Ah, The Simpsons, TV’s longest running animated comedy that Fox and we the people can’t seem to put of its misery even as each season dives further into mediocrity. Even as the show becomes painfully unfunny in its current seasons, there’s still an undeniable allure for the Simpson-faithful to tune in in the hopes that maybe this episode will be the start of the show climbing back to proper form after nearly two decades of disappointment. The sixteenth season, now available on Blu-ray, comes from that point in time where the show essentially fell into the rut and never looked back (save for maybe The Simpsons Movie which is still inexplicably funnier than any episode aired since the 9th season. There are a few laughs, but overall the 16th season reminds us just how good we had it during seasons 4-8.
The sixteenth episode can’t really boast a single truly memorable episode. They’re just not there. Instead, we have Bart faking his own kidnapping, Homer as a touchdown dance choreographer, a nod to gay marriage, Lisa suddenly becomes an incredible singer, and more. Every episode feels either like a failed jab at a modern event or fad or like a shameless rehash of an idea that The Simpsons did better in its glory days.
Does an episode about obesity sound familiar? The Simpsons did it with Homer’s plan to work from home, and they try to repeat it here to far less success with Bart gorging on candy bars. Or how about a vision of Lisa and Bart’s future that lacks any real humor the way that same story did when it was being told via a vision in an Indian Casino many seasons ago? Original ideas are lacking this time around and about halfway through the third episode on any of this season’s discs you’ll likely want to take it out and put in a disc from one of the more classic seasons.
To be fair, there’s some original plots here, that is, if you call writers offering embarrassingly weak social commentary on important modern issues or pop culture sensations like international adoption, bullying, gay marriage, TV singing competitions, rapture doomsayers, and more. It’s dangerous whenever a show shifts from its more traditional and timeless storylines to try to be topical, and The Simpsons doesn’t make that transition well. It makes it very poorly, in fact.
Maybe if the comedy writing of the show was at the top of its game then the show’s blatant cries for attention and insistence that it’s hip and in touch wouldn’t be so grating, but chances are if you’re a loyal devotee of Golden Age Simpsons then the kind of episodes we get in this season are almost impossible to bear. It’s not that they’re horrible, it’s that they’re just bland and unfunny, and that’s the worst possible thing a season of The Simpsons can be. It’s shooting for average and succeeding spectacularly at that, and for any other show that’d be enough. But not for The Simpsons. The bar for the show’s success was set so high so early on that when it can’t even elicit a chuckle it’s downright depressing and the ultimate sign that it should be put down.
It didn’t get put down though. It slogged on through this season and now almost 10 more. It’s like watching a good friend lose every part of themselves in order to be popular. It’s just heartbreaking.
At least the show looks pretty in high-definition though. For what it’s worth.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
The Professor Frink-themed set has all the usual frills you expect in a Simpsons season set (like audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and storyboards and sketches) and also includes a little featurette on the mad scientist, a recording of a live panel with the Simpsons cast, and a few bonus episodes. It’s a small consolation though for an entire season of vastly subpar episodes.
"The Simpsons: The Sixteenth Season" is on sale December 3, 2013 and is not rated. Animation, Comedy. Directed by Mark Kirkland, Steven Dean Moore. Written by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon. Starring Dan Castellaneta, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith.