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Fox / 2008-2009 / 482 Minutes / Unrated / Street Date: January 12, 2010
Around the eighth season of The Simpsons I remember thinking that the show was losing its bite. Lisa's Date With Density (in which she gets her first kiss . . . from bully Nelson Muntz), Hurricane Neddy (when Ned Flanders’ house is destroyed and the townspeople rebuild it), and El Viaje de Nuestro Jomer (where Homer hallucinates after eating chili) were, you know, fine. But that's the thing: Until that point, the show was rarely fine - episodes were nearly always great.
Since then, The Simpsons has been running on fumes. Seasons that weren’t so funny at the time now seem classic compared to the truly hit and miss episodes we’ve been treated to since the show went on auto-pilot. There’s a reason for this. Originally, the show’s writing staff was comprised of those who grew up on Monty Python, National Lampoon, and other counterculture artifacts. With the exception of some old-timers, the current Simpsons writing staff consists of writers who grew up on The Simpsons. That’s an entirely different frame of reference and even though it seems beneficial to the show, it’s really not.
Those who love the show love the references to old TV shows and movies, Pulitzer Prize winning poets, old inventions, and other arcana that proved the show’s writers weren’t all born after 1990. Now, the plots seem more linear, and often lack the parallel A and B-stories that made the shows flow and dovetail so beautifully. Now, sometimes they’ll stick with one storyline and never divert from it, even for a 10 second Itchy & Scratchy clip. That randomness is where The Simpsons shined.
It goes without saying that what The Complete Twentieth Season will be remembered for the show's expansion into 1.78 and little else. Sure, when The Simpsons is at its worst, it's better than most animated fare, but these episodes - even the usually-reliable Treehouse of Horror installment - are simply not up to snuff. Homer and Ned becoming bounty hunters (Sex, Pies and Idiot Scrapes), Maggie getting sent off to an orphanage and subsequently being liberated from it (Gone Maggie Gone), Homer and Marge wedding vow renewal ceremony (Wedding for Disaster) - these setups mine a fair share of goofy one-offs, but there's not a classic Simpsons episode among them.
And this disappointment leads to all-out resentment in terms of this Blu-ray set. First of all, anyone collecting the series on DVD will recognize that Fox has jumped eight seasons in their release here (I guess the only way they felt they could truly legitimize bumping the show's releases to Blu-ray was to include the series' first widescreen episodes), which just doesn't make much sense. And to add insult to injury, the copious bonuses included in earlier DVD sets are absent, which makes it seem like all diehard Simpsons fans (and at this point, I'd say that anyone buying a Twentieth Season set is a diehard) will have to double dip sometime soon.