In the age of Internet streaming and DVRs, the American television landscape is undergoing a major overhaul, and The Simpsons is perhaps the only non-news show left on the air that remains an American TV institution (chief competitor for the title, The Tonight Show, appears to be dying a fiery death).
It’s no secret that The Simpsons has been traveling a steadily declining path of quality for a solid portion of its second decade of broadcast, but despite that atrocious feature-length film in 2007, the show has aged more gracefully than its much younger animated FOX contemporaries — a sad lineup chock full of Seth McFarlane that’s been scraping the bottom of the barrel for so long, it’s a marvel how he has three shows running simultaneously.
As The Simpsons hit its twentieth season, it still had a lot going for it — sure, the episodes aren’t as packed as many with spot-on references and brilliant sight gags like they were in the glory days, but the show didn’t look too bad creaking into its third decade.
Season 20 brought a landmark of sorts, marking the show’s transition to an HD presentation midway through the season, with a shiny new 1.78:1 widescreen presentation to boot, breaking Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa out of the full frame box they’d existed in most of their lives. The new opening sequence elements crammed into the screen aren’t exactly a comedic revelation, but the opportunity to see an expanded view of Springfield makes the second half of season 20 seem a little fresher, even if a number of the storylines feel a little recycled.
Season 20 was at its best when revisiting a familiar story structure, such as the inexplicable overseas visit in “In the Name of the Grandfather,” or when commenting on a current trend, such as the real estate crisis in “No Loan Again, Naturally.” Filling in the cracks are the expected guest appearances, which included Emily Blunt, Anne Hathaway and Ellen Page as characters, and Denis Leary, Mark Cuban, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová as themselves.