The Simpsons reside in the town of Springfield. Homer works as a safety inspector at the local nuclear power plant - doing the same dead end job he has done for years; Marge tries to keep both her hair in place and the peace in her family; Bart is a mischievous 10-year-old hellion - and proud of it; Lisa is the intelligent, saxophone-playing vegetarian 8-year-old member of the family who'll go far; whilst baby Maggie conveys her emotions via pacifier sucks. She may also be the most intelligent member of the family.
But let's not forget some of the other characters that inhabit the great town of Springfield. There's shop keeper Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, bar owner, and life line to Homer, Moe Szyslak, Police Chief Wiggum, the evil nuclear power station owner Charles Montgomery Burns and his sidekick Waylon Smithers, Homer's poor put-upon neighbour Ned Flanders, henpecked and hassled high school principle Seymour Skinner, school bus driver Otto Mann and the Reverend Lovejoy. And what do they all have in common? They've all crossed paths with The Simpsons family and survived. Just.
One thing's for sure - there's no place like Springfield and season sixteen, which includes the milestone 350th episode, is sure to please. So, just relax and watch as Lisa files a restraining order against Bart, Homer acts as a drug mule, Homer and Bart become Catholic, Selma gets engaged, and adopts a baby from China, Bart ends up going to fat camp whilst Professor Frink gives Lisa and Bart a glimpse into the future with none other than Bender from Futurama.
With this being television material you won't be expecting too much from the picture department. However, for a season which is now ten years old, it is pleasantly surprising to find a clean, bright and well detailed picture with an above average bit-rate throughout. And with the bright colours (especially yellow!) used throughout, the transfer manages to hold up remarkably well without any signs of colour bleeding or over saturation. And given that the series didn't go High Definition until season twenty, it all pretty impressive and capable of fooling you into thinking you're actually watching HD material.
As the soundtrack is limited by bandwidth of the original broadcast medium there's never going to be much scope for a dramatic or dynamic soundtrack. Mind you, saying that, there's probably not much of a requirement for such a thing. However, as with the previous seasons, each episode in season sixteen is accompanied by a Dolby Digital 5.1 448 Kbps soundtrack - albeit a not very dynamic one.
The majority of the episode soundtracks are simple affairs - camped in centre channel with the dialogue (pardon the pun!) taking centre stage. The stereo channels only tend to be used by the musical score - including the famous theme tune - whilst the rear channels don't appear to be used at all. Still, there's nothing to complain about here as, like the picture, it does all it needs to do.
Each episode, along with the extras, is also accompanied by optional Subtitles.
One of the best parts of every Simpsons release are the Dolby Digital 5.1 animated menus which match the character on the front cover of the packing - this season it's the turn of Professor Fink. If you're patient enough you'll get to see quite a few different animated "skits" across the four discs in the collection which can be just as amusing as the episodes themselves. Also, in something that is even rarer to find these days, it's great to find a wonderfully designed glossy booklet accompanying the box-set. Detailing each episode, it not only lists each chapter, it also provides the names of the various guest voices too.
Extras wise, as per usual for a Simpsons box-set, there's the usual impressive collection of Episode Commentaries along with other items which will always appeal to fans of the series. Spread across the four discs the extras start off with a Sketch Gallery. Whilst it could be a boring and static affair requiring you to flick through endless pages of artwork, the Simpsons are always different so, spread across two discs, there's two minutes worth of automatically scrolling sketches accompanied by a ditty little tune.
Next up is the rather pointless Special Language Feature in which you get to "enjoy" the Pranksta Rap episode in either Portuguese, Italian, Czech or Hungarian. Hmmm. Not the most exciting of extras then - unless you speak either of the languages. The final extra on Disc Two is the rather strange three minute Living the Moment set of shorts in which you get a few drawings of Maggie in The Longest Daycare whilst Tapped Out is an apparent short for a Simpsons game for your phone (I don't know whether it exists, but I wouldn't mind betting it does!).
The extras on Disc Three include an Animation Showcase for the Futura-Drama episode which allows you to watch the episode with either a Storyboard or Animatic view. There's also a bonus episode from season twenty-three with Holidays of Future Past. It's a bit of a cheap and cheeky extra, but given that at the present rate of releases it'll be another eight years before we get it on DVD it can certainly be classed as a bonus!
The extras on Disc Four include eleven minutes worth of Deleted Scenes - with an optional Audio Commentary too. I'm always puzzled how an animated series can have deleted scenes, especially since they've already gone to the trouble of creating the animation. Still, I guess with the help of computers and outsourced animation studios they can afford to do so. Either way, it's an interesting collection. The final extra is Live! It's the Simpsons. Running for thirty-six minutes it's an audio only script read through accompanied by various pieces of Simpsons artwork and shots of the script.
There's one thing I don't like about the Simpsons DVD releases. And that's the packaging. I know that previous releases have been in similar designed paper casing, but it really is pretty poor quality. Not only do you have to "fight" your way into the cardboard sleeve, with the potential of ripping it on each venture, the discs are also housed in individual cardboard slots which are just begging to be allowed to scratch its precious content.
I've never liked cardboard slipcases on any title, and I'm sure a much loved, and much viewed, box-set would soon show wear and tear (my review copy was already squashed in the post!) with both the packaging and the discs requiring replacing over time (I wouldn't mind betting that this is the plan!). Ok, the exterior and interior artwork is, as usual, wonderful, buy I've no idea why the packaging doesn't contain a multi-disc style tray. I guess cost is the only reason behind it.
Officially the longest running animation series in history, with twenty five seasons plus a film, The Simpsons show no sign of slowing down. Comprising of 21 new episodes, there's the usual collection of comedy gold, but there's always the occasional duffer that every season manages to include. Fortunately, they're in the minority.
You also know when you've finally "made it" in the world when you get that most sought after badge of honour - a guest appearance on the show. With this in mind, the show is also the world record holder for the most guest appearances in a TV show. So much so, it's probably running out of guests! This season sees the likes of Kim Cattrall, Lucy Liu, Stephen Hawking, Liam Neeson, Jason Bateman, Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson but to name a few visiting, or re-visting, Springfield.
It's interesting to see that the US is now getting the series on Blu-ray. Whilst the earlier seasons will probably not benefit from a high-definition release, you do have to wonder why Twentieth Century Fox aren't also releasing a Blu-ray version in the UK too. Surely, there'd be demand for it. After all, all sorts of television series are currently being released on Blu-ray and there must surely be question marks over the volume of sales of some of them. Simpsons in high-definition would surely be a hit with the fans.
Another complaint, which appears to be replicated the world over, is the rate at which the box-sets are being released. Sure, Sky television must show (and repeat) hundreds of episodes in a week, but just releasing one season a year means that there's awful lot of lag behind the current and previous series. I've no idea why Twentieth Century Fox would do this and, if only for the fans of the show, it's something that needs to be improved - especially, since at the time of writing, we're up to season twenty-five.
I've not seen an episode of The Simpsons for several years now. In fact, I no longer own any of the box sets and the last season I owned was Season 10. So it was with great interest that I approached season sixteen. What was the quality of the animation like? Was the picture and sound improved from the earlier releases? And most importantly of all, was the show still funny after all of these years?
Fortunately, the answer to all of those questions is "yes". Although this series was originally broadcast way back in 2004 (and we're only getting the DVD release some ten years later!) the jokes are still funny and the guest appearances are still relevant to today's stars. Whilst the Simpsons did have a bit of a "blip" quality wise, it's good to see that, after all of these years, it's still just as funny as I remember. It goes without saying that the fans will be buying this release, but I just hope that Fox decide to release more seasons per year and that they sort out the packaging as, unlike the Simpsons, it won't last.
- Matt Groening's Intro
- Sketch Gallery
- Animation showcase
- Special Language Feature
- Easter Eggs
- Deleted Scenes
- Commercials (or T.V. Spots?)
- Episode Commentaries