past seasons, the intertwining stories are told well and it’s always good to see some sort of extended back story for side characters. In this episode, Moe, Edna, Snake and Mr Burns take center stage and it has been these kinds of stories where the series has been at its strongest in its later years.
Special mention needs to go to the opening act of “See Homer Run” as a season highlight. After receiving a book drawn by Lisa for Father’s Day that can’t possibly live up to the Swiss Army Knife he just received from Bart, Homer is clearly unimpressed and to appease Lisa places her present on the fridge. However, the book slides down and is subsequently destroyed by the fridge’s water dispenser. The joke ends on the back of a hilarious criticism of the magnet from Homer, who had no idea Lisa had originally gotten it for him for his birthday. These kind of jokes showcase the great heights The Simpsons can reach when characters play off their key personality traits (Homer’s self-indulgence and ignorance in this case) and when a joke is given some sort of setup.
As a whole, people hoping for a renaissance of sorts will be very disappointed. Season 17 does nothing to disprove the theory that The Simpsons should have ended after Season 12. It could well be considered the worst season so far and the point where the show had arguably hit rock bottom. Throughout the entire season, only a few episodes manage to be anything more than mediocre with the vast majority falling into the category of boring or just plain bad.
Visual and Audio
The DVD is presented in Full Screen 4:3 format. Whilst the series was yet to employ the use of HD, these episodes are clearly much better looking than the original seasons. Despite the appearance of black bars on the side of the picture, the overall visuals are quite good. They are clean, bright and stick to that classic Simpsons style people are more than familiar with. It is slightly jarring that even though the episode itself and the couch gag are presented with updated visuals, the remainder of the opening remains the same from the very early seasons.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and while it doesn’t get a lot of opportunity to shine it does a fine job. The voice acting is top notch as usual from the main cast to the guest stars all putting in quality performances. It’s just a shame that the scripts are not there to back them up.
The DVD extras on offer here are arguably the highlight of the entire package. Every episodes has its own commentary, giving viewers some great insight into their development. There are also a number of sketch galleries and an animation showcase. Finally, each disc contains deleted scenes from several episodes. These features bring up the overall quality of the DVD collection.
As a long time fan of the early Simpsons that involved great episodes with hilarious, tightly developed plots, it is hard to stomach what the show has become. Despite a few funny moments, there was barely a single episode that could be considered solid the entire way through and at times the viewing experience was a real struggle. This is essentially not the same show that was such a hit in the early to mid 90’s. While there are no complaints here on the visuals (opening aside) and audio and the extras are a saving grace that help bump up the value of the overall package, the disappointing core content of this DVD set makes it hard to recommend to even long time fans.
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