The Simpsons – The Fourteenth Season, which originally aired from 2002 to ’03, is now available on Blu-ray and DVD in a well-supplemented edition that has a Halloween-theme. Two bonus episodes of “Treehouse of Horror” are included (making their high definition debut) along with a few other “Treehouse of Horror” themed features. The long-running show has had a somewhat erratic Blu-ray release schedule, with seasons thirteen and twenty having been released on the format last year. The twentieth season was problematic for many fans in that it was released with almost no supplemental features. The Fourteenth Season has no such problems, as I will detail below. All 22 episodes are contained on three Blu-ray discs, housed in a standard-sized Blu-ray case.
As a very casual fan of The Simpsons, I simply don’t have the overall perspective that devotees of this show – currently in its 23rd season – have. I agree that the earlier seasons were funnier and more consistent. But I don’t have any firm opinions on when the show’s classic years ended, nor can I argue that with any degree of passion whether season 14 was prime or not. Watching the 14th season, I was struck by how many episodes just didn’t do anything for me. “Helter Shelter” is an example of one that I just didn’t find funny. As with any parodical humor, the shelf life varies based on the on-going relevancy (or lack thereof) of its targets. I think spoofing reality television shows feels just kind of played out, especially some eight years after the episode first aired.
There are some really fun episodes however, such as “Bart of War” which pits Bart against Milhouse after the two ruin Flanders’ Beatles collection. All the Beatle references are pretty funny, but possibly because I’m a fan myself. I think people often respond differently to The Simpsons based on their own interests and areas of specific knowledge. Even diehard fans of the series are likely to miss a considerable number of references, simply because the shows are so deeply embedded with a wide range of them. I thought “Old Yeller Belly” was a pretty clever episode, with their dog becoming a Spuds MacKenzie type of mascot for Duff beer. I don’t know how many younger viewers got the reference but I found it worth a chuckle.
And that’s how I personally happen to view The Simpsons. It’s a clever show that is often very funny, but even when I don’t laugh, I can still appreciate the wit. But for me, there are times when it’s kind of lame. Even as a very casual fan, I can recognize that by the this season there was a higher ratio of weaker episodes than during the earlier years. But I found that nearly all episodes in this season had at the very least a moment or two that was memorable. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but I don’t mean it that way. Big fans know they will want to pick this season up. Less devoted viewers should probably make sure they have the earlier seasons first.
The Simpsons – The Fourteenth Season marks the beginning of digital coloring for the series and as a result the colors looks fantastic on Blu-ray. The show was still being broadcast in 1.33:1 so don’t expect widescreen with this set. But the colors really do look outstanding, with a wide variety of different shades. Any subtle difference in yellow skin tone between Springfield’s residents is easily detectible. The Blu-ray offers an ultra-sharp picture as well. The Simpsons is hardly the best example of Blu-ray’s capabilities, but fans of the show will notice how vibrant these episodes look.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is perfectly fine. The show hasn’t ever been designed to be knock people’s socks off from a sonic standpoint. The most important aspect is the dialogue, which sounds clear and blends in with the mix appropriately. Music is also mixed at a suitable level. Rarely does anything especially interesting emanate from the rear channels, but there is some fairly subtle ambiance. Much like the picture, this won’t be a go-to disc to demonstrate your system’s capabilities but it doesn’t present any audio problems.
There are quite a few supplemental features, varying somewhat in quality but mostly interesting. Fans will be grateful for the presence of audio commentaries on all 22 episodes. As with past seasons, a whole slew of participants are heard on these tracks which keeps them interesting and entertaining. Deleted scenes are included for a bunch of episodes, which can be watched edited back into the episode. A little scissors icon shows up as a reminder that the footage was cut. On the third disc, all the deleted scenes are available by themselves, with optional commentary. As mentioned earlier, a pair of older “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, one from season six and the other from season seven, is included. Collectors will have these on DVD already, but this marks their Blu-ray debut.
A number of short featurettes turn up throughout the three disc set. “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” is fun as it includes some interview footage with the rock stars who contributed guest voices for “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation.” There’s an introduction to the season by Matt Groening and a brief look at “Barting Over,” the 300th episode of the entire series. “Animation Showcase” is quite an interesting multi-angle comparison of storyboards, early animation, and the completed show for the episode “Moe Baby Blues.” Less interesting are a number of compilations that present clips without any exclusive footage or commentary. “Halloween Classics” and “In the Beginning” are just a bunch of clips from various “Treehouse of Horror” episodes. Much more useful is the extensive booklet that is included with the set.
The Simpsons – The Fourteenth Season is a well produced Blu-ray release (the features are all included on the standard DVD version as well) that looks and sounds great. It may not be loaded wall-to-wall with classic episodes, but there’s no reason fans should pick it up.