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The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season(TV) (2001-2002)
No synopsis for The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season.
For more about The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season and the The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season Blu-ray release, see the The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on September 5, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer
Directors: Mark Kirkland, Steven Dean Moore, Jim Reardon, David Silverman
» See full cast & crew
The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season Blu-ray Review
Is Season 13 a Lucky Strike?
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, September 5, 2010
TV critics and pop-culture pundits have slagged The Simpsons in recent years—well, the past decade—for favoring out-of-left-field non sequiturs over character-driven stories, for never re-reaching the savage satirical highs of its first nine seasons, and, in short, for losing much of its banana-yellow luster. Newer, flashier, wackier shows, like The Family Guy and South Park, have since unseated The Simpsons from its animated satire throne, but I don't think this is such a bad thing. The series isn't in decline, really; it's just settling. Now that the show is a bonafide cultural institution, it'll always command a certain level of love and respect, even through lean years when the episodes are more miss than hit. And frankly, even The Simpsons at its worst is far better than most of the sit-com schlock that shows up on network television, lasts for a few seasons, and fades away into obscurity. The Simpsons has staying power. It may not be as relevant—or as funny—as it once was, but you're always guaranteed a few good chuckles each episode. You've heard of "pick up and play" video games—games that you can hop in and out of without a huge time commitment? Well, The Simpsons is a pick up and play TV series; it's good to have on hand when you need a laugh but don't have the time to sit through a feature length comedy.
Seasons 10 through 12—presided over by show runner Mike Scully—are considered by most Simpsons fans to be the nadir of the series, a murky slough of lazy episodes with low laugh-to-minute ratios. While season 13 isn't exactly a true return to form, writer Al Jean took the reins from Scully and began steering the series toward its currant iteration. The result is a season with few true highs or lows, but a predominance of fairly strong, middle-of- the-road episodes. This is apparent right from the start, as the season opener, Treehouse of Horror XII, is a merely so-so entry in the show's annual Halloween anthology. The first story, "Hex in the City," is a bit of a letdown, but it's followed up by the brilliant "House of Whacks," a 2001: A Space Odyssey spoof that features Pierce Brosnan as the voice of a HAL 9000-style computer that falls in love with Marge. "Wiz Kids," of course, is a Harry Potter send up—look out for the compulsively puking amphibian that looks a little like the baby from Eraserhead. Thankfully, there are only a few episodes that scrape the bottom of the Simpsons barrel. The Sweetest Apu—in which the Kwik-E-Mart clerk has an affair with the Squishee delivery woman— is near-laughless. The Lastest Gun in the West is just plain dull, and The Old Man and the Key—a Grandpa Simpson-centered story—moves at a geriatric pace. And then there's Gump Roast, which is nothing more than a clip show.
Most of the best episodes in this season revolve around Homer, who, as always, finds himself in ridiculous—if not outright absurd—situations. In Weekend at Burnsie's, he gets addicted to medical marijuana—after being attacked by crows, no less—and campaigns for legalization. (The whole episode is peppered with 1960s stoner-pop tunes.) When Moe turns his bar into a hipster establishment in Homer the Moe, Homer opens his own drinking hole—in his garage. And in the self-explanatory Jaws Wired Shut, a temporarily mute Homer becomes sweeter and more responsible when he's forced to write down everything he wants to say. This episode, in particular, is a welcome return to a more old school Simpsons storytelling style, capable of being both comical, and, in its own bizarro way, touching. With the advent of South Park and other edgy animated sitcoms, it's easy to see how The Simpsons felt pressured to drop its sense of sentiment and go for more outlandish gags, so it's good to occasionally see the softer side of Homer.
But Homer isn't the sole star of the show. There are strong character-centric episodes for each member of the Simpson family. (Well, minus Maggie, who recedes into the background for much of this season.) Marge is propositioned by a billionaire in Half-Decent Proposal and tries to pull a Jamie Oliver in Sweets and Sour Marge by instituting a town-wide ban on sugar. Bart becomes an Internet sensation for his web comic, "Angry Dad," in I Am Furious (Yellow)—my personal favorite title—and falls in love in The Bart Wants What It Wants. Lisa gets the best episode of the season, though. In the aptly titled Blame it on Lisa—commonly referred to as "the episode that offended an entire nation"—the Simpsons travel to Rio de Janeiro to track down an orphan that the saxophone-playing sister has been secretly sponsoring. I'm also particularly fond of Tales from the Public Domain, another anthology-style episode that retells the stories of Odysseus, Hamlet, and Joan of Arc Simpsons style.
Voice actors Dan Castellenata (Homer), Julie Kavner (Marge), Nancy Cartwright (Bart), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Hank Azaria (too many to list), and Harry Shearer (likewise) offer up their usual vocal zaniness, but it wouldn't be The Simpsons without a copious number of guest performers. In season 13, we get no less than Matthew Perry, the members of R.E.M. and Phish, George Takei, Julia Louis-Drefus, Paul Newman, Richard Gere, Ben Stiller, Jon Lovitz, Wolfgang Puck, Reese Witherspoon, Olympia Dukakis, James Lipton, former poet laureate Robert Pinsky, and—in a season highlight—Marvel mastermind Stan Lee, who gives Springfield's Comic Book Guy a good tongue lashing. (Lee also joins in for that episode's commentary track, where he fields fan-boy-ish questions from Matt Groening and Al Jean. A definite must-listen for Simpsons and Marvel fans alike.)
In short, if you love The Simpsons, you'll like season 13. The hit-to-miss ratio is much better here than in the previous three seasons, and while the episodes are never quite as hilarious as the Simpsons of old—from way back in the early 1990s—season 13 does mark a turning point for the series. The Simpsons may no longer be the go-to sitcom for satire on modern American life—its influence waned around the turn of the century —but it's always good for a laugh.
The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
Season 13 marked the end of an era for The Simpsons, as it was the last full season to use traditional cell animation. However, while this season was shot on film, it was likely assembled using a standard definition digital intermediate, meaning that a true high definition presentation is out of the question. What we have here, then, is a 1080p/AVC-encoded up-convert. Before you heave a sigh of exasperation, though, read on. It actually looks quite good, and the up-rez yields a stronger image than if you were to let your Blu-ray player up-convert a DVD. Naturally, the picture isn't going to be as crisp and defined as the latter half of season 20—when the series switched to high definition —but the material definitely benefits from being on Blu-ray. Outlines are a little soft, but clarity is much better than you'd imagine when you hear "upconvert of an animated television show." Color is fantastic as well—bright, vivid, and mostly uniform. There were only a few instances when I noticed any fluctuations. Of course, the other huge benefit to Blu-ray is less compression. Aside from some slight blotchiness and minor banding on occasion—usually in the characters' bright yellow hues—there are few compression-related artifacts, and none that I would deem distracting. Plus, with more storage space on Blu-ray, there are fewer discs to swap/keep track of/potentially lose. Some doubt the merits of up-converted material on Blu-ray, but in this instance, I'm sold.
The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Another reason to choose Blu-ray over DVD for this season is the presence of DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks on every episode. Granted, the show's somewhat spartan sound design never takes full advantage of the lossless codec, but at least you're getting the best possible version of each episode's soundtrack. Obviously, dialogue is the main element of each mix, and it's handled perfectly—clean, always intelligible, and comfortably balanced. You'll never miss a joke because of poor mixing or a muffled line. The 5.1 surround sound implementation, however, rarely lives up to its name. Rear channel output is infrequent and inconsistent. Even when cross-channel movements are used—like Artie Ziff's helicopter zipping from side to side—they stand out from the otherwise front-heavy presentation. Rather than seeming like an integral part of the audio, pans and directional sounds seem to call too much attention to themselves, if that makes sense. No big deal, though. You're probably not watching The Simpsons for an intense audio experience. Where it counts—dialogue reproduction, a balanced mix—this Blu-ray set delivers.
The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Talk about value for money! The three-disc set includes new audio commentaries for all 22 episodes. Show creator Matt Groening leads seven of the tracks, and the rest are hosted by an assortment of writers and animators. And as you'd hope, there's never a dull moment. Most of the time the conversation veers way off topic, but there's much joke cracking and reminiscing. There are several guest commentators as well, including comic creator Stan Lee on I am Furious (Yellow), James Lipton of The Actors' Studio on The Sweetest Apu, and former poet laureate Robert Pinsky on Little Girl in the Big Ten.
A Token From Matt Groening (SD, 1:52)
Show-runner Matt Groening introduces the 13th season.
Ralphisms (SD, 2:40)
A montage of Ralph's greatest lines from throughout the series.
Animation Showcase: The Parent Rap (SD, 7:20)
Toggle between storyboards and animatics for The Parent Rap episode using the "angle" button on your remote.
Special Language Feature: Treehouse of Horror XII
Use the "audio" button on your remote to listen to the German, Czech, Japanese, and Portuguese dubs of the entire Treehouse of Horror episode.
Animation Showcase: Sweets and Sour Marge (SD, 6:24)
The People Ball: Sweets and Sour Marge (SD, 1:14)
"It's an animators nightmare," says one of the show's artists of the giant "people ball" that's featured in the Sweets and Sour Marge episode.
The 13th Crewman (SD, 1:14)
A brief behind-the-scenes on the making of a Bart Simpson-themed racing schooner. No joke.
Blame it on the Monkeys: Blame it on Lisa (SD, 1:39)
A quick look at the controversy over the Brazil-centric episode.
Commercials (SD, approx. 2 min.)
Four Burger King commercials and an ad for Sabritas potato chips.
The Games (SD, 8:01)
Gamers of a certain age will probably remember Bart vs. The Space Mutants, The Simpsons Arcade Game, Escape From Camp Deadly, and the other video games we see short clips from here.
The Sweet Life of Ralph (SD, 6:10)
A collection of some of Ralph's greatest moments, such as, "Me fail English? That's unpossible!"
Sketch Gallery (SD, 6:13)
Deleted Scenes (SD, 14:41)
A handful of deleted scenes from throughout the season, with optional commentary.
The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Some have questioned the point of bringing pre-high definition seasons of The Simpsons to Blu-ray, but this release should silence all the doubters. The episodes look strong upscaled to 1080p, the lossless audio is cleaner and clearer than the Dolby Digital tracks you get on DVD, and the entire season fits tidily on three BD-50 discs, complete with a generous bounty of supplements. (Including 22 commentary tracks!) If you'd like to see more seasons of The Simpsons reissued on Blu-ray, send 20th Century Fox a message and pick up season 13. Recommended!
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